Friday, April 3, 2020

Our Towne Bethlehem April 2020: Where did James and Sarah Dickson live?

Below is April's Our Towne article.  At the end you can find a bunch of links to useful websites. Enjoy!

House Histories: Slingerland to Dickson to Miner to Lynch

Last month I wrote about James and Sarah Dickson of Slingerlands. As part of that research, I went on the hunt for exactly where their home was located. This article explores that process, one you can follow if you would like to research your own home’s history.

For this project, I started with the fact that John I. Slingerland bequeathed land to Dickson in his will dated October 22, 1861.  It gives a specific (ish) location, “the house and lot, lying on the North west corner of my farm, which is hereinafter bequeathed to James Dixon.”  The lot is bounded on the west by Oliver Road (modern day Font Grove Road) and on the north by lands of James B. Wands. (The history of Wands’ large estate, Font Grove, is a story for another article.)

From there I turned to the old maps, specifically, the 1866 Beers map. Locating the railroad and New Scotland Road, one can easily find Font Grove Road and just at the bend after crossing the tracks is the name James Dickerson. Aha, there’s our man, albeit with his name spelled wrong. You’ll also see J.B. Wands and several Slingerlands. While you have to take these maps with a grain of salt, this was looking promising.

Next, I took a scenic drive through Slingerlands and along Font Grove Road and noted the old house just at the bend of Font Grove on the right from New Scotland Road. It has a simple farmhouse style which could easily date from the 1800s. It has several additions, and is currently clad in pinkish-orangish siding. There is also an old looking barn/carriage house in the back. It is just the kind of house I imagine the Dicksons living in, not a high style Victorian, but a homey house with comfortable porches for rocking.

With a potential house in mind, it was off to the town’s on-line assessment roll. On OARS, I searched under 85 Font Grove Road, and found the names of the current owners as well as a description of the house “old style” with a date of 1900. Always be somewhat skeptical of OARS dates. In my experience, before the 1920s or so, the dates are in the ballpark but not necessarily exact. Look for collaborating information. In this case, the architecture of the house itself speaks to a date earlier than 1900.

With the names of the current owners, Steven and Linda Lynch, I hopped over to Albany County’s website to see if I could find some interesting deed information. The caveat here is that land records are only digitized back to the early 1980s. If you are lucky, the modern era deed will directly import the land descriptions from the old deeds (i.e. those links and chains descriptions that include the old oak tree you have heard me mention before.) But what you are really looking for are the names of previous owners. This ownership chain is what I was trying to trace back from the Lynches to the Dicksons for this specific piece of property.

Now, because I am lazy (true confession – and nosy too given all the time I spend looking up houses on OARS), I will often quit following the chain of names at what is available online instead of making the trek to the Albany County Hall of Records. This time I was especially motivated to get off my couch. James Dickson intrigues me! Off to Tovoli Street in Albany I went.

A side note, Albany County holds all the land records for the Town of Bethlehem. The town historian’s archive does have many old land deeds, or indentures as they were called, that have been donated over the years. These are more easily accessible via a last name search. Gathering names will greatly personalize your research and allow you to look in old newspapers and other records for information about the families who have lived in your house.

Another side note, if you just want to trace the previous owners of your house, a trip to the Albany County Clerk’s office on Eagle Street is in order. There you will find many real estate title clerks hard at work documenting the chain of deed book and page numbers.

Personally, I like the old stuff, and the Hall of Records is the place for that. They’ve got naturalization records, census records and all kinds of cool stuff like Albany County jail records from 1825 to 1976. When I was there, two scholars were researching Albany mayor-for-life Erastus Corning. They had a trolley of 10 or 12 boxes and were going methodically through each one. Who knows how many days they had been at it. But I digress.

The main item I was interested in at the Hall of Records was the grantor/grantee index. It is on microfilm and includes dates between 1630 and 1940. The index is fun because it allows you to fish around for historical information, as long as you have a name to go by. With the assistance of a very helpful clerk, I looked up the names Dickson (also Dixon) and of course Slingerland, spinning the microfilm tape back and forth, and finding all kinds of interesting tidbits.

Most importantly, I found several deeds related to James Dickinson, his wife Sarah and son George. One, handwritten in 1875, was on microfilm, the other two had to be called up from the back. I was presented with two large and very heavy books carefully wrapped in acid free paper and tied up with string. “Just open them with my bare hands?” I asked. “No one is going to do it for you” was the reply. Shedding my fear of smudging these originals documents, I perused the brittle typewritten pages.

A deed from January 29, 1918 contained the most interesting bits. It details the sale between Sarah Ann Dickson and William H. S. Miner. “Being the premises which were acquired by devise by James Dixon also known as James H. Dickson now deceased, the husband of the grantor in this deed under the last will and testament of John I. Slingerland, deceased, proved in the Surrogate’s court of the County of Albany on the 23rd December 1861.” At the end of the document, it concludes with an agreement that the party of the second part, that is W. H. S. Miner, shall “quietly enjoy the said premises” and that the party of the first part, that is Sarah Ann, shall “forever warrant the title to said premises.” And then Sarah Ann “set her hand and seal” and William A. Glenn “witnessed her mark.” There literally is a typed X. In 1918, Sarah Ann Dickson used an X instead of signature. Wow.
William H. S. Miner died in 1955 and the property transferred to his daughter Ruth Miner. Her heirs transferred it to Steven and Linda Lynch in 1987. (Ruth Miner’s fascinating story is also for another article. You know that big white Victorian with the red tile roof at the corner of New Scotland and Font Grove Roads? That’s the Miner house.)

Because this is a historian’s journey, not a title search, I reached out to the current owners of 85 Font Grove Road to see what they could tell me. I had a nice conversation with Steve Lynch who confirmed they purchased the property from the Miners. He told the story of how back in the early 1980s, he was interested in the property and knocked on the door. An old woman answered the door and it turned out she was Granny Weed who had been taking care of an elderly Ruth Miner. Granny Weed had a life tenancy in the house and it wasn’t until she passed away that Steve was able to buy the property.

In conclusion, I can fairly say that 85 Font Grove is the former Dickson property. It is very likely the actual house they lived in. An architectural historian would be able to confirm the age of the house by inspecting its building components.

Researching the home of James and Sarah Ann Dickson turned up interesting connections to prominent members of the Slingerland community. Did you catch the steps you can use to research the story of your own house?

On the upper left of this portion of the 1866 Beers Map of Bethlehem is the name J. Dickerson.  

This section of the indenture, or deed agreement, between Sarah Ann Dickson and William H.S. Miner dated January 29, 1918, book 652, page 532, shows where she made her mark. Looking at other deeds, the convention was to type the full name indicating a signature was made. 

The house on Font Grove Road as seen today.

(also I still don't know how these stupid fonts work even after all these years!)

I've written an article about researching a house in Bethlehem.  Find it here

Town of Bethlehem Online Assessment Roll

Albany County deed research is here

Albany County Hall of Records

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