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How to Ask for Genealogical Help in New York State


Cliff Lamere   Mar 2001



There are many sources of information for your ancestors who lived in New York State.  These sources include church records, vital records preserved by municipalities, censuses, wills, deeds, military records, cemetery records, obituaries, newspapers and city directories.


Each state has its own special situation when it comes to the dates and kinds of records available.  When you write from another state, you cannot be familiar with the NY system.  Therefore, you won't know which information is important to the person in NY who is trying to give you advice on how to proceed in your search for your ancestors.  I hope that this webpage will help ease that problem.


Read the comments below, then proceed to a list of some things that you might want to mention in your request for help.  I have tried to write this webpage so that it might help you to be more successful in getting useful answers.  


As you already know, most people on a mailing list give short answers.  They won't spend much time trying to figure out what you want if you are not clear or don't give enough detail.   But, some people will go way out of their way to be helpful if you give them enough clues.  For example, they may own the books of church records which hold your answer.  But, a vague question will not get you much of their time.





CENSUSES - important dates


1850 - the first year that US censuses named everyone in a household, although the relationships were not given.   Before this date the US censuses listed only the head of household.   This census also gives age, state or country of birth, and marriage status.


1855 - the first year that NY censuses named everyone in a household and also told how they were related to the head of the household.  It was also the first census of the people of NY that asked many valuable questions.  



VITAL RECORDS (municipal or state) - important dates


1881 - the first year that the state of NY required that localities send in their records of births, marriages and deaths.  Not many were submitted the first couple of years.  My father's birth data was not even submitted in 1911, nor were some of his siblings, so it was not a perfect system, especially in some rural communities.


1870 - the year that the city of Albany began to preserve vital records.  They were not required to send records to the state until 1914, so the NYS Archives does not have Albany vital records from before that date.  Buffalo and Yonkers have similar situations with their records.





Read my City Directories as a Research Tool





Read my Newspaper Microfilms Can be Borrowed from the NYS Library

Using this as a guide, you can find out if newspapers are available on microfilm for the time and location that you need.  You can borrow the microfilms through Interlibrary Loan from any state.





Many books of church records have been published.  Others have been put online.  For someone to help you by looking up something in these records, they must know exactly what person or persons you want help with.  If you mention 5-10 people as background information (which can be helpful), you should still make it clear which one or two interest you the most.  


Dates are important.  Frequently, a name is used many times in the branch of a tree, but a date helps separate the correct person from all of the rest.  The person helping you will not want to type out church information for four Jacobs when only one is needed.

Another point:  The published church records may not cover the time period that you need.  Giving a date to the helper will prevent them from wasting time in that book, and perhaps spend the time in a book with more potential.





These will be found in the county in which the will or deed was recorded.  Albany Co. was MUCH larger in its early history.  Many counties were cut out of it over the years.  If a deed for property in present-day Columbia or Rensselaer Co. was recorded before they became a county, you must look in Albany Co. for the deed.  To see when each county was formed and from what it was taken, click on the link in this sentence.





1)  Are you going to travel to the local area to do your own research?
2)  Do you want the answer to mention only records that are online?

3)  Do you have access to a large library (in case specific books are recommended)?

4)  Do you have access to NY censuses or microfilms of them?

5)  Do you subscribe to a fee-based genealogy website?

6)  Do you want to have some books recommended to you for purchase?
7)  Do you have access to an LDS Family History Center?

8)  Are you a beginner?
9)  Are you interested in hiring a local researcher?

Your answers will determine the type of advice that can be offered.  For example, some things are only available in the local area, such as transcribed records that were never published.  If you are looking only for online sources, then say so.  A helper shouldn't spend a lot of their time giving details about things that don't interest you (like book titles that you won't use).


Besides answering some of these questions, the sections above offer other clues as to what could be important to mention in your particular case.



1)  Don't forget to include at least your first name.  Without a name, your request sounds quite impersonal.  The person to whom you are writing doesn't know you.  Why should they spend their time for someone who wants to remain anonymous?


2)  Say "Thank you" when you get your answer, even if it wasn't very helpful.  The person tried to help, but just didn't have the right information available to them.   I am always surprised after spending two hours writing a very long message of advice for beginners that about 50% of the time the person does not even have the courtesy to write back.  This caused me to remove my email address from my website (I was getting 1-4 requests for research guidance per day).  I would rather do my own research and add to my website than advise people that I will never hear from again.  




Read my Dutch System of Naming Children if you are looking for the parents of a person who has a Dutch surname or maiden name.  This instructional aid demonstrates the advisability of including the names of the children and the order of their birth in your inquiry.  The major clues are in the names of the children.



                                              Visitors since 26 Mar 2001