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How to Find Public Records in New York

Public Records Search: New York State Archives

Considering New York’s vast history and large population one might expect an elaborate website cluttered with heaps of information and documents. However, instead, one finds a sleekly simply website that is easy to navigate and easier still to retrieve information. By visiting researchers may search for relevant public records and information from New York’s considerable archival holdings.

The main page is filled with simple headings that searchers may click to be directed to pages of interest. These headings include: an about us page, photo gallery, services, research room, education, grants and awards, publications, training, magazines, newsrooms, rediscovering New York, archives store, digital collections and even a new section for funding disaster recovery. Surprisingly, the New York State Archives has only been official since 1971 and has been open to the public since 1978.

The “about us” section contains information about hours and location:
“The New York State Archives is located in the Cultural Education Center (CEC) in Albany, New York. The CEC is at the south end of the Empire State Plaza, across Madison Avenue (Route 20) from the Plaza (at the opposite end from the Capitol). Public access to the Archives is gained via the Reference Room which is located on the eleventh floor of the CEC and is open Monday through Friday 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM.”
This section also provides information about archives staff with contact information along with a number to reach reference services: (518) 474-8955.

Researchers looking for public records should click on the “research room” heading. This page lists some of the vast holdings that may be obtained through the site. The New York State Archives contains about 67,000 cubic feet of records which does not even include the ten thousand rolls of microfilm. Some public information may be obtained from the website while other types of records may require assistance from staff in order to procure them.

The services heading also contains pertinent information for public records searchers. For instance, the research assistance section of this area explains how the archival staff may assist you in your search for information. This area also explains any restrictions to records (only about 6% have access restrictions) and how to purchase copies of records. Any copy requests or questions about fees may be mailed to New York State Archives
Bureau of Archival Services, Cultural Education Center Room 11A36, Albany, NY 12230. You can send a fax to (518) 473-9985 or click the email link to send a message online.

Researchers have access to many types of public records from this site including many vital records, various military records, court and state institution records, probate, naturalization records, etc…Ideally, researchers should access the site’s online catalog called “Excelsior.” Within the research room heading click on the link for research assistance and then scroll down to the link for this catalog.

Once directed to the Excelsior online catalog, perform a sample search by typing “records” into the data box. This search pulls up more than 3,000 hits that contain the word “records” in the listing. One of the initial hits is for land records. Click on the “view more” link for this listing to see the expanded details. The details not only contain considerable information about the listing, but they also contain a call number detailing the item’s location in the archives.

Back at Excelsior’s main page try another sample search by typing the word “marriage.” Another list will greet you of the items that contain this keyword. The ideal thing to do is to write down call numbers for any materials that are relevant to your search. If you require copies of any documents contained therein, this will cut down on staff time if they do not have to look up call numbers.

The other links from the main page are certainly worth exploring such as the photo gallery. If you have questions about research it is best to contact the reference department directly. The site describes a considerable amount of services that the public is entitled to, but when doing your research long distance (online), it is best to send an email outlining your needs. This is a very thorough and navigable website. Researchers looking for New York public records will be impressed by these archives.

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