RHS Genealogy Files

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by Janet Haseley, Research Chair, Rensselaerville Historical Society
File:G-Aa-An Page 005.jpg
A page from RHS Genealogy Files


The Rensselaerville Historical Society files were handwritten in the 1960s by a dedicated group of volunteers and have not been transcribed to computer. There are 72 looseleaf notebooks. Fifty-three are “genealogy books”, 12 are “cemetery” books and seven are “deeds and leases” books. Each notebook contains approximately 100 pages. All of these notebooks are continually being added to as new information becomes available to us through obituaries of recently-deceased persons, family information given to us by visitors, researchers sending letters and e-mails, and information about property which comes to us when property changes hands. When new information is added to any of our notebook pages we need to also update our backups which are photocopies of the notebooks stored at the Rensselaerville Town Building.

The “genealogy” notebooks are in blue binders, the “cemetery” notebooks are in red binders and the “deeds and leases” notebooks are in green binders, all in our Research Room at the Rensselaerville Grist Mill. From mid-May through mid-October, a five-member Research Group meets on Wednesdays at the Mill and in the winter when the Grist Mill is closed (no heat or indoor running water), these basic notebooks are moved to a storage closet at the Rensselaerville Library and the Research Group meets in the library’s basement.

In addition to these basic notebooks, we have much more information in our Research Room at the Mill, but are not able to move it all during the winter. For instance, we have 13 file cabinet drawers of handwritten and typed genealogy information, many acid-free boxes of photos and clippings, files on “personalities”, and old ledgers from hotels and stores that existed in the past but are no longer in existence. We also have many family papers which have been given to us. None of this has been photocopied or scanned so researchers still will want to visit us if they are able. We have a backlog of requests from letter-writers and e-mail writers to look up information for them.

Scanning Project Proposal

Hal Miller suggested that we find a way to scan the notebook pages and then upload them to the Internet. Then researchers could access our basic notebooks from wherever they live. We previously believed that accessing our information electronically would not be possible until we found time to transcribe information to a computer. But Hal said that the handwritten files would still be useful to researchers and it would be no different from visitors looking at our original handwritten pages.

This new way of thinking opened up a new opportunity, but none of our Research Group volunteers have the expertise at websites or the time to do this work. Hal sent out an appeal for volunteers to help and had a wonderful response from people all over the country who volunteered to do the uploading if they could have CDs of scans of our pages.

We thought we would have to scan the pages, and since there are so many, we believed we would not have the time to do this. Then one volunteer, John Pierce, said he could scan everything on a high-speed scanner which he has access to and it would take very little time to do. We thought we would have to send him photocopies of each page to scan because we were not willing to let our original notebooks leave town. So we started photocopying at the Rensselaerville Town Hall (which lets non-profits in town copy items free if we provide the paper), but that is a time-consuming job too. When several of the volunteers Hal found offered to contribute money to the project, we decided to pay to have the photocopying done at the printer who produces our quarterly newsletter because they are nearby (Albany) and quick and trustworthy and were willing to give us a good discount for a minimum of six notebooks at a time.

The advantage of getting the new photocopied volumes back after the scanning is completed is that we can have current backups to store offsite at the Town Building. Since we are always adding to the original volumes, the old photocopies we made around ten years ago are quite out of date. It took one of our volunteers two winters to stand at the Town copy machine to make these old photocopies and they soon became out of date because we did not have a way to update them easily. The new plan we have developed will enable us to keep our backups current. What follows is the Plan.

Plan to Keep Records Up-to-date

Before sending the photocopies to be scanned, we wrote a different distinctive identifying label on the top of each page. This was so that in future we will be able to easily find which page(s) need to be replaced in the backup sets. It also means that whoever will be uploading information will also be able to change older information for current information by replacing individual pages and can easily tell which pages need to be replaced. When a change is made to a page, we will photocopy that page and after it has been scanned for uploading we will substitute the new page for the old one having the same identifying code. This will assure that the backup (photocopied) pages are current with the original pages.

The identifying codes begin with a letter signifying which type of record the page belongs to. G stands for the blue Genealogy notebooks, C stands for the red Cemetery notebooks, D stands for the green Deeds and Leases notebooks. The next part of the code refers to the identifying letter on the spine of our notebook and/or the section in the notebook in which the surname of the person is found. The last part of the code refers to the page in the notebook on which the information is found. Example: on a page with the name Harrell on it, the identifying code might be G-Ha-15. This means the page is in the Genealogy notebook in the section beginning with Ha, on page 15.

Challenge for the future

If future software will be able to merge handwritten information, we will be able to merge information from the Genealogy and Cemetery and Deeds and Leases books. Now there are many entries that refer to the same person, but are in two or more of these notebooks. We do not have the capability to merge them now, and unless future volunteers have time to transcribe all the handwritten information into typed form in some database, they can’t be merged.

If some speedy typists who want to transcribe the notebooks tackle this challenge, there is a possibility of merging these records. We would have to agree on a database software that is commonly available and on the format to use. One of our volunteers designed a format to input the information from all three types of notebooks, but we discovered that numerous copies of the same software would have to be purchased if several different people would be using it for data entry. For instance, the volunteer was using an older version of Access software which could be put on several different computers, but the newer versions of that software restrict how many computers can use it without purchasing additional copies of the software. So one of our volunteers who has a newer version of Access found that anything she typed at home would not be backwardly compatible with the information we have in older versions.

Progress Report

Thanks to Judy Draper the first half of the Rensselaerville Historical Society Genealogical books have now been coded and posted on line. For information on how to access the files contact either Hal Miller or Janet Hasely, Research Chair, Rensselaerville Historical Society.


  • Volunteer and get assignment

The Rensselaerville Historical Society Genealogy files have been file coded, scanned, and uploaded to Dropbox.com. We now are ready to work on the Cemetery pages. Volunteers are needed to correct the file names. To volunteer, please contact Hal Miller and you will be given the password to the Dropbox site and an assignment of files to upload.

  • Create a work sheet
- Go to Dropbox.com and log in using Email: halned1@gmail.com and the Password: (to be given out individually at the time you volunteer).
- Click on "Hilltowns Genealogy" folder to open the folder containing the RHS Cemetery files.
- Click on the sub-folder containing the files you have been assigned.
- Print out a copy of the list of the files you have been assigned to use a work sheet.
- Click on the name and open one at a time each of the files you have been assigned. Each of the pages has a File Name and followed by a surname (or other descriptive name). The File name starts with a C and is followed by a the letters you have been assigned, i.e. Aa - An, followed by a page number. Since the page numbers in the file names in the DropBox folders were automatically generated when they were scanned, (except for the first one,) they will differ from the numbers in file names on the handwritten pages. Make a note on your work sheet of the correct number ending the file name so you can correct it. For blank pages, mark them on your work sheet for deletion; the same for pages marked out and that have no file number.
- Also on your work sheet, make a note of the surname (or other descriptive name) for each of the files.
  • Delete blank files and correct file names
- Check the box to the left of each of the files to be deleted. Then go to the upper right tab for "More Actions." In the drop down list click on "Delete." Confirm Delete.
- Correct remaining file names as needed: right click on file name and click on "Rename..." Correct last numbers as needed and add the surname or file description.
- To save your changes, click on blue "Rename" tab.
  • Examples