copied with permission
Thursday, July 31, 2003

Ulster archives has data to 1600s

By Anthony Farmer
Poughkeepsie Journal

Want to know the daily menu of residents at the Ulster County Poorhouse in the late 1880s? 
No problem.

The Ulster County Archives has that and many other documents stored in its records center in Kingston. Much of the material, which includes documents dating to the 1600s, is indexed and searchable on the Ulster County Clerk's Web site.

Students, writers and genealogists make use of the archives' array of records to find information ranging from slavery to American Indian and Dutch history in the area.

''We like to say we're here to keep yesterday's records available for tomorrow's use,'' said Laurie Hancock, deputy county clerk for records management in Ulster. ''They do tell the tale of who we are, where we've been; they cite our obligations, our responsibilities.''

Some believe if Dutchess County government had a historian or archivist on staff, there would be no questions about the fate of a book detailing information on the hundreds of people believed to be buried at the site of the former Dutchess County Infirmary in the Town of Washington.

County officials say the ledger was turned over to the Dutchess County Historical Society, a nonprofit organization. The historical society says it received a box of materials from the county but doesn't know if the book is in it.

Joyce Ghee, president of the historical society, said Dutchess government probably has one of the richest treasure troves of historical records in the Hudson Valley. Ghee was the last person to serve as county historian and the position has been open since she left in 1991.

Benefits to archivist

Having an archivist on staff as well as a historian would be beneficial on many levels, Ghee said.

Such programs are being run with much success in other counties in the Hudson Valley, she said.

''There are lots of skills an archivist has that would be not only basically useful to the public that wants information, but also makes them a kind of keeper of the treasury,'' she said.

The historian could then help make archival documents available through public displays or celebrations, Ghee said.

''Those are the kinds of things we're not doing now in Dutchess County and other counties are,'' she said. ''It's too bad.''

Dutchess' charter requires that there be a county historian's office. But the office has not been fully funded in 12 years by county officials.

County Executive William Steinhaus said a historian can enrich a community, but the county's discretionary funding has been needed to rebuild the local economy and address other needs, including human services, public safety and public health issues.

''We have evaluated the position and the county's ability to commit to this funding annually, and we will again look at and evaluate it in the 2004 budget process, which we are just beginning,'' Steinhaus said.

County records are stored, for the most part, at a central storage facility on Washington Street in Poughkeepsie. The archival records there aren't made available to the public, meaning Dutchess is missing out on another way to help attract tourists to the area, Ghee said.

Ghee was paid just under $32,000 in her last year as county historian. The starting salary for Ulster's archivist is roughly $27,000 a year.

''You have all this talk about budgets and crunches and then you see there's money to keep the ball stadium open, money to raise salaries, money to do this and money to do that,'' said Eileen Hayden, executive director of the Dutchess County Historical Society. ''The drop in the bucket the county historian would be for the amount of work, and value of the work, to be done, it's hard to measure.''