New York Research Tips

New York State Research Tips
NY Genealogy, suggestions for study



Research Considerations

  1. Patronymics
  2. Feminine Suffix
  3. Name Changes & Variants
  4. Middle Initial
  5. Dutch Naming System



HISTORICAL BACKGROUND Before 1880, New York had no consistent requirement for maintaining vital records. Generations of New Yorkers lived, worked and died without appearing in public records. Thankfully, they were recorded in the religious records of the state. Early churches were a focus of the community. Most individuals were involved at least enough to have important events such as baptisms or marriages recorded in the ecclesiastic records. The major churches kept the best available records.

Land ownership for large tracts of the land in the state prior to about 1840 was in a leasehold system. This was a private arrangement between the large landholders and the leasee or renter. The information was not recorded in deeds or public land records. The lease often provided for tenancy for three lives and so the leaseholder would not have had the need to make a will or probate record. Thus many of the families in the state do not commonly appear in land records or probate records.

A variety of methods must be employed to search for family information. Often the type of record which may be the most useful is dependant upon the time period being studied.


1. Patronymics Patronymic names were common in the colony until after 1700. The father's name was used with a suffix to identify his children. Thus, the identifying name changed in each generation. This is further complicated by the use of various other means of identifying an individual. One man, Teunis Quick was found in different records under four different names--his patronymic (Thomassen), a surname (Quick), his place of origin (van Naarden) and his trade, (Metselaer), which means butcher. The wife's name may appear more consistently and be an aide in identifying the husband.

2. Femine Suffix The feminine ending "in" or "en" was sometimes added to a surname. This should usually be considered a feminine designation, especially in the time period before 1800.

3. Name Changes & Variants -In early New York State, many name changes and variants occurred. Indexes prepared by Arthur C.M. Kelly include see also entries to alert uses for alternate spellings.  Indexes are included in all Arthur Kelly's books published by KINSHIP. The see also entries will indicate many cases of name changes such as the name, "Goes" changed to become "Hoes".

4. Use of patronymic Middle Initial -In the 19th century individuals were often identified by a middle initial which corresponded to the father's given name. This is especially important since many cousins received the same given name (see Dutch Naming system described below) The resulting grandchildren were contemporary so that the identifying initial is a helpful means to distinguish between them.

5. Dutch Naming System -Until about 1810, many New York families used the so called "Dutch Naming System". In this system the first born male and female may be named for the paternal grandparents and the second born male and female are named for the maternal grandparents. Subsequent children are named for aunts and uncles in the family. A study of names used in a family group is often helpful in identifying individuals.


1. Prior to 1810-

Since few vital records were recorded by the government before 1880, church records often provide the most complete sources of information, especially if a family was not wealthy. Refer to the KINSHIP Catalog for a list of published records available for sale and research. In this time period, most families relied on a local church for functions of baptism and marriage even if their religion was quite different.  Since there were not many churches and since there was the desire during this period to solemnize these events it is often possible to find them recorded in church records.

Use the catalog to identify churches in the area that your family lived and consult those church records for pertinent entries.  CAUTION: The surname search on our catalog will only list books with many entries for that surname.  Individual book indexes will identify surnames which are not so plentiful.

Hessian Soldiers in the American Revolution- In the military section of our catalog, you will find abstracts of information about the Hessians (HETRINA) many of who defected, especially in German speaking sections of the country.

2. 1810-1850-

The most difficult period for research. Many churches were formed so there are many more records to locate and consult. Family bible records and church records provided in manuscript volumes prepared by the DAR may be a useful source.  Much of the index is now online  There is also a card file located at the New York State Library in Albany and portions of the index have been microfilmed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) for use in their family history libraries. Census records of this time period only show heads of households and age categories of those living in the household.  However, it may be possible to use a later census to fill in statistics referring to this era.  In areas where land was not held in the leasehold system, deeds and mortgages are a rich source of information.  However, in New York State large areas were maintained in the ownership of a single individual and leases given to the tenants were not recorded in public land records.  A census may be used to determine where the individual could have lived and a search for manuscripts containing rentbooks and other tenant information may yield a reference to changes in the lease indicating the death of the leaseholder. Watch for the widow or a son to be named in place of the leaseholder. Few of these records have been published so research must be conducted in archives or on microfilm at LDS family history libraries.  The Settlers & Residents Series for Columbia County NY has published some Livingston leaseholders.

Newspaper Records-Abstracts of Newspaper Records such as those found in the Newspapers section of the Kinship Catalog, provide information about deaths and marriages which were recorded in early newspapers.

Both the New York State Library, Albany and the New York Public Library have typescript copies of abstracts of newspaper notices prepared by early genealogists. The New York Newspaper Microfilming Project has attempted to preserve newspapers and is an excellent way to find obituary and news notices.  List of microfilmed New York newspapers, organized by city or county is available online.

3. 1850-1880-

Census records in this time period list both heads of household and all individuals living within the household. The State Census taken in 1855 and at 10 year intervals is more complete and helpful than the Federal Census but few of the State Census are indexed. In our catalog you will find  New York's Detailed Census of 1855, Greene County, by Fred Q. Bowman.  It is the publication of one county in the census.  You may use CD Indexes of Federal Census to locate families and then view microfilm of State Census for that locality to gain more information such as where an individual was born or how long he had resided in a particular town.

A through treatment of "State Censuses of New York 1825-1875" by David P. Davenport was published in Genealogical Journal of the Utah Genealogical Association, 14:4:172-197. This includes information which may be learned from the population schedules as well as others such as the manufacturing schedule.  The article lists the availability of the various census as well as some indexes which have been prepared.   See the Kinship Catalog for books by Mr. Davenport listed under Albany, Montgomery & Schenectady & Schoharie Counties.

Information about soldiers serving in the Civil War has recently become available on-line.  You may access the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors to search for your ancestor.

4. 1880-Present

Vital Records such as Birth, Death and Marriage Records are available. For events occurring outside of New York City, an index, prepared annually, may be found at the New York State Archives, Albany.


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