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New Finding Aid for the NYC Geographic Birth Index!

Posted by Sean Daly on Nov 26, 2022
Index card and street scene in 1900

A month ago, we announced a new collaborative indexing project at Geneanet: the New York City Geographic Birth Index, half a million index cards with every birth in NYC from 1880-1910 by street address. While awaiting the completion of the transcriptions, use our new finding aid to look up your ancestor’s birth!

At the end of last month, we introduced a new collaborative indexing project at Geneanet: the New York City Geographic Birth Index. This little-known dataset, 96 microfilm reels at the NYC Municipal Archives, was published by the association Reclaim the Records in 2019 in collaboration with Geneanet partner FamilySearch. No index exists for this collection elsewhere; Geneanet volunteers have indexed over 31,000 names already! Access our new finding aid here:
https://en.geneanet.org/contrib/finding-aid-for-the-new-york-city-geographic-birth-index.

Why this geo birth index? Its purpose is to help locate birth certificate numbers unfindable through other indexes such as the alphabetical indexes widely available from the NYC Municipal Archives, FamilySearch, Ancestry.com, and the IGG and GGG (see our previous article). New York was America’s premier destination for European immigrants in the 19th century; it is estimated over 85% of the nation’s immigrants arrived there. Many immigrants married and started families in New York and by the end of the century, before the peak immigration decade of 1900-1910, civil certificates were routinely registered for births. However, there were issues: immigrants’ names were misspelled, in particular if the parents were not literate, or if a midwife or doctor misheard a name; certificates were filled out by hand, sometimes with rushed or illegible handwriting; names may have been changed by immigrants at naturalization, sometimes after a birth (it’s a myth they were changed at Ellis Island); and finally, a century later, names may have been poorly transcribed to databases.

The New York Geographic Birth Index provides an alternate means of searching for a birth cert: if you know the address of your ancestor — for example, from a census return or a city directory — you may find a card in this collection with the birth cert numbers of one or more children of a family. Use our finding aid: if you find a cert number, you can then look up a new high-quality color scan of the cert at MUNI directly!

A card from the index for Myrtle Ave
Here is a legible card from the index. However, we found it misfiled at the very end of a reel! A NYC clerk no doubt had had a long day over a century ago and stuck the card into the back of the drawer instead of returning it to its correct place. Our finding aid shows that this card was found out of alphabetical sequence.

The microfilm reels of this collection have a byzantine layout; browsing to a card is not straightforward and our previous article outlines the issues. Our new finding aid should at least orient you to the correct reel, and help you scroll through the reel to find a card for a particular street. Be aware however that the microfilm quality was very uneven; many cards are damaged, over- or under-exposed, tilted, or even inverted (our browsing screen allows you to rotate, zoom, and adjust viewing contrast). Be aware that many “bad” card images were photographed again; these “retakes” are at the beginning of most reels. Street names in the finding aid will be updated later with hyperlinks to help you land on or near your desired street; stay tuned!

The NY Infirmary near Stuyvesant Square and a card showing births there
Hospitals, maternity wards, and other institutions are in the index; these cards can provide clues about the babies of mothers who were in difficult circumstances (poor health, destitute, unmarried, and so on).

If you have some free time available, please consider joining the volunteer transcribers working on this collection — you will find instructions here, or just go to https://en.geneanet.org/indexation/ and under “Collection:”, select “New York City Geographic Birth Index”. The system will assign some cards to you depending on how much time you have available. Or, use our finding aid and work on a street in a borough and time period of your choosing! Thanks again to our volunteers who are making this index possible.

2 comments

I have a few NewYork ancestors who were born after 1790 who were Busteed originally from Ireland, who immigrated to New York City. Charles Busteed who’s mother was a daughter of Luke Gage. I’ve hit a brick wall with these ancestors, a possible Richard Busteed father or grandfather of Charles Busteed. There were many Busteeds in New York City at this time.

Answer from Geneanet: For early New York records including NYC, check out the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society (NYG&B). The Geneanet and Barry Griffin last name heatmaps may also be of use: this family name was concentrated in and around Cork City in that period.


Letting you know I have really enjoyed working on the Geographic Birth Index. Interesting to see the streets and how different ethnic groups would settle together on a section of the street.

Answer from Geneanet: Thank you for your contributions! We agree, it’s striking to see for example how the German names in Kleindeutschland changed to Eastern European names in the first decade of the 20th century.


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