Western New York State Genealogy Research FAQ

Western New York State Genealogy Research
Frequently Asked Questions

Rick Huff, M.S., Professional Genealogist

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q. Where do I start?
A. Always talk with relatives first. The most valuable source of information is an elder member of the family. Write everything down no matter how insignificant some of the information might seem to be. Use a tape recorder if you have one. Try to get as many dates, place names and times as you can; even if they are only approximate.

Q. Where do I go from here?
A. Next, find out if any of your kin has documents and newspaper clippings. Besides birth and death records, there may also be marriage, naturalization, mortgages, and other legal papers. Photographs are especially valuable as they can be traced to locations and time periods.

Q. What kind of information is available outside my family?
A. After you have completed the family search and have checked every nook and cranny, it is time to look at the government, business and denominational records that may exist. Remember one important fact, the longer a family resided in a particular location, the more information should exist.

Q. What can I learn from federal census records?
A. Census records have names, dates, age of individuals, and places of origin but it depends on the census year. For example, the federal census of 1840 shows only the name of the head of household and the number, sex, and ages of the home's inhabitants. After 1840, the names of all inhabitants are included along with age and occupation and place of birth.

Q. What about New York State census records?
A. New York census were done on the five year interval opposite the federal census which makes them an extremely important source of additional information. These records show the county of birth if one of the inhabitants of a household was born in New York. If the family travelled west, which most did in the 19th century, it is possible to trace the family's movements across the state by the births of the children.

Q. What do Naturalization Papers Contain?
A. Unfortunately, for Western New York, the early naturalizations only show date of naturalization and country of origin. On rare occasions, the origination is more precise.

Q. What Do Local Newspapers Contain?
A. Newspapers are a valuable source of marriage, birth, and obituary data. Often times it is the only source. There are many local newspapers available starting about the mid 19th century. In the later 19th century, many village newspapers appeared. Often these are a source of more intimate family information such as wedding descriptions, trips, and visitors from out of town.

Q. What Are Directories and What Do They Contain?
A. Today when we think of a directory we think of the telephone book. In many ways the city and county directories were much the same. They were compiled, in this area of Western New York as early as the 1850's. On many an occasion death dates and "removals" are often cited. This means that a person or family has packed up and moved to another location. Others have addresses and values of real estate holdings along with the number of acres. Directories list businesses, churches and street locations and they have advertisements. They are also like an almanac; they contain maps, facts and figures, and governmental information.

Q. What about Vital Records?
A. Vital records for New York started in the mid 1880's. However, many townships did not begin keeping them until later in the 1890's. These were usually log books and are still available in town clerks offices. All vital record copies cost $10.00.

FYI Research tidbits about Western New York

Western New York was originally a Holland Land Company purchase, dating back to the Colonial Period.

The Erie Canal was completed in 1825. Prior to this the Western New York region was considered a wilderness with only sparse settlements and a few forts. There is not much in the way of records during this time period other than the census. Once the canal was finished this area began to grow by leaps and bounds.

Catholic Church records, like many other denominations' records are hit and miss until about the 1840's.

Where they went - Western New York, for many families, was a jumping off to points west. Many "removed" to Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin. Why? In search of the American Dream, of course.

Where people in Western New York came from - points east; Ontario, Orleans, Monroe, Oneida, Albany, Wayne Counties of New York and of course, New York City. States such as Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut.

Naturalizations begin for this area in the 1830's.

Land records, depending on the area begin in the early 1800's.

Most of the earliest graves in Western New York date back to the late 1830's and early 1840's.


Rick Huff is a Niagara County based genealogical and historical researcher. Please contact him by email or visit his web page for additional information about services available.


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