Saturday, December 26, 2015

Birth-Marriage-Death Not in 1800s New York State

Vital records, birth marriage and death. We all love them. They are the building blocks of creating a family genealogy. Besides the dates there are the names of a husband to find the new surname to trace a woman under. There are the names of the parents on the birth certificate and with any luck somebody remembered them correctly and recorded them on the death certificate as well. Wonderful records. So why do I groan when somebody asks me to locate one from the mid 1800s in New York State?

In most of New England where many of the New York State ancestors had origins, you can find many of these if not in certificate form, at least a line in the town records back to, oh, I don’t know, when that first ship sailed over the horizon from Europe and landed quite possibly. I understand that. In fact, I’ve used them countless times to find traces of my ancestors and their relatives. Looking through these records you can find documentation on many of these people and once in awhile some little remark about them in that town record book that gives some insight about who the people actually were or where they came from before they arrived in that town.

 village scene, Moravia, New York
Returning over the border out of New England into New York State, we look at those town record books. Well, we look at any we might find; often there aren’t many around for a given area and are mostly court records or such. Where are the books that list births, marriages and deaths? Do they have them stashed away in another room or perhaps the closet in the corner? No. The town office doesn’t have them. They never did. They never existed. A town almost never kept these types of records until state law mandated them in 1880.

Occasionally you will find a town that kept a few sporadically for a few years until a different clerk came into office and decided it was too much bother, or the original clerk got busy, or ran out of paper, or… you get the idea. They start and quickly stop for no reason at all. And they’re very unlikely to be found. I don’t think I’ve ever actually come across this, but have only heard rumors of them. Maybe some day I’ll hit the jackpot and find a town during my research that kept them for a number of years.

During the years 1847- 1852 the state did attempt to mandate keeping of vital records by the schools. It only lasted for these years and very few places actually complied and many for only a year or two.  This is also what happened to some extent when the law went into affect in 1880. Some towns started recording immediately, some took a few years to comply and even those that did, didn’t record everybody in those early years. For about the first five years, it can be hit or miss whether a person is recorded. This is why I groan when somebody asks me to locate one from the mid 1800s in New York State.

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