Finding Records of New York State Births


by Cliff Lamere   18 Feb 2007, rev. 8 Feb 2008




There are many kinds of records that will give an exact or approximate date of birth for a person who was born in New York State.  I have listed most of them on this webpage in order to assist you in your research.  Some records give complete dates, one gives only a month and year, some give just a year, and some give information that will allow you to determine an approximate year of birth.  The various sources have varying accuracies.


When I discuss a certain kind of record that was created continuously from long ago to the present (like cemetery or church records), my comments generally refer to pre-1940s.  I have not seen all of these records in their modern forms.



This webpage is divided into two sections.  Those with red titles give a complete date of birth.  The remainder have green titles and have an incomplete date of birth or just an age on a certain date.



Records which give a COMPLETE date of birth


Birth Certificates


Birth certificates are the best source of information for an exact date of birth.  The certificate was filled out at the time of the event, so it is the most likely to be accurate.  Birth certificates are issued by both the New York State Department of Health and the local government where the birth took place.  Locally, that could mean ordering a certificate from the office of the City Clerk, the Village Clerk, or the Town Clerk.  


However, birth information was not collected by New York State until 1881, and that did not include New York City which has always maintained a separate system.  Some cities began collecting vital records earlier than 1881; Albany in 1870, Yonkers in 1875, and Buffalo in 1878.  These cities were not required to send their pre-1914 birth and death certificates to the state, nor their pre-1908 marriage certificates.  You must contact these cities to get a copy of a birth certificate for a person born in those cities.


Locally, the doctor or midwife was supposed to fill out and sign the birth certificate.  Information from the certificate was copied into a local ledger, and then the original certificate was sent to the state.  The births of too many children were never recorded locally, so the state never got them.  A relative of mine who was born in 1911 was not recorded, nor were two sisters.  In the surname I research, about 50% of the pre-1890 birth certificates had the sex of the child, but no name.  This can make it difficult to locate a certificate of birth.  


New York State Department of Health Birth Index


The Birth Index is on microfiche.  It shows the name of the child, the place of birth, the date of birth, and the certificate number.  By law, the most recent 75 years are not available for viewing (privacy reasons).  Although this index record has very good accuracy, it can't be as accurate as the original certificates.  Clerks had to read the handwritten dates and type them.  Some date errors occurred as did also some spellings of the names.  


The microfiches are available for onsite research at the New York State Archives in Albany, the National Archives in New York City, and at a library in Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, Elmira.  They will be in Glens Falls about Dec 2007.


School District Vital Records, 1847-1851

There was a statewide requirement for school districts to collect vital records starting in 1847.  This did not last long.  Some school districts collected the records until 1851, but many collected only a year or two.  For some counties these records still exist.  The NYS Archives and NYS Dept of Health do not have them, and counties may not know where they are.  If there is a county archive or historical society, they could be there.  No doubt many of the counties just discarded them before 1900.  The WPA (Works Project Administration) recorded those that existed in New York State in the very early 1940s.  They are not issued as certificates, and few local clerks know where they are today.  Some have been microfilmed, and some of those have been posted on the internet.


Church Baptism Records


Many New York church baptism and marriage records have been transcribed and are for sale.  This is especially true of records of the Dutch Reformed Church and the Lutheran Church, and especially for counties along the Hudson River from New York City to Albany, and along the Mohawk River.  Other religions or other parts of New York State are not nearly so well represented.


Large libraries in New York State may have a good selection of these in their reference section.  The books may also be found at local archives and historical societies.  Where books are not available, you may be able to find the records you seek at an existing church or an archive operated by that religion. 


The 1600s baptism records usually didn't report the date of birth.  Usually it was just a day to a week earlier than the baptism.  It was important in those days of more frequent infant deaths that the baby be baptized as soon as possible.


Social Security - Original Application


In 1936-37, approximately 35 million applications for Social Security cards were received.  


Form SS-5 is used to apply for a Social Security card.  The form asks for the following information:  

    SS number, Name, Address, Age, Date of Birth, Place of Birth
    Father's Name, Mother's Name including Maiden Name 
    Sex, Color or Race, Employer, Employer's Address 
    Date of Application, Signature of Applicant 


There may be blank fields on some applications.


Social Security Death Index


The Social Security Death Index (SSDI), which can be found on the internet in several versions, gives the name, date of birth, the month and year of death (sometimes the day also), the last residence zip code, sometimes the zip code to which the last benefit check was sent, the Social Security number, and the state in which the SS number was issued.  Records have only been computerized since 1962.  Earlier benefit recipients are not available in the index.


People who die, but whose name does not get reported to SSA, do not get on the list.  Sometimes the Social Security Administration learns about the death of a person when the benefit check returns to them.  Funeral directors may also inform them.  


The various online versions of SSDI are not all equal.  


1)  RootsWeb  It is free to the public, and it is updated each month as the most recent SS records become available.  The search results are arranged by SS number.  That makes all of the people in the same geographical area appear together.  The names of all people from a particular state appear together, but they are not arranged alphabetically.


If you click on "Order Record?" you will be taken to a screen that gives you the choice of ordering birth, marriage, death or divorce certificates from a different company.  You can't order a copy of the SS application from this site (see below).


2)  Ancestry  This is available only as part of their subscription.  The names are arranged alphabetically by last name.  Within the last name, the first names are alphabetical.  However, if you search for just a last name using Soundex, at the very beginning of the search results there often are several to many names that don't belong there.  After those names, the rest are arranged alphabetically. 


If you click on "Order Record?" you will be taken to a screen that gives you the choice of ordering birth, marriage, death or divorce certificates from a different company.  You can't order a copy of the SS application from this site (see below).


3)  Family Tree Maker    - This version of SSDI has not been updated since 1997.  But, don't ignore this site.  It has one distinct advantage over the others.  RootsWeb and Ancestry don't offer a way for you to order a copy of the original application.  Family Tree Maker does.  After each name in the search results there is the option to "Write It."  Click on it and a letter to the Social Security Administration is then created with their address in the letterhead.  The record that you wish to purchase is automatically identified, thus making your job very simple.  The letter is a Freedom of Information Act request.  You simply print it and send it.


How to order an original SS application or computer extract   - see number 3 above for people who died before 1998.  The cost in 2007 is $27 for a copy of the original application if you supply the SS number ($29 without a SS number) or $16 for a computer extract of the application (SS numbered supplied; $18 without it).  However, the Social Security Administration says the following about their records.  "Many records of older individuals, primarily those born in 1910 or earlier, are abbreviated records that do not contain the names of the individual's parents and may not contain the place of birth."

View an old version of the application form and the current version.  


U.S. Railroad Retirement Board Records


Records begin in 1937.  Certain types of small railroads were not included.   

"If found, the packet may contain some of the following information: 

original handwritten letter for the application for retirement,
application copy which included dates worked/salary amounts paid by employer,
reason for retirement application,
authenticated record of marriage\,
statement of death by the funeral director,
also may list birth dates and parents names.


2007 fee is $27.  For more information, check their website.


World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918


WWI lasted from 1914-1918, but the United States didn't enter it until early 1917.  24 million men registered for the draft in 1917-1918, the years represented by these cards.  They were born 1873-1900.  The personal information on the cards was given by the registrant, so the information will be quite accurate.  The information contained on the cards is: name, place of residence, date and place of birth, race, country of citizenship, occupation, and employer, nearest relative (on many or most cards), eye color, hair cold, height and build (in general terms), and date of registration.  These cards are an excellent resource.  More than 80% of the men on these cards never entered the military.


1)  Ancestry has images of 1.2 million of these cards online (subscription service).

2)  New York City World War I Draft Board Data Base - contains 13,000 names (free access)


World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942


Called the "old man's registration," the Fourth Registration is the only registration currently available to the public (because of privacy laws).  It "registered men who born on or between 28 April 1877 and 16 February 1897 - men who were between 45 and 64 years old - and who were not already in the military." (Ancestry subscription)


Information on the cards:

Name of registrant
Birth date
Birthplace (State and Town or County)
Employer information
Name and address of person who would always know the registrants whereabouts
Physical description of registrant (race, height, weight, eye and hair colors, complexion)

As of Feb 2007, New York has been only partially put online by Ancestry (subscription).


Family Bibles


Family bibles record various bits of information.  They tend to contain the names of people, when the individuals were born and died, and perhap when they were married.  Complete dates of birth are usually listed.


Personal Diaries


These may record the date of the birth of a child.


County Histories


In the late 1800s, histories of many of the counties of NY were  published.  In a biographical section, there is usually a lot of information about prominent men living at that time of publication.  A birth date is often mentioned.  If the man was  married, the date of birth of the wife may also be mentioned.  Children usually were only  named.  Since the biographies were written after interviewing the living person, the dates will be fairly reliable.


Death Certificates


Death certificates sometime give the date of birth, but usually they only mention the age of the person at death.  From this, an approximate birth year can be calculated.


Military Pension Files


A military pension file with its several to many documents usually give the age of a person when a certain form was filled out.  Sometimes a complete date of birth is listed.  In many cases the surviving wife was the applicant.


Surname Genealogies


If a surname genealogy has been published, the author may have found the  birth date while doing research for the book.  Since these books often do not quote their sources, it is difficult to decide how reliable a date is.   



Records which give an INCOMPLETE date of birth


Cemetery Records


Cemetery records come in two basic forms: gravestone inscriptions and cemetery office records.  


Gravestones usually have just the year of birth and the year of death.  They might have the year of death and the age at death.  From that you can calculate the approximate year of birth (it could either of two years).  


Office records will often show the complete date of death plus the age at death.  Although most records will give the age in years, some will give it in years, months and days.  Determining the latter is not simple, so one should expect errors.  Therefore, you may be able to determine the exact date of birth, but I never rely on it being exact.



An obituary frequently gives the age of the person, but it not likely to give an actual birth date more than about 5% of the time.  From the date of death and the age at death, you can calculate an approximate year of birth (it could be either of two years).


Marriage Certificates


The ones that I have seen (pre-1920) only mention the age of the people when they applied for the license to marry.  In fact, many of them ask the age at their next birthday.  I have long wondered what was actually recorded, and how genealogists who transcribe those marriage certificates report it.


World War II Army Enlistment Records


The National Archives has two sets of records online documenting the period ca. 1938 - 1946: Army Enlistment Records and Army Reserve Corps Records.  Both give the serial number, name, residence (state and county), place and date of enlistment, service grade, the state in which born, the year of birth, race and citizenship, education, civilian occupation (can be one of a whole series of choices), marital status, and component of the Army (enlistee or Reserve Corps). 

City, Village, and Town Histories


The centennial or bicentennial or other anniversary of a village or city or Town may result in a history being written.  The bicentennial of our country resulted in a great many of these being written in 1976.  The history will usually name some important people from the past.  It may mention the year that certain things happened, such as the year of birth of a certain person.  It is not likely that complete birth dates will be known or mentioned.

US Censuses


The 1900 census was special in that it gave the month and year of birth of each person.  US Censuses 1850-1930 all list the age of each person named.  Knowing the age plus the year of the census we can calculate the approximate year of birth.  It will be one of two years.  An exception is the 1920 census.  All information on it applied to January 1 of that year.  Therefore, the exact year can be calculated.  It is a bit tricky, however, because a 1-year old child had its birthday sometime in 1919, so it was born in 1918, not 1919.  


If a child was born January to May of 1870, the month should be given in the 1870 US census.


NY Censuses 


New York State conducted their own censuses of all residents from 1825 to 1925, usually in the years ending in 5.  Two exceptions occurred.  1885 had no census.  The census following that was in 1892.  Before 1855, only the head of household was named.


From 1855-1925, the age of the person was given, but not the day, month, or year.  The censuses for 1855 and 1865 gave the county of birth if a person was born in New York State.



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