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
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.
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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.”