Friday, February 10, 2012

Charity in New York State in 1906

Most regular readers of this blog are aware that as a retirement business we at Between the Lakes Group have been engaged in finding and republishing history (mainly of the northeastern states of the US, but sometimes elsewhere as well) for over a decade now. When you're engaged in a pursuit, you find that a lot of what you think about is related to the pursuit at hand. Thus, it occurred to us that we would not be out of line if we occasionally commented on the process of selecting the things that we publish, and perhaps even about the process.

So, this post is the first of what will likely become a series on items we've just published. It could even be an easy way to stay on top of what we're working on.

We were fortunate a while ago to happen on an eBay listing for a three volume set that comprised this report about charity in New York State in 1906 (the title of which is actually "Annual Report of the State Board of Charities for the Year 1906"). It was certainly an unusual item; so much so that the seller actually contacted us after the auction to ask what would motivate someone to actually buy such a thing and pay the shipping for it.

When we told them that we felt that this would be a great primary source for those interested in local history and for those who might want to see for themselves just what life was actually like a hundred years ago if you happened to be among society’s unfortunates and lived in New York State. We allowed that given the political attention today’s “safety net” was getting, we thought that there might actually turn out to be quite a bit of interest in the information in these three volumes.

The question was how to make it available, of course. We’re a firm that publishes electronically, so reprinting those volumes was not an option. How to organize the material was, however. It occurred to us that possibly the eBay seller was flummoxed about who would want to buy something like this was that, in its three volume format, this is pretty close to impenetrable. For example, volume III (this material is from volume II) is almost entirely tables of statistics. You’ve got to be more than an ordinary policy wonk to find that worth a second look. Volume I – the “report” per se – is a real mixed bag, with much duplication of material on some of the state facilities discussed in this volume, yet also some that is not found here. Volume I also has a series of transcripts of discussions and papers appended dealing with specific issues that were of particular interest to the Commission at that time.

We decided, since we tend to organize our publications by county, that we would stick to that methodology here, providing a certain amount of information at a state-wide level, but certainly not all that the three volumes include. We recognized from the start that we would be overlooking material in volumes I and III that referenced facilities in the counties, but one must start somewhere.

Accordingly, our plan is to re-publish volume II in county by county segments, and to precede those publications with the summary of state facilities that begins the volume (that is this paper).

We hope that those interested in local history will find this series interesting, and we are confident that very few counties have these reports available to them anymore. Thus, we think that any county historian or local historian will find it of interest. We expect that people working on the genealogy of people who were involved in charitable administration in New York State in 1906 will find this of interest simply because it contains many names of persons in various administrative capacities. Further, although names of inmates of the facilities are not listed, we think that anyone who learns that a genealogical subject was at one time an inmate of a particular institution will want to find out a bit more about where the ancestor or other relative lived and what conditions were like there.

Finally, as mentioned earlier, with the level of political discourse about the “safety net” we now have, that we ought to have, and at some point in the past we actually had, we think that knowing what this portion of the safety net consisted of back in 1906 will be instructive, if not surprising, to most people.

As we like to think that everyone knows, but it also feels like we need to say, we are in the process of publishing more historical information about New York State (and other locales) from a variety of sources, all old, out of copyright, out of print, and much of it very scarce and difficult to locate. We invite you to examine both our material available for download (like this article) and our CD-ROMs – your purchases of which make it possible to continue to collect and republish this material for you.

A full catalog of our offerings can be found at our main website, We invite you to visit us there.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Praise for the government

I figure that with a title like that most readers will decide one of the following:
(1) that senility has finally kicked in bigtime
(2) that I'm being sarcastic
(3) that this is some kind of political polemic

Wrong. It's none of the above.

It's actually praise for the Connecticut Department of Revenue Services (and I can hear the response to THIS -- the author must be truly crazed) for something that they do well, better than the old way, and cheaper for the taxpayer, too.

That something is online filing of sales and use taxes, coupled with a direct debit to my business checking account for tax owed.

In way of background, my business, such as it is, Between the Lakes Group LLC, is a retirement business. It's never made much money, and it never will. However, if you happen to be interested in local history, genealogy, and Americana, principally as it relates to the Northeast, you really do need to have our site bookmarked. What we do is locate and republish materials in these closely related subject areas. The publication part is online (and on CD-ROM) so our "products" are considerably cheaper than you could ever find them in print -- if you ever could find them at all. Anyway, it's worth a look. The link will take you to our website, where you can peruse the catalog.

Okay, that's the end of the commercial message -- now back to the subject of the Connecticut DRS and why I'm praising them

I mentioned that this retirement business of mine, Between the Lakes Group, is a very small business. It's so small that several years ago, the DRS put us on annual filing of sales tax -- that was smart move #1.

Nonetheless, back then, filing had to be done on paper and mailed to Hartford. I foolishly neglected to send some returns return receipt requested -- and each time I omitted that step, the return seemed never to arrive in Hartford (which cost me a $50 penalty per instance -- more than the tax owed on at least one of those occasions -- remember, I said this is a SMALL business).

After it happened twice, I made a rule that all returns going to the DRS would go certified, return receipt. It was a pain, and it was kind of offensive that I had to pay several dollars just to pay a rather small tax, but at least it stopped the $50 penalties coming in.

Then, the DRS implemented online filing. As soon as I found out about it, I started using it. Each year they make small improvements that make the process easier. This year, with a more elaborate sales tax structure, I had not expected the process to go smoothly, but, having just filed my sales tax return, I am very happy to say that I was wrong. They did everything right, they made the process easy, they checked for calculation errors (actually, they did the calculations for me), and I saved the trip to the Post Office, the first class postage, and the certified return receipt fee, not to mention the anxiety that I always felt in the old days until the return receipt came back.

Thank you, Connecticut DRS. Your system works, and I appreciate it. Good job.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Historical Societies and Libraries

Well, we've had a couple of requests for a summary here of the genealogical sources (historical societies and libraries) we visited on our recent swing south. We had provided a fast play-by-play while we were on the road via Twitter (we'd be happy if you would follow @betweenthelakes, but it's not a requirement!), but it seemed like a list in blog form might be more useful. So, here's where we went and what we did:

--Frederick County (MD) Historical Society: A lovely old building in the historic district of Frederick with a municipal parking garage right across the street (a real convenience). The staff was very helpful (they were training some volunteers from local colleges when we visited, so possibly we were good examples of the kind of visitors the students could expect) and quite knowledgeable without being at all pushy. The collection is pretty comprehensive for Frederick County, and there's an internal catalog that represents a volunteer's life work, and is, as one might expect, quite helpful. The downside is that the library is in the basement, and there's no elevator, and the stairs aren't great, which is really a problem only if you're not terribly agile anymore. The good news there was that we saw volunteers taking material upstairs for a visitor who couldn't cope with the stairs. While you're there, ask the staff to direct you to a Spanish restaurant around the corner where the tapas were absolutely super! We regrettably didn't capture the name of the place or it would be the subject of a blog post all by itself.

--The Albemarle County/Charlottesville Historical Society, in Charlottesville, VA. We had only about two hours here, regrettably, since we were in transit between Frederick MD and Richmond. There was another reason for the brevity of our stay as well, and it's a real problem: no place to park. We found a space on the street, and the staff in the library were kind enough to let us know that the parking time limits are rigorously enforced. I found the visit useful because I was able to access a clipping file on a family I was researching, and I just about got through it in the limited time we had. I wish I had a suggestion for people wanting to research here who come by car (and there doesn't seem to be any alternative to that, either) -- maybe have one person research at a time while another drives the car around the block looking for short-term parking places? If there's a better solution, the staff didn't suggest it to us. Too bad, anyway -- looks like a nice collection!

--Virginia Historical Society, Richmond. We were able to spend a full day here, and the parking concerns of the previous day evaporated as we parked in their spacious, free, private parking lot. The staff were super helpful and took great pains to tell us what they had, and equally important, what they didn't, once we outlined our research needs. They've got a great index of the major periodicals of the area, and you can easily kill a whole day just with it (which I did). Again, plaudits for the staff. They got us started in the right direction, and they checked back with us periodically (but not TOO frequently) to make sure we were coming along well.

--The Amelia County Historical Society, in Amelia Courthouse, VA. One of those great little county historical societies you occasionally find, if your ancestors lived in the right places and if you're lucky. Plenty of free parking right across the street, and very helpful staff. Nice thing about these smaller local operations is that you're likely to discover that you're at least a distant relative of the people who are helping you! Despite the fact that they were setting up for a reception while we were there, we got lots of uninterrupted research time in a pretty comprehensive collection. Unfortunately it's open only two days a week, so this is one that you definitely have to schedule carefully.

--The Library of Virginia, Richmond. Back in Richmond again, for a few hours at this huge facility (which has free parking right in the basement -- you do need to remember to have your ticket validated on the way out for it to be free, however -- and because it was raining, we really appreciated it on this visit). The place is huge and the open shelves for Virginia material were enough to occupy us for the day. In previous visits we had also called material up from the stacks and had used the archival material. Copies are made using a card that you load with $$ before copying, which helps keep copying expense under control. You'll not get the level of personal service here that you get in smaller facilities, but it's still a great library and not to be missed if you have any interest at all in Virginia.

--The State Library of North Carolina, Raleigh. We spent two days here, and found the genealogy collection and archives were closed on one of them, due to the omnipresent budget cuts. There's a parking lot across the street (although the rates are clearly set for the lobbyists who pack the lot when the legislature is in session, not for ordinary people) and you will be well advised to visit here only when the legislature is absent. And don't forget to check to make sure which parts of the library are open, of course! We found the security here to be very tight. Government issued photo ID is required to enter the building and your name, address, license number, and who knows what else are recorded when you enter. Then, after getting a visitor badge, you get to re-identify yourself when you visit the archives. Be sure you check the schematic diagram of the facility, which is on three floors. There's general state information in the library on the first floor (under construction when we visited, but very helpful staff), the genealogy collection is on the mezzanine, and the archives are on the second floor. We initially went to the archives by mistake and were somewhat confounded by the absence of the familiar accoutrements of genealogy libraries, and when I asked at the desk, I learned of our error. They were polite enough; they noted it happens all the time. Once we got to the right room, the collection was very helpful, and it is by no means restricted to North Carolina -- they wisely recognize that a lot of people passed through NC en route elsewhere, and cover both the places from which people come and to whence they went. They even have some good New England material! Too little time here, unfortunately. We'll be back!

--Historical Society of Washington County, VA, Abingdon. This looks like a fine little collection. There's what seems to be a comprehensive online index of it, and most research is directed toward that index. We had only a few hours here (there is parking available, by the way), and the staff was very helpful, perhaps a little more helpful than I would have preferred -- but that's based on a single, short visit. Any inadequacies in their collection probably reflect the area's history as a place where lots of people passed through but left little in the way of footprints.

We also hit a couple of museums on the trip, and I'll cover them in a separate post.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Good food in Raleigh NC!!!!

As some of you know, we've been on a combined genealogy and local history trip south -- Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina to be specific -- and we succeeded in skipping the Halloween Snowstorm here in Northwestern Connecticut completely. That's good news, especially when you live on a dirt road that might not enjoy the highest priorities with road crews and for power restoration.

We tweeted impressions of some of the libraries and historical societies we visited (feel free to follow us as @betweenthelakes if you're so inclined), but we thought that we should mention two restaurants we found virtually next to each other in Raleigh, NC in a blog post. I think that either of them would be considered a good restaurant if they were located "up north" but down in a locale where it seems like "good eatin" -- i.e. southern cooking -- is the sine qua non, they were both notable.

The first of the two we visited was the Taj Mahal, located in a mini-mall at 4520 North Capital Boulevard (i.e. route 1). The place was (undeservedly) almost empty, but we decided to try it out anyway. I had lamb samosas, garlic naan, lamb saag, and mixed pickle as a condiment. The lamb samosas were light and flavorful -- I used a little of the tamarind sauce they came with, and a bit more of the green chili sauce, but they were nicely done and would have been fine without the sauces. I'd never had garlic naan before!! It was very good, light, soft, and garlicky. We liked it so much we took the remaining pieces back to the motel. The lamb saag was very nice. The spinach didn't have the metallic taste it sometimes does, the lamb pieces were small and tender, and the sauce was really just right. I thought it compared favorably with the lamb saag at the Ganges on Praed Street in London, which had always been my standard. I licked the platter clean on that one! The mixed pickle was the only disappointment of the meal. However, I was able to fish enough lime and chile chunks out of it to make a successful condiment.

Judy had chicken madras and was very pleased with it as well. Her conventional naan (no garlic) was also excellent, and she found the mango chutney sharp and refreshing, something I've never personally found mango chutney to be.

I'd say that the Taj Mahal was worth a detour. We would have had a second dinner there, but there was another restaurant we wanted to try, so we didn't give the Taj a chance to prove that it was not just good but also consistent.

The Casalinga Ristorante Italiano was the second restaurant, and it was so good we went back a second evening -- and thus can say that it was also consistent. It's a Sicilian restaurant, and we were fortunate to be there when they were having a special menu of recipes from their home town in Sicily.

The first night I had the tripe stew as an appetizer, and have to say it was as good as any tripe I have ever eaten in any national cuisine! It was tender, delicate, and perfectly flavored. That evening I had "Mamma Giuseppina's Meat Sauce" which was obviously more than "just" a sauce -- a filet of beef stuffed with mozarella, pine nuts, raisins, and various other items. A meatball and a sausage accompanied the filet, which was over rigatoni (I think). Of course it was more than just a meal -- and again I embarrassed myself by licking the platter clean (actually, with the aid of the bread, which was home made and similarly excellent). No dessert that evening; no room for it! I think that Judy had something more or less conventional -- lasagna, if I remember correctly -- which she was very pleased with.

At any rate, we promised we would be back the next evening (our last in Raleigh) if they would have the Pork Bracioli (they had run out the first evening we were there). They promised, and we came back. That evening I stuck to the special menu and enjoyed cuddruni (stuffed pie: tomato, onions, eggplant, basil, potato) which was light and flavorful. If you've never had pork bracioli (which is pig skin -- no meat, just skin -- stuffed with cheese, raisins, pine nuts and other things) with a tomato sauce -- also served with a meatball and a sausage, again over rigatoni -- you need to be ready to experience some chewiness, and I was expecting some good jaw muscle exercise. They fooled me!! It was extraordinarly tender and also flavorful. It was really, really good.

We had some Sicilian sfingi for dessert - and it, too, was excellent.

The address -- and this place proved itself to be worth more than just a detour, particularly if you want to enjoy real Sicilian (as opposed to Americanized Italian) food, expertly prepared and served -- was at 4538 North Capital Boulevard.

The food on the rest of the trip was undistinguished, but these two restaurants stood out as meriting some praise. I'd return to either in a heartbeat!

Monday, October 03, 2011

Salisbury, CT - The Early Years

We've just published Salisbury, Connecticut - The Early Years!

Every so often in this e-publishing business we get to actually publish something that has never been published before. Mostly we republish stuff that's old, generally pre-1923, thus avoiding copyright issues, but every so often we dig up something a whole lot newer -- and on rare occasions, even get to be the first publisher of something.

Back in the 1980s, after Judith Sherman (who has several roles in this story, including business partner in Between the Lakes Group and spouse, as well as author, as you will shortly see) found herself no longer working for the Wall Street powerhouse that had employed her before our daughter was born (new moms still don't get much respect on Wall Street, we're told, but it was even worse 30 years ago), she decided to get her MA in history -- a subject that had been a consuming interest of hers almost all her life -- at Hunter College, which both had a great history department on its own and could draw on the even stronger CUNY history department, which happened to be only a few blocks from our apartment in NYC.

Because we already had the house on the dirt road that gave its title to this blog, but only visited it on weekends, once she had completed her required courses and was undertaking original research, one of her research topics was, naturally, the history of Salisbury, Connecticut.

When this paper was subtitled “The Early Years” it indeed meant early. Most of the material is based on the 1719 – 1742 period – the period when Salisbury (which is located in the extreme northwest corner of Connecticut, in case you were wondering just where the dirt road is located) was first laid out and settled. In its 83 pages (yes, it's a serious paper, not a homework assignment), including extensive footnotes, the paper summarizes the township’s early history in a way that had not been done previously.

At the time this paper was written, colonial historiography fell into two broad classifications: first, there were the archivers, the people who collected colonial-era manuscripts, (occasionally) translated them into modern English, sequenced them, and published them in bound volumes for others to search for elusive ancestors but mainly to get dusty on research library shelves. The second category of colonial historians at that time painted in broad strokes. Very broad strokes, usually. They drew from limited documentary history, they extrapolated from more recent and more extensively documented eras, they were happy to include tradition and conjecture, and they theorized about what must have happened in very general terms.

Usually historians in the latter category had an axe to grind – most frequently an ancestor’s reputation to inflate, or an organizational viewpoint to protect and promote.

Around the time this paper was written, a third kind of colonial historian was beginning to emerge. Historians, largely graduate students like the author of this paper, and younger faculty in research universities, were just beginning to apply quantitative techniques to the colonial data available. Instead of writing from within the milieu that rewarded the second variety of colonial historian cited above with social approbation, the new historians tended to write about places where they did not live and where they had no ancestral backgrounds to color their historical interpretation.

It seems strange today to realize that thirty or so years ago colonial history tended to eschew quantitative measurements, and that arms-length critical analysis was the exception rather than the rule, but that was the state of the colonial history field even that recently.

The author’s background, prior to her graduate education in history, had been in analytical work on Wall Street. She had learned early on, in reading annual reports and 10-Ks of companies looking for investment opportunities (and red flags) and in identifying companies as merger and acquisition candidates, that puffery abounded in the text of annual reports, and that only by starting with the footnotes and the numbers themselves and analyzing them critically could rational business decisions be made. A statement like “Land speculation was rampant in early Salisbury” was the sort of generalization that sadly characterized the state of colonial history at the time this paper was written – and exactly the type of statement that Sherman had been trained to detect, question – and frequently demolish.

Along those lines, this paper presented the first not-entirely-laudatory view of a real sacred cow of Salisbury history, the first clergyman in town, the Rev. Jonathan Lee.

Anyway, after opening a long-hidden away box and finding this and another paper about the history of Salisbury, we decided that it was time for a first publication.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Grand Central - gateway

One of the ways we keep busy out here on the dirt road involves the internet -- probably coming as no surprise to much of anyone -- but our use of the internet involves something besides playing Farmville (no, we don't play Farmville). What we started doing nearly a decade ago was republishing history.

The whole thing was premised on the fact that if you're doing your family history, there's really no substitute for knowing everything you can about the area where your ancestors lived. That requires access to local history, which was (and still is) pretty hard to find, even if you're living in the area you need to research.

It's almost impossible to justify republishing local history in print -- demand is far too thin and cost way, way too high -- but digital republication? Well, possibly that might be cost effective.

Anyway, we started collecting historical and genealogical material and putting it on CD-ROMs. That line of business eventually morphed into an additional delivery mechanism, downloads. We didn't look back. The idea of republishing in print never really came up again for serious discussion.

Until yesterday, when we republished a thin hardback book called "The Gateway to a Continent -- The Grand Central Zone".

Of all the publications in our catalog (and there are several hundred now), this one is the one that most deserved republication in book form.

The quality of the paper, the delicate artwork forming the backgrounds for each page, the overall feel of the document demonstrated its quality – and, at the same time, clearly defines the market to which it was directed. The book was clearly directed at the senior corporate executive, the wealthy socialite, what remained of the upper class as the Great Depression was drawing to an end. It is clearly a marketing piece, yet it is sufficiently subtle about the fact that it lists no publisher or sponsor. The advertising it contains are the articles and photographs themselves. One surmises that it was a cooperative effort of the owners of the buildings mentioned in the text and pictured.

Subtlety pervades the document. There is no publisher or author or printer named and no copyright claimed. We must deduce even the date of publication. The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, cited as “ultra modern” in the text, was built in 1931. A mention later of 1934 suggests it was published after that date, and a notation on a map that the World’s Fair would be in Flushing, accessible via the Subway running under Grand Central, would begin in 1939, provides a likely end date. So we date it between 1935 and 1938 – surely not a good time to be marketing expensive office space or high-end hotels or nine room Park Avenue apartments. Yet this is clearly the objective of this book.

It's a beautiful book. My wife, who is not given to expressions of approbation, spontaneously commented "It's wonderful!" (That made me feel good in the sense that my judgement was considered good, and bad in the sense that this was being republished in digital form only.)

I thought a bit more about who might be interested in this download. I could identify students of marketing of luxury goods, those interested in New York City history, and those with an interest in historic railroad stations (not a small group, by the way!), but also those interested in the development of urban planning theory. The introduction to the book suggests that the Grand Central Zone – the first we have encountered this term for the area – will become a paradigm for future American urban development. You'll recognize some of the landmarks: Grand Central, of course, the Waldorf-Astoria, the Biltmore, the Roosevelt, the Graybar Building. Others are gone (think of the grand apartment houses in the style of upper Park Avenue that once lined that street right about Grand Central) or have assumed new identities.

All reasonable, but I'm reminded that whenever we ourselves go back into New York City, we enter via that same Gateway. It's fun to see what's the same now as it was 80 years ago -- and what's different.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Back in the saddle again....

Well, after leaving this blog alone for a year or so, having decided to heed some pundit or other who had proclaimed that blogging was dead since any fool could plainly see that it had been replaced by some other web 2.0 technology, I'm back.

A brief status report:
--the cellphone reception is still nonexistent here (I think I groused about that back in 2006)
--Citibank does not seem to have gotten its act together yet (but at least it's mostly staying out of the headlines now, which makes me feel better)
--Our military alarums and excursions continue; they ebb and flow and if President Eisenhower is not spinning in his grave, it may be because the bearings he was spinning on are worn out. It's unnecessary to say that the man was 100% right about the military/industrial complex. There's no military draft, of course, so nobody cares from that perspective.
--Between the Lakes Group continues to re-publish (e-publish) history. We've expanded from just CD-ROMs as the publication vehicle to include downloads. That's the commercial message, and of course it would be great if you would take a look at our website and maybe buy something.

Anyway, Up a Dirt Road is back. Hopefully we'll be better at avoiding distraction this time. Talk with you soon!