by Thomas MacEntee | Dec 13, 2011
I grew up in New York and as a child I marveled at all the historic locations my family and I visited in every part of the state. As an adult, when saying that I was from New York, most automatically assumed "New York City," which is quite common. The truth is that the entire state of New York was vital to the westward expansion of the young United States after the Revolutionary War and was pivotal to the economic growth of the nation as well.
Luckily, New York is a treasure trove of records for researchers, as long as you understand where to look and know some of the tricks to locating what you need.
As for regions, some say there are only two: "The City" which means New York City and perhaps even Long Island and "Upstate" meaning anything outside of New York City. Here are some commonly recognized regions for New York:
Prior to the Revolutionary War, most settlement was from New York City north to Albany. The post-war era brought a migration of Yankees from New England across New York. The construction of the Erie Canal (finished in 1825) attracted those seeking work. Once completed, many of these workers settled in the canal cities such including Utica, Troy, Rochester and Buffalo or followed the timber trade into the North Country of New York, as well as Ohio and Michigan. The mid-19th century saw an influx of German and Irish immigrants and the late 19th to early 20th century was marked by immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe.
Records are kept on both the local and state level depending upon the record type and the date at which statewide registration began. Remember, you can also order vital records for New York through Archives.com.
Note: due to its sizeable population, New York City records are often separated out from the rest of the state records and must be ordered from a different agency.
New York conducted a state-wide census every 10 years starting in 1825 through 1875. In addition, a census was taken in 1892, 1905, 1915 and 1925. Not all counties are included. See the FamilySearch Research Wiki for detailed information.
Many of the cemeteries in New York have been inventoried and transcribed. Here are some sites to access these records:
Church records for New York are varied and most reside on the local level. The best starting point is the FamilySearch Research Wiki article on New York Church Records.
Don't limit yourself to the big cities - even small towns had directories of businesses and organizations. Check out City Directories - New York.
The maze of courthouses and jurisdictions is not an easy one to navigate from the New Netherlands colony to the present. Again, FamilySearch Research Wiki to the rescue with its timeline of the New York Court System.
New York is the home of Ellis Island as well as its predecessor Castle Garden where millions of immigrants streamed in to the United States. Many settled in New York, especially in New York City.
Land records were not kept until the English arrived after 1664 and most of these are in the form of land patents and manor records. Both patents and manors contained tracts of land parceled out by the governor, and land companies thrived after the Revolutionary War to satisfy the needs of New Englanders streaming into New York. Most land records are stored on the local level meaning towns and counties.
Get a better understanding of New York, especially its changing borders with Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, by consulting historical maps. See New York State Historical Maps.
New York has an extensive military history, especially during the Revolutionary War. Start with the New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center and don't forget FamilySearch resources on New York Military Records.
In addition, note that many New Yorkers were "Loyalists" who sided with the British and left for Canada at the end of the war. See The King's Men for more information on the different Loyalist groups in New York.
There are many newspaper resources available for New York, many at Archives.com. Some of the lesser known online resources include:
New York wills and probate records are not easily located due to the fact that many different courts and venues handled such records. Again, the FamilySearch Research Wiki is the best starting point to sort out time periods and locales for these records.
The New England Historic Genealogical Society has a free database for New York Wills from 1626 - 1836.
Here are some interesting tools and sites to help with your New York research.
The modern concept of New York as a bustling urban metropolis doesn't give an accurate depiction of a state that has been pivotal to the development of the United States. Various waves of residents, starting with the Dutch in 1609, have left behind an abundance of records for the family historian with New York ancestry.
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