If you’re researching in New York State, we have some good news for you. Ancestry has just launched a collection of New York State death indexes covering 1880 to 1956. The collection includes more than 5 million names of people who died in New York State. Prior to this release, this index was only on available on microfiche in a dozen or so locations in New York, including the New York State Archives.
A couple of things to know about this collection. First, this collection covers New York State, but not New York City, which maintains its own vital records. (There are several existing collections on Ancestry that do cover the New York City boroughs.) Additionally, records prior to 1914 are not currently available from Albany, Yonkers, and Buffalo.
Second, this is just an index. The index includes the name of the deceased, date of death, location of death, and death certificate number. You want to go after that death record, as you’ll get much more detail on the actual record.
Ancestry does have some death records online for various New York counties, and there are a number of other vital records resources available for New York on Ancestry. You can view all of these through the Ancestry Card Catalog or through New York State page.
If the records are not available online, you can purchase copies through the New York Department of Health. They have a genealogy page with details on how to request the records.
Alternative Sources for Death Information
Historical newspapers like those found on Newspapers.com may include more details about your ancestors. Be sure to check newspapers in any location where your ancestor lived, as obituaries were often copied to papers in other places your ancestor had a connection with. Look for multiple death notices, even within the same paper. There may be notices over a span of several days, and you may even find multiple mentions in the same newspaper, on the same day. Sometimes you’ll find more detail in one clipping than others.
Find A Grave is a free and extraordinary resource. Memorials sometimes include additional details and some may include digitized records related to that person as well.
Once a death date is known, you may also be able to locate a record for your ancestor in the U.S. Wills and Probates collection on Ancestry. You can get tips on using the probate collection in this blog post.
For more follow-ups and alternatives to U.S. vital records (births, marriages, and deaths), download our free guide.
While our fascination with death may seem a bit morbid, within death records we can find incredible insights into the lives of our people.