A Private Investigator’s Guide to Dutch Reformed Churches

When you do genealogy, you quickly discover that you have to become an expert on churches. Where were they located, where are they now, what happened to the buildings, who’s got the records? When it comes to Staten Island, which celebrated its 350th year in 2011, that’s a whole lotta church history to absorb.

Luckily, we have in our possession a handy-dandy guide to all of the churches that existed in Staten Island as of 1942. Now, this doesn’t give you all the churches that ever were, but having an inventory of extant churches at a specific point in time is a great reference. And it is a l-o-n-g list, which you will love if you are a genea-geek.

Anyway – the existence of this list is interesting, in and of itself.  It’s from the Guide to Vital Statistics in the City of New York, created by the Works Progress Administration for the City of New York.  It lists all the churches by borough, and describes the type of vital statistics each church held in its archives at that time – baptisms, marriages, etc.  In 1942, America was at war, and it seems they needed to run some background checks on people, but the Internet was down.

The volumes are primarily designed as an aid to governmental agencies or private individuals interesting in locating corroborative proofs of the facts of birth or marital status as required for military service or engagement in war industry.

How cool is that? Helping to blow the cover of enemy spies who were bent on infiltrating our armed forces based on a fake Staten Island baptismal certificate.

I think I was born too late. I hope I worked for the WPA in a previous life.

In any case, today is the beginning of a series in which I am going to list the churches from that document for you. (In the future, I’ll feature some individual churches in separate posts, with more detail).

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Obtaining Photos of your Ancestral Home

New York City genealogists are luckier than most. In the 1930’s and 40’s, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) photographed nearly every single building in the five boroughs. This was done for tax assessment purposes at the time, but fortunately, the city Archives Dept. recognized the historical value of these photos and has carefully maintained, and restored where necessary, these images.

If you have the address of the home where your ancestors lived — easily obtained from census records (1930 or even earlier) — you can order a print of the image of the home on line. (The address, of course, appears on the left hand side of the census page, written vertically, and the house number will appear on the horizontal line where a family enumeration starts.)

To identify the exact photo you want from the collection, you can view the microfilm of the images available at the St. George, Staten Island, Library, and obtain the block and lot number, to save a few dollars.  Or you can simply order the image on line by inputting the address, and let the city identify the block and lot for an additional $5 fee.  For those of doing Staten Island genealogy long distance, that’s the best option.

Note that the building must have existed at the time the photos were taken in order to be included in the collection–but for the older buildings, it is possible you can get an image of the residence your ancestors lived in,  in 1880. 

Order photos of Staten Island homes online here.