1 Museum Court
Buffalo, New York 14216-3119
(716) 873-9644 ext. 306
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Updated March 2, 2013
Genealogy Collections: A Brief Overview
The Research Library at the Buffalo History Museum has a wealth of information for family historians and genealogists. This guide is intended to give the researcher a brief introduction to the most popular genealogy items in our library.
Professional librarians are on duty during all library hours to help you find what you need and suggest research strategies. Unfortunately, our staff is unable to find your ancestors for you, fill in blanks in your family tree, or draw genealogical conclusions.
Library hours are Wednesdays through Saturdays, 1-5 pm. No appointments are necessary. Admission is free for Museum members and $7 for all others.
Table of Contents
Catalogs and Indexes
Voter Registration Lists
Worthwhile Histories & Other Books
A Few Things We Do Not Have
View a Powerpoint about our genealogy resources here:
Family names are found in a variety of books and other formats. Look for surnames in the following card catalogs:
Obituary index, 1811-2001
This is by far our most popular genealogy resource. A card file organized A-Z by surname, with about 99,000 names. Modern cards usually include name, age, an occupational note, and a citation to the newspaper where the obituary can be found. Most 19th century cards do not include a newspaper citation. We do not know the source of the information on these cards. We have never had enough staff to type a card for every single death mentioned in every single newspaper, so if your ancestor is not in this index, a death notice / obituary might still be found by reading newspapers on film for a week or two after his/her death.
FRANK (Find Resources and New Knowledge)
Our online catalog lists books, pamphlets, and manuscripts in our collection. Books include biographies, family histories, and how-to books on genealogy. Manuscripts include personal papers of prominent local families, business and institutional records, scrapbooks, and masters' theses. FRANK lists over 25,000 distinct works and collections in our library and we are continually adding new records. The manuscript card catalogs should also be consulted.
Search FRANK at:
A card file organized in broad subject categories, includes citations to articles about individuals, businesses, residences, streets, schools, churches, parks, and many other topics. Most articles date from the 20th century. We have all of Buffalo’s major daily newspapers on microfilm.
Here is our newspaper list:
Contains many self-published genealogies donated by researchers who have used our library collections, as well as information about individuals, manufacturers, and retailers. We have a card catalog for our vertical file collection.
We have microfilms of handwritten ledgers from various cemeteries in Erie County. Most are small, rural cemeteries. Pages are usually organized by grave location or number and include name of deceased and date of death. Some records include other information, such as person's age at death, or mention of body's removal to another location. Cemeteries are independently owned and operated, so there is no master list of everyone buried in Erie County’s 200 cemeteries & burial grounds.
We’ve collected links to online cemetery records here:
Federal Census Records, 1790-1880, 1900-1930
We have all surviving Federal censuses for Erie County on microfilm. Legibility of the handwriting varies from page to page. Families are recorded in the order in which the enumerator (census taker) visited them. Beginning in 1840, censuses for the City of Buffalo were divided by ward. We have a set of ward maps to help determine which ward your ancestor lived in during a given census year.
Note that Erie County was not formed until 1821. Buffalo and surrounding towns will be found in Ontario County in the 1790 and 1800 censuses, and in Niagara County in the 1810 and 1820 censuses.
Federal Census Indexes, 1790-1860
We also have print indexes for these census years. These help you locate an individual or family in the census.
New York State Census Records, 1855, 1865, 1875, 1892, 1905, 1915, 1925.
The State census is rarely as informative as the federal census. We have all surviving State censuses for Erie County on microfilm. Our only print index is for the towns of Erie County, 1855. Online indexes are now available at FamilySearch.org.
We’ve collected links to online census records here:
We have microfilms of handwritten ledgers from several Buffalo & Erie County churches, including baptisms, marriages, and deaths. Some include communion and confirmation dates. There is no master index of church records, so we do not know which roll might include your ancestor. Some are in Latin, Polish, or German.
Here is our church records list:
We regret that we are unable to permit our directories to be photocopied. Constant copying is destructive and quickly renders books unusable by everyone.
Buffalo City Directories, 1828-2001
Also called Polk directories. There are some years when no directory was published, most notably during World War II. Information includes name, address, and occupation. The 1832 directory includes "Names of Colored People." Starting in 1929, wife's name appears in parentheses after husband's, and beginning that same year, a geographic section in the back cross-referencing by street address. Kenmore is included starting in 1930.
Most of Buffalo’s 19th century directories and some regional ones are online here:
Rural Directory of Erie County, 1917
Includes wife's name in parentheses after husband's; address; number of children, horses and cattle; whether retired; whether a tenant, occupation.
Erie County Directory, 1927, 1929, 1931
Buffalo Suburban Directory, 1949
Includes the townships of Amherst, Tonawanda (except Kenmore), Cheektowaga, West Seneca, and Grand Island; Lackawanna; Snyder, Eggertsville, Depew, Sloan, Blasdell, Woodlawn, Williamsville, and Derby; and other Buffalo suburban sections. Lists wife's name in parentheses after husband's, number of children (with names for those over age 16), and occupation.
Suburban Directories, 1957 to 2001
There are some years that no directory was published. This is the first time that towns & villages are covered in annual city directories.
Niagara Falls City Directory, 1972-1975
Tonawandas Directory, 1960-1997
Our set has gaps.
East Aurora / Orchard Park Directory, 1964-1965
Hamburg Directory, 1958, 1963-1974, 1977
Includes Blasdell and Woodlawn starting in 1967.
Lackawanna Directory, 1960-1962
Companies are listed both alphabetically and in classified categories, like the yellow pages. We have:
Buffalo Business Directory, 1854-1855.
Buffalo Business Directory, 1855.
Buffalo and Erie County Directory, 1870.
Commercial record and guide book of Buffalo and Rochester, 1877
Western New York Gazetteer and Business Directory, 1880-1881.
Rippey's index : business directory of Buffalo, 1887
A.N. Marquis & Co.'s handy business directory of Buffalo and Erie County, 1889, 1895.
Business Directory of Buffalo, 1891.
Buffalo City and Niagara Frontier Business Directory, 1897.
Morrey & Co.'s Farmers and classified business directory for Erie, Genesee and Niagara counties, New York, 1897-8. Very fragile.
Directoire of Directors of Buffalo and the Niagara Frontier, 1934-5.
Alphabetical listing by surname, business and residence addresses of people serving in an official capacity (such as on boards of directors), with a list of the corporations with which they are affiliated.
Classified business directory, 1936
These directories focus on upper-income families and omit immigrant and working-class households and neighborhoods.
Social Register, Buffalo, 1903-1937, 1940-1946, 1948-1972, 1974
Notes wife's first and maiden name in parentheses after husband's name, and children's names. Includes lists of marriages and deaths. Alphabetical cross-referencing of women's maiden names to married names.
Social Register Locator, 1929-1936
Gives city only for residents of New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Wilmington, Chicago, Boston, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dayton, San Francisco, Baltimore, and Buffalo.
Buffalo Elite Directory, 1882-1883
Alphabetical list of names, cross-referenced by street address. List of clubs and societies.
Dau's Official Society Blue Book, 1898, 1900, 1903-1910, 1914, 1916, 1918, 1920, 1922
Street and alphabetical name indexes. Includes suburban listings, club memberships, and women's maiden names.
Buffalo Blue Book, 1923, 1926, 1928, 1931, 1934, 1937, 1940
Alphabetical listing cross-referenced by street address.
Buffalo Address Book and Family Directory, 1883-1916
Listing by street address and cross-referenced alphabetically by surname. Memberships of clubs, societies; list of public school teachers and principals.
Buffalo Telephone Directory, 1880-present, excluding 1926, 1935, 1968.
These aren’t exactly directories but can be used like them. Names of registered voters and their addresses are published in book form, in order by ward or town. Some volumes are very brittle.
Buffalo Registered Voters, 1897-1956
Volumes are arranged by ward, then by election district within each ward, then by street. To find a name, you need to know the family’s address and consult our ward maps to identify the right ward.
Erie County Registered Voters, 1954-1956
Volumes are arranged by town, then by election district within each town, then by street. To find a name, it doesn’t take long to read the entire town.
Jewitt, Alan. Early justice of the peace marriages performed in Buffalo…from 1840-1880.
3 vols. plus index.
Zintz, June. Index of marriages from Buffalo newspapers, 1811-1884.
A book based on microfilms in our collection. Has bride & groom names in A-Z order.
Civil War Enlistees Card Index, Erie County
The cards are in A-Z order by surname, and include age at enlistment; place of enlistment; muster-in details (rank, unit, date and term of service); and muster-out details (rank, date and location). If the soldier was transferred to another unit, wounded, captured or killed-in-action, this is also noted on the card. Includes men who enlisted in Buffalo and Erie County. Names were drawn from the Annual Reports of the Adjutant-General of the State of New York, 1893-1903.
Sweeney, Daniel J., comp. History of Buffalo and Erie County, 1914-1919.
Comprehensive history of local involvement in World War I, with roster of those killed and service rolls of men from Buffalo and Erie County.
World War II Casualty Card Files. (Mss. C65-3)
Card files listing Buffalo and Erie County wounded and prisoners of war, and those killed and missing in action, 1941-1947.
The following books contain biographical information and name indexes. Most are located in the reference area in the library reading room.
Johnson, Crisfield. Centennial History of Erie County, New York, 1876.
Smith, H. Perry, ed. History of the City of Buffalo and Erie County, 1884. 2 vols., plus separate name index.
The Germans of Buffalo, 1896.
Devoy, John. A History of the City of Buffalo and Niagara Falls, 1896.
White, Truman C., ed. Our County and its People: a Descriptive Work on Erie County, 1898. 2 vols.
A History of the City of Buffalo: Its Men and Institutions: Biographical Sketches of Leading Citizens, 1908.
Memorial and Family History of Erie County, 1908. 2 vols.
Larned, Josephus N. History of Buffalo: Delineating the Evolution of the City, 1911. 2 vols.
Cutter, William R. Genealogical and Family History of Western New York, 1912.
Foley, Janet Wethy. Early Settlers of New York State: Their Ancestors and Descendants. 1934-1942.
Hill, Henry Wayland, ed. Municipality of Buffalo, New York: a History 1720-1923. 4 vols., including a biographical volume.
Wilner, Merton M. History of Niagara Frontier, 1931. 4 vols., including 2 biographical volumes.
Horton, James T. History of Northwestern New York: Erie, Niagara, Wyoming, Genesee and Orleans Counties, 1947. 3 vols., including biographical volume.
Dunn, Walter S., Jr., ed. History of Erie County 1870-1970.
Witmer, Tobias. Deed Tables Showing the Number of Acres, Date of Deed, and Grantee's Name, of Each Lot, and Part of Lot, in the County of Erie, N.Y. as sold by the Holland Land Company ..., 1859, reprinted 1981. Can be used in conjunction with the 1859 Erie County Deed Atlas.
Publications of the Buffalo Historical Society and Niagara Frontier
The Buffalo Historical Society began publishing volumes of scholarship in 1879 and continued at irregular intervals until 1947. The first volume stated that its purpose was "to publish, by subscription, a selection of the historical documents and papers communicated to, or read before, the Buffalo Historical Society, since its organization in 1862." In 1953, the Museum launched a quarterly publication under the name Niagara Frontier, which continued until 1983. Indexes for these volumes are in the card catalog labeled "B.H.S. Index" and "Niagara Frontier Index."
Most of the BHS Publications are online here:
Even more Buffalo-area genealogy books are listed here:
Buffalo Orphan Asylum Records. (Mss. B82-1)
Includes volumes listing children who entered. 1836-1939, and departed, 1882-1939. There is also a volume of family records and a visitor register, 1861-1866. There is also a card index of children’s names. Ask to see the inventory before requesting materials.
Erie County Vital Statistics, 1847-1848.
A very small number of births, marriages, and deaths from Alden, Amherst, Aurora, Boston, Clarence, Colden, Eden, Evans, Hamburg, Lancaster, Newstead, and Wales.
Ingleside Home Records. (Mss. C78-1)
Includes daily records from 1882-1905, and matron's journals from 1904-1920. Ask to see the inventory before requesting materials.
Williamsville Hospital Records, 1812
Card file organized by regiment, then A-Z by surname, of War of 1812 soldiers who received treatment at the Williamsville Hospital. Includes Connecticut, Kentucky, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Virginia regiments, with a separate section for the men who died.
Niagara Frontier Biographical Collection
Biographical information provided by prominent local citizens documenting their achievements and lineage. Some include photographs and additional information such as newspaper clippings. The surveys were conducted in 1896 and 1954. Names are listed in the obituary index card catalog.
These are kept in government offices. Please contact the city or town clerk where the birth, marriage, or death occurred. Copies are also at the New York State Department of Health in Albany. Please be aware that New York State did not have a vital records law until 1880. Before 1880, researchers usually need to consult church records to find proof of births, marriages, and deaths.
Passenger Lists & Naturalization Records
Available through LDS Family History Centers, Ancestry.com, and the U.S. National Archives.
These are kept by school districts.
Deeds & Property Transactions
These are kept at the Erie County Clerk’s Office.
This guide is online at: http://tinyurl.com/BECHS016