Genealogy & Local History in Buffalo, NY

Frequently Asked Questions

*  How Do I Find ________ Online

So, you've tried every search engine in the land, with no luck. Time to admit the possibility that what you're looking for isn't on the Net. Your ancestors are not online unless someone first found them on paper and put them online. For more information about what isn't online, apart from piecemeal individual efforts, see:

The Past Is Not Online

Here are some places to identify offline sources:

And what is online? Well, folks, that's what this entire site is about! What is online for genealogy in Western NY are mostly small-scale transcribing and indexing efforts by private individuals, and when I discover them, I link to them. So explore the rest of the our pages to see what is online.

To sum up: The past will come online--usually for a price.

  How Do I Get Started?

Here's a great table that tells you what kind of records yield what kind of ancestral information. For example, if you want to find someone's birthplace, your best bet is vital records, church records, and censuses. See:

Records Selection Table

The harder, though more successful route, is to go to the largest library in your area and ask for a how-to book on genealogy. You will learn more from one manual than you will from any number of hours surfing the Net. Or visit the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) Family History Center in your area. These centers are free to the public and sometimes hold orientation sessions.

Here are excellent beginner links:

How-To Tutorials at Cyndi's List.

  How Do I Get Copies of Newspaper Birth Notices?

Most people with this question are doing adoption searches. I am sorry to report that the news is discouraging. I'm no expert on the subject, so I could be mistaken. I believe that publishing birth notices is a modern practice, something that local newspapers rarely did before World War I and sometimes not before World War II. I suspect that before the Baby Boom period, the newspapers mainly reported "society" births and not those of everyday women.

I do know that birth notice columns were not necessarily published on a predictable basis.  The Buffalo News, our only daily paper, used to publish birth notices at their own convenience, not on any set schedule, and babies could be anywhere from 3-6 months old by the time their names appear.  Buffalo City Hall stopped releasing baby names to newspapers in 2006, so there are no longer birth notice columns in the Buffalo News.

And now, the bad news for adoption researchers: I have not seen birth notices from every local paper, from every decade, but what I have seen is this: the only babies listed are those born to MARRIED couples. As you know, the major reason  young women gave up a child for adoption was that they were unmarried.  Whether by choice or by law, the names of babies surrendered for adoption were not released to newspapers.  Who would advertise an event that everyone tried so hard to conceal?

If you still want to search local papers, the New York State Newspaper Project has generously compiled a list of Erie County newspapers available on microfilm. See also the nearly identical page of Newspapers in the NY State Library, which sometimes has a paper that a local library does not.

Local librarians do not perform birth notice searches, because there is no way of knowing when a baby's name might have been published. In all my years of librarianship in Buffalo I have never seen an index to local birth notices.

*  What About School Records?

The Buffalo & Erie County Public Library's
Grosvenor Room has a very incomplete collection of local high school and college yearbooks. A list is available in the Department, or you can try a key word search in the Library's online catalog. School yearbooks are not loaned out. The Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society has a much smaller collection of local yearbooks.

Though I am often asked, I have never seen an elementary school yearbook for any Buffalo public, private, or parochial school. I once had email testimony from a retired gentleman who says that decades ago, his Buffalo grade school, which had a printing program, made up a yearbook. If this is the case, that yearbook was the exception, not the rule.

I've been told that the Buffalo Public School District saves certain records for only fifty years, but I cannot tell you what kind of records those might be. I dropped a line to them to verify this and never got a response.

I can tell you that official school records (as in who attended which school, what grades they got, etc.) are not found at the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library or at the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society. Instead, contact the proper school district:

*  What About Funeral Home Records?

To determine if the funeral home is still in business, see
Buffalo Talks, an online phone book. Scroll down to "Funeral Directors." There are over 400 funeral directors listed here.

There is no set rule or pattern about defunct funeral home records. Nancy Archdekin, a member of the Western New York Genealogical Society, reports:

"I did some searching for the Driscoll Funeral Home a few years ago and finally ended up in contact with the Erie-Niagara Funeral Directors Association at 390 Ellicott Square, Buffalo, NY 14203. They told me that there are several things that could happen with the old funeral home records:
  1. They could go to a nearby funeral home
  2. They could go to the local historical society
  3. They could remain with the family who operated the original funeral home
  4. And there's always the possibility that they could go in the dumpster."
For more in-depth advice on researching a funeral home or any other business, see my Made in Buffalo: How To Research Local Companies page.

*  How Do I Borrow Books from Buffalo Area (or other) Libraries?

Say you've done a search on
WorldCat.and you discover that one of Buffalo's public or academic libraries owns a book of interest to you. If you live outside of Erie County, print out a record of the book and take this information to your local librarian. He or she can then issue an interlibrary loan request.

Don't bother contacting far-away libraries to request books, because no public library will ship books out of town to the homes of private individuals. (How would they get them back?) They will only tell you to have your local librarian send an interlibrary loan request.

*  How Do I Get Copies of Cemetery Records?

Erie County has had an estimated 150 burial grounds and cemeteries since Europeans began arriving 200 years ago. For many, no records survive. The Cnetral Library and the Historical Society have some local cemetery records on microfilm. I am told that most of these same microfilms are available through the LDS Family History Centers. See also Erie County Cemeteries Past and Present for those internment lists that are online.

The Local Links page has a variety of cemetery links, including addresses of existing cemeteries in Erie County.

*  Where Are Passenger Lists for People Arriving in Buffalo?

To quote Chris Andrle, former Erie County GenWeb Coordinator:

"No customs or immigration passenger lists exist for Buffalo. Most immigrants to Buffalo arrived via New York City and should be found in the New York City Passenger lists. Because of Niagara Falls, there is no direct water route from Europe to Buffalo, therefore, all immigrants arriving at the Port of Buffalo had to first land at another U.S. or Canadian port. Some immigrants simply walked over one of the Niagara River bridges from Canada."

To better understand those border crossing records, see Everton's online tutorial, United States - Canadian Border Crossing Records.

See also this page describing Manifests of Alien Arrivals at Buffalo, Lewiston, Niagara Falls, and Rochester, New York, 1902-1954 on 165 rolls of microfilm at the National Archives

Starting in 1825, thousands of immigrants traveled to Buffalo on the Erie Canal. According to the New York State Archives, except for the years 1827-1829, no passengers' names were recorded by canal boat operators. Those 1827-1829 lists can be found in the New York State Archives (scroll way down to record group A1057). See also record group A1079--Passenger list and freight account book of steamboat "Red Jacket," 1838-1839.

As far as I can tell, these sole surviving lists have not been microfilmed, much less digitized.

*  How Do I Research Buffalo Ancestors From Out of Town?

  1. Use the free network of LDS Family History Centers. You will be able to request microfilms of censuses, city directories, local histories, church records, passenger lists, military records, maps, and more, regardless of your religion. There is no charge to use an LDS Family History Center but there is a small fee to send for microfilms.
  2. Study the New York State Research Outline helpfully provided by the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. It is an in-depth guide to genealogical resources in New York State and will give you ideas what to ask for in your local LDS Family History Center or public library.
  3. Visit the Erie County GenWeb page and check the List of Volunteers who are willing to do limited look-ups.
  4. Try http://www.freegenealogylookups.com/.
  5. Search WorldCat, a database of one billion records from the card catalogs of thousands of of public, corporate, academic, hospital, and historical society libraries around the world. Try a Subject search on your surnames, the towns and villages where your family members lived, and so on. If you find a book of interest, print out the record of it and visit your local librarian. He or she can request a copy through interlibrary loan. Or visit your local LDS Family History Center; maybe it is available through them.
  6. Consult with researchers for hire.
  7. Check out Chris Andrle's Do I Have to Come to New York? page for long-distance research suggestions
  8. Read Using the Internet to Follow Up on Leads by Juliana Smith, for additional long-distance research suggestions
  9. Make use of your local library's interlibrary loan services.
  10. Learn to write effective letters or email messages to out-of-town libraries.

*  What About Employment Records from Defunct Businesses?

Until about 1970, Buffalo was one of the major manufacturing cities in the country. We made everything from candy to aircraft. This is no longer the case, and I'll wager that of all the factories listed in the Buffalo City Directory in 1950, maybe 5% are still in business today. It is likely that the company your ancestor worked for no longer exists.

In my years as local history librarian, I have never seen published employment records from any defunct Buffalo firm. Perhaps these are private by law, as are medical records. I learned in the May/June 2000 issue of Family Chronicle, in a good article called "Researching the Workplace," by Xenia Stanford, that in most cases, businesses are not required to keep personnel records longer than 7 years and, of course, that companies are not required to share their records with outsiders, except those required by law, and even some of those filings are considered private.

Even though I doubt you will ever find lists of employees of defunct businesses, you can still learn a little or a lot about those companies. To learn what's out there, visit my Made in Buffalo: How To Research Local Companies page.

*  This Page Didn't Answer My Question

Here are additional helpful sites:
*  Can You Look Up My Ancestor for Me?

This one is easy to answer. In a word, no. The whole point of this website is to enable you to to look up your own ancestors, using offline and online sources. I am unable to undertake any personal research.

*  Can I Put Old Articles, Etc. on My Website?

Many of you have old maps, newspaper clippings, books, pamphlets, magazine articles, and so on, that you'd like to put online at your genealogy or local history website. But you're not sure about copyright law. I'm not an attorney and I cannot answer these questions authoritatively.

But I can point you to the following site, which indicates when it is safe to reproduce old publications online.

*  The Small Print About This Site

  • This site is completely independent. It is not affiliated with or sponsored by any societies or organizations, including the webmaster's employer.
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  • The webmaster regrets the necessity of reminding you that all BuffaloResearch.com pages are copyright 1995-2012 by Cynthia Van Ness, all rights reserved, and may not be reproduced in any form without her permission. In plain English, this means you cannot copy my pages onto your website or paste them into your newsletter without my permission.  Here is the Library of Congress definition of Fair Use.
  • Roots was launched by Richard Prem in December 1993 as what was then called a Special Interest Group (SIG) on Buffalo Freenet. It predates the introduction of HTML and graphical interfaces, making it possibly the oldest genealogy website in cyberspace. Prem handed the reins to Cynthia Van Ness in late 1995, and she has been tinkering with it ever since. In January 2005, she renamed the site Buffalo Roots and moved everything to her domain, BuffaloResearch.com.  In 2007, she eliminated the page called BuffaloRoots and simplified the home page to show the complete contents of this website, genealogical and otherwise.
  • The webmaster does not belong to any genealogical societies, has no genealogical certification, is not qualified to draw genealogical conclusions, and cannot offer research services or "look ups." The webmaster can sometimes suggest research strategies and sources for you but she cannot find your ancestors for you.

The webmaster welcomes your mail
but regrets that she cannot undertake
personal research for you.

 Updated 29 October 2012