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Translating old documents key to discovering N.Y. history

Huguenots part of Hudson Valley's 17th century multinational society

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

NEW PALTZ, New York - About 1,520 pages of Dutch (1,200) and French (320) language documents at the Huguenot Historical Society (HHS) are awaiting translation into English. The material which dates from between 1677 and 1834, primarily consists of church records, and community legal and financial records. They are thought to provide a wealth of information about the early history of the Hudson Valley community of New Paltz.

The society recently completed a survey of its archives, an effort funded with seed money arranged by New York State Assemblyman Kevin Cahill. Beginning in 2005, HHS expects to start an ambitious four-year project to translate the material. With the documents accessible, the society hopes that researchers will be able to trace both New Paltz community and family history which because of the language barrier so far never were consulted.

The collection also contains students' educational work books and family genealogical registers. Many communities in the Hudson Valley were founded by Dutch colonists and their offspring but usually attracted settlers from other countries, including French Protestants who had been persecuted in their home country. Huguenots arrived in the New World mainly via the Netherlands, Germany and England.

The French-speaking Huguenots first called their community Nouveau Palatinat after the area in Germany where they had lived before crossing the Atlantic. From Palle and Pfaltz it gradually became kown by its English name New Paltz. Although the Huguenots arrived after Dutch colonial rule had ended, the community and the Reformed Church - as did much of the Hudson Valley - for decades used Dutch as its main language.

Before founding New Paltz, its leaders purchased the townsite from local Indian bands with payments of sturdy tools, quality cloth and even horses. Unlike other Hudson Valley locations which at times were in danger because of hostilities, New Paltz kept good relations with the natives.

Huguenot Street

HHS owns a series of historic buildings on New Paltz' Huguenot Street which has been described as "one of the most old-world village streets in America...." The homes have been preserved in their original condition and also are furnished that way. A slaughterhouse still retains 1814 equipment. Several homes were built by members of the Hasbrouck family which traces its origin to the French village of Hazebrouck (in 1100 spelled Hasebroch, which in Dutch translates as Hazebroek) near the modern border with Belgium and the Flemish-speaking region.

The Huguenot Historical Society at 845-255-6738 or by email at welcomes financial support for its translation effort as well as help from historians who are familiar with 17th century Dutch and French. Similarly, New Netherland Project (NNP) at Albany, New York (, for decades has painstakingly worked at translating numerous government records into English. A series of record books in English is the result. The newly accessible material has prompted historians to rewrite a range of aspects of early New York and American history.