Research Guide ColumbiaNY250

This research guide is intended to be of benefit to the general public in finding primary and quality secondary source material regarding Columbia County history. Though a vast amount of our local history is not yet digitized, all of the included sources here are freely available online. Two collections in particular that are not yet digitized but are worthy of mention here are the papers of Robert Livingston the Elder and Alida Livingston, held in the collections of the FDR Library as “The Livingston Family Papers”; and also the (William) “Wilson Family Papers, 1704-1884,” held at the University of Michigan William L. Clements Library. These two collections are essential to any scholarly treatment of the history of our area. 

A robust finding aid for the “Wilson Family Papers, 1704-1884,” is available on the website of the University of Michigan William L. Clements Library. The finding aid includes an extensive description of William Wilson’s career and the significance of the family in early Columbia County history. The finding aid is organized by subject, similar to the index of a book. Jpg images of up to 50 particular pages of the collection can be ordered free of charge, and high resolution images of the same can be ordered for a modest fee. A small number of Wilson family letters did not make it into this collection, and are on file at the Germantown History Department. 

No online finding aid is yet available for the “Livingston Family Papers,” though several institutions have an inventory of the collection available on microfilm.

The resources below come from a variety of databases, with a variety of search strategies necessary to navigate each one. The Internet Archive is particularly helpful in hosting many of the titles. Ruth Piwonka’s "A Visible Heritage" and "Portrait of Livingston Manor" are available through the Internet Archive, but users have to register for a free account and “borrow” the book. Beyond that small inconvenience, the Internet Archive is a very useful tool for finding obscure, out-of-print histories. 

Another database cited in this guide is the HathiTrust, which started as a conglomeration of many research universities sharing their digitized materials online. It has grown to include many other participating institutions. Their search and advanced search functions are both user-friendly, with the advanced search offering a half-dozen fields to narrow with. 

The New York State Archives Digital Collections provide many of the maps in this guide, though it is a good source for letters and other documents as well. It also has user-friendly search and advanced search functions. The advanced search function is unique, offering seven fields, with the format field broken into six subfields. 

One last repository worth noting is the New York Heritage Digital Collections, which houses selected portions of the digital archives of the Columbia County Historical Society, Hudson Area Library, Jacob Leisler Institute, and Germantown History Department, among others. It is easy to search by organization. Most organizations have their offerings broken into separate collections, organized by a theme of some sort. The entire New York Heritage collection can be searched by keyword, with a relatively simple advanced search function if necessary. 

The Semiquincentennial, aka 250th Anniversary, of the signing of the Declaration of Independence is on July 4th, 2026. The renewed attention on our national and local history will hopefully result in more of these momentous documents being available to the public online. It is also my hope that this guide serves current and future generations in taking meaning, inspiration, and wisdom from our local history.  - Thomas Shannon, Town of Germantown Historian

Minutes of the Albany County Committee of Correspondence

Volume I

Volume II

Sullivan, J., & Flick, A. C. (1923). Minutes of the Albany Committee of Correspondence, 1775-1778. University of the State of New York.

The Committee of Correspondence was set up in Albany County to coordinate resistance to the Stamp Act. These minutes are a great resource for finding who represented the various districts that comprised what is now Columbia County, and some of the events transpiring within. Districts included Kings, Manor Livingston, German Camp, Kinderhook, and Claverack. Record of the various people who served as representatives to the Committee. Record of Loyalist intrigue and maneuvering in the Kinderhook district.

History of Columbia County, New York by Franklin Ellis

Ellis, F. (1878). History of Columbia County, New York. With illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers. Everts and Ensign.

Used heavily by local historians to this day, most wisely as a starting point or guide for further research, but occasionally as the only surviving source for certain facts or events. Ellis employed a team of uncredited writers to gather the material for this book, and many other similar county histories across the country. The prose editorializes occasionally, sometimes exquisitely. The book is broken into two primary sections: a narrative history of the county as a whole, and separate town-level histories. Some of the town-level histories preserve, through transcription, records that no longer exist or are lost. 

The Documentary History of the State of New-York by Edmund Bailey O’Callaghan

O’Callaghan, E. B. (1850). The documentary history of the state of New-York : arranged under direction of the Hon. Christopher Morgan, secretary of state. Weed, Parsons & Co., public printers.

Volume I

Volume II

Volume III

Volume IV

This lengthy four-volume work is a tremendous collection of primary documents, particularly the deeds and other papers relating to Livingston Manor, the settlement of the Palatines, etc., in Volume 4. Some of the primary documents transcribed in these volumes were later lost or charred in the fire at the NYS Capitol on March 29th, 1911. It should be an early stop, if not a first stop, for anyone researching the history of New York Province and early New York State. 

Biographical Sketches of the Distinguished Men of Columbia County by William Raymond. 

Raymond, W. (1851). Biographical sketches of the distinguished men of Columbia County. Albany, Weed, Parsons, and Company. 

A solid collection of biographies of important men in early Columbia County history. It skews heavily toward men from the northern sections of the county, and is thus a better source regarding Van Alens, Van Burens, and Vanderpoels than it is for the Livingston or Van Rensselaer families. The biographies of Elisha Williams and General William J. Worth shed light on the early history of Hudson. A transcribed speech of Williams’ included at the end is a great artifact of the Anti-Rent troubles on the lower Rensselaer Manor in the early 1800s. 

Memoirs of the Marquis de La Fayette, Major-General in the Revolutionary Army of the United States of America by Frederick Butler. 

Butler, F. (1825). Memoirs of the Marquis de La Fayette, major-general in the revolutionary army of the United States of America. Together with his tour through the United States. Deming & Francis.

Butler employed an uncredited team of writers to document the Marquis de Lafayette’s “farewell tour” to various places in the Hudson Valley in 1824. Of interest to Columbia County researchers is the four-page account starting on page 333, of Lafayette’s visit to Clermont, the Arryl House, and the City of Hudson. The county militia was reviewed by Lafayette on the lawn at Clermont/Arryl House, and an elaborate dinner was held in the Greenhouse, or Orangery, near Arryl House. A large parade in Hudson, complete with old veterans and a display of the “Daughters of Columbia,” was Lafayette’s send off as he made his way to Albany for the night. 

Columbia County at the End of the Century by Henry Perry Smith. 

Volume I

Volume II

Smith, H.P. (1900). Columbia County at the end of the century, a historical record of its formation and settlement, its resources, its institutions, its industries, and its people. The Record Printing and Publishing Co.

This lengthy two-volume history of Columbia County was published under the auspices of the Hudson Gazette newspaper in 1900. Similar in scope to the better known county history written by Franklin Ellis, it contains essay length histories of each municipality, with more in the way of direct transcription of records and generally less editorializing. Some of the records transcribed no longer exist or are lost. Volume 2 resumes with town histories, includes the well known “Sketches of Hudson," and concludes with a lengthy section called “Factors in its History,” a series of short biographies of prominent people in Columbia County history. The biographies were solicited by the publisher and some read as very self-congratulatory. Nonetheless, almost all contain historical and genealogical detail that would otherwise be lost to time. 

A map of the towns of Livingston, Germantown, and Clermont in the County of Columbia.

Vaughn, D., Wigram J. (1850). A map of the towns of Livingston, Germantown, and Clermont in the County of Columbia: compiled from actual surveys in January 1798. 

This map of Livingston Manor is an 1850 treatment by David Vaughn of a previous effort done by John Wigram in 1798. It encompasses the entire southern third of Columbia County, as it was surveyed by Wigram in 1798. Wigram’s original map is not nearly as legible. It is the earliest, relatively accurate map of this area and is the only cartographic source for the locations of many family homes, mills, and other ephemera. The next map of this area that equals it in detail was not produced until 1851. 

Map of Livingston Manor, 1714.

Beatty, J. (1714). Map of Livingston Manor, 1714. 

This map, completed by John Beatty in 1714, was commissioned by Robert Livingston the Elder when he received a “confirmatory” patent to the lands he was initially patented by New York Province in 1686. The Beatty Map is particularly instructive in giving the place names of various Mohican villages and points of reference that otherwise would be lost. NYS historic signs on Wire Road and County Route 14 reference the language given for the two early roads leading from the original Livingston Manor House. It also reveals the complicated border issues with Massachusetts and Connecticut regarding the valuable iron ore in that locality. Germantown is represented as "Gov. Hunter's Land." Also remarkable are the relatively few settlers names given.

Map of East Camp (Germantown) by Cadwallader Colden, 1740.

Colden, C. (1740). Map of East Camp.

The 1740 Cadwallader Colden map of the 6,000 acres sold to New York’s Provincial Governor, Robert Hunter, by Robert Livingston the Elder in 1710 to settle incoming Palatine Germans on.  In 1724, by an order of Governor William Burnet, the 6,000 acres was to be distributed to the Palatines who remained in what was then called East Camp, the Camp, or German Camp, and would eventually be called Germantown. There were five trustees appointed to distribute the land in 1725: Jacob Sharp, Jacob Shoemaker, Johannes Haener, Johannis Kollman, and Christophell Hagadorn.  By 1740/41 when the land was actually distributed, only Haener and Hagadorn still survived.  There are 349 lots on the Colden Map.  All were granted to individuals among the remaining Palatines. 

Map of the Corporation of the City of Hudson and the Town of Claverack.

Smith, J. (1790). Map of the corporation of the City of Hudson and the Town of Claverack.

This 1790 map by Jonas Smith shows the original bounds of the City of Hudson, encompassing parts of present-day Stottville, Stockport, and Greenport. The City of Hudson was chartered in 1785 from the riverfront section of the Town of Claverack. Hudson was an immediate economic success with an economy based on the seafaring Proprietors who founded the city. Their fortunes were tied to international commerce, notably the whaling industry. Hudson was hit hard by the Embargo Act of President Thomas Jefferson's second term. Stottville, Stockport, and Greenport were later carved out of the City of Hudson. 

A Visible Heritage by Ruth Piwonka and Roderic H. Blackburn. 

Piwonka, R.; Blackburn, R. (1996) A visible heritage, Columbia County, New York : A history in art and architecture. Black Dome Press. (Originally published by Columbia County Historical Society, 1977).

An excellent narrative history of Columbia County focused on art and architecture - the visible heritage. Many historic and c. 1977 photographs are interspersed throughout. Ruth Piwonka was for many years the Village of Kinderhook Historian, and a director of the Columbia County Historical Society. 

A Portrait of Livingston Manor, 1686-1850 by Ruth Piwonka. 

Piwonka, Ruth. (1986). A portrait of Livingston Manor, 1686-1850. Friends of Clermont.

Another fantastic history written by late Village of Kinderhook Historian, Ruth Piwonka. This volume focuses on the Livingston family tree, the original purchases, patents, and boundaries of Livingston Manor, and its slow dissolution in the years after the Revolutionary War wiped out the practice of primogeniture. An essential resource for developing a working knowledge of the history of southern Columbia County. 

Map of Kinderhook Patent, Columbia County by Isaac Vrooman, 1686

Vrooman, I. (1686). Map of Kinderhook patent, Columbia County. 

A very detailed map outlining the many division lines among patents in early Kinderhook. It gives the names of many geographical points of reference, early settlers homesteads, and marks all of the falls in the Kinderhook Creek. An excellent primary document.

Map of the Town of Kinderhook, 1711.

This map details early Kinderhook from the mouth Stockport Creek up to the current border line with Rensselaer County, and from the Hudson River to the Massachusetts line running west to east. A few of the early settlers names are given, Kinderhook village is profiled, and the division lines among the several conflicting land patents are shown.

A History of Hillsdale, Columbia County, New York by John F. Collin and Herman S. Johnson

Collin, J.; Johnson, H. (1883). A history of Hillsdale, Columbia County, New York : a memorabilia of persons and things of interest, passed and passing. E.J. Beardsley.

This history of the Town of Hillsdale is a valuable resource, giving details of the early settlers, their predominantly New England roots, Nobletown, churches, cemeteries, and distinguished families.

A History of Old Kinderhook: from Aboriginal Days to the Present Time by Edward A. Collier. 

Collier, E.A. (1914). A history of old Kinderhook: from aboriginal days to the present time. G.P. Putnam's Sons.

Rev. Edward A. Collier was the longtime pastor of the Kinderhook Reformed Church. He compiled this nearly 700-page history over the course of fifty years. It is especially helpful to researchers seeking an understanding of the several conflicting land patents in early Kinderhook. Though lacking endnotes or footnotes, Collier does often reference primary resources directly in his text. There are dozens of c. 1914 photographs of places around Kinderhook spread throughout the book.