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New index to municipal vital records:

For the last three years the Historian's Office has been working to prepare a new index to the vital records of the twelve local municipalities within the county that have registrars. This index is only to the first book of records for each municipality, roughly 1881-1913. It's a huge document, though, so it has been split into eight PDF files. See below for more information and a link to the files.

Births, deaths and marriages were not considered to be a civil record by the Dutch administration of New York, and when the English took over in 1686 they mae no serious attempt to overcome this attitude. Even after the Revolution, the state was one of few which did not require civil registration of vital records. 

New York passed its first statewide registration legislation in 1847, but compliance was so uneven that this attempt was shortlived. In Yates County, only the town of Benton has retained its registrations from this period.  However, each town was required at the same time to file a copy of the register with the county each year. The originals of these sheets are located in the County Historian's archive, and have been transcribed for this site. [Town registers filed with Yates County]

The present law requiring vital records registration was passed in 1880, and by 1900 or so compliance was close to 100 percent. Births and deaths are recorded in the municipality (town or village in Yates County) in which they occur; a marriage license may be obtained from any town clerk in the state. Villages have marriage records only through the first few years of the 20th century. Town birth records drop off sharply as soon as modern hospital practices begin; many births were recorded in the village of Penn Yan after 1921 when Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hospital opened until its obstetrical ward closed in the mid 1970s. On the other hand, many deaths still occur there, so the village records a very large percentage of the county's deaths, regardless of the actual residence of the deceased person. 

Birth and death records are restricted in their use. In general, they are not available to the public until 75 years (in the case of births) and 50 years (in the case of deaths and marriages) after they occur. 

Official certificates drawn from vital records registers, as well as copies from the original are available ONLY from the respective town or village clerk's office. In general, local clerks charge $10 for a certificate.


All the municipalities in the County retain the initial register, issued by the state in 1880; for the most part this first book contains births, marriages and deaths from whenever the municipality began recording them up to 1907; some end earlier, some run as late as 1913. For the municipalities indicated in the list below, the index for the first volume is on line. 

Important note: The index records every name in the book, followed by a three-part abbreviation:

  •     The letter B, D or M indicating whether the record is a birth, marriage or death;
  •     A number indicating which line of the book the record appears on;
  •     Letters indicating the role of the person named in the event recorded:
            Births have an infant (i), a mother (m) and a father (f);
            Deaths have a decedent (d), a father (f) and a mother (m);
            Marriages have a groom (g), the groom's father (gf), his mother (gm), a bride (b), her father (bf) and her mother (bm).
  • Not every record will list all persons involved, and even though women's maiden names were supposed to be recorded, they were many times listed under their husband's surname. Names were not always consistently spelled, and the index reflects this. The register also should list information like birthplace, and this too was not always entered; nor, of course, was the information recorded always correct. In most municipalities recording had started by about 1885, but compliance was not at all general until after the turn of the century.

    The online indexes were made from a microfilm copy. The Yates County Historian will look up references from the index for a fee of $2 each. Persons requesting this information will get an uncertified transcript of the record. The request must contain the citation exactly as it appears in the index, and a postal address where the transcript and a bill can be sent. Please put "County Historian Record Request" in the subject line; to submit a request click the button:



    Town of Barrington; Town of Benton; Town of Italy; Town of Jerusalem; Town of Middlesex; Town of Milo; Town of Potter; Town of Starkey; Town of Torrey and Village of Dresden; Village of Dundee; Village of Rushville; Village of Penn Yan

    A - B C - D E - G H - K
    L - M N - R S T - Z



    In addition to, and actually long preceding, the municipal registration of vital records, civil and religious authorities recorded events such as marriages, baptisms and deaths. These are not in general as accessible as the municipal registers, but for the period before 1880 they often provide the only primary documentation for these events.

    Abner Chase was an early Methodist circuit rider in western New York, and as such married many couples over his long period of service. His marriage record for the years 1829-1854 survives, a small leather-bound book with 30 pages in his old-fashioned handwriting. [TRANSCRIPT]

    Josiah S. Carr was a local Justice of the Peace and jotted down notes about the marriages he performed on the flyleaf of one of his docket books between 1855 and 1865. [TRANSCRIPT]

    D H Palmer was the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Penn Yan. His record of the marriages he performed from 1878 to 1881 survives. [TRANSCRIPT]

    The original records of St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church in the northeast corner of the town of Potter were in German. The congregation was founded by ethnic Germans from Pennsylvania who had come from Pennsylvania after about 1790; during the 1820s they were joined by the first of a wave of German-speaking immigrants from Alsace, which was at that time part of France. An English translation of the first extant book of vital records is in the possession of the Yates County Historian and has been transcribed for this site, and indexed. Included are all recorded deaths, marriages and baptisms 1842-1888.

    Though the original records are no longer available, the Historian's Office has compiled from various sources the membership, birth, death and marriage records of the First Presbyterian Church in Penn Yan from 1823 to 1890, and those of the First Free Congregationalist Church that split off in 1841. These have been arranged alphabetically by surname to make searches easier. [TRANSCRIPT]

    The records of the Congregational Church in Rushville from 1811-1906 have been reproduced on microfilm, which can be borrowed via interlibrary loan from Cornell University's main library. The Historian's Office has scanned these records and they are now available at the office on CD. An index to these records is available on this site. [INDEX]

    Deaths and marriages were recorded after the enumeration on federal and state censuses from 1850 through 1875. Deaths were recorded on all of these, though the names of the decedent was not given on the 1855 state census. Marriages with the names of the bride and groom were listed only on the 1865 and 1875 censuses. 

    Two books containing pension and other applications of Civil War soldiers and veterans of the War of 1812 and their widows contain many marriage records, and the birth records of applicants' minor children. For more information on these records, see the Bounty Books page.


    Local newspapers ran published notices of weddings, births and deaths, just as they do now. Only some of these are indexed in any way.

    The Penn Yan Republican began publishing in 1823 and except for a gap in the 1830s it or its successors have been publishing ever since (the paper is now the Chronicle-Express). The Yates County Historian, the Penn Yan Public Library, the New York State Library in Albany, and other institutions (notably the library at Cornell University) maintain microfilm copies of these papers, more or less complete except for very spotty coverage of the 1840s. A two-volume index of genealogical gleanings from these papers through September, 1867, was created from the microfilm and may be purchased from Heritage Books, Inc. Both books are available on a single CD-ROM.

    An online transcript of vital records extracts from The Chronicle is being created, beginning in October, 1867, where Mrs. Stenzel left off.

    The Chronicle's predecessor was the Penn Yan Whig. Our microfilm collection of this paper is quite incomplete, but we are extracting notices from what we have. At present, the extracts from 1840 and 1841 are on-line.

    Otherwise, an extensive but incomplete card index was created by former County Historian Frank Swann and is now in the possession of the Yates County Genealogical & Historical Society.

    The Dundee Observer has been published since 1878 and has also been microfilmed. The film is available at all the sites mentioned in the previous paragraph, plus at the Dundee Library. The Dundee Record, an older paper begun in the 1850s, has not been filmed, but an extensive index was created and is maintained by the Dundee Area Historical Society. Items of genealogical interest have been extracted from the Observer by the Historian's Office. So far, items for 1878 are available on-line.

    The Penn Yan Herald and its successor the Democrat was the first paper published in Penn Yan, its first issue coming out in 1818. A few pre-1850s issues are in the collection of the Yates County Genealogical & Historical Society. We have a volunteer working on extracting items of genealogical interest from the issues of the Democrat that we have on microfilm. So far, we have online extracts from the 1840s, 1850, 1852, 1853, 1854, the 1860s, and 1870-1895. From that period to the paper's last issue in 1949, microfilm exists. Indexes of the years 1898-1949 are in the process of being posted on line.


    Newspaper clippings and other documents of a private nature such as letters also contain genealogical information. They tend to be inaccessible to one degree or another, however.

    The Histoian's Office was loaned a scrapbook by Mr. Carl Drakeley that had apparently been compiled by a member of the Todd family in Jerusalem. The vital records information has been transcribed and is posted on line. The transcription is in two parts:

    One: Transcripts of newspaper clippings collected by a member of the Meli Todd family. 1870s and 1880s.

    Two: Abstract of the 1875 census of Yates County. Lists of people over 70 living in the County.