Background Sources for New York

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This entry was originally written by Roger D. Joslyn, CG, FUGA, FGBS, FASG for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

This article is part of
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the New York Family History Research series.
History of New York
New York Vital Records
Census Records for New York
Background Sources for New York
New York Maps
New York Land Records
New York Probate Records
New York Court Records
New York Tax Records
New York Cemetery Records
New York Church Records
New York Military Records
New York Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
New York Archives, Libraries, and Societies
New York Immigration
New York Naturalization
Ethnic Groups of New York
New York County Resources
Map of New York

New York State abounds in published history, so much so that only a few representative titles can be listed here. These include Alexander C. Flick, ed., History of the State of New York, 10 vols. (1933'37; reprint, Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1962); David M. Ellis and others, A History of New York State, rev. ed. (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1967); Bruce Bliven, Jr., New York: A Bicentennial History (New York: Norton, 1981); and Michael G. Kammen, Colonial New York: A History (New York: Scribners, 1975). The Empire State: A History of New York, ed. by Milton M. Klein (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, and Cooperstown, N.Y.: New York State Historical Association, 2001) provides a good general history.

For the earlier period, one should not overlook Edmund B. O'Callaghan, ed., Documentary History of the State of New-York, 4 vols. (Albany: n.p., 1849'51), which concerns the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries but is not indexed. Various lists of persons from these volumes were reprinted as Lists of Inhabitants of Colonial New York (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1989).

O'Callaghan also edited Calendar of Historical Manuscripts in the Office of Secretary of State, Albany, N.Y., 2 vols. (1865'66; reprint, Ridgewood, N.J.: Gregg Press, 1968). Volume 1 covers the Dutch period (1630'64) and volume 2 covers the English (1664'1776). Some of the manuscripts were lost or damaged in the New York State Library fire in 1911. O'Callaghan translated, sometimes incorrectly, a great many of the Dutch documents, but most remained unpublished. With Berthold Fernow, he edited the fifteen-volume Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New-York (1853'87; reprint, New York: A.M.S. Press, 1969). The first ten volumes were compiled from records in Amsterdam, Paris, and London, with volume 11 serving as the index. Volumes 12'14 cover documents found in New York State, and volume 15 covers the Revolutionary War (see New York Military Records). Since the 1970s, the surviving original Dutch and English material up to 1700 is being published in the series titled New York Historical Manuscripts, although some of the volumes to date, under various editors and publishers, have included material not in O'Callaghan's Calendar, such as the Brooklyn Dutch Church records and records of the New Amsterdam notary Salomon Lachaire.

Major genealogical compilations for New York include David M. Riker, Genealogical and Biographical Directory to Persons in New Netherland, from 1613 to 1674, 4 vols. (Salem, Mass.: Higginson Books, 1999), also published by Family Tree Maker on CD-ROM as New Netherland Vital Records, 1600s (1999); Henry Z. Jones, Jr., The Palatine Families of New York: A Study of the German Immigrants Who Arrived in Colonial New York in 1710, 2 vols. (Universal City, Calif.: the author, 1985) and Mr. Jones's subsequent volumes on the Palatines; and Frank J. Doherty's in-progress series, Settlers of the Beekman Patent Dutchess County, New York, 7 vols. to date (Pleasant Valley, N.Y.: the author, 1990' ). More recent scholarship and reinterpretations of New York history are found in articles in New York History, The New-York Historical Society Quarterly (defunct), and The William and Mary Quarterly (see Virginia).

Much of the state's regional history consists of three- or four-volume works, the first two or three volumes of which are the 'history' and the rest 'mug' books. The term mug book refers to those printed sources that present pictures and biographies of those who subscribed to the publication. The latter are useful for clues about families, but they are not always factual. A long list of works on regional New York history and genealogy is found in Austin's 'Genealogical Research in Upstate New York' (see under Guides below).


For a good overview, see the New York chapters in Genealogical Research: Methods and Sources, vol. 1, rev. ed., edited by Milton Rubincam (Washington, D.C.: The American Society of Genealogists, 1980). Kenn Stryker-Rodda wrote on 'New Netherland, Long Island, Staten Island, and the Hudson Valley Counties' (pp. 168-95) and Mary J. Sibley on 'Upstate New York,' updated by Gerald J. Parsons (pp. 195-220). This work is out of print, but is still a very useful guide.

George K. Schweitzer, New York Genealogical Research (Knoxville, Tenn: the author, 1995) is a good, inexpensive New York guide. Also useful is the Family History Library's Research Outline for New York, #31069, 2d ed. (Salt Lake City: the library, 1997).

Kate Burke, Searching in New York: A Reference Guide to Public and Private Records (Costa Mesa, Calif.: ISC Publications, 1987) includes libraries, hospitals, and so forth, and is useful for adoptees. Some information is not current or sufficiently detailed.

John Austin, 'Genealogical Research in Upstate New York, An Informal Finding List of Published Materials' (Glens Falls, N.Y.: the author, 1983) is out of print but a very useful guide to items in Tree Talks, abstracts of and indexes to wills, and so forth.

Gateway to America: Genealogical Research in the New York State Library, 2d ed., rev. (Albany, N.Y.: The New York State Library, 1982) is available from the library for $3. While this publication is dated, it does provide a printed guide to many of the basic genealogical materials in the library. More updated, single-sheet guides on several topics, such as vital records, adoption, probate records, and so forth are available at the library and on its website.

Guide to Records in the New York State Archives (Albany, N.Y.: State Archives, 1993) should be supplemented by the archives' online catalogue.

'Research in Progress in New York History,' a feature in New York History indexing books and articles since 1952, was continued in 1968 as Research and Publications in New York State History, published by the University of the State of New York, but was discontinued in the early 1970s.

Gordon L. Remington's New York State Towns, Villages, and Cities: A Guide to Genealogical Sources (Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2002) provides an excellent gateway into many basic records, including local histories, church registers and cemetery inscriptions, and the town clerk's registers of Civil War soldiers and sailors (see New York Military Records).

Estelle M. Guzik, ed., Genealogical Resources in New York (New York: Jewish Genealogical Society, 2003) is the best guide to most nineteenth- and twentieth-century New York City sources (not state sources, as implied by the title), as well as New York City-area Jewish research (the newer edition has a narrower focus than the first edition, published in 1989 under the title Genealogical Resources in the New York Metropolitan Area). It should be supplemented by Rosalie Fellows Bailey, Guide to Genealogical and Biographical Sources for New York City (Manhattan), 1783'1898 (1954; reprint Baltimore: Clearfield Co., 1998, with introduction by Harry Macy, Jr.), which while somewhat outdated, is very useful for identifying many other and earlier records, some covering more than just Manhattan.

J. H. French, Gazetteer of the State of New York (1860; reprint with additional indexes, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1995) is the best and most useful of several gazetteers. For a modern list of New York places, consult Gazetteer of the State of New York (Albany, N.Y.: New York State Department of Health, 1995). Also see Gordon Remington's New York State Towns, Villages, and Cities.

Herbert F. Seversmith and Kenn Stryker-Rodda, Long Island Genealogical Source Material, National Genealogical Society Special Publication 24, 2d printing (Washington, D.C.: National Genealogical Society, 1980) is an excellent bibliography of about 850 published and manuscript sources in 125 libraries throughout the country.

Rosalie Fellows Bailey, Dutch Systems in Family Naming: New York-New Jersey, National Genealogical Society Special Publication 12, 3d printing (Washington, D.C.: National Genealogical Society, 1978) covers a difficult subject superbly, for which also see Kenn Stryker-Rodda's 'New Netherland Naming Systems and Customs,' The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record 126 (1995): 35-45.