Where Do You Think You Are?

by Linda Okazaki

Mike Didio and Linda Okazaki in the Oneida County Courthouse

Looking for records isn’t quite like the television show, “Who Do You Think You Are?” and if it were, I probably wouldn’t be interested. Records don’t magically appear on pristine mahogany desks, with translated documents and white gloves for turning delicate pages. It is the hunt which appeals to me. It is going to the libraries, courthouses, cemeteries and historical locations that drives my passion.

Yesterday I spent a few hours in the Utica Courthouse in Oneida County, New York. I found some wills, though not the ones I had been hoping for. Then it was time for deeds. Mike Didio is a retired gentleman who works mornings in the land records “office”, a cavernous space literally stuffed floor to ceiling with assorted documents, deed books and boxes, lots and lots of boxes. After exchanging pleasantries he let me loose. The grantor and grantee indexes were on the back wall. Knowing that I only had an hour and a half before Mike left, I set to work looking for anything to do with my Hubbards.  I already knew that James Hubbard had inherited land from his mother, Julia, but there was no probate file for her. Within a few minutes I found documentation that Julia was also known as Juliana, she was married to Levi Hubbard who predeceased her, land was transferred to her son James R. Hubbard and his wife Louisa, and that same land was later sold to Louisa’s father, Jonathan Moffat, a resident of Jefferson County. It was a virtual gold mine. I continued to search for deeds while Ted managed the copy machine. By the time I finished, we had printed nearly 60 pages, including some indexes for future research.

Next stop, McDonald’s. Really. It isn’t exactly on my Weight Watchers plan, but this establishment always has free wi-fi. I took the opportunity to regroup and plan the afternoon. Where should I look next?  Should I stay in Utica looking at more land records of lateral lines, or travel to a different courthouse? Considering that this was my last research day in New York, I decided to head north to Lewis County. It was time to try to figure out my Redinger family.

The hour and a half drive along the western edge of the Adirondack’s was beautiful and quite rural. Produce stands advertised local maple syrup. Butter,  cheese and ice cream establishments dotted the roadside, announcing that this was dairy country. The county seat of Lowville is fairly small, with a population of about 5,000. The courthouse came as a complete surprise. It was as new as the Utica courthouse was old. Once again, I didn’t have much luck with probate files but the land records were fantastic. Here, in this remote small town, the land records have all been digitized dating back to the late 1700’s. Imagine, a searchable database right in the courthouse that even included naturalization records. Not only was everything digitized, but it could all be printed right from the computer without even lifting a deed book. Of course, the original books are all there, but the digitized database saved so much time while also preserving the integrity of the original documents. The database is not online and the search still requires a trip to the courthouse.

The trip to both Utica and Lowville was productive. At the California Genealogical Society and Library there is a poster called “The Tip of the Iceberg”, explaining to researchers that most records are not available online. That is so true. I understand that it isn’t so much who I think I am, but where I go that is key to finding my family history.