How to obtain copies of Vital Records for Genealogical Purposes in Upstate New York.

The New York State Department of Health, Office of Vital Records, at the state capital in the City of Albany, NY, is the official repository for the original certificates that were issued for Births, Deaths and Marriages for almost all of Upstate New York locations, (other than the cities of Albany, Yonkers and Buffalo prior to 1914.) The filing of certificates was required by law commencing in 1881.

Albany is one of those locations in the state that can mean a City, a Town or a County. For purposes here, when mentioned, it shall mean the City of Albany unless described differently.

The information written here does NOT cover the major metropolitan New York City areas, for obvious reasons.

There are a great many certificates lacking in the earlier years, as individuals and doctors, just did not comply with the law. It will be observed that a more complete listing starts about the time of World War I.

When a vital record certificate was issued it first was recorded at the local level in the appropriate Village Clerk, Town Clerk or City Clerk’s journal books, before the actual document was forwarded to the Department of Health in Albany.

You may purchase a transcription of the partial information that is in the local journals from that particular village, town or city clerk. As it apparently is now you will receive a pre-printed form of the basic facts that a clerk excerpts out of the record books. The clerks do not allow patrons to see the books directly or to handle them personally. There are some cases where the clerk transcribed the document for a waiting patron and the person could actually read the item in the journal though it was upside down on the counter.

This might be good enough for your purposes, and the transaction usually takes place rather quickly, sometimes immediately in person, and sometimes about two weeks through the mail. It varies from office to office and clerk to clerk. Keep in mind this method will give you a clerk’s transcript of information from the incomplete journal entry.

A more thorough method is to obtain a photocopy of the original actual vital records document itself. This you may do from the Department of Health in Albany. Now here is some advice that will smooth this procedure out for you and will certainly speed it up.

First you should locate the item of interest on the microfiche index. The indexes are made from typewritten sheets by category and year and alpha grouped by surnames. Use care when searching as the state clerk typist that created the index did not always spell properly, or the handwriting might have been unclear on the document, or for what ever reason, if you do not find what you want immediately in the index; try it again using variant spellings. There are many entries of births wherein the child had not yet been named when the certificate was filed. In that situation it is usually just “male or female,” date, location, and certificate number.

These typewritten sheets were then filmed and converted into a microfiche index set. Several years ago the vital records office made the decision to put a duplicate set of fiche indexes only, at the New York State Archives to be allowed to be accessed by the public with certain restrictions. You must provide a photo ID to use them, no copying of the fiche is allowed, no reproduction in any manner is allowed, and no computer databases are allowed to be made from the index.

What you are allowed to do, is to locate the name and item of interest, and write down the village, town or city the event occurred in, the date of the event, and a certificate number. That number only has relevance to the collection of records in Albany at the Dept. of Health. If you were going to apply locally to the village, town or city clerk then the number would not have any meaning to them, only the name and date would. The location of the event may at times appear rather cryptic, as the indexer used their own method of abbreviation for villages, towns and cities in some cases. There is no key to these abbreviations that I am aware of, but using some common gazetteers and maps you should be able to figure it out.

Well thanks to the lobbying of many friends to genealogists everywhere, a few years ago the state put a duplicate set of microfiche indexes at the Rundel Library in Rochester, NY. This was soon followed by putting another set in New York City, and for the sake of convenience and good control, the National Archives Branch in Manhattan agreed to house them. What has followed since is that the microfiche index set is now available throughout the state in several prime localities and the regions are quite well spread out.

Our friend, Cliff Lamere, has been working on compiling specific details as to the whereabouts of these indexes and has made many telephone calls directly to the NYS Archives, the NYS Health Department, and the actual Libraries and facilities that now house the index collections. Cliff reported on one of the newsgroup mail lists recently that the people in charge at the state offices were not able to tell him where more than five of the sets were. I had heard of a couple of locations and told him, and he followed through as Cliff always does, and confirmed the complete list, or as we now believe is the complete list of eight locations.

The rules for public access to the vital records indexes are as follows; you are only allowed to look at the indexes for births that occurred seventy five or more years ago. Marriages and deaths must have occurred fifty years or more ago.

The Microfiche Indexes that are available now are as follows;
Births (1881-1933), Marriages (1881-1958), and Deaths (1880-1958).
In addition to the birth and marriage time restrictions, you must be able to show that all parties are known to be deceased in order to purchase a non-certified copy of the original document. In the case of marriages the bride and groom will both be indexed separately.

Complete sets of the vital records microfiche indexes that are available to the public are presently at the locations listed below. You will still need a photo ID and it would be prudent to listen carefully to the instructions.

1) The New York State Archives, Cultural Education Center, Albany, NY
12230. Location: 11th Floor, Madison Ave. at the Empire State Plaza.

2) The National Archives, Northeast Region Branch, 201 Varick Street, New York, NY 10014. (Note: Since September 11, 2001 there is now a very high level of security screening of all persons entering this facility. Be aware of this and do not take anything with you that might even slightly resemble a dangerous instrument.)

3) The Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County. Located in the Rundel Memorial Library Building at 115 South Avenue, Rochester, NY 14604.

4) The Onondaga County Public Library (OCPL) at the Galleries of Syracuse, 447 S. Salina Street, Syracuse, NY 13202-2494. Located on the fifth floor, Local History/Genealogy Department.

5) The Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, 1 Lafayette Square. Buffalo, NY 14203.

6) The Steele Memorial Library, 101 East Church Street, Elmira, NY 14901.

7) The Roswell P. Flower Memorial Library, 229 Washington Street,
Watertown, NY 13601.

8) The Crandall Public Library, 251 Glen St, Glens Falls, NY 12801.
Important note: “Temporarily,” until about December 2008, (during renovations) these indexes are located at the Southern Adirondack Library System Headquarters, 22 Whitney Place, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866. Phone: (518-584-7300 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              518-584-7300      end_of_the_skype_highlighting x 226 Erica Burke). Viewing at this location is by appointment.)

The price for an excerpt out of a journal entry at the local level, or a photocopy of the original document at the state level is the same either way, $22.00.

To order a copy by mail or to have the state do the searching for you the address is,
New York State Department of Health
Vital Records Section
Genealogy Unit
P.O. Box 2602
Albany, NY 12220-2602

Before mailing to the Department of Health for a copy of the certificate you should be aware that the state suggests that there is about a five months backlog. It is noted that on several rootsweb newsgroups that the waiting period is now quite a lot longer than that.

Here is the official state website concerning vital records for Genealogical purposes. It would be a good thing for you to read carefully all of the pricing structure and rules and regulations. A pdf file of the application form is available for download at this website

There is one way to improve the turnaround in being able to obtain a photocopy of an original certificate. For some unknown reason the state has a little known “fast-track” (my term) method. If you hand carry the application, with the payment, and insert it into the drop box at the NYS Archives reference desk, then those applications take precedence and the wait is normally only from two to four weeks. Don’t ask why.

You are not allowed to mail your application to the Archives to have a staff person enter it into the drop box. They are not allowed to handle the money and do not want to be responsible “for security reasons,” as was reported directly to a recent inquirer.

There are professional genealogists and researchers that work in Albany every day and if you are not able to do any of this searching yourself, tell us about it, and we will try to find someone that would be willing to do the searches and expedite the process for you by entering the application and payment in the drop box..

Cliff Lamere’s website for Albany and Eastern New York Genealogy is very helpful. Thanks to Cliff for his thoughts and corrections also, regarding this Blog.

OK, for those of you that will ask about the New York City metro area anyway, please consider these suggestions. Read the detailed description by Roger D. Joslyn, FASG, in “Ancestry’s Red Book,” 3d ed. Read Estelle Guzik’s “Genealogical Research in New York,” and visit the website of the New York City Municipal Archives. To locate a researcher for NYC areas, go to the website of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) New York Metro Chapter .

One question that seems to always come up when discussing this matter is “Have the Mormons filmed these Indexes?” The answer is “NO”. They are not available anywhere other than as described above.

We really need your input on this subject. All questions and comments will be answered. Use the “comments” tab below.

If any locations have been missed where the fiche indexes are located, then we REALLY need your input. Errors, corrections or omissions, gratefully appreciated. Please do not send emails about this, only post them on the comments tab. We do want to hear your tales of woe, but more importantly, we surely want to hear about your successes!

There is no budget for marketing of this Blog. If you find the information helpful, please bookmark it, tell others, talk it up on mail lists, and visit our “UNYG Affiliates” tab on our main website at Upstate New York Genealogy .
Thank you so much.


Read the Update on this story here: “Update to How to Obtain Copies of Vital Records.”

Read the third message on this subject here:
“Update to the Update to How to Obtain Copies of Vital Records.”


38 Responses to “How to obtain copies of Vital Records for Genealogical Purposes in Upstate New York.”

  • Judy in Ocala:

    This is extremely helpful information. I wasted A LOT of money getting abstracts from the local clerks when for the same price I could have had a copy of the original document. In one case I knew the abstract had to be incorrect because it didn’t mesh with known dates. I wrote back to the clerk and she sent me a corrected abstract. There could be errors in other abstracts that I might never know about.

    NOW, do I want to spend another $22 apiece to find out???

  • Anonymous:

    If you or someone you know lives near Albany, and you can drop off your completed form and check at Department of Health on the second floor of 800 Broadway in Menands, it only takes 3-5 business days. Mailing it in takes 6 mos to a year.

  • Mark Prokosch:

    I am interested in the assistance of an local Albany researcher..
    Anybody locally able to submit a request?

  • unyg:


    Chances are someone will contact you through this Blog comment, but if no one does in a day or two, we will put up a list of researchers that could do this.


  • Emily Brothers:

    A great big Thank You to you.

  • Pat:

    I have always used the “expedited drop box” at the Archives in the State Library in Albany. With one exception, I have never had to wait more than a week to get my documents. It’s great! I do not understand why there is such a time difference when requests are mailed in.

  • unyg:

    To Mark Prokosch and anyone else that might want some help with expediting the application process, I just chatted with Cliff Lamere and he indicated that he would be able to do it.

    Send an email directly to me and I will send you Cliff’s contact information.

    If any other Albany area researchers are willing to perform this service, please contact me and I will post it to the list.

    Dick Hillenbrand

  • Pat Carey:

    My experience at the archives in Albany is that while most of the index cards list people alphabetically some use the soundex numbering system. This confused me greatly when I was first starting my research. There is, however, a computer available for people to look up the soundex number for their family names.

  • unyg:

    Thank you Pat Carey.

    That is very good to know.


  • Anonymous:

    I am looking for a birth record for my father Henry Köpke or Kapke born in either Albany or Oneida, Madison county. NY on May 25, 1888. Although my mother checked Albany a number of years ago, she checked only under the spelling Kapke, not Köpke

    I haven’t found a City Directory for them in Albany, but I did find one in the 1889 diretory of Oneida City on 42 Sherman Street. Can anyone be of help on locating this.


  • unyg:


    You have done the right thing by asking, now maybe some kind soul will check the microfiche index for you and let you know.

    Good luck.

  • Bridget:

    Thank you so much for this info. It really helps.

    I found your website when I read your posting on the NY Southern rootsweb
    message list. You had a link in your message about how to get genealogical
    copies. I went to your website but couldn’t find an email there to email
    you so I went back to the NY Southern message alert I received and emailed
    you from there.

  • unyg:


    Glad to be of help.

  • Anonymous:

    re: Vital Records

    Read this blog with interest, as I have had no luck in trying to obtain a death cert. from 1886.

    The death announcement was found in the Batavia News (from Genesee County)in October of 1886. It was reported that the death occurred at Daws Corners (also in Genesee County)and that the funeral would occur in Batavia.

    I have contacted the Genesee County historian, both the town and city of Batavia clerks, the village of Elba clerk and the town clerk for Elba — Daws Corners appears to be 1/2 between Elba and Batavia. In addition, I also contacted the NYS Department of Health and received notice back no record could be found.

    Can anyone offer any suggestions?

    colleen m wheeler
    jacksonville, fl

  • unyg:


    There is the chance that there just might not be a Death Certificate. As explained in this Blog, there are a great many lacking in the early years. I have found some missing for as late as the early 19teens.

    It was a law, but that does not mean that everyone complied. Too bad.

    The only hope, it sounds like, is if some kind soul who knows their way around the microfiche collection might take a look for you.

    Sounds like you might have exhausted all avenues, and you may have to settle for the obit and cemetery info.


  • Rick:

    Is there any good reason why New York vital records indexes can’t be made more widely accessible to the public? Also, how can New York justify charging $22 for a death record, while other states charge less and reply within days or weeks, not months? Can we do anything to improve access to New York vital records and indexes? It seems like the state is stuck in about 1950.

  • unyg:

    Good points and you won’t find much disagreement here. Perhaps your comments will be read by someone that counts. Feel free to vent as much as you want.


  • Anonymous:

    Good information, for obtaining post-1880 New York Vital Record information. But what about finding and obtaining the same sort of pre-1881 information? Somewhere along the line, I have come to understand that one must obtain such info from ‘”Town Historians”. Is this correct? I have come across lists of Town Historians, by County; some even including their email addresses. Trouble is – they never seem to reply, to answer my most basic queries – which usually and simply ask, ‘What are the rules of the game’? ‘How do I obtain the information that I seek’? This is such basic information, that I am almost embarrassed to ask here. But I can’t find this information any other place. Either I am missing something that is really obvious or ??

  • unyg:

    Mudgekin that’s a good question, unfortunately there is not a good answer.

    Before 1880, with a few exceptions, there are no vital records kept by any official government agency, town or county.

    That means there are none, unless you get real lucky and find some church records, diaries, letters, family trees, bible records, etc.

    The Town Clerks and Historians may or may not respond to questions such as this.

    A good place to start looking is at familysearch,org, newspapers, commercial online databases like ancestry, Footnote, GenealogyBank, WorldVitalRecords, Cyndislist,, and many more websites.

    The county GenWeb sites have a whole lot of good info. You can find all of them on under “NY COUNTIES & CENSUS”.


  • Anonymous:

    Hello ~

    Although there are states put some vital records online very quickly, NYS is far stricter. From what I’ve read, you can’t even get divorce records for 100 years after the decree even if both parties died long before that.

    The first time I paid $22 for a NY birth “certificate” for my mother in Port Jervis, Orange County, I was shocked at how cheesy it was. It’s a form printed on 20lb paper with typed-in info and red “genealogy use only” stamped randomly all over it.

    I found my father’s 1st known marriage on the Italian Genealogical Group’s NYC vital records index database ( and requested it from NYC – it’s a copy of the original on very good-looking “official document” paper and only took about 3 weeks to receive. It arrived falt in a 9×12 envelop. If you want, there’s an extrememly fancy version of the certificate you can buy, but I haven’t tried that myself.

    Thanks for the info on getting copies of the original records from Albany. It just bugs me that I have to pay ANOTHER $22 for my mom’s! But NYS holds all the cards and can charge what they want.

    (Cleveland, Ohio, marriage records currently cost 10 CENTS apiece for copies of the original records non-certified and $2.00 for certified.)

    NYS has a whole network of local historians – there are county historians, sure, but also individual township/city historians.

    Call the public library of the area you’re interested in – they can tell you how to get in touch with the local historian. They may very well have their office within that library! Realize that it can be a voluntary post at this level with miniscule funding for office supplies. However, they do NOT replace genealogy societies, so contact them, too.

    I love NY?

  • Alvie L. Davidson CG:

    Thank you for this valuable information. I have bookmarked your blog.
    Alvie L. Davidson CG
    Lakeland, FL

  • unyg:

    Thanks for the comment Alvie.

    You have helped me out several times with your vast professional experience and I know you are the go to guy for Florida.

    All the best to you.

    Dick Hillenbrand

  • hongsheech:

    Try these sites if you want to waste some more time and money

  • New York State Vital Records Microfiche Indexes Update | UNYG Blog:

    [...] Read the original message on this subject here: “How to Obtain Copies of Vital Records.” [...]

  • Vital Records Lookups, Update to the Update | UNYG Blog:

    [...] Read the first article in this series by going to this link:  How to obtain copies of Vital Records for Genealogical Purposes in Upstate New York. [...]

  • Nancy Johnsen Curran:

    This is such a valuable discussion! I’d like to add to the discussion. Vital records in NYS are created at the smallest municipal level. Not the county, but the city or village. Acquaint yourself with the likely geography, but be ready to entertain the possibility that Pa died at the farmer’s market rather than in his bed at home. First, it’s true that you must produce a photo ID to enter the archives territory, because the indexes are to be accessible in a secure facility. I register the first time I visit the archives every year. The ID doesn’t relate particularly to vital records, but to the fact that the location is secure and has many artifacts and unique records that must be protected. In Albany, you’ll be asked to keep your belongings in a free locker and bring in only certain items. Notebook, folders with no pockets, computer, camera, no. 2 pencils (or borrow one there) are allowed. You’ll sign in and be given a locker key. The desk attendant will then buzz you in. If you are unfamiliar with the vital records indexes, an archivist will walk you through the process. You’ll sign up for a microfilm read er (I’ve never had a problem with availability) and get a number on a card. Use the card as a place marker when you remove a fiche from the box. It’s frustrating when people have just stuck the fiche anywhere in the box. I take an inclusive approach to transcribing index listings. I read for the right spelling of the name and variant spellings (watch for Mc and Mac, and try the Dutch names with and without the Van). Sometimes a given name will be recognized as a relative of the target individual and that will help construct family information. When you like a listing, copy the whole entry, especially the all-important state registration number. There are blanks for other names in the order form, but you don’t need to know, for example, the wife’s name for a marriage paper. That might be exactly what you’re trying to learn. Bring your checkbook. The record can be ordered with your personal check. Put the envelope with the order form and the check in the dropbox and you should have it within a couple of weeks — unless it’s vacation season. Take the information home and mail it later, and the wait will be six months or more. I feel a blog coming on! Nancy in Schenectady

  • nygenes1:

    Hi Nancy, Your experience and willingness to share information is greatly appreciated. So for all you readers that plan on going to Albany to do it yourself, please heed Nancy’s detailed instructions, particularly about ordering right there and then which will expedite the process greatly. Thaks for the input. Best regards. Dick Hillenbrand


    [...] New York State Vital Records – Revolutionary War Patriot or Loyalist – World War II Soldier’s Grave Cared For in Holland – [...]

  • JOY – MACK – FLORIDAY – LANDERS Family Bible – 1852 | UNYG Blog:

    [...] New York State Vital Records – Revolutionary War Patriot or Loyalist – World War II Soldier’s Grave Cared For in Holland – [...]

  • Rochester NY City Directories Online to 1930 and to 1940 Coming Soon | UNYG Blog:

    [...] we have noted in our New York State Vital Records Index articles you should know that the Rochester Library is one of the repositories for a set of the [...]

  • Vitally speaking « The Ancestral Archaeologist:

    [...] site. Do so, and carefully. Dick Hillenbrand’s Upstate New York Genealogy website has a guide to obtaining New York State vital records that is as user-friendly as things get in this cruel [...]

  • Another Area in Upstate New York Now Has the NYS Vital Records Index | UNYG Blog:

    [...] – How to Obtain Copies of Vital Records for Genealogical Purposes in New York State 2) – New York State Vital Records Microfiche Indexes Update 3) – Vital Records Lookups, [...]

  • Sandie Gilliland:

    I am so glad to have found your website, and would love to put a link to it from my blog on Scipio and Cayuga County in central NY. You have a lot of very good information I’d like my readers to be aware of. Do I have your permission? Sandie G.

  • nygenes1:

    Hi Sandie, Of course you have my permission, and with thanks. Love your area and have worked on several families that lived there. Some of them came from the Old Cambridge District in what is now southern Washington county, NY which is my target area of most interest. If you ever come across anything on Dr. Sanford SMITH who was there early I would love to know about it. All the best. Dick Hillenbrand

  • Shower Radio:

    we always keep track of our family tree because it is exciting to know the family tree ;`;

  • Cathy-0:

    Please note that the National Archives Regional Office in New York City has moved to its new location in 2013. See the following link for their new location and how to get there.

  • Theresa Noble:

    My father was born in Albany, New York in 1911. How do I get a geneological copy of his birth certificate. I have read that the records for Albany births prior to 1915 are not in Albany. Can you help me find this information?

  • nygenes1:

    Theresa, I have not logged in to comments in a long time so am just reading your question now, July 14, 2013. The City of Albany keeps their own Vital Records and you will have to apply to the city clerk at the following website”

Leave a Reply

Subscribe via RSS
Follow Me On Twitter
Donations Greatly Appreciated:
Pay on WePay
MyHeritage Top 100 Websites
Top genealogy site awards