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Overheard in GenForum: Birth Index for New York City?
by Rhonda R. McClure

Each week Rhonda answers a question from the GenForum message boards and gives her expert answer here. We'd love to hear anything you have to add. Go ahead and leave your comments on GenForum with the original message.

April 04, 2002
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: Does anyone know if there is a Birth Index for New York City for 1893? Must I request a birth certificate from the New York City Archives? I am so frustrated trying to find a (runaway) great-grandmother. Can I request a birth certificate if the child's parents are unknown, or is that too broad because of the possibilities of many children with the same name? -- Kathy

A: It is best to supply as much information as possible about a given individual when requesting records from a repository, especially when those records are vital records. As you suspect, in New York City, the potential for having many children with the same name born at about the same time could be a challenge. Those handling your request at the repository would not know which of the certificates to give you.

New York City also has an additional issue. There is more than one set of records that you must check if all you know is that the child was born in 1893 in New York City. New York City is actually a city of counties. Knowing which of the boroughs your great-grandmother was born in also plays a part in the search.

New York City is a city of counties.

Birth Records of New York City

New York City is actually comprised of five boroughs: Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island. With the exception of the Bronx, which was created out of New York County, more commonly known as Manhattan, in 1912, and whose birth records begin 1 January 1914, it is possible that you may need to look through the indexes for each of the remaining four boroughs.

I noticed that in answer to your question, someone had posted a microfilm number and referred you to an index from 1893 to 1897. The microfilm in question deals only with the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn. It was not until 1897 that all the boroughs were compiled into an annual index. Even these annual indexes are broken down by borough, so it is necessary to search all of the boroughs for a given year if you do not know which borough the person was born in.

For Manhattan and Brooklyn, you can look in Family History Library microfilm 1322458. For Queens, you will have to view all seven reels of microfilm for the index to births that covers the years 1848 to 1897. The index for Queens was broken down by village. For Staten Island, also known as Richmond County, there is an index on three microfilm reels that covers the years 1847 to 1897.

I think you are hoping that the birth index will help you to identify your ancestor, perhaps supply you with the parents' names. The birth indexes in New York City do not include the names of the parents. Most of them include the name of the child, the date of birth, and the certificate number. Nothing else. If you do not know the date of birth for your great-grandmother you could have a problem here.

As you can see, if all you know is the year of birth and your great-grandmother's name, you may find many entries for many different babies with the same name. However, there are some alternatives to help you narrow down your search.

Gathering Additional Information

Provided the name you are looking for is not Jane Smith, I would suggest that your first search be in the 1900 census. Extract all families with a child of the right age and the right name. This gives you an idea of how many possibilities you will have to deal with in the birth indexes. You might also recognize other family members listed in the census thus making it easier for you to determine which of the families is your most likely match.

If you haven't done so, I would suggest looking for the marriage record for your great-grandmother since the application for marriage may list the parents' names. If she was married in New York City, you have similar indexes available. They list only the husband's name in many cases, but if you know when they were married and who she married, this will be an easy search. Also, if she married in New York City, you will be given the names of her parents, including the maiden name of her mother and where your great-grandmother was born. Generally in New York City marriage records the place of birth for a person born in New York City is listed with the borough name, which again would make your search in the birth index easier.

If you are certain that your great-grandmother did not remarry, you might try searching for her in the Social Security Death Index. This is a long shot, as there are many potential problems with finding her in this index including the possibility of a remarriage and the fact that it sounds like you do not know when and where she died.

In Conclusion

New York City vital records for the time period in question are exceptional and because many of them are available on microfilm, they're often easy to research. You do not need to go through the New York City Archives, thus saving you time. However, because New York City is such a large city, it usually requires knowing more than just the year of birth to be able to identify your ancestor in those records.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at rhondagen@thegenealogist.com.

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