On advice of @efgen I split this question into two - one for New York and one for Panama, but left the same detail for both thinking the fact that Robert Sellars was in both geographic areas might help solve the "mystery". I now know considerably more than I did when first posing this question so will try to revise it without changing its original nature

Please only provide Answer(s) for New York here.

My 3rd great grandfather Robert Sellars was born 15 Oct 1830 in Dundonald, Ayrshire, Scotland, and with his wife Margaret Clacher, had three sons born abroad:

  • Robert John Steven in Albany, New York, USA on 3 Jan 1854
  • William in New York City, USA in about 1857 - record has now been found
  • John in Panama, South America in about 1863

He also had two other children born in Scotland:

  • Hugh in Glasgow about 1850
  • Margaret Elizabeth in Glasgow on 28 Jul 1865

There is also a tantalizing photograph of what is believed to be Robert John Steven "with his sister Margaret" at ages of about 5 and 3 suggesting that another daughter may have been born about 1856, perhaps in Albany or New York City.

There are various Census appearances (1861, 1871, 1881) by his children (except for the Margaret who may have been born in about 1856) and wife, Margaret (nee Clacher) living back in Scotland, there is nothing to indicate that Robert ever returned.

I have found the family in the 1855 New York State Census at Albany where Robert Sellars (24), a Ship Carpenter is living with wife Margaret Clacker (25) and sons Hugh (5) and Robert John Stephen Sellars (1). Robert is recorded as having been living there for one year while it appears that his family joined him more recently. I know that Margaret and Hugh arrived in New York on 10 May 1854 aboard the "Mary Morris".

I have not been able to locate any of the family in any subsequent US Census but Robert's father Hugh Sellars, also a Ship Carpenter, aged 52, is also in the 1855 New York State Census at Albany living with what I resume to be his second wife Mary, aged 50, born in England.

Robert's father Hugh appears to live at Albany through to at least 1872 because he is recorded as having a Variety Store and house at 311 Washington Avenue in eight Albany Directories (and at 287 Washington Avenue in two before that). He is also in Albany for the 1860 Federal Census but I have not seen an image of that to learn more than basic details.

Of Robert himself the only other things I know are that in the 1861 Census his wife Margaret is recorded as being a Ship Carpenter's Wife (not widow), and on the 1865 Birth Certificate (which I have not seen) of his daughter Margaret Elizabeth I believe it records his occupation as being "Railway Company, Ship Building Manager, Panama, Central America".

My overall question is where to find New York City and Albany birth and death records for the mid-late 1850s and possibly early 1860s? I wish to use them to verify the date and location of these events:

  • Birth of Robert John Steven (or Stephen?) Sellars on 3 Jan 1854 in Albany
  • Possible birth of Margaret Sellars in about 1856 in Albany or New York City
  • Birth of William Sellars in about 1857 in New York City
  • Possible death of Margaret Sellars aged about 5 or less before 1861 most likely in New York City
  • Death of Hugh Sellars aged about 68 or more after 1872 in Albany
  • Death of Mary Sellars aged anywhere over about 50 after about 1855 in Albany - record has now been found

I recently located an 1865 New York State Census record, and I think there are some other updates that I can and should make to this question, but for now ...

Hugh Sellars 60, Ship Carpenter, born in Scotland, living at Albany City, Ward 6, Albany, New York, USA with his wife Mary Sellars 60 (born in England) and two others: William H Hall, aged 8, recorded as Hugh's son (?) and Caroline R Foster, aged 7, a Boarder. Hugh was recorded as having been naturalized which suggests to me that he not only declared his intent but completed the process.

  • 2
    Would you consider separating this question into two different questions, one for New York and one for Panama? The resources for each location will be very different, so I'm thinking it would be better to have two focused questions rather than one question.
    – efgen
    Oct 19, 2012 at 0:10
  • Thanks for splitting the question. I know plenty about New York records, nothing about Panama records :-)
    – efgen
    Oct 20, 2012 at 0:38
  • You mention census records. Have you located in the father and/or family in an 1850 era census? 1860 era?
    – GeneJ
    Oct 20, 2012 at 2:25
  • @GeneJ Are you able to see this Ancestry.com link? I have a number of Scottish census records for that period for family except father.
    – PolyGeo
    Oct 20, 2012 at 7:35
  • I see you're aware Robert John Steven Sellers likely married in Victoria (Australia) and died in NSW. Might be worth looking more around Australia for deaths of the others.
    – Rob Hoare
    Oct 20, 2012 at 20:41

3 Answers 3


Vital records for New York City (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens, Staten Island) are maintained separately from vital records for the rest of New York State.

New York City

I posted about the online New York City vital record indexes in response to another question yesterday, so you may wish to read my answer there first: New York State vital records collections

I'll also add more detail here that's directly relevant to your search.

New York City birth records are available for the following boroughs and years:

  • Manhattan: July 1847 - 1848, July 1853 - 1909
  • Brooklyn: 1866 - 1909
  • Bronx: 1898 - 1909
  • Queens: 1898 - 1909
  • Richmond (Staten Island): 1898 - 1909

None of the certificates are available to download from the internet.

Indexes, however, are online -- to an extent.

Since you are looking for a NYC birth in 1857, try the FamilySearch index for births and christenings and see if you have any luck.

If you don't find your relative in the online index, you'll need to try an offline resource:

  • The New York City Municipal Archives is the primary repository for all NYC historical records. You can obtain vital records from the Municipal Archives by mail or in person. There's an online order form where you can submit a search request to the Municipal Archives staff. More details about requesting a search and certificate copy, including fees, are available on the Birth Certificate page. Also, let me highlight a few points from the website that are important and relevant to your search:

    • Birth records prior to 1857 are not indexed. Please provide the month, day and year of birth for Manhattan birth searches from 1847-48; and 1853-1856.

    • Note that pre-1866 Manhattan births were recorded in ledger book format; the following information was recorded: date of birth, parents' names (but not mother's maiden name), child's name, color and gender; place of birth, and name of medical attendant

    • Approximately 25% of all births prior to 1910 were not reported to the city. Births often took place at home and the doctor or midwife sometimes failed to report the event to the appropriate civil office. If the search results are negative, you will receive a "not found" notice.

  • FamilySearch has two overlapping series of microfilms for NYC births, but they're for 1866 and later: Manhattan birth index cards & records 1866-1897 and Births reported in the city of New York, 1881-1965

New York State

Statewide vital records registration for New York State (outside NYC) began in 1881. A few cities started registering vital events earlier. For Albany, the Vital Statistics Department's genealogy page says they began registering births and deaths in 1870.

So it appears that a birth record won't exist for your relative who was born in Albany in 1854.

New York State vital records are available from the New York State Department of Health, in most cases. There's an exception for Albany, Buffalo and Yonkers: births and deaths prior to 1914 are held by the Local Registrar of those cities, and marriages prior to 1908 are held by the City Clerk of those cities.

The New York State Department of Health provides uncertified copies of the following types of records for genealogy research purposes:

  • Birth certificates - if on file for at least 75 years and the person whose name is on the birth certificate is known to be deceased.
  • Death certificates - if on file for at least 50 years.
  • Marriage certificates - if on file for at least 50 years and both spouses are known to be deceased.

(Source: NYSDOH: Genealogy Records and Resources

The New York State Archives website is also a good source of information about New York vital records.

  • For more information about genealogical resources outside the New York City boroughs, see Marian S. Henry, New York Essays: Resources for the Genealogist in New York State Outside New York City (Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2007) americanancestors.org/Product.aspx?id=14812
    – GeneJ
    Oct 21, 2012 at 15:38
  • @efgen Many thanks for all your input - I've not (yet) found exactly what I am looking for but you've given me some places to look and ideas about the chances of success.
    – PolyGeo
    Oct 22, 2012 at 4:18

Disclaimer: this 'cleanup answer' collects links to New York City and New York State Resources that were originally left as comments to the original question and efgen's earlier answer. More links to New York City and State research guides will be added as I find them.

  • Thanks! I just downloaded the PDF (New York State Research Guide) and one thing it overlooks (maybe it was more recently released) is that Ancestry.com also has the New York State Census of 1865 which Hugh Sellars is recorded in and reminds me that I need to update this question again with that information.
    – PolyGeo
    Dec 8, 2014 at 0:51

Thanks to an answer by @JanMurphy to What New York City vital records are covered by this index on FamilySearch? I believe I may have located the 1857 birth record for William Sellers:

"New York, New York City Births, 1846-1909," index, FamilySearch (familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:27TB-871 : accessed 26 March 2015), William A Seller, 15 Jan 1857; citing Birth, Manhattan, New York, New York, United States, New York Municipal Archives, New York; FHL microfilm 1315312.

His surname is written as Seller but both parents (Robert and Marg'T) and the birth year match what I was looking for. Manhattan is a slightly more accurate location than New York City which was recorded on his 1871 Scotland Census Record.

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