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I had the good fortune to start my online genealogical searching on people who lived in Chicago, and then moved to California. Both Ancestry.com and Family Search web sites provide a number of collections of BMD records from the late 19th to the mid-20th centuries, making it possible to find information on people's children, spouses and parents.

Recently, I've had to do some searching for similar records for people who lived in New York City, and I have been surprised by the lack of such collections. Yes, I can find marriages (1894-1937) through stevemorse.org but births are only available in the (1880-1909) range, and parents' names are not indexed.

For deaths, the Illinois death index (1916-1947) may list parents and spouses names, occupations, the cemetery where the person was buried, etc. Nothing similar seems to exist for New York.

The odd thing is that collections do exist, but there aren't very many records in them. The New York deaths and burials 1795-1952 collection, for example, only has 682,387 records in it.

What are the reasons for these differences?

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Gene, any objection to changing the title of your question to "New York City vital records collections" since you were asking about NYC records, and they're different from New York State records? –  efgen Oct 20 '12 at 16:52
    
I am used to Chicago, where the state records are useful in addition to county records. Wouldn't New York state records apply to NYC as well? –  Gene Golovchinsky Oct 20 '12 at 17:38
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Not for vital records. New York City (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten Island) vital records are managed, archived and governed completely differently from New York State (the rest of NY outside of NYC) vital records. I mentioned this in the last bullet in my answer below. Also discussed this difference further in answer to another question: genealogy.stackexchange.com/q/1553/42 –  efgen Oct 20 '12 at 17:48
    
The other option is that I can update my answer to discuss New York State vital records too, just like I did on the other post. I had answered with respect to NYC only because you mentioned that you were looking for someone in NYC. But if you want info about both, that's fine -- just clarify and let me know. –  efgen Oct 20 '12 at 18:56
    
Your answer is very helpful as-is! Thanks! –  Gene Golovchinsky Oct 21 '12 at 16:14

3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

There are several general reasons for the difference between what vital records are available for each state:

  • Every state has its own laws as to which vital records are public and when.
  • Some states have chosen to index and/or digitize their records and make them available on official state websites, while others have not done so (yet).
  • Where states have not made the records available online yet, indexing and digitization projects often depend on volunteer efforts.
  • Ancestry, FamilySearch and other online sites set their own priorities for their digitization and indexing projects.

With respect to New York City specifically, the following are considered historical records, and are therefore available to the public:

  • Births: Through 1909
  • Marriages: Older than 50 years from the current date
  • Deaths: Through 1948

The NYC Municipal Archives maintains microfilmed indexes and records for:

  • Births through 1909
  • Marriages through 1937 (the city clerk holds marriage records after 1937)
  • Deaths through 1948

John Martino of the Italian Genealogical Group led the project to digitize the NYC vital records indexes. This was a monumental volunteer task that took years to complete. The microfilmed indexes were created long ago, and the indexes that you see online are primarily digitized versions of those original indexes. The microfilmed marriage indexes, however, have always been incomplete -- so John's team went through the actual records for the missing years to develop a complete online index.

A few other important points:

  • The NYC birth index is actually available through 1965 on microfilm. However, only the indexes through 1909 are currently available online.

  • The Family History Library has a complete copy of the microfilmed indexes and records that are available at the NYC Municipal Archives. So once you have a certificate number from the index, you can order the appropriate microfilm through your local FHC to view the actual record.

  • New York City records cover the 5 boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens, Staten Island. New York State records cover the rest of the state; there are different laws governing those and they're held by a different archive.

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I like this answer because it reminds and informs us of the striking difference between official records and what might be called virtual collections.* And then there are proprietary online collections, too. This includes that virtual collections can take on different forms and have materially different value than the underlying official collection. *In the archival community, the term virtual collection seems to have a different meaning. For more than a month, I have been trying to come up with a better term. –  GeneJ Oct 18 '12 at 9:05
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Upvoted for a great answer, but especially to emphasize the point that New York City birth indices are available through 1965 on microfilm, sorted by borough/county. Get thee to a Family Research Library! –  Asparagirl Oct 18 '12 at 17:42

The link that you provide to NY Deaths and Burials contains the statement "This set contains 701,396 records. Due to privacy laws, recent records may not be displayed. The year range represents most of the records. A few records may be earlier or later." at at 18 Oct 2012.

So I infer from the (small but real) increase over your value that this must be an on-going activity to digitise those records.

The explanatory notes show that there is (as yet) no data from more than half the counties in the state. Sometimes we also need to be family geographers.

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+1 for pointing out the importance of investigation collection information. I would only add that even those descriptions are only as good as the folks who developed them. There is sometimes real work involved to understand the make up of some collections (especially online collections). –  GeneJ Oct 18 '12 at 9:08

Another source you might consider is the New England Historic Genealogical Society and their website at americanancestors.org. They've been around since 1845 and although they have New England in their name, they do consider NY (city and state) within their purview.

Another place to look is the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society at www.newyorkfamilyhistory.org. The are the largest genealogical society in NY and claim to be the most authoritative source for NY.

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