Monday, July 18, 2016

Sorry to Disappoint

by Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

I’m sorry, we don’t have that.  Despite working in an amazing archive, I find myself having to say that with surprising frequency, especially to genealogists.  The sad truth is, as a private repository, we don’t have a lot of the official records genealogists are looking for.  So, where can people find records? 
Birth, Death & Marriage Records

We do not have any birth, death or marriage records for Chemung County. Those are held by the Chemung County Office of Vital Statistics, a division of the Chemung County Department of Health (

Form for registering live births from the O'Connor Private Hospital in Elmira, ca. 1920s
The State of New York only began collecting official birth, death and marriage records in 1880, so if you are looking for earlier ones they simply do not exist.  So, when trying to prove your ancestors existed and were related to each other, you might have to get creative.  Like they do today, old-timey newspapers often posted birth, death and marriage announcements.  Both the Chemung County Historical Society and the Steele Memorial Library have fairly good runs of 19th century newspapers from the 1850s on.  Despite the name, the website Fulton County Postcards (, has a searchable, on-line database of scanned newspapers from around New York state.
Religious institutions are another excellent source of records.  Most churches, synagogues, and pastors kept a log of services preformed including baptisms, from the First Baptist Church of Elmira and itinerant preacher Joseph L. Riggs.  If you know which denomination your ancestors were, and if the church/synagogue still exists, the chances are good that you can find the records. 

Military Records
A lot of people’s ancestors served in the military.  U.S. military records for all branches of service are held by the National Archives and can be requested via their website:

Wills and other probate records dealing with inheritance are held by the Chemung County Surrogate’s Court ( They cover from 1835 onwards and are available upon request.  Some records were lost or damaged by various area floods, so keep that in mind.

Prison Records
Elmira is home to the New York State Reformatory and over the years, quite a few people have been incarcerated there. Unfortunately, we do not have their records.  Those are held by the New York State Archives.  A finding aide to the records can be found here: 


1 comment:

  1. thanks for sharing the places we can go find information on backgrounds, families, people etc ... this should help answer a lot of questions people ask of you here @ the CCHS.