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Hudson-Mohawk Genealogical and Family Memoirs:
Historical Appendix: Progenitors or Earliest Settlers of Albany County

Index to All Families | Index to Families by County: Albany, Columbia, Fulton, Greene, Montgomery, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Warren, Washington

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[This information is from Vol. IV, pp. xi-xiii of Hudson-Mohawk Genealogical and Family Memoirs, edited by Cuyler Reynolds (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1911). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 929.1 R45. Some of the formatting of the original, especially in lists of descendants, may have been altered slightly for ease of reading.]

Interest that is taken in the history of a country or in a family centers largely in the facts relating to the origin. The person who studies either desires accurate and comprehensive information, and that means the names of the chief characters, together with definite dates and facts about their lives and where they were located. This is the perfectly natural scope, and it is as definite in its way as is any of the sciences.

The person concerned with understanding particulars about his or her family is led on, generation by generation, each with its own wealth or paucity of detail, until it becomes more desirable than all else to learn as much as possible about the Progenitor, or founder of the family in America.

The accompanying list has been prepared as an enumeration of those first persons who settled in Albany or vicinity previous to the year 1700. It is practically a list of the heads of families founding Albany city and the entire county. It does not pretend to deal with the descent; but in those instances where two of the same surname, unrelated, were earliest settlers, both are given equal mention, for each started an independent line. The names of brothers are also treated, for the same reason, — each the "arriving" head of a family. Accordingly, this not being a series of genealogies of families, it has not been the aim to include facts relating to the issue of the founders, except to the extent of being in some instances proof of residence in the county before the year 1700, if it is found that the baptism of his child was recorded, which may be the only clue to the fact of his early residence.

It is well to speak of the scope or extent of this list in its usefulness. Most likely it shows the names of a great proportion of the different families who lived within a radius of one hundred miles of the city of Albany during the first one hundred years of this country's existence, and therefore the research is decidedly extensive. It should be decidedly helpful to any person seeking information about a Progenitor in the section of the country covered. This may be explained more clearly by calling to mind that nearly all the people who lived in early times at the few places of settlement, such as Schenectady, Kinderhook, Amsterdam, Coeymans, Coxsackie, Catskill, Hudson, Claverack, Esopus, Amsterdam, and a few other localities, settled first at Albany, and then removed as it suited their inclination.

There are other reasons giving this list even broader significance. It has its interest even in New York City, to a large extent, without giving thought to the ever constant shifting of family location. Those families arriving in this country by way of New Amsterdam quite frequently remained there a time, establishing relationships before moving up the river. It was often the case that the newly-arrived youth took to himself a bride in Manhattan before desiring to risk adventure in an unknown kind of territory. Frequently families would divide on landing, certain members remaining on the island, others preferring to seek their fortune in the new colony of Rensselaerswyck. There were so few other localities whither a young man in either place might turn to find a bride, previous to 1700, that the intermarriages were of common occurrence.

The list might have suited a greater number of persons the better by shifting the date of limitation to the year 1750; but that would have made it voluminous. As it is, the names of more than 450 distinct families are adequately mentioned as progenitors before 1700. Those who are surprised that they do not find their family name in the list should seek it in the list of Albany County Freeholders of 1720, or in the 1790 U. S. Census of "Heads of Families."

To avoid semblance of conceit, it might be stated that with the application of from ten to twenty years devoted to the work, a diligent compiler could render excellent service to a large circle of genealogists by confining a volume to the subject, giving full biographies of each subject. Such a work should include the names of children of the progenitor, and would make a book of about five hundred pages limited solely to the Albany settlers, for it is not claimed that herewith are all the facts commonly known about these men. With the records carefully sifted, a page to each name would be an ordinary average, for what genealogist would not welcome an entire page filled with the data on his progenitor.

It is not claimed that the material comprised in this list has not been known in its several parts to some one previously, or that it cannot be discovered in the same manner as was the case when this list was specially prepared. But it has never been gathered as in this arrangement for reference, because it combines all the material in a number of works, and it is decidedly superior to anything like it. This can be maintained because it has those revisions or corrections suggested by following closely the information provided by the most excellent recent work of the New York State Archivist, Arnold J. F. van Laer, when translating with exceeding care and native skill the documents of Patroon Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, preserved still in Holland, from which one gains much information regarding when the colonist sailed, and specifically, by the contract, learn definitely regarding his occupation.

It is doubtful whether there is any family line more difficult to understand, or trace, than the Dutch. The pioneers in this particular well deserve abundant credit. It is highly desirable for one to be an expert, or else leave it strictly alone. Every muddler creates more havoc for others to puzzle upon and untangle.

Pointing out a few of the simplest forms of error may be a warning to others. The novices and not infrequently the printer, quite commonly misinterpret the old form bouwerie, or bowery, for brewer. It is surprising to find it so often stated "he owned a brewery," when it is meant the person had a farm or homestead. Some persons in an attempt to anglicize the Dutch names fall into error through ignorance. They misconstrue a name such as Jacobus to mean Jacob, not realizing that it means James, and they imagine the Dutch family name Jacobs to be Hebraic, whereas it signified in those early days a contraction of Jacobse or Jacobsen, meaning a person who was the son of Jacob. Novices should be wary regarding the literal significance of Dutch measures, for many in their writing family descents have overlooked the fact that possibly the original statement was in Rhineland measure.

A large majority of the early Dutch settlers spelled their own names indifferently, that is, in a number of ways, possibly a dozen, when a man had an alias. Clerks would enter them on the records each according to his idea of phonetic spelling, and while we may not blame them, we are bothered. Often the person who was a lowly emigrant could not be of much assistance in elucidating. Hence, it is difficult to make a list that shall be readable like a directory.

The classification of names of the first settlers of Albany is a most difficult task even for the most skilled. The expert is nonplussed, for he is forced to make statements which show it. When a large percentage of the colonists signed contracts with Patroon Kiliaen Van Rensselaer in Amsterdam, to go to his colony in America, they frequently signed simply their Christian name. It was all by which they were known. If he was named John, or in their language Johannes or Jan, he could be distinguished in a few primordial ways from any other Jan. If his father were named Pieter, they called him "John, the son of Pieter," or "Jan Pieterse." If he lived at some peculiar location, as on a hill, he might be called "John from the Hill," or "Jan van den Berg," and again, if from a city, it would be associated with his name, and the John who lived in Vechten would be known to his fellow-men as Jan Van Vechten. Often his trade would suggest his future surname, and "John, the baker," would write his name "Jan Backer." In one case a colonist named Jan with a father named Pieter, after he had built a mill for the Patroon, was known as Jan Pieterse Meulenmaecker. A young fellow might have his name written in the contract "Jan Pieterse Jonger." Given such a mixture, of one set of names when they resided in Holland, and known by an alias after living in this country, it is a problem to distinguish father and children of the same family, but passing under different names. The man named Jan Pietersen might have sons signing their names Jan Backer, Hendrick Van Vechten, Pieter Meulenmaecker, Arent van den Berg.

It merits attention that throughout the first one hundred years of Albany's history, true of the city and possibly so about the county, there was hardly a person living in that region who was not a Dutchman. Let the doubter dissect the following list most carefully, and those of other nationality than Hollander can be counted on the fingers of one hand. It is true that New England was practically contemporaneous in settlement, yet the English did not intermarry with the Dutch, at least not in Albany, before the year 1700.

Cuyler Reynolds.

Albany, March 12, 1911.

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