The genealogy community received great news from Reclaim the Records this morning – they have obtained images of the New York State death index from 1880–1956. This is a huge breakthrough for New York genealogy researchers because finding a death certificate is one of the first things you should do whether you're beginning research or trying to break through a brick wall.
Images for this crucial index are now available in the NYG&B eLibrary. To learn more about finding New York death certificates, make sure to read our Guide to Finding New York Birth, Marriage, and Death Records - you will be surprised that your ancestor's death certificate might not be where you think it is, but our guide will clarify everything, including how to use the indexes, and how to order certificates once you find your ancestor in the index.
What is the New York State Death Index and why is it important?
If your ancestor was born anywhere in New York State outside of New York City, their death certificate is most likely held by the New York State Department of Health. There are a few notable exceptions, which are outlined in our Guide to Finding New York Birth, Marriage, and Death Records.
If your ancestor's death certificate is on file with the State Department of Health, you'll need to contact them to order the complete certificate - images of the death certificates themselves are not available online, but fortunately, there is now a convenient index to all death certificates between 1881 and 1956.
Why is this a breakthrough? The best way to get the exact certificate you're looking for is to locate your ancestor in the index and write down the exact certificate number. That will make retrieving the correct copy much easier.
For years, many of us researching New York ancestors have long struggled with access to the New York State Death Index, because it wasn't available online - only a handful of repositories in New York State hold microfiche copies, so the lack of online access was detrimental to the many researchers unable to access this material in person.
Before this news, the only years of the index that were online were 1957-1968.
These new, high-resolution greyscale images have been scanned from the original vault copies by the Department of Health and are available for NYG&B members to browse in our eLibrary.
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Tips for Browsing
Researchers should keep in mind a few facts about New York State vital records to fully understand what is and isn’t available in this index:
New York City deaths
This index does not primarily include New York City deaths. However, you will be able to find death records before 1898 for boroughs that weren’t part of New York City until that time. See our New York State Vital Records Guide for advice on obtaining death records for New York City.
Albany, Buffalo and, Yonkers deaths prior to 1914
Death records for Albany, Buffalo and Yonkers are not included for years before 1914. These records were stored locally from 1880 to 1914. See our New York State Vital Records Guide to see how to obtain records from those municipalities during this time period.
Click here to view the records in our eLibrary.
More about New York death certificates and vital records
- Why you need to have your ancestor's death certificate
- Finding New York Birth, Marriage, and Death Records
- The Complete Guide to New York City Vital Records
- Tips for finding your ancestor's obituary: The New York Times Obituaries Index and other sources
- New York vital records substitutes: Religious records
- NYG&B Guide: Finding New York Birth, Marriage, and Death Records (comprehensive print edition)