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New York Vital Records

Sheila Kieval, January 1997

This article is directed to the researcher doing research in New York and the researcher writing to New York for vital records certificates.  It does not discuss use of the LDS (Mormon) Family History Centers.  For information about New York City vital records available at LDS Family History Centers, see the JewishGen InfoFile nycv-lds.html.

I am indebted to the following four publications for the majority of information in this article:

  • Guzik, Estelle M., ed.  Genealogical Resources in the New York Metropolitan Area. (New York: Jewish Genealogical Society, Inc., 1989).
  • Polakoff, Eileen, comp.  Guide to Beginning Genealogy. (New York: Jewish Genealogical Society, Inc., 1993).
  • Guzik, Estelle M., "New York Resources: An Update". Dorot, vol. 17, number 3 (Spring 1996), pages 14-15.
  • "N.Y. State Dept. of Health Index to Vital Records". Dorot, vol. 18, number 1 (Fall 1996), pages 5-6.

Introduction

Information in vital records is not always accurate or complete.  The person taking or providing information may have reported inaccurate data either intentionally or unintentionally.  The records were not created for genealogical purposes; they were filed for legal, demographic and public health purposes.  It is important to keep this in mind.  It is strongly recommended, that, when possible, the researcher consult all types of records (i.e., birth, marriage and death records; censuses, naturalization records and passenger lists), to verify the information in any one record.

The information a parent provided about a child for a birth certificate was probably accurate.  Information given for a death certificate, however, may be inaccurate.  A person providing death information on his grandfather, for example, often did not know the date or place of the man's birth, or the names of the deceased's parents.  The date of death will usually be accurate, but other information depends on the informant's knowledge.  Marriage records are often very dependable, since the persons involved usually supplied the information themselves.  Note that death certificates were the most frequently filed of the three documents, with marriage second and birth last.

Steps in Using New York Vital Records

Geography

The first step in researching vital records is to understand New York geography.  New York City, before 1898, consisted of Manhattan and parts of the Bronx.  Manhattan records include the western area of the Bronx (Kingsbridge, West Farms and Morrisania), 1874-1897, and the eastern area of the Bronx, 1895-1897.  These areas were annexed by NYC in 1874 and 1895 respectively.  (The Bronx became a separate borough in 1898.)  For vital records in these areas and years, a search of Manhattan records should be made.  The researcher should verify that s/he is looking in the correct borough/county before beginning his/her search.  Researchers searching outside of New York City should consider consulting town, county and city clerk's office records.

Indexes

When researching vital records, one should examine both the index and the actual certificate.  So, searching the index should be the researcher's second step.  This is important for several reasons: first, to verify that the name that you are requesting is the same as the name on the certificate; second, to verify that the person died in the borough/county that you are requesting; third, to verify that the date when you believe the event occurred is correct.  The earliest birth, marriage and death Health Department indexes were arranged by year, by borough, by month, and by when the event was reported.  About 1891, this was changed slightly so that indexes were arranged by year, by borough, by month and alphabetically by surname.  In these first two sets of indexes, one must consult 12 entries (months) in a year to try to locate an event.  About 1909, it was decided to arrange the indexes by year, borough and surname (combining all events for a year and borough together instead of breaking them out by month).  In 1937, the index was reorganized again to combine all boroughs.  From this point forward, the indexes are arranged by year and surname in one alphabetical listing.  It is important to note that events are listed in an index by when they were reported, and not when they occurred.  For example, a birth that occurred in December may not have been reported until March (or later) of the following year.  It is also important to note that Brooklyn, Queens and Richmond County (Staten Island) were not included in these indexes until 1898.  Birth indexes are most often arranged alphabetically.  However, the researcher should be aware that for certain years a Soundex system was used.

The two main places in New York City to view New York City vital records indexes are the Municipal Archives and the New York Public Library.  New York State vital records indexes can be viewed at the National Archives-Northeast Region, in Manhattan and at the New York State Archives in Albany.  While indexes in general only list name, date of event, age (in death indexes) and borough, their value cannot be overemphasized.  While there are privacy laws regarding the use of birth, marriage, death and divorce records, the indexes, in most cases, are public.  If one has an uncommon name, and/or one knows details about an event that would help one narrow down the occurrence of an event, one could quite successfully document life events without consulting the records themselves.

Certificates

The third and final step is to view the certificate itself.  The Municipal Archives has New York City birth certificates through 1909, New York City marriage certificates through 1937, and New York City death certificates through 1948.  Birth and death certificates after these dates are located at the New York City Department of Health; marriage certificates after 1937 are located at the City Clerk's Office.

Marriage Records

At least two independent sets of marriage records were maintained for the period 1908-1937 in each borough.  These are the NYC Health Department (H.D.) and the City Clerk's Office (C.C.O.) records.  Both have separate marriage indexes (all boroughs) for brides and grooms.  The brides' index, which is arranged by the surname of the bride, is very useful when the name of the groom is not known or is common, thus making it difficult to discern from the grooms' index which groom is one's ancestor.  C.C.O. indexes are arranged by borough, the first TWO letters of the last name and then grouped by months.  The C.C.O. indexes were not published.

The City Clerk's records, 1908 to the present, consist of the application (affidavit) filed by the couple BEFORE the wedding, a summary of the application (for applications filed from 1908-1943) and the marriage license filed AFTER the wedding by the officiating person (e.g. Rabbi) certifying that the wedding actually occurred, showing the date, place and witnesses.  This information then was added to the summary.  This office also has copies of applications for marriages that never took place.  Note that the application could be filed up to several months prior to the actual wedding date.

Marriage certifications, 1908 to May 1943, were required to be filed in the borough in which the bride resided.  For out-of-city brides, the record was filed in the borough where the license was obtained.  After May 1943, all marriage certifications were filed in the borough in which the couple obtained their license.  All C.C.O. marriage certificates from 1930 to the present for all boroughs can now be ordered from the Manhattan City Clerk's Office.


Sample Searches

  1. Your grandfather Abraham Cohen died in the Bronx in 1900:

    1. Geography: determine that he really died in the Bronx, and not in Westchester or Manhattan:

      • look in the city directory for his address in or about 1900.
      • look in the 1900 census for his address in or about 1900.
      • is this address in the Bronx according to the census?
    2. Indexes: look at the death indexes for 1900 for the Bronx

      • since Abraham Cohen is a common name, there is probably more than one Abraham Cohen who died in the Bronx in 1900.
      • look for Abraham Cohens who died in the Bronx in 1900 who were about the same age as your grandfather.
      • death indexes for this period can be found at:
        • the New York Public Library
        • the Municipal Archives
      • write down all entries that "look right".  Include ALL information, especially the certificate number.  Write a letter to, or visit, the Municipal Archives requesting the certificates for all the individuals who "look right".  Since you have supplied the date, borough and certificate number, you only need to send a check for $5 per request.  Don't forget a SASE.
  2. Your grandparents Abraham Cohen and Sarah Kaplan were married in Manhattan in 1910.

    1. Geography: determine that they were most likely living in Manhattan.
    2. Indexes: Abraham Cohen is a common name.  Look in the Health Department grooms' index for Manhattan for 1910 and write down all the information for all of the Abraham Cohens.
      • the Health Department Grooms' Index can be found at the NewYork Public Library and the Municipal Archives.
      • Look in the Health Department brides' index for Manhattan for 1910 for Sarah Kaplan and write down all the information for all the Sarah Kaplans.
      • the Health Department Brides' Index can be found at the Municipal Archives.
      • If there is an Abraham Cohen and a Sarah Kaplan who have the same certificate number, these are your grandparents.
    3. Write to the Municipal Archives for this certificate.  Since you have supplied the date, borough and certificate number, you only need to send a check for $5 plus a SASE.
    4. If you cannot find them in the Health Department Indexes, they may have filed their certificate with the City Clerk's Office.  These indexes can only be searched by the public at the Municipal Archives in person.  The Municipal Archives staff will not search the C.C.O. indexes and C.C.O. marriage certificates cannot be ordered by mail from the Municipal Archives.
  3. Your grandfather died in Manhattan in 1840.

    The maintenance of vital records was started at different times by different state, city and local governments.  If an event in your family occurred before the specific government started keeping records, you just might not be able to find that record for your ancestor because it might not exist.  In this case, since no death certificate exists, you can try to verify the event using city directories (wife listed as widow), censuses, newspaper death notices and cemeteries.


Research Facilities Holding New York Vital Records

Described below are nine research facilities which hold New York vital records and/or indexes.

  1. New York City Department of Records and Information Services - Municipal Archives
  2. New York Public Library
  3. New York City Department of Health
  4. City Clerk's Office
  5. County Clerk's Office - Division of Old Records
  6. County Clerk's Office - State Supreme Court
  7. National Archives - Northeast Region
  8. New York State Health Department
  9. New York State Archives

NOTE: PLEASE CALL FACILITY BEFORE ARRIVING TO VERIFY HOURS AND FEES


New York City Department of Records and Information Services - Municipal Archives

Repository:

New York City Department of Records and Information Services, Municipal Archives, 31 Chambers Street, Room 103, New York, N.Y. 10007   (212) 788-8580, -8581.

Hours of Operation:

Monday - Thursday 9:00 am to 4:30 pm, Friday 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. Closed Saturday, Sunday and legal holidays

Records Available:

  • Old Town and Health Dept. Birth Indexes 1857-1909.
  • Old Town and Health Dept. Birth Records 1847-1909.
  • Soundex indexes for births in all boroughs 1898-1909.
  • Geographic indexes by street address for births in Manhattan, 1895-1909, and for the other four boroughs, 1898-1909.
  • Manhattan hospital birth index, 1880-1904.
  • Old Town & Health Dept. Brides' and Grooms' Indexes 1866-1937.
  • City Clerk Brides' and Grooms' Indexes 1908-1929, all boroughs (these must be requested - they are not on open shelves).
  • City Clerk Marriage Certificates 1908-1929, all boroughs (these records cannot be reviewed - they must be ordered).
  • Health Dept. Death Indexes 1848-1948.
  • Health Dept. Death Records 1795-1948.
  • Death certificates for U.S. soldiers in Cuba and Puerto Rico, 1898 - May 1, 1900.
  • Records same years as indexes (not open).

Indexes (microfilm) are arranged by locality or borough, year and surname.  Researchers examining pre-1898 indexes should be aware that several indexes may exist for a particular year.  For vital records in the Bronx, a search of Manhattan records should be made.

The Health Department published marriage indexes (all boroughs) are arranged alphabetically by name of the groom only.  Card indexes are arranged in two alphabetical series by names of the bride and groom.

Fees and Copies:

  • $5 daily for use of microfilm machine.
  • $5 for copy of certificate when certificate number is known.  $2 for search for each additional borough/year and certified copy.
  • $10 one borough/one year search and copy of certificate when certificate is not known.
  • $18 for one year, 5 borough search and certified copy, certificate number not known.
  • $28 for two year, 5 borough search, and certified copy, certificate number not known.

Send a check or money order, payable to the NYC Department of Records, and a stamped, self-addressed envelope (SASE).  Photocopies are made by the staff only.  Researchers may hand copy records at no additional cost.

It is suggested that a mail request for marriage records from 1937 to the present include $10 and that a specific borough not be requested, since the boroughs were combined in the index for this period and, therefore, multiple searches are not necessary.

The researcher is advised that few, if any, Jews lived in Richmond County until the mid-twentieth century and so a search of this borough may be unnecessary.

The researcher should consult Guzik pages 59-62 and 65 for a list of the exact birth, marriage and death records that are available for the early years.


New York Public Library

Repository:

New York Public Library - U.S. History, Local History and Genealogy Division and Microforms Division, Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street, Rooms 315S and 315M, New York, N.Y. 10018

212-930-0828 (Genealogy), 212-930-0838 (Microforms).

Hours of Operation:

  • Monday Microforms Div. 10:00 am to 6:00 pm.
  • Tuesday Both Divisions 11:00 am to 7:30 pm.
  • Wednesday Genealogy Div. 11:00 am to 6:00 pm.
  • Wednesday Microforms Div. 11:00 am to 7:30 pm.
  • Thursday to Saturday 10:00 am to 6:00 pm.

Records Available:

  • Health Dept. Grooms' Indexes 1888-1937.
  • Birth Indexes (film) Aug 1888 - 1915, 1921.
  • Birth Indexes (fiche) 1898 - 1975.
  • Death Indexes (film) Aug 1888 - 1956.
  • Death Indexes, Manhattan (film) 1798 - 1865.
  • Birth Indexes (books) 1916 - 1982*.
  • Death Indexes (books) 1957 - 1982*.

* missing some scattered years.

Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island (Richmond) are not included until 1898 in the birth, marriage and death indexes.

Fees and Copies:

The library cannot respond to mail requests.


New York City Department of Health

Repository:

New York City Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Records, 125 Worth Street, Room 133/144, New York, N.Y. 10013   212-788-4520.

Hours of Operation:

Monday to Friday 8:00 am to 4:30 pm.

Closed Saturday, Sunday and legal holidays.

Records Available:

  • Birth Indexes (all boroughs) 1910-present.
  • Death Indexes (all boroughs) 1949-present.
  • Records same years as indexes (not open).

Fees and Copies:

$15 per day to view indexes.  Bring two pieces of identification.

$15 per record for a certified copy, 2 year search.

NOTE: Birth records are only available to the individual of record and/or a direct descendant.  If the individual is deceased, a copy of the death certificate must accompany the request.  If the person of record is living, the request must be accompanied by a notarized letter of authorization from that individual, naming the person who may request a copy of the record.

To obtain a copy of a birth or death record, complete the appropriate application and a SASE.  Submit these with your payment to the teller at the appropriate window, or send in your request by mail.  Additional years are $1 per year/per name.

Payment must be made by money order or CERTIFIED personal check (or in cash for in-person orders).  Regular personal checks are not accepted.  Checks should be made out to the "New York City Department of Health" and must have your name and address imprinted on the check.

At least two pieces of information about a deceased person (other than information found in the indexes) should be included in the application for a death record.  Items such as parents' names, occupation of the deceased or spouse's name qualify.  Be sure to indicate your relationship to the deceased person on the application.

For birth records (other than your own) and death records, a copy will not be provided immediately even if you come in-person.  Allow 6 to 8 weeks for a return reply by mail.

Birth records from 1920 to the present are available in shortened computer form.  These short forms do not include parents' ages, place of birth, occupation or number of children previously born to the mother.  The short forms cost the same $15.  You must specifically ask for the long form if you wish this additional information for post-1920 records.

No records (except your own short form birth record) can be obtained immediately.


City Clerk's Office

Repository:

City Clerk's Office, Municipal Building, 1 Centre Street, Room 252, New York, N.Y. 10007.  212-669-8170.

Hours of Operation:

Monday to Friday 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.  Closed Saturday, Sunday and legal holidays.

Records Available:

  • Marriage Indexes, all boroughs, 1930 - present.
  • Marriage Records, all boroughs, 1930 - present.

Indexes not open to researchers.

Fees and Copies:

$15 certified check for a one year/one borough search.  Each additional year searched is $3.

Only records over 50 years old can be requested.


County Clerk's Office - New York County

Repository:

County Clerk's Office, State Supreme Court - N.Y. County - Division of Old Records, 31 Chambers Street, 7th Floor, New York, N.Y.   (212) 374-4376, 4781.

Mail Address: N.Y. County Clerk's Office, 60 Centre Street, Room 161, New York N.Y. 10007

Hours of Operation:

Tuesday and Thursday, 9:00 am - 1:00 pm and 2:00 pm - 5:00 pm. Other times by appointment.

Records Available:

Divorce, separation and annulment cases brought in NY County 1784 - 1940.  They are only available if more than 100 years old.  Indexes are open.

Fees and Copies:

Inquire.


County Clerk's Office - New York County

Repository:

County Clerk's Office, State Supreme Court - N.Y. County, 60 Centre Street, Room 103B, New York N.Y. 10007   (212) 374-8587.

Hours of Operation:

Monday - Friday, 9:00 am to 3:00 pm.

Records Available:

Divorce, separation and annulment cases brought in N.Y. County, 1941 to the present.  Matrimonial cases are closed except to the involved parties or their attorneys.  Indexes are open.

Fees and Copies:

Inquire.


National Archives - Northeast Region

Repository:

National Archives-Northeast Region, 201 Varick St., 12th Floor, New York N.Y. 10014.

Hours of Operation:

Monday - Friday, 8:00 am to 4:30 pm and the third Saturday of every month.  Closed legal holidays.

Records Available:

The National Archives Northeast Region contains donated copies of the New York State vital records indexes from the State Health Department in Albany.  These records do not include New York City.

  • Birth Indexes: 1881 alphabetical; 1882 Soundex; 1883-1921 alphabetical.
  • Marriage Indexes: 1881-1907 alphabetical, brides and grooms combined; 1908-1914 Soundex, brides and grooms separate; 1915-1939 alphabetical, brides and grooms combined; 1940-1946 Soundex, brides and grooms combined (except 1944).
  • Death Indexes: 1881-1939 alphabetical; 1940-1946 Soundex (includes age).

The microfiche indexes are in the public research room. All researchers must have a valid Researcher's Identification Card issued by the National Archives.  Only three requests are allowed at a time.  Each request must be for a specific year, name and vital record (birth, marriage, death).  All research must be done in person.  The staff of the National Archives - Northeast Region can not conduct any research on these vital records indexes.

Fees and Copies:

Inquire.


New York State Health Department

Repository:

New York State Health Department - Vital Records Section, Genealogy Unit, Corning Tower Building, Room 244 (2nd Floor), Empire State Plaza, Albany N.Y. 12237-0023   (518) 474-2005.

Hours of Operation:

This office is closed to the public.

Records Available:

Birth Records from 1881 and Death Records from 1880 for the entire State except records filed in Albany, Buffalo, Yonkers and New York City (and City of Brooklyn).  For these cities, the Department has the following:

  • Albany, Buffalo and Yonkers: Records from 1914 to the present.  For pre-1914 birth and death records in Albany, Buffalo and Yonkers, contact the City Clerk's Office in these cities.
  • New York City: Only records for Queens and Richmond Counties, 1880-1898, the eastern portion of the Bronx (part of Westchester County), 1880-1895, and towns in Kings County before annexation to the City of Brooklyn.

Marriage records for the entire State from 1880 except licenses issued in Albany, Buffalo, Yonkers and New York City (and the City of Brooklyn).  For these cities, the Department has the following:

  • Albany and Buffalo: Records from 1908 to the present.
  • Yonkers: Records from 1914 to the present.
    For pre-1908 records in Albany and Buffalo or pre-1914 records in Yonkers, contact the City Clerk's Office in these cities.
  • New York City: Only records for Queens and Richmond Counties, 1880-1898, the eastern portion of the Bronx (part of Westchester County), 1880-1895 and towns in Kings County before annexation to the City of Brooklyn.

Indexes are open to the public for the same years that records can be ordered.

Fees and Copies:

For a copy of a birth, marriage or death record, complete the appropriate box on the application form.  There is a $11 fee (per one spelling of the name) for a copy of a birth, marriage or death record.  This includes a 3-year search if the certificate number is not provided.  For additional years, the fee is as follows:

  • 4 to 10 years, $21 41 to 50 years, $61.
  • 11 to 20 years, $31 51 to 60 years, $71.
  • 21 to 30 years, $41 61 to 70 years, $81.
  • 31 to 40 years, $51

There is no refund if the record is not found.

Many local registrars were not filing every record before 1914.  It is advisable to consult local city or town clerks if the State cannot locate a pre-1914 birth, marriage or death record.  In addition, because it can take at least 6 months for this office to fulfill a genealogical request, they recommend that you contact the local registrar/clerk of the district in which the event occurred for a copy of the record.

The Health Commissioner's Administrative Rules and Regulations, Part 35.5, Vital Records (based on the Public Health Law, Section 4173, 4174) permits the release of records as follows:

  • birth records on file at least 75 years and the person to whom the record relates is deceased;
  • death records on file at least 50 years;
  • marriage records on file at least 50 years and the parties to the marriage named in the record are deceased.
    • After these years you must be a direct descendant (mother, father, grandparents, great-grandparents).


      New York State Archives

      Repository:

      New York State Education Department, Office of Cultural Education, New York State Archives and Records Administration, Cultural Education Center, 11th Floor, Empire State Plaza, Albany, NY. 12230.   (518) 474-8955.

      Hours of Operation:

      Monday to Friday 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.  Closed Saturday, Sunday and legal holidays.

      Records Available:

      • Indices to New York State birth records 1880-1921.*
      • Indices to New York State marriage records 1880-1946.*
      • Indices to New York State death records 1880-1946* are available for public use.

      * Note that these years follow the 50 and 75 year restrictions rule.  In 1997, indices will be available through 1922 and 1947; in 1998: 1923 and 1948, etc.

      In October 1991, copies of the microfiche indices were transferred from the New York State Health Department to the Archives.  It is in this office that one can view the indices.  The indices are arranged by year, alphabetically by surname, alphabetically by first name, by date of event.  They also include place of the event and the certificate number.  Privacy and security considerations preclude transcription and copying of the indices.  A directory of local vital records registrars and copies of the Health Department certificate order forms are available to assist researchers who want to order copies of actual certificates.

      Every county maintained their own marriage records until sometime in the 1930s.  Also, every county in New York state has similar records to those described above.  The addresses for some of the offices in other parts of the state are listed below.  Please contact them directly for information.


      County Clerk's Office - Nassau County, New York

      240 Old Country Road, Room 109 Mineola, N.Y. 11501   (516) 535-2663.


      County Clerk's Office - Suffolk County, New York

      County Center Riverhead N.Y. 11901   (516) 548-3400.


      County Clerk's Office - Westchester County, New York

      2199 Saw Mill River Road (Route 9A), Elmsford, N.Y. 10523   (914) 592-1925.


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