When conducting successful genealogical research it is important to
know not only what sorts of records might prove useful for any given
problem, but also where those records might be located. For records at
the county level, this requires keeping track of the changes in local
government over time. Many of us have faced the situation in which our
pioneer ancestors settled in a location before formation of the modern
county. Thus the earliest records for a location can be in a county seat
quite far removed from the current one. A case in point is Ontario
County in New York State. In its current form, Ontario County covers an
area of 640 square miles in central New York State. However, when first
formed in 1789, this venerable county encompassed an area of roughly
2500 square miles! It covered all of New York State west of the
preemption line -- very roughly, a north-south line from Lake Ontario to
the Pennsylvania line passing through the northern end of Seneca Lake.
The earliest records of this region, which currently consists of
fourteen counties, are held in the Ontario County Records and Archives
Center in Canandaigua. I toured this facility in November 2001 and
describe here what I found.
Ontario County maintained its initial
size for less than twenty years. This was a time of intense land
speculation and hundreds of deeds in this time period track the land
being sold, resold, and subdivided. Steuben County was formed from the
southern portion of Ontario in 1796, and records for that county can be
found in Bath. Territory to the west became Genesee County (county seat
Batavia) in 1802. Genesee daughter counties include Allegany (1806);
Cattaraugus, Niagara, and Chautauqua (all 1808); Orleans (1824); and
Wyoming (1841). Livingston County (county seat Geneseo) was formed in
1821 from parts of both Ontario and Genesee counties. More territory to
the south was lost with the creation of Yates County (county seat Pen
Yan) in 1823. The present northern boundary was formed with the creation
of Wayne County (county seat Lyons), also in 1823.
County Records and Archives Center is located about three miles east of
downtown Canandaigua, the county seat, in the town of Hopewell.
(Canandaigua, pronounced can-an-DAY-gwa, is on the northern tip of
Canandaigua Lake, less than ten miles south of exits #43 or #44 on the
New York State thruway.) The center receives material from all of the
county offices. Three full-time staff members work to convert the
incoming records to microfilm. After filming, records are either
returned to the county office or shredded, depending on the content.
Original material to be archived is stored in acid-free folders and
boxes in a climate-controlled chamber on floor-to-ceiling rolling
shelves. Some of the records in the facility are closed to the public by
court order or state law. Most of the records useful for genealogical
research have been microfilmed. The following is a description of these
Census RecordsOntario County federal
census records from 1790 to 1920 are available on microfilm at the
Archives Center. Indexes are available for 1790 to 1820, 1850, and 1860.
State census records are available for 1845, 1855, 1865, 1875, 1892,
1905, 1915, and 1925. The indexes for 1850, 1855, 1860, 1865, 1870, and
some indexes for 1875 are available online at the Archives Center website.
RecordsDeeds are available from 1789 (the inception of the
county) to 1915 and include the original pioneer sales in the
Phelps-Gorham purchase. Mortgage records from 1789 to 1947 and
assessment rolls from 1789 to 1993 are also available. Although the
early records are not complete, they can be a useful complement to deeds
and mortgages. Indexes
to deeds from 1789 to 1845 are online.
court records have not been fully indexed; it is a work in progress.
The indexes for nineteenth
and twentieth century
naturalization records however, are available online. Holdings cover
the time span 1803-1956 and include declarations of intent, petitions
for citizenship, and naturalization certificates. Surrogate Court
records (1789-1965) are indexed by name; indexes up to 1926 are online. Files
can include inventories and debts along with wills. Guardianship
records, available for the years 1789 to 1929, usually involve
administering estates of minors. Jury lists for the nineteenth century
are available at the Center and their indexes are
available online. In addition to establishing the residency of your
ancestor, these lists also sometimes list occupation.
RecordsRevolutionary War pension records and some early
militia records are available. Draft lists are available for 1862, 1864,
and 1917. A variety of Revolutionary and Civil War records are listed
on the Center website.
Poor House IndenturesLists
of children indentured to Ontario County families in the nineteenth and
early twentieth century are available. The index is online and
includes child's name, guardian's name, year, and town.
RecordsCompared with other regions like New England, there
are very few vital records for New York State. The state did not require
vital records until 1880. The vital records that do exist are usually
held by the individual municipality rather than the county. The Center
does have some marriage
records from 1908 to 1935, which are listed on the website.
Alternative vital records sources such as newspapers or diaries are not
found here. This they properly leave to historical societies.
to Access the Records
Ontario County Records and Archives
Center3051 County Complex DriveCanandaigua, New York, 14424Tel:
(716) 396-4376Fax: (716) 396-4390E-mail records management
officer Hans FinkeWebsite
(From this home page, click on "site map" for links to individual
The center is usually open for research from 9:00 a.m.
to 4:30 p.m. weekdays, but call ahead to be sure regular hours are in
effect. This is a "pencils and gloves" facility. Stacks are not open.
Researchers may bring their laptop computer, and even flatbed scanners
Research service is available for $25/hour
(half-hour minimum). Direct your inquiries to Mary Jo Lanphear,
Assistant Records Management Officer. A check for $12.50 minimum,
payable in advance, should accompany your request. You can print out a
request form at the web site. Copying service is available for
$0.50/page ($1.00 minimum).
The only negative note: There are no
public restrooms or public telephone in the building. The closest
facilities are in a nearby building appropriately housing the Department
of Human Services.