Records in New York State, with Special Emphasis on the
Counties of Albany, Columbia and Rensselaer
by Cliff Lamere 1 Jun 2001
Revised 19 Oct 2002
Previous Revision 24 Jun 2002
[Any words in the table of contents that are blue and underlined are bookmarks. Click on them and you will be taken to that section. Blue, underlined text in the sections below are hyperlinks to webpages on the subject of those words.]
TABLE OF CONTENTS
2. VITAL RECORDS (what's available; for what years; where you can find it)
10. CITY DIRECTORIES
13. ALBANY & EASTERN NEW YORK GENEALOGY (my website)
Some of the information below pertains to locating records almost anyplace in the state of New York, and some of it pertains to finding records in the three of the eight counties (Albany, Columbia, and Rensselaer) on which my website focuses. None of my statements pertain to New York City which had its own system and dates of vital records for each borough.
In general, the comments are separated by the types of records (marriages, births, etc.). If there is something different from the state level, then within those types the subjects are separated by county and then by city.
Books, CDs, websites and microfilms may contain records for NY and its counties. I have not tried to make a list of them (there are too many), although I may mention something that I feel is particularly important or unusual.
Those words which are blue as well as underlined can be clicked on to get more information about that subject.
Arthur C.M. Kelly has published various sorts of records in four journals that he called Valley Quarterlies. They were: The Capital (Albany Co. and Rensselaer Co.), The Columbia ( Columbia Co.), The Mohawk (Schenectady Co., Montgomery Co., and a little of Fulton Co.), and The Saratoga (Saratoga Co.). These contain records you are not likely to find anywhere else.
1847 - School districts in each Town were required to collect vital records. They were collected for about 1-3 years and some of them have been preserved, but only at the local level. The state has none of these records.
1880-1881 - The state of NY required that localities collect and send in their death records beginning in 1880. For births and marriages, it was 1881. Not many were submitted the first couple of years, and for decades thereafter, many doctors did not submit their records as they were required to do. My father's birth data was not even submitted in 1911, nor were some of his siblings, so it was not a perfect system. My guess is that midwives were also lax about submitting birth records (if they were required to submit them at all). Until it became a common practice to have babies delivered in a hospital, midwives were common. "In 1900 half of all Americans were born into the hands of a midwife, at home."
Vital records certificates can be requested from the NYS Health Dept. (waiting time varies from 3-13 months depending on the number of employees at any given time). The original certificates (those which might have the signature of your relative) are in the possession of the state (there are some exceptions). If you can request them at the NYS Archives in Albany, the waiting time is 2-3 weeks. Researchers provide this service for a fee if you cannot personally get to the Archives. Local offices will send you a certificate in about 2 weeks, but they are almost always typed copies (see Local Level in the next section).
The NYS Archives (in Albany) has birth, marriage and death indexes on microfiche. The indexes give the person's name, the date and location of the event, and a certificate number. The Marriage index does not name the spouse. The location can be very important if you don't already know it. However, the microfiche does not distinguish between a village and Town of the same name. The indexes do not include vital records for the cities of Albany, Buffalo or Yonkers for the period before 1914. The indexes are currently available at various cities in the state (for details, see the NYS Archives write-up in my Guide to Albany Area Genealogical Resources. The URL is given below).
The vital records in the possession of the state were submitted by local government offices, but the local office may have more information than the state requested (just a hunch). You will normally receive the records from these offices in 1-2 weeks.
In NY, a county is divided into Towns (called townships in some states) and cities. A Town is made up of
1) villages which have their own government,
2) hamlets which have no government of their own (so they won't possess records), and
3) rural areas (which do not possess records).
You can get local vital records from the Town Clerk, City Clerk or Village Clerk (in descending order of geographic size). It is sometimes impossible to guess whether a record will be in the possession of a village or the Town, especially when they both have the same name. You just have to ask one, then the other (they can usually tell you quickly if they have the record, sometimes while you wait on the phone).
The County Clerk's Office will sometimes have marriage records for the whole county or part of it, although the clerks may not know about them. The clerks don't deal with vital records very often like the other offices do.
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 and NYS Health Dept. do not have Albany vital records
from 1913 or before (Buffalo and Yonkers have similar situations with their records). For 1870-1913, you
must get Albany birth and death records from the Albany Bureau of Vital Statistics. Marriage records for
1870-1950 are at the Albany County Hall of Records.
For the rest of Albany Co., see the Statewide comments above.
"Register of births, marriages & deaths in town of Westerlo, Albany County, N.Y. 1847-1881."
(974.742 fW52w, published 1933, available at the NYS Library in Albany, NY)
Starting in the 1600s, marriages could be performed by a Justice of the Peace. Such records before 1881 have seldom survived to the present. The main sources of marriage records from before 1881 are those that were preserved by churches.
ALBANY CO. - see Vital Records above, then Albany Co.
"Marriages in New Lebanon, New York, Rev. Silas Churchill, 1795-1851, Ira Hand, Esq., Justice of the Peace, 1832-1852" - by Elmer Irwin Shepard (published 1943, available at the NYS Library in Albany, NY)
Contains 60,000 names of people buried in the county. If the records were published more than once, then some of the names will be duplicates. This webpage is to be used with the next one.
Lists 359 cemeteries and their general locations. Can help locate where your ancestors may have been buried. Designed to be used with the previous webpage.
Contains over 93,000 burials in the county (does not include the city of Troy, or Lansingburgh which is now part of Troy).
"Vital records of Rensselaer County, New York: deaths 1847-1851" - by Milton Halsey Thomas
(published 1923, available at the NYS Library in Albany, NY)
"Book of Records, Names Interments &c. &c., Troy March 1st 1833, S. E. Gibbs Superintendent".
LDS Microfilm Numbers: 1434103 covers 1833-1867
1434104 covers 1867-1882
1434105 covers 1882-1890 and 1919-1928
Email source gave the title and said: "These burial records run for many decades starting in 1833. They have thousands... of names, all in a great ledger. Some eras the record keeper was quite meticulous, while in other eras the clerks were a bit slap-dash. At the very least, though, you can find the decedent's name, the date of death, where he or she was buried and age at death -- and usually marital status. Many of the entries also give cause of death, exact place of death (street address), place of birth, names of parents, name of informant, place of residence, attending physician, how long the decedent had been ill and so forth."
US censuses have been conducted every ten years from 1790 to the present (during the years ending in 0). The population schedule of the 1890 census was lost in a fire, but some other schedules survived (such as those dealing with Civil War pensioners). Censuses up to 1930 are available to the public, but the more recent ones are unavailable for reasons of privacy. The federal government keeps censuses hidden for 72 years.
1850 - was the first year that US censuses named everyone in a household, although the relationships were not
given. This census also gives age, state or country of birth, and marriage status. Before this date the US
censuses listed only the head of household, and age ranges for males and females living in the household (but
not their names).
NY censuses are available for every ten years, primarily for the years ending in 5. The years they were conducted were 1825-1875, then 1892, then 1905-1925. The 1892 census skipped many counties and omitted most of the localities for the counties that they did include. No census was conducted by the state after 1925. In some counties, some of the census years no longer exist.
1855 - was 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 NY that asked many valuable questions.
For each county, the NY censuses are preserved by the County Clerk's Office (located at the county seat).
CENSUSES FOR NEW YORK STATE
1) MICROFILMS - The following are available from the Latter Day Saints (LDS).
ALBANY CO. & NEW YORK STATE
2) CENSUS IMAGES FOR NEW YORK STATE - on CD
1840, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1890, 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930. Almost the entire 1890 census was
destroyed by fire. The remaining 1890 schedules mainly contain information about Veterans & Widows.
Click here for additional New York information on CDs.
3 ) CENSUS IMAGES FOR NEW YORK STATE - by subscription
Ancestry.com has census images available to subscribers.
FEDERAL CENSUS INDEXES FOR NEW YORK STATE
1) BOOKS - The following are indexes to the federal censuses conducted in New York State. Indexes have also been published separately for some counties, but none for Albany, Columbia or Rensselaer Counties were found in the online catalog of the NYS Library.
New York 1800 Census Index - editor, Ronald Vern Jackson (1981)
Index to the 1800 census of New York - compiled by Barbra Kay Armstrong (1984)
New York in 1800; an index to the Federal census schedules of the State of New York, with other aids to
research - McMullin, Phillip (1971)
New York 1810 census index - editors, Ronald Vern Jackson, Gary Ronald Teeples, David Schaefermeyer
New York 1820 census index - editors, Ronald Vern Jackson, Gary Ronald Teeples, David Schaefermeyer
New York 1830 census index - editors, Ronald Vern Jackson, Gary Ronald Teeples (1977)
New York 1840 census index - editors, Ronald Vern Jackson, Gary Ronald Teeples (1978)
New York 1850 census index / editors, Ronald Vern Jackson, Gary Ronald Teeples (1977)
New York (Upstate) 1870 Census Index - 6 volumes - edited by Raeone Christensen Steuart (2000)
1790 U.S. Federal Census Indexes (AIS) - CD - Ancestry.com [for 11 states including New York]
1800 U.S. Federal Census Indexes (AIS) - CD - Ancestry.com [for 10 states including New York]
1810 U.S. Federal Census Indexes (AIS) - CD - Ancestry.com [for 14 states including New York]
1820 U.S. Federal Census Indexes (AIS) - CD - Ancestry.com [for 22 states including New York]
1830 U.S. Federal Census Indexes (AIS) - CD - Ancestry.com [for 27 states including New York]
1840 U.S. Federal Census Indexes (AIS) - CD - Ancestry.com [for 28 states including New York]
1850 U.S. Federal Census Index (AIS) : New York - CD - Ancestry.com (2000)
1860 U.S. Federal Census Index (AIS) : New York - CD - Ancestry.com (2000)
1880 United States Census and National Index - CD - Latter Day Saints (2001) - complete census transcription plus index. 55 CDs shipped for $49. Records now on the LDS website ( http://www.familysearch.org/ )
3) MICROFILMS - The following are available from the Latter Day Saints (LDS).
STATE CENSUS INDEXES FOR NEW YORK STATE
1) BOOKS - 1855 - For my website's area of coverage, 1855 indexes exist only for Greene, Montgomery, Schenectady and Schoharie Counties. No other years have been indexed as of 2002 (or at least the NYS Library doesn't have them on their shelves).
Probated wills will be found at the County Surrogate's Office in the county in which the deed was probated. Old unprobated wills probably don't exist except in private family papers. 80-90% of the people in Columbia Co. that I have searched for did not have a will that was probated, so the will was not on file.
Albany Co. was MUCH larger in its early history. Many counties were formed from it over the years, thus reducing the county to its present size. If a person lived in present-day Columbia or Rensselaer Co. while that county was still part of Albany Co., the will was probably proved in Albany. Sometimes a will was proved or recorded in unexpected places, however. That may be because a person owned property in that other place, and the will may have actually been filed in two places.
1787 - This is the year that the statewide Surrogate's Court system began and it is the year following the formation of Columbia Co. from Albany Co. The Laws of 1672 declared that estates worth over 50 English pounds anywhere in New York were under the jursidiction of the Prerogative Court. My impression is that a will was recorded in the county, but also in New York City, the Provincial capital at the time. However, there were so many different courts which had jurisdiction over wills during different periods, even including 1787 and later, that I cannot be certain of what was going on. What I do know is this. Many of the present-day Columbia Co. wills were filed in both New York City and Albany up until 1786. Thereafter, none were filed in New York City. Presumably, they were filed in Columbia Co. only. I believe that by 1787 New York City stopped receiving a duplicate of a will filed elsewhere unless the person owned property in the city.
"Calendar of Wills on File and Recorded in the Offices of the Clerk of the Court of Appeals, of the County Clerk at Albany, and of the Secretary of State, 1626-1836" - these usually very brief abstracts were compiled and edited by Berthold Fernow. Many of these wills were also filed in New York City.
The New York Historical Society has published (1892-1908) 17 volumes of much lengthier abstracts of many of the same 1665-1801 wills that are abstracted in "Calendar of Wills...". The titles were basically this: Abstracts of Wills filed in the Surrogate's Office, City of New York. The last 2 of the volumes were corrections of the first 15 volumes. Some abstracts that I have seen changed dramatically after being corrected.
Heritage Books has published the NYHS abstracts and corrections on a CD titled "New York Abstracts of Wills 1665-1801" (cost $100). The CD contains images of the pages of the 17 NYHS volumes.
Abstracts of wills have been written for many counties, and some wills are online (see next).
Abstract of Wills of Columbia County, N.Y. 1786-1851, in 8 volumes comprising 2 books (or on microfiche)
- by Gertrude Audrey Barber, compiler (1930) 974.739 qB234 at NYS Library
Abstract of Wills, Rensselaer County, N.Y., 1787-1850 - abstracted by Ralph David Phillips.
974.741 qAp at NYS Library [microfiche]
These will be found at the County Clerk's Office in the county in which the deed was recorded. Albany Co. was MUCH larger in its early history. Many counties were formed from it over the years, thus reducing the county to its present size. If a deed for a property in present-day Columbia or Rensselaer Co. was recorded while they were still part of Albany Co., you must look in Albany Co. for the deed. Grantor and Grantee indexes are available at the office. The names are only somewhat alphabetized. A surname would be placed in the section for the correct letter of the alphabet. However, within that section, they are roughly chronological (an occasional deed can be recorded 50 or more years late, however).
To find out if a person owned property, you can look for them on any census that gave property information. (See Censuses above to learn which questions were asked on each US or NY State census.) If a person owned property, there will be a deed indicating when they received it and another deed when they disposed of it. If the property was inherited, that fact is often (or always) mentioned and you will learn who they got the property from. Sometimes newlyweds bought property from a father or father-in-law for a nominal fee. This could be a clue to the wife's maiden name.
You may like to know exactly where your ancestor lived in a county. Some NY county atlases were published in the latter half of the 1800s by various members of the Beers surname. They showed all houses and other buildings in each Town (=township of other states). They included separate close-up map views of village and hamlets, which also showed all buildings. The property owners were usually listed by surname and one or two initials.
What can you do if the person you seek died or left the county earlier than the year of the atlas? You can check the Grantor and Grantee books, which are located at the County Clerk's Office, to see if your ancestor owned land. If the person is listed, see to whom they sold the property. That person in turn may have sold it to someone else. You just have to learn who owned the property in the year of the atlas to locate the property of your ancestor. Be alert to the possibility that the property may have been subdivided.
In 1873, D. G. Beers published an "Atlas of Columbia County, New York, from actual survey's and official records". A copy can be found at the Columbia County Clerk's Office in Hudson.
Many county histories were published in the mid to late 1800s. They are still on the shelves of major and local libraries. Unfortunately, they almost always lack an index, thus greatly reducing their usefulness to genealogists. Their tables of contents and lists of illustrations should be checked carefully. Sometimes they have an appendix that might list residents who were in the military. Occasionally, an index has been constructed at a later date. You should probably inquire about the availability of such an index before spending a lot of time browsing in these histories.
1. Landmarks of Albany County, New York - edited by Amasa J. Parker (1897)
2. Bi-centennial history of Albany : history of the county of Albany, N. Y., from 1609 to 1886. with portraits,
biographies and illustrations - by Howell and Tenney, assisted by local writers (1886)
COLUMBIA CO.1. History of Columbia County, New York : with illustrations and biographical sketches of its prominent men
and pioneers. Includes: Roster of soldiers from Columbia County who served in the Civil War
by Franklin Ellis (1878)
2. A history of old Kinderhook from aboriginal days to the present time : including the story of the early
settlers, their homesteads, their homesteads, their traditions, and their descendants; with an account of
their civic, social, political, educational, and religious life - by Edward A. Collier (1914) 974.739 K51
2a. Index to A History of Old Kinderhook, by Edward A. Collier, D.D., 1914. Prepared by Berkshire
Genealogist Indexing Committee (1998)
3. Biographical review; this volume contains biographical sketches of the leading citizens of Columbia County,
New York - by Biographical Review Publishing Co. Boston, Mass. (1894) 974.739 qB61 P.1
3a. Index to Biographical review : containing life sketches of leading citzens of Columbia County, New York :
Biographical Review Publishing Co. Boston, Mass. 1894. Prepared by Berkshire Genealogist Indexing
1. History of Rensselaer Co., New York: with illustrations and biographical sketches of its prominent men and
pioneers - by Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester (1880)
1a. Index to History of Rensselear County, New York, and Its Prominent Men and Pioneers by Nathaniel
Bartlett Sylvester, 1880. Index prepared by Berkshire Genealogist Indexing Committee (pub. year
2. Landmarks of Rensselaer County, New York - George Baker Anderson (1897)
2a. Index to Landmarks of Rensselaer county, New York by George Baker Anderson (1897) / index prepared
by Berkshire Genealogist Indexing Committee (1997)
3. Troy and Rensselaer county, New York; a history - by Rutherford Hayner (1925)
Read my City Directories as a Research Tool. Directories can contain such information as the date when an employed woman married, and to whom she married; where she moved in order to live with her new husband; the date an employed person died, and where the person was buried. Employed family members or other relatives might be listed as borders.
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 in the US.
This is my online Guide to 44 places near or in Albany, NY that have genealogical records. It includes such places as historical societies, libraries and civil offices. The Guide lists address, phone number, hours, holdings, research fees, photocopy price, website address, and email address. I wrote an abbreviated version of the Guide in the summer of 1999 for some people who were planning a trip to Albany. It was so well received that I decided to create a website so that the Guide would be available to even more people. It has undergone many revisions.
My website, called Albany & Eastern New York Genealogy, contains over 400 links to online records for Albany and surrounding counties (on 1 Nov 2001). It also contains over 400 links to genealogical aids that I think are particularly interesting or useful.
The NYS Library's online catalog is especially helpful for discovering some of the things that have been written. If a book is current enough, it may still be in print. If it is important enough, it may have been reprinted by a book company specializing in books about genealogy and history. The catalog is incomplete, however. They own over 10 million items.
Visitors to the library can use a separate card catalog which has a section which is divided into counties. It lists many things that are not in the online catalog, especially things which do not occupy a whole book. An example would be a book with the records from many cemeteries. The individual cemeteries could not get listed in the book's title, but they might be in the card catalog.
Census Records | Vital Records | Family Trees & Communities | Immigration Records | Military Records Directories & Member Lists | Family & Local Histories | Newspapers & Periodicals | Court, Land & Probate | Finding Aids