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Yates County Towns and Their Records

In New York State, towns have many of the same functions as towns in New England, from where so many of the state's early settlers came from. The Constitution of 1789 allowed for the creation of towns as subdivisions of counties; each town to have its own supervisor and council.  At that time, and up until the 1970s, the supervisors served together as the county legislature. In some counties this is still the case. Nowadays towns with large populations may have several governmental departments, each with responsibility for many sets of records.

Map of County showing townsYates County had when created in 1823 five towns: Italy, Jerusalem, Middlesex, Benton and Milo. In 1826 two additional towns were annexed from Steuben County, these being Barrington and Starkey. In 1832 Middlesex was split, its larger eastern part renamed as Potter. The full present roster of nine towns was reached in 1851 when Torrey was created from parts of Milo and Benton.

It might be noted here that in New York, towns are different from townships. The former, as explained above, are governmental divisions with taxing power and a legislative body. Townships are a convenient surveying unit, ideally six miles square. The original survey of western New York, including what is now Yates County, was made in 1788 from the Old Pre-emption Line running from the Pennsylvania border into Lake Ontario; this line runs a bit west of Seneca Lake, and even though its course is not where it was supposed to be, the grid of townships laid off using it as a base line is what governed the sale of land from then until the present day.

The nine towns in Yates County, like all towns in the state, are governed by a supervisor and a town council. The town clerk keeps the council's minutes and is almost always also the registrar of vital records, as well as the designated manager of all the town's records. Each town also has a public historian whose task it is to preserve the town's history. All town clerks have an office, most at the town hall; most town historians operate from their homes.

All towns have some records of interest to the general public, other public officials, or family and local history researchers. These include a few series held by all towns, and a few unusual or even unique. The following chart will lead you to some of these resources:

Barrington Jerusalem Potter
Benton Middlesex Starkey
Italy Milo Torrey