Most people will tell you that the final attempt at recording vital records in New York State started in 1880. The truth is that some cities began recording vital records before 1880. The City of Albany started in 1870. Syracuse and Utica started in 1873. Rochester and Yonkers started about 1875. Buffalo started in 1878.
Statewide recording of vital record began in 1880 but you may not find the records you want for the first 20 years as compliance was still very spotty. Some people say that only 50% of events are recorded for the years before 1890. I don’t know how they could arrive at that percentage. Vital records were and still are collected under the NY State Department of Health. There is a copy of the record in the Town or Village that the event was recorded and the original record went to the State Department of Health in Albany. Unlike some other states, the records are not open for inspection. You used to have to contact the Town, if known, or the NY State Department of Health. That was the only way to obtain a record until the early 1990s. It was at that time that the NY Department of Health announced that they had microfiche indexes that could be searched. There were restrictions. You could only see the indexes for births over 75 years old and marriages and deaths over 50 years old. Still, it started flood of people heading to Albany to do a search for records that they had not received before. The microfiche have the name, date of the event, where it occurred and the record number. For a while, if you gave the Department of Health all that data, they would give you a copy of the record for $1.50. That soon ceased. For some people that aren’t my direct line all I wanted was on the index. I had a year of death but the index filled in the month and day. Plus you can search many spellings by using the indexes.
The vital record indexes were moved to the NY State Archives (also in Albany) in 1992. That started genealogists begging to have the indexes in other places. It wasn’t until 2001 that the Department of Health granted the Rochester Public Library the first copies of the indexes. Now there are currently nine places that have the vital records indexes:
- Albany – New York State Archives
- Buffalo – Buffalo & Erie County Public Library
- Elmira – Steele Memorial Library
- Glens Falls – Crandall Public Library
- New York City – National Archives (Northeast Region)
- Patchogue – Patchogue-Medford Library
- Rochester – Rochester Public Library
- Syracuse – Onondaga County Public Library
- Watertown – Flower Memorial Library
The vital record indexes are organized in three sets; births, marriages and deaths. Then each set of those records have a subset by year. Each year has records in alphabetical order. The set for 1880 has some of those records for those few cities that started recording vital records earlier.
An announcement from the Department of Health in mid August 2009 says that they have added an index of delayed birth records from before 1881. These are mostly from people that filed a birth record so they could prove their age to receive benefits under the Social Security Act of 1935. The records are alphabetical by the person, also alphabetical by mother’s maiden name and also by year. That sounds like a great source until you read that part of the announcement that there are only 1,048 records for the years 1823 – 1881.
So what if you want to search the indexes and don’t live near New York State? You can try asking for help from someone on one of the message boards on RootsWeb.com. There are people that are in the libraries that will search for you if they have free time. If that fails you may want to pay someone to do a search.
For some unknown reason, New York State had an extra copy of marriage records created for the years 1908 to 1935. Those were placed in each county courthouse. In some counties those records are still on open shelves. In my home county of Monroe and other counties they have been hidden for years. Some years ago, prior to the stringent state regulations on vital records, the LDS Family History Department filmed a good share of those marriage records and the indexes. Check the LDS online catalog to see if those marriage records are available for your county of interest.