A primer on getting an historic marker from someone who has done it

To the Editor:

I am writing regarding Rich Mendoza’s letter “Why not erect a historical marker to make sure the sale of Nan is not forgotten?” [The Altamont Enterprise, Sept. 24, 2020].

The William G. Pomeroy Foundation offers six different marker grant programs designed to help people celebrate their community’s history and cultural heritage. It makes grants to 501(c)(3) organizations; not-for-profit educational institutions; and local, state and federal government entities. An individual can apply through a not-for-profit such as a historical society or civic group. The grants are made to counties on a rotating basis at different times of the year. Pomeroy announces the timeframe in local newspapers ...

I have to warn you the application is exacting. Information proposed for the signage must be thoroughly documented in primary sources. Sometimes what you think is primary is actually a secondary source. 

I researched the Daniel Webster Jenkins House in Central Bridge and it was listed on the state and national registers of historic places in 2018. But when I applied to Pomeroy, through the not-for-profit Central Bridge Civic Association, I had to search even further. But it was worth it and the distinctive blue and yellow marker is on its way.

I worked with Elaine Cooper, a member of the Central Bridge Civic Association who was the point person for the Pomeroy historic marker grant application. She was successful in obtaining a grant marking the opening of the Central Bridge Albany & Susquehanna Railroad station in 1863. Elaine, a lifelong Central Bridge resident who is also a historian and editor of the Schoharie County Historical Review, faced the same level of scrutiny as I did in identifying primary sources for the coming of the railroad.

Here are some guidelines from “Accepted Primary Source Documentation for The William G. Pomeroy Foundation Historic Roadside Marker Grant Program”:

— Images provided with applications may be scans, photocopies, or photographs, but must be readable with the relevant text underlined or highlighted;

— Maps should include date and source of map; use multiple images, if needed;

— Federal, New York State, and local government census records must include a copy of the original document with some exceptions; transcriptions alone are not considered primary source documents. For federal and state censuses, include column information at top of page; for local government census records, include title, date and location of source;

— Newspaper articles and obituaries created at the time events occurred should include the masthead with name and date of the newspaper;

— Atlases, gazetteers, directories, and other publications should have copies of the pages relevant to the marker text, including title page, publisher, and publication date of source; please note that local history publications are rarely accepted as primary sources documentation;

— Deeds, wills, probate files, inventories, court records, and other government records must be copies of the original documents; with some exceptions, transcriptions alone or abstracts of deeds are not accepted. Some authorized transcriptions, such as Founders Online (founders.archives.gov), that have been collected, transcribed, annotated and reviewed by scholars are accepted;

— Journals, ledgers, church records, and business records (bound volumes) must be copies of pages containing relevant information, including title page, cover or spine with the author or owner’s name and date, if not appearing on the page with information; and

— Letters and other correspondence must be a copy of the entire letter or correspondence; with some exceptions, transcriptions alone are not accepted.

Why primary sources? Primary sources provide firsthand testimony or direct evidence concerning the subject being researched. They are usually created at the time the events occurred. Examples include diaries, photographs, census records, deeds, legal filings, and newspaper reports published at the time of the event. 

Secondary sources analyze, report, summarize, or interpret data. These sources are one or more steps removed from the event. Examples include reference books — such as encyclopedias and local history publications — textbooks, magazine articles, and newspaper articles analyzing past events.

The National Register of Historic Places nominations are considered secondary sources as the historical information they contain is not routinely verified by the historic preservation office. 

Rosemary Christoff Dolan



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