Aug 27, 2021

Genealogical Treasures in the Mailbox

August 27, 2021

I guess I’m old fashioned, but I admit that one of the little pleasures of my day is walking out to the mailbox to check the mail. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I receive a lot of nice newsy letters from friends and family. I can’t even remember when I last got a personal letter in the mail. Anyone who wants to contact me nowadays texts or emails.


It’s also not the bills that inspire me to check the mail every day. We pay them digitally. And, it’s certainly not all of those catalogs that still clog my box that call me. None of them make it past the recycling bin.


No, as any genealogist knows, it’s the envelopes with return addresses like “State of New York, Department of Health” that make me do a happy dance in the driveway. Over the years, and especially during the pandemic, I’ve gotten loads of those kinds of envelopes.


Although it’s easy to overlook nowadays, not everything that a genealogist needs to pursue her research can be found online. There are lots of resources out there that just aren’t available without a visit in person or a request for a record. Trips have become a fond memory for me due to the pandemic. Even before that, there were just too many places with records for my ever-moving ancestors. Visiting all of them wasn’t practical. After all, how many trips to Albany, New York or Christchurch, New Zealand can a person make (although I wouldn’t mind checking both of them out in person again sometime). That’s especially true if you only need one or two records for that errant “lost” uncle who disappeared so long ago. Hence, the mailbox.


This week I received one of those treasures in my mailbox bearing that New York State return address. It was an unexpected treat to open my mailbox and find the letter inside. Unexpected because it had been over two and a half years since I requested a death certificate for my second great aunt. I’d heard that New York was slow, but this was ridiculous. Patience is definitely a necessity when it comes to requesting records, although usually not quite over two years’ worth.


Be that as it may, I was excited to finally get a vital record for Lucretia Hadlock. She’s been my “lost” relative for a very long time. I had essentially given up hope of ever tracking her down once she left her birth family. The death record confirmed that Lucretia had lived fifty-six of her seventy-two years in Saratoga County, New York. That information allowed me find census records for her, even though her name was badly mangled. Sure, those census records were there all along, but without the death certificate I probably would never have considered New York as a location for Lucretia. Her family had travelled from Vermont to Ohio to Illinois to Iowa to Utah, and I had no idea at which point she’d left them. Now, I have a better handle on her life than I’ve ever had before. All thanks to a treasure in my mailbox.


If you want to have the same kind of exciting day that I had this week, all you need to do is order some records from a county courthouse, state health department, state archives or the National Archives. All of them have  records available. Many of them are not online yet and may never be. Although some places do offer digital copies of some records, many still don’t. This means you can have the same thrill that I get every time there’s a treasure in my mailbox. It just takes a request.


Carol Stetser

Researcher/Director at Large