I have asked an earlier question about the brief time my 2nd great grandfather Robert John Steven Sellers and his parents Robert Sellers and Margaret Clacher spent at Albany in New York State as Finding New York City/State records relating to Sellars family (British subjects) births/deaths mid 19th century?

My understanding is that Robert John Steven Sellers was born on 3 Jan 1854 but I have no source for that precise date and I would like to see if I can verify or discount it. The 3 Jan 1854 date would seem a little unlikely because on 10 May 1854 his mother "Mrs Margaret Sellars" and his older brother Hugh, aged 3, arrived in New York on the "Mary Morris" after travelling from Glasgow. There was no infant recorded in the column for that purpose and it seems too soon after Robert's apparent birth date to have left him in the U.S.

From an answer to the earlier question it seems like, unless he was born elsewhere (which I have no reason to suspect), there is no possibility of me finding a civil registration for his birth:

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.

I am confident that he was born in Albany in 1854 because:

  • the 1855 New York State Census records one year old Robert John Stephen Sellers as living with his parents Robert Sellers and Margaret Clacher at Albany City, Ward 6, Albany, New York, USA (HOUSEHOLD NUMBER: 2, LINE NUMBER: 39, SHEET NUMBER: 11) and that he was born in the U.S.
  • the 1861 Scotland Census records Robert Sillars, aged 6, born "America, US"
  • the 1871 Scotland Census records Robert Sellars, aged 16, born "State of New York Britsh Bubject, albany"
  • an 8 Jul 1874 Certificate of Discharge and Character from the ship Oakworth in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia says Robert Sellers was born 1854 in "Albany, USA"

Where should I look for an 1854 baptism record of Robert John Steven/Stephen Sellers/Sellars/Sillars in Albany?

I think these pieces of evidence may help narrow the search:

  • His parents Robert Sellers and Margaret Clacher were married on 1 Feb 1850 at Brownfield Church, Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland which seems to be at least associated with Glasgow Free Presbyterian Churches which may indicate their religion - although they came from Ayrshire and Dunbartonshire respectively so this church may just have been convenient for them. They are recorded as residing in Glasgow but there is nothing to say that they were "of the parish".
  • His grandfather Hugh Sellars had a variety store at 287 and 311 Washington Ave 1862-72 and was also recorded in the 1855 and 1865 New York State Censuses as living at Albany City, Ward 6 so it seems likely that this was part of their "neighbourhood".

Does the above perhaps point at any particular churches in Albany whose baptism records I could try to access?

A large collection of pre-1900 ward maps for every major American city, including Albany, Brooklyn, Buffalo, New York, and Rochester, is Ward Maps of United States Cities FHL film 1377700; 6016554–782

  • This is a case where knowing the FAN club can turn up clues to church membership.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Dec 6, 2014 at 8:18
  • 1
    I think their FANs may be few, or at least hard to trace, but I'll think about what I can find. Certainly, the grandfather Hugh had some other adults living with he and his wife in 1855 and 1865 Censuses. Sometime I should probably pursue what made Albany so attractive to father and son ship carpenters in 1854 too, because we have a family legend that Robert (father of Robert John Stephen) and Margaret died "building [at?] the Niagara Falls" and we know that Margaret (who died 1867 in Scotland) did not.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Dec 6, 2014 at 10:33
  • 1
    Seen in the FS Catalog: Lost and found, Albany (NY) area church and synagogue vital records, 1654-1925: "The focus of this article is the surviving birth, baptism, marriage, death and burial records of more than one hundred ten churches and synogogues in the greater Albany County and Rensselaer County areas" (monograph, 31 leaves)
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Dec 8, 2014 at 0:24
  • @JanMurphy That's certainly a very hopeful looking reference - thanks!
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Dec 8, 2014 at 0:46
  • 1
    You may want to watch the session coming up next week during NARA's Virtual Genealogy Fair. I've added the information at the bottom of my answer. Thurdsay (Day 2) 27 Oct 10 a.m. Eastern: Nonpopulation Census: Agriculture, Manufacturing, and Social Statistics by Claire Kluskens
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Oct 17, 2016 at 21:09

1 Answer 1


This answer includes some material which was originally left in comments and is incomplete.

The question involves two different intertwined questions -- discovering what church the Sellars family might have attended, and discovering what records produced by those churches might have survived.

Assuming that they attended a Presbyterian Church is a starting point, and to get general background on the history of the Presbyterian church in the USA, there is an article at the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Finding Church Records

Albany County, New York, Rensselaerville Presbyterian, or Congregational Church 1794-1920, baptisms 1794-1816, 1824-1879, 1881-1916

Albany County Newspaper Research

In my own research, the place I've found the most information about church affiliation is in newspapers -- sometimes in obituaries, but most often in social news pages, especially if a woman is involved in any of the charitable organizations associated with the church.

Finding aids for Albany newspapers:

Viewing Albany Newspapers:

Some Albany papers can also be viewed at the Library of Congress' Chronicling America site (see link under finding aids).

For newspaper research especially, knowing friends, neighbors, and associates can be helpful because you have more names to search on -- this allows you to get around OCR problems.

Since the FamilySearch Research Wiki has been refurbished recently, take a look at their article New York Church Records, which has an overview of where to find the archives of the various denominations.

The article also lists research guides and finding aids such as the two volumes of the Guide to vital statistics records of churches in New York state, exclusive of New York City from the WPA's Historical Records Survey which are available online at FamilySearch.org:

The title "vital records of churches" is somewhat misleading. 'Vital records' refers to records of births, marriages, and deaths. Church records are usually baptisms, marriages, and burials -- but some baptism and burial records may list the birth or death dates.

Some clues to the religious makeup of the population of Scotland in this period can be found in the lecture and FHL class handout Tracing Ancestry in Scotland’s Nonconformist Church Records by Phillip Dunn, Sr., AG®, British Research Specialist, Scotland. Dunn says:

By 1851: Nonconformists, including all the Seceder Churches comprised a whopping 60 percent of the people of Scotland.

You might also be able to get some information about churches and newspapers in the area from the Social Statistics schedules of the US Federal Census. Ancestry has some schedules available for New York State in their database U.S., Selected Federal Census Non-Population Schedules, 1850-1880. You'll have to use the Browse on the right-hand side, since the Social Statistics schedules seem to be browse-only. Social Statistics is not one of the schedules listed in the drop-down box in the search form, and a test search for "Albany" in the place search did not yield a hit for a Social Statistics page.

See the US National Archives' 2016 Virtual Genealogy Fair (Day 2, session 1) for a presentation on the Non-Population Schedules:

10 a.m. Nonpopulation Census: Agriculture, Manufacturing, and Social Statistics by Claire Kluskens

(Live broadcast will be 10 a.m. Eastern time on 27 Oct 2016.)

Recordings of the session will be on NARA's YouTube Channel, on the Know Your Records playlist. Presentation slides and handouts will also be available.

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