I am in the process of applying for my Italian citizenship and need many documents. The last document I need is my grandmother's birth certificate. She was born in 1916. On her marriage certificate and Social Security application (by her own handwriting), and also her death certificate, it lists her place of birth as "West Counsel, NY." I have done a ton of research and even wrote to NY State historians, but "West Counsel, NY" does not exist, nor has it ever existed. The closest option is "West Conesville, NY" but I have spoken to them as well, and they have no record of her birth. She spent most of her life, until her death, living in Philadelphia.

I have searched the recently released New York State birth index and found someone with a matching name born in Buffalo but with a birth date 6 weeks earlier than my grandmother. Her name was not uncommon (Anna Valentino), so I'm not convinced it could be her.

Hopefully, someone here can provide me with some guidance in helping me track down where I can find her birth certificate. To get a birth certificate in New York State, I need a court order. I want to be more sure of her birth in New York State before going through this hassle.

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    If I've got the right person from the limited information you gave, I see one source claims she was born in "West Counsel, NY", but another says Philadelphia, and one census says Wisconsin (!). Have you checked out those possibilities? It would also help if you added other information you know, like names and birthplaces of her parents and siblings.
    – aem
    Commented Dec 14, 2018 at 5:31
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    Yes, that is the same person. The "Wisconsin" is a misnomer, notice "Wisconsin" sounds a lot like "West Counsel" especially with the accent she had. But to be safe I had requested birth certificates from both WI and PA and they both wrote back saying they did not have it. She did live most of her life in Philadelphia and in fact her son (my uncle) still lives in the same house. He is unsure of details of her birth and she was never in the picture growing up. Commented Dec 14, 2018 at 14:07
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    This is not an answer to your question but I wonder if the Italian consulate can offer any alternatives in cases where a BC doesn't seem to exist. It's possible she was born with a different name (out of wedlock...do check her mom's maiden name if you haven't already...or adopted), or the birth was not registered where she was born or in a timely manner, or at all. Or records could be missing. Do they have any ways to allow you to provide alternate documentation?
    – Cyn
    Commented Dec 14, 2018 at 17:44
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    Could we see an image of her marriage license or Social Security application? That might help.
    – Jack
    Commented Dec 16, 2018 at 18:54

1 Answer 1


Since the information you have so far is not helping, it might be better to try an indirect approach. Here are some things to try.

Make a list of all the source material you have about your grandmother's life, and then go through the documents systematically. Make a list of events and put them in order on a timeline. If your grandmother has siblings, do the same thing, and make a family timeline. Work backwards slowly to see if you can locate what part of New York the family might have been in when your grandmother was born.

The FamilySearch Wiki's article New York State Genealogy has links to articles on Research Strategies and to a Record Finder. You can use these to look for other records that might help you narrow down the search area, such as baptism records. But you may have to widen your search, look at more record types, and establish the migration path of the entire family in order to solve this problem.

Keep in mind that places change names, and sometimes records give as a birthplace the name of a larger populated place which is close by. Using the USGS's Geographic Names Information System (GNIS), I searched for populated places including the term 'West' and got 242 results. The results show which USGS map the places are shown on -- you can look at these maps online using the Historical Map Explorer.

Another possibility is that the place referred to is not the name of a populated place, but it is a neighborhood within a larger place. Consult a reference guide such as the NYG&B's NY Family History Research Guide. You can find this in their shop or in a library near you, using WorldCat. Or you could look for a gazetteer, a dictionary of places, using Google Books, the Internet Archive, Hathi Trust, or WorldCat.

Another complication is that your grandmother may not have been born in the area where your family lived, so if you can find extended family members, map out where they were living as well.

The date of the application for the Social Security number is an important clue, since it tells you how likely the birth place is wrong or only partially correct, given the amount of time which had passed between the birth and the application. Do you have the SS-5 itself, or are you only looking at Ancestry's Social Security Application and Claims index?

Bear in mind, too, that people can't self-report their birthplace. We have to take the word of someone else about where we were born, so the information on any record initiated by your grandmother is second-hand information.

As a wild guess -- could your grandmother have been born somewhere in Westchester County?

If you still can't make any progress after widening the search, consider hiring a professional. Many associations of professional genealogists have directories that will help you locate a professional who specializes in New York research, such as:

Further reading:

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    This is a very good answer. Getting a copy of the Social Security SS-5 form as suggested should show whether the indexed reading of "West Counsel, NY" is plausible or incorrect. And the inferential genealogy steps should direct you to a connection to Wisconsin or New York.
    – aem
    Commented Dec 15, 2018 at 23:13
  • Thanks for your detailed answer. You've given me some sources to look into, but as a general response, I've mapped out this corner of my family very well. No one besides her has any reference to New York in their history besides my GM. Older and younger siblings were all born and raised in Philly. I do have a copy of the SS-5 myself, and I have many documents in her own handwriting that say "West Counsel." Philadelphia school district found her record, but the condition was so bad no text was legible. Commented Dec 16, 2018 at 22:17
  • Also, I have been in contact with a church in Philly since the summer that my family has used for generations, they have some documents of some family members, but none related to her, although they say they are still looking. If she was baptized at a different church, I wouldn't know where to begin determining that. Commented Dec 16, 2018 at 22:19
  • @roundtheworld -- It's a tricky problem, since there's no guarantee people are born, marry, or die close to home. When people are close to a border, it's always good to check both sides, so maybe check New Jersey, too? Also, consider that New York City keeps its own records, separate from NY State.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Dec 17, 2018 at 21:43
  • @roundtheworld, I thought one of the points here was worth emphasizing - discovering the timeline for your grandmother's parents, especially the birthplaces of her siblings, might go a long way toward determining where the family was living in 1916.
    – cleaverkin
    Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 19:57

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