County Historian

Welcome to the website of the County Historian!
Browse around to find online resources, request research assistance, and explore Livingston County history.

Livingston County Bicentennial

In 2021 Livingston County will celebrate 200 years! Keep checking back here and on Livingston County social media for updates and events leading up to the big year.

Livingston County Bicentennial Seal
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Doing Research?

We are excited to help! Here are some ways you can start: 

  1. Search our online Records Index for a name.
  2. Send us your specific questions or call us!
  3. Plan a visit - we have an extensive research center.
  4. Browse other recommended digital resources and repositories to track down information.

February: Black History Month

The County Historian's Office recognizes the following people and their achievements:

Dr. Irvin W. Underhill (1896-1982)

When Rev. Irvin Underhill accepted the call to minister to the Nunda First Presbyterian Church in September 1957, he made national news as the first African-American pastor in the country to minister to a white congregation. The congregation unanimously voted to call him after hearing him as a guest preacher in Dansville, an event facilitated by a Rochester friend of Underhill’s. Soon after he began in Nunda, church attendance on Sunday mornings had doubled and tithings had tripled. He served for nearly a decade, retiring in February of 1967.

His list of “firsts” starts well before then. He was the only Black student when he attended Princeton Theological Seminary, which led to his being the first Black Presbyterian missionary to Africa in 1929 along with his wife, Susan Reynolds Underhill. They worked in the French Cameroons, of which Cameroon is now a part, learning the local language and establishing the first school for the Bantu people. His work among the forest people earned him a life fellowship in the Royal Geographical Society of England. Susan Underhill died of fever in Africa at age 30.

Growing up in Philadelphia, he was an exceptional student, but left school at 14 to work and support his blind father and two sisters. He attended the Wharton School of Finance and worked variously at a hotel, a bank, and overnights at a shipyard during WW I. He became involved in the Episcopal Church as a Sunday school teacher and lay preacher, which led him on the ecclesiastical path his mother had urged him to take.

After his retirement from the Presbyterian Church in Nunda, he suffered the tragic loss of his second wife, Virginia, in 1968, and married a third time to Miss Ruth E. Coffin. He served as interim pastor in several other local churches, including in Lima and CVirginia and Rev. Irvin W. Underhill at Nunda Presbyterian Church, c. 1967(Democrat and Chronicle phaledonia, passing away in 1982.

Dr. Underhill’s rich life is a testament to human motivation and courage, and he never ceased working or learning. He was quoted at his retirement in 1967 as saying, “I’m an activist. When the top stops spinning, it falls over, you know.”

Virginia and Rev. Underhill, c. 1967, at Nunda Presbyterian Church (Democrat and Chronicle  photo)

(By Holly Watson, Deputy Livingston County Historian)

David A. Vialet (1898-1979)

In 1922, David Vialet, who was born in St. Ad for Groveland Radio Laboratory, 1930Thomas, the Virgin Islands and grew up in Brooklyn, moved to Groveland Station. An electrician during WW I in the Brooklyn Navy yard, he worked on the railroad at Groveland before opening a radio sales and repair shop in 1929. Fire destroyed his Groveland Radio Laboratory only one year later, but he determinedly reopened, and later became a founding officer of the Groveland Fire Department. In 1938, he invented a testing device which determined the viability of radio antennas. He also operated a dance hall and restaurant, the Harlem Casino, for a few years, taking advantage of the popularity of African-American entertainment and music in white communities like Groveland. Vialet was elected president of the Frederick Douglass Mutual Benefit Association in 1936, an advocacy group for Black county residents.

After David Vialet with his ingenious burglar alarm, 1947moving to Rochester in the 1940s and opening Radart Appliance Shop there, Vialet invented a “magic eye” burglar alarm. His shop having been burgled three times in 1947, he set up an invisible UV ray and buzzer system which alerted him to a fourth break-in. Swinging open a trapdoor to the roof and switching on a floodlight, Vialet fatally shot the two perpetrators. After submitting to questioning, he was not charged.

In the 1950s, Vialet organized the Kelly Street Music Center in Rochester, and with help from the Frederick Douglas Civic Association, provided free musical instruction to underserved children in the area. He led a neighborhood children’s band there for over a decade.

In 1965, Vialet returned to St. Thomas, passing away there in 1979. He is remembered for his electrical, entertainment, and educational contributions to communities in Groveland and Rochester.

(Research by Holly Watson, Deputy Livingston County Historian)

What's New?

Alms House Register, 1877-1921

September 2019

Indexing of this massive register has just been completed and lists those seeking assistance at the Alms House (later County Home). Searching for that missing person? This book may help track them. Search for ancestors names on our Online Records Index.

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Out With the Old!

June 2019

Our outdated microfilm readers have come to the end of their useful lives. Meet the new ScanPro2200! Now our office is better equipped to access newspapers and other resources on microfilm and provide improved digital images.

Old Microfilm machine    New Microfilm machine

Clip of Henry Wilson book coverLife of Henry Wilson, the Murderer

June 2019

Henry Wilson, alias William A. Carson, alias James Morgan, confessed to the murders of five people and was executed in Geneseo, NY in 1865 for the murder of Henry Devoe. This account, written by the man himself, tells of his travels and crimes, and is quite riveting.

Digitized - Unusual Newspapers

May 2019
The Letter Box
A collection of assorted rare newspapers was recently digitized, from the 1817 Genesee Farmer and the 1859 Frederick Douglass' Paper  to the 1901 Bungtown Bugle and 1936 Living Stream Hose Co. Carnival Booster. Other titles include the Geneseo Business Item, Geneseo Daily News, Discover Conesus, Moscow Advertiser, and Hot Cinders. All have been uploaded to www.fultonhistory.com for searching. 

Patients Property book cover

Craig Colony Patients' Property Books, c. 1912-1947

April 2019

With no known patient records from Craig Colony Hospital for Epileptics, we rely on other resources to help us learn about our ancestors who spent time at the institution. These record books detail some of the personal belongings of patients at the hospital. Two books itemize the property, and one is just an index - the record book itself is not known to survive. Search our Online Records Database by name to see if your person is indexed in this exciting new mini-collection.

Clipping of a Coroner's Decision

Coroner's Records, 1906-1936

November 2018

This series, the bulk from 1923-1936, primarily comprises detailed Coroner's Inquests and corresponding Coroner's Decisions. Because of the sensitive nature of these records, no index is published. Please contact us about a specific case.

B7 F19 p4877

Photographs from the Archives