The index to New York State birth records is online at Ancestry.com. The thanks for wrenching these records out of the NY State Dept. of Health actually goes to Reclaim the Records who filed a Freedom of Information request for the indexes. Reclaim the Records currently has not received their copy of the records but they will. The Dept. of Health used Ancestry to film the records and they were able to get the index records online first. Eventually when Reclaim the Records gets their copies, they will upload the pages to Archive.org.
The indexes that are online include the years from 1881 to 1942. More current birth records and their indexes are restricted. The indexes do NOT cover the entire state. Prior to 1914, Albany, Buffalo and Yonkers had their own records offices and the birth certificates for those cities are not in this set of indexes. New York City has always kept their own records. Up until 1898 New York City only included Manhattan. So early records for Brooklyn (Kings Co.), Queens, Bronx and Staten Island (Richmond Co.) ARE included in this set of indexes. On example #1 are “New Lots” and “Gravesend” which were villages that were later absorbed into Brooklyn.
The early indexes (1881 – 1939) are alphabetical. The records were numbered as they were received by the Dept. of Health. On example #1 is John Donnolly, record number 51. It has his birth date as 16 Nov. It is possible that he was born in 1880. Also on this example on top is Rosa Doerer and her record says she was born in “Rch.” That is the abbreviation that the Dept. of Health used for Rochester but Ancestry has all the Rochester records mistakenly listed as Richmond.
It appears that there are between 6,000 to 7,000 births recorded for the upstate NY for the year 1881. Registration of vital records became better very slowly. Some say that it was after 1900 before there was close to 100% registration of birth records.
Notice too that some births are only listed as “F” or “M” for female and male. Parents had not decided on the child’s name until after registration was completed.
The indexes from 1940 – 1942 are printed out on old computer forms (see example #2 from 1942). Instead of being alphabetical they are arranged by the Soundex system. If you need a review of how to convert names to their Soundex code, see this web page from the National Archives. Notice in the example that both Arne E. Aho and Leon W. Abbey have certificate numbers that start with a “D.” That means that they are delayed birth registrations. Those could be birth registrations that were filed many years later.
At least these later birth indexes have Rochester spelled out so Ancestry can’t mistake the place of birth on these pages.
For the year 1942 there are approx 2390 pages with at least 50 names on each page. That means that there would be approx. 119,000 births total. The index page only has space for 5 digits. So for certificates 100,000 to 109,999 they are listed as beginning with an “R.” Certificates beginning 110,000 begin with an “S.” These would be for certificates from December.
I noticed that in the 1942 index there were names that had a place of birth as “New York.” They didn’t have a certificate number so they are recorded in the New York City Dept. of Health. There are other mysteries like one person listed as born in New Jersey and two listed as born in Germany. Why would those people be in the NY State birth index?
The indexes were typed (early indexes) or keyed into a computer (later indexes) years after the births occurred. There is the probability that the persons creating the indexes made typing mistakes. Ancestry put the indexes online very quickly. The must have used OCR (optical character recognition) to create their indexes. OCR has problems reading text that isn’t perfect. So that would also create more probabilities of mistakes.
Right now the indexes are only behind a pay-wall at Ancestry. Reclaim the Records will eventually put the indexes online for free on Archive.org where you will be able to view the entire collection of index pages.