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Archival Collections:

A Survey of Finnish and Hungarian Archival Resources in the Finger Lakes Region of New York State


FOLK ARTS & CULTURE: Archival Collections

A Survey of Finnish and Hungarian Archival Resources in the Finger Lakes Region

Project Overview

Beginning in 1998, the New York Folklore Society initiated a project to train and support community scholars in their own documentation projects in the Finnish and Hungarian communities of central New York, including Tioga, Tompkins, Chemung, and Cayuga Counties. The objectives of the project were to:
  • provide basic information about folklore materials and documentation projects to community scholars in the Finnish and Hungarian communities, including information on how to conduct a documentation project and basic preservation requirements and techniques
  • provide ongoing training through in-the-field apprenticeships
  • conduct initial surveys of documentation at the grassroots level, prepare a report of findings, and make recommendations for future work
  • increase awareness in the communities surveyed as to the importance and relevance of the documents and records in the possession of community members, and encourage improved care of such documents.

Collections which were surveyed were predominantly found in private collections. Of the twenty-one Finnish collections surveyed, nineteen were private collections, one was owned by a municipal historian, and one was a local historical agency. Of the ten Hungarian collections surveyed, all were private collections. Surveyors and community scholars for the project were Eniko Farkas (Hungarian community), and Jean Alve, Hemmo Huttenen, and Richard Koski (Finnish community). Phil McCray served as project archivist. A total of 102 cubic feet of records were identified for the project.

The most typical records found included the following:
  • photographs and photo albums
  • birth, christening, confirmation, and marriage certificates
  • immigration records
  • family histories and genealogical information
  • personal narratives and memoirs
  • business records
  • recipes and cookbooks
  • scrapbooks
  • newspaper clippings
  • some military records
  • artwork
  • musical recordings
  • oral history recordings, some transcribed

Subjects well represented in the collections included immigration, citizenship, and naturalization, business and occupational life, military service, foodways and food preparation, genealogy, farming, family life, mining, music, organizational life including labor, political, and community organizations, church activities, sports and recreation, school activities, personal narratives, textiles, and folklore and festival traditions.

In addition to archival documentation, a large quantity of objects and artifacts were identified, including textiles, handcrafts, tools and equipment, and musical instruments.

Significant Archival Collections Identified

The Finger Lakes region is an area which is dominated by agriculture and tourism. Its rolling hills have historically supported small scale farming, dairying and viniculture. The Finger Lakes themselves have supported a thriving recreation and tourism industry. Immigration to the region occurred throughout the twentieth century. Hungarian immigration began particularly in the first years of the 1900s, with significant growth occurring between the first two World Wars. Finnish immigration began in the hill country of Tompkins, Chemung, and Tioga counties in 1910. Nationally, Finns were seeking to leave the mines and factories of the Midwest to find agricultural properties and within the next four decades upwards of five hundred Finnish landowners arrived in the Finger Lakes with the most significant influx occurring between 1916-1920. With dairying on the decline, these immigrants revitalized the farming industry of the region. The Finns established chicken farming and founded strong community organizations. Besides farming, the Hungarians also worked in some of the heavy industry of the region.

Some of the most unusual records identified included

  • blueprints and construction designs for the first automated milking parlor in Tompkins County and the first geo-solar house in Tompkins County
  • Handwritten (in Finnish) books of poems and lyrics, some original pieces, some not
  • Field recordings of local Finnish-American musicians as well as a few homemade recordings of music
  • The records of the Spencer Co-operative, an economic organization formed in 1926 to purchase farming supplies cooperatively and to find markets for the farm goods which they were producing
  • Tape recorded memoirs, including the memories of a Hungarian involved in the 1956 Revolution and recollections of Ithaca area festivals including the grape harvest festival
  • Manuscript (in Hungarian) of a cookbook

The Development of the Project

With the support from the Documentary Heritage Program in 1998, the New York Folklore Society initiated a community documentation project in August of that year, with training and mentoring initiated in the Finnish community first, followed by the Hungarian community in late 1998 and early 1999. Two New York City projects (the Latino community of East Harlem and the African American community of Brooklyn) was initiated in 1999. A mid-project meeting occurred in February 1999. Additional support was granted in April, 1999, by the Central New York Library Resources Council for continuation of the Finger Lakes portion of the project to specifically survey institutional records of the Finnish community such as the Finn Hall and the Spencer Cooperative, and to produce this guide. Surveying continued with final reports submitted in June, 1999.

Community fieldworkers began to research existing archival records by using their community networks. Eniko Farkas of the Hungarian community began by contacting individuals who attended the 1998 Hungarian Old Timer summer picnic with a survey/questionnaire and generated a list of willing participants from those who responded. Site visits followed her initial contacts. Similarly, the Finnish part of the project was inaugurated at the Finnish Heritage Day which was sponsored by the Tompkins County Museum and the DeWitt Historical Society. Site visits followed this public presentation of the project.

The importance of the community fieldworker cannot be overestimated. There are a few dozen folklorists working in New York State, and there are perhaps even fewer professional archivists who might be trained and available to work with communities to identify and systematically collect their cultural and historical records. By contrast, there are undoubtedly thousands of "community scholars" who could, with some initial training and subsequent support, raise the consciousness of people in their communities about the value of historical and cultural records and exercise leadership over time in identifying and caring for them at the local level.

Community scholars are generally more expert in the specifics of local culture and are certainly more adept at moving and functioning gracefully and effectively within their cultures than are "expert" folklorists or archivists. Often, they also have well developed skills relevant to the project, such as expertise in traditional arts or in interviewing and collecting, that can be shared with other community scholars. It makes sense to develop a replicable approach to delivering documentation skills to individuals at the community level.



Conditions for Access to and Use of Documentary Collections

Generally, researchers must write or telephone in advance of any planned visit for permission to gain access to documentary collections held by historical societies or municipal historians. For these institutions, access and use of documentary material is entirely at the discretion of the owner, curator, or administrator.

Typically, if permission to consult documentary material is granted, it must be consulted on site, under supervision of staff or the owner, and may not be borrowed. Special rules may be imposed for the handling of documents or photographs, especially those in fragile condition. Examples of some rules are taking notes only in pencil, handling documents carefully, preserving the order of the materials, and perhaps using white gloves while handling materials (especially photographs).

Even if permission is granted to use documentary material, some parts of collections may still be restricted and off limits due to extremely fragile condition, legal requirements, administrative policy, special conditions imposed by a donor, the need to protect privacy, or other reasons. Furthermore, researchers are expected to abide by all copyright regulations, especially those concerning copying of material or publishing from it.

For private collections, access and use is entirely at the owner’s discretion. Inquiries regarding private collections must be directed to Ellen McHale, Executive Director, New York Folklore Society, 129 Jay Street, Schenectady, New York 12305; telephone (518) 346-7008. A staff person of the New York Folklore Society will contact the owner regarding permission to obtain access to the collection. The owner may decline such permission or impose special conditions. If permission is granted, researchers are required to carefully observe any restrictions or conditions established by the owner concerning access to or use of the material.

The majority of this text reprinted from Peopling the Adirondacks: A Survey of Collections documenting Adirondack Ethnicity by Albert Fowler, Adirondack Museum, Blue Mountain Lake, NY 1995.

I. Repository Information
  1. Spencer Historical Society

  2. Spencer Cooperative Society, Inc.

    II. Private Collections

    Finnish Collections

  3. Finnish Family Collection, Spencer

  4. Finnish Family Collection, Van Etten

  5. Collection of Finlandia, Van Etten

  6. Finnish Collection, Van Etten

  7. Finnish Family Collection, Newfield

  8. Finnish Photographic Collection, Van Etten

  9. Finnish Family Collection, Spencer/Tioga

  10. Finnish Family Collection, Florida

  11. Finnish Family Collection, Van Etten (2)

  12. Finnish Family Collection, Ocala, Florida

  13. Finnish Collection of Artifacts and Documentary Records

    Hungarian Collections

  14. Collection on Hungarian Culture

  15. Private Hungarian Collection

  16. Hungarian Family Documents

  17. Hungarian Immigrant Documents

  18. Hungarian Collection, King Ferry

  19. Hungarian Collection of Books and Ephemera, King Ferry

  20. Hungarian Collection of Photographs, Cookbooks and Ephemera

  21. Hungarian Collection, Lansing

  22. Hungarian Family Documents

  23. Hungarian Photographic Collection

The Folk Archives Project is made possible by grants from the New York State Documentary Heritage Program and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. Additional funding has been provided by a grant from the New York Foundation for the Arts/New York Council for the Arts Technology Initiative.

NEW YORK FOLKLORE SOCIETY ♦ 129 Jay Street ♦ Schenectady, NY 12305 ♦ 518.346.7008 ♦ Fax 518.346.6617 ♦ nyfs@nyfolklore.org