Tracking the History of Property in Troy and Rensselaer County, New York
Troy is a city with great numbers of historic buildings, including homes as well as industrial, commercial, educational and religious architecture. Clearly identifiable neighborhoods have grown up around these historical buildings that provide a foundation for the development of the neighborhoods. Because of the importance of this historic architecture, property owners, historic preservationists and neighborhood activists have become increasingly interested in the ownership of homes and land in the City of Troy, New York. This brief listing provides a general overview of the most important records for studying property ownership in Troy and Rensselaer County, New York. Some of the records are located at the Rensselaer County Historical Society, while others may be found at the county clerk’s office and elsewhere.
Deeds, etc.: These are found at the Rensselaer County Clerk’s Office, 3rd and Congress Streets, Troy. The County Clerk’s Office, is the central place for all land transactions in Rensselaer County, including maps, mortgages, deeds, foreclosures and other related records.
Leases: Most of Rensselaer County was originally possessed by the Van Rensselaer family (generally all of the county except the city of Troy, village of Lansingburgh, and towns of Pittstown, Hoosick and Schagticoke). There were several thousand tenants, about 3000 in the early 19th century, who leased their lands from the Van Rensselaer “patroons.” Many of the leases, indexed by surname, are in the Manuscripts and Special Collections of the New York State Library. The Van Rensselaer Manor Papers at the State Library also include surveys of property and maps of the manor lands as well as rent books listing tenants and their annual rental payments to the Van Rensselaer family.
Title Searches: There are numerous companies in the Capital District, including some in Troy, that do title searches of property. RCHS has the Charles Cohen Collection that consists of title search files for property in Troy and Rensselaer County that were done in the late 20th century. This collection is partially indexed.
City Directories: City directories for Troy from 1832 to 1999 are available in the RCHS library. The city directories include a wide range of information including names of government officials, advertisements of businesses, and other data about the city. The major portion of a city directory is the list of residents, with their addresses and usually with their occupations noted, in the city for each year. The directories may be searched by name only through 1914. Beginning in 1915, the directory also includes a House Directory that allows searching by street address as well as name. Beginning about 1860, Lansingburgh, West Troy (i.e. Watervliet), Cohoes, Waterford and Green Island began to be included in the Troy directories. The City of Rensselaer is included in the Albany city directories.
Surrogate’s Court Records: The records of the Surrogate’s Court have been microfilmed and are available on microfilm at the County Clerk’s Office. The original paper records for 1791 to 1916 are in the collections of RCHS and are indexed by surname in an automated database available only at RCHS. These files may have a small or great amount of information depending upon various factors. A typical file may contain a deceased person’s will, an inventory of the estate of the deceased, letters of administration given to executors (often children or other relatives of the deceased) responsible for the estate and other legal documents with family names and information with potential value for tracing the history of a family, estate or house.
Cartographic Resources: Maps and atlases of Troy may show buildings, lots, property owner’s names and other pertinent data useful for studying the history of houses and neighborhoods. Using maps with a range of dates will help represent the changes over time of the neighborhoods and city generally. Some useful atlases are:
Beers, F.W., County Atlas of Rensselaer, New York, New York, F.W. Beers, 1876.
French, J.H., Gazetteer of the State of New York, Syracuse, R.P. Smith, 1860.
Hopkins, G.M., City Atlas of Troy, NY, Philadelphia, G.M. Hopkins, 1881.
Sanborn Map Company, Insurance Maps of Troy, New York, New York, Sanborn Map Company, ca.1903-1950.
Single sheet maps of Troy and other parts of Rensselaer County are also in the collection of RCHS and can be searched in the card catalog.Other libraries and archives also have maps; the Rensselaer County Clerk’s Office has land maps for places in Rensselaer County; the New York State Library has maps of Troy and the county as well as Sanborn Insurance Atlases of Troy for 1876 in hard copy and other years on microfilm. The State Library also has insurance maps on microfilm for other places in the county, including Castleton, Hoosick Falls, Lansingburgh, Rensselaer, Schagticoke and Valley Falls. The Troy Public Library has insurance maps of Rensselaer County on microfilm.Panoramic maps of Troy (1877) and Castleton (1884) are available at RCHS and give an overall birds-eye view of these communities while showing individual buildings.
Photographs: There are several thousand photographs in the RCHS collection, including many of houses, chiefly in Troy, both exterior and interior views, and street scenes. The photographs are not indexed; copies of the photos are filed in broad subject categories in binders. A preservation survey of homes and other buildings done in 1970 of buildings in downtown Troy and along 1st and 3rd Avenues in Lansingburgh is in the RCHS library and includes very brief descriptions of buildings as well as photographs of them taken in 1970.
Building Permits: The City of Troy Code Enforcement Bureau has records for the past two years only in its office. Earlier records are placed in records storage. For information about access to building permit records, you must contact the Code Enforcement Bureau. Building records prior to 1938 were probably lost when the City Hall burned.
Newspapers and Published Books: When attempting to date a house, knowing the characteristics of the style of the house can be very helpful in dating its construction. The RCHS library has books with information about architectural styles. RCHS also has all the basic published histories of Troy and Rensselaer County and these books may have information, including pictures about buildings. The Troy Public Library and New York State Library have Troy newspapers on microfilm dating from the 19th century to the present. Newspapers may have articles about the construction, renovation, or demolition of buildings, particularly large, non-residential buildings. The Troy Public Library also has a large scrapbook collection of newspaper articles and other historical items that has been microfilmed and indexed.
National State Registers of Historic Sites: RCHS has a file of National Register of Historic Places Registration Forms that include information on sites nominated for the national register. The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Historic Preservation Field Services Bureau on Peebles Island, Waterford, NY has further information about historic site registration.
Internet Web Sites: Searching web sites may be helpful in finding clues to the history of buildings. Here are a few sites to check:
If you have other questions about a building in Troy or Rensselaer County, please call the Rensselaer County Historical Society at 518-272-7232.