Tips for Research in a New York County

The place in which ancestors lived is key to finding records and information. In New York, we often start with the county in which they resided.

New York has 62 counties, and many New York record sets are found at the county level. Let’s look at a few fundamental record sets organized by county.

Cemetery Abstracts from the NYG&B

Time, weather, and other factors can wear away gravestone inscriptions. The NYG&B’s cemetery abstracts, organized by county, allow you to “see” what was written on them. Check the Online Collection Catalog for available records.

Wills, Inventories, and Probate records

When people died leaving property to be inherited, the records of the property and its distribution can be enormously helpful. Start researching probate collection for wills, letters of administration, and inventories with the county Surrogate Court. FamilySearch has digitized many of the records held at county Surrogate Courts. The main collection, New York Probate Records, 1629–1971, is browsable by county. Look for the indexes to see if familiar names have a file. Don’t miss the separate collections for Bronx, Orange, and Queens counties.

Contacting the Surrogate court after searching online is recommended as there may be extra papers that were not imaged.


Both federal censuses and state census pages are organized by the county, and then at the town level, and finally for larger places by enumeration or election district (and wards for the earlier censuses).

Read the NYG&B’s census guides for details on censuses. Check the census collections on FamilySearch and Ancestry.

Map of census collections from FamilySearch

Land Transactions Recorded with the County

Recording of deeds, mortgages, and even leases in some cases, is primarily conducted at the county level. The earliest deeds for a county could date back to the 1650s, before New York’s counties were formed in 1683.

For most New York counties, remember there are 62 counties, use the New York Land Records, 1630–1975 collection on FamilySearch. The NYG&B and FamilySearch are partnering to create a searchable name index.