New York, Yates County, Swann Vital Records Collection (FamilySearch Historical Records)

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New York, Yates County, Swann Vital Records Collection, 1723-2009 .
This article describes a collection of records at
Yates, New York, United States
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Location of Yates, New York
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Location of New York
Record Description
Record Type Vital Records
Collection years 1723-2009
FamilySearch Resources
Related Websites

What is in This Collection

The collection consists of an index and images for the Swann Vital Records Collection from the Yates County History Center in Penn Yan, New York, comprising birth, marriage, and death information for the first white settlers of what is now Yates County, their descendants, and those connected with Yates County and surrounding areas. The predominant source is newspaper obituaries and marriage announcements, and the earliest source is family bibles, family registers, marriage certificates, and clergyman marriage registers. The collection is named for Frank L. Swann (1894-1987), who was the Yates County Historian from 1956 to 1980.

The Swann Collection comprises Birth, Marriage, and Death (BMD) information for the first white settlers of what is now Yates County, New York, their descendants, and those connected with Yates County and surrounding areas. The earliest settlers were part of a religious migration from Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania under the leadership of the charismatic Quaker evangelist Jemima Wilkinson (1782-1819). Their first settlement, named Hopeton (1788), was on the west shore of Seneca Lake in the Finger Lake area of western New York near what is now the village of Dresden.

To Browse This Collection

You can browse through images in this collection by visiting the browse page for New York, Yates County, Swann Vital Records Collection, 1723-2009.

General Information About These Records

The collection is named after its compiler Frank L. Swann (1894–1987) who began a 40-year newspaper career at the age of 18, eventually becoming general manager and treasurer of the Chronicle-Express, one of the Finger Lake area’s major newspapers. With a history degree from Cornell University and a penchant for genealogy, he served as the Yates County Historian from 1956 until 1980, Town of Milo Historian, and during the 1970’s president of New York’s fourth-oldest existing historical society: Yates County Genealogical & Historical Society, now Yates County History Center.

As a newspaper executive, Swann enjoyed convenient access to an archive of papers from Yates County and surrounding areas, the earliest dating back to 1818. In 1958 it was said of him: “Mr. Swann has among many other things to collect data, gone back through all of the back copies of the county paper and card filed the births, deaths, and marriages of vital statistics of Yates County families from an early day.” From newspapers he compiled tens of thousands of original, copies, typed, and handwritten transcriptions of obituaries and marriage announcements; and to a much lesser extent, birth announcements. While the majority of his compilation comes from newspapers, he gleaned BMD information from many other sources, including from family bible records, a few with dates extending back to the 1600s; family registers; cemetery records and inscriptions; physicians’ birth records; typed BMD compilations, some identifying Civil War veterans; clergyman’s marriage registers; marriage and death certificates; memorials and other types of printed announcements; and early assisted living center admission records.

Swann placed most of his collection on 4 x 6 inch cards arranged in alphabetical order. A complete record fit on the front side of cards for about 80% of his Card File. The card’s backside was used when additional space was required, and sometimes to record the newspaper source, abbreviated, in the form YCW for Yates County Wig and YCC for Yates County Chronicle, followed by year of publication and issue. For indexing purposes, front/back cards were treated as a single image by making the index for the front exactly the same as the index for the back so search results would include both pieces of the record. This creates no problem for the user other than to understand that when examining computer search results for this collection some records are in two pieces.

Not all of the Swann Collection is on cards however. Large and fragile documents were archived. “Reference cards” specifying record type(s); record description complete with all surnames pertaining to the image; inclusive dates; and archive location were later placed in the Card File to make patrons browsing the Card File aware of the archived documents and how to retrieve them. Hundreds of additional images from clergyman’s marriage registers, typed BMD compilations were archived without reference cards because of the large number of names they contain, using a printed inventory instead. Since reference cards are unnecessary for computer searching and image retrieval, they were not indexed, but they do provide helpful browsing markers.

Many of the Swann’s BMD records are primary sources, as they predate statewide registration of vital records. Although New York made several partially successful attempts to enact registration of vital records, and finally in 1880 passed legislation making it law, even then it was not generally complied with until 1890 for deaths, 1908 for marriages, and 1915 for births.

Collection Content

  • Vital records card file [85,968]
  • Bible records [111]
  • Births, marriages, deaths with no card reference [119 indexed]
  • Large format vital records [439]
  • Vital collection records folders [604]

Although the Swann Collection is relatively small, contained in its images is a treasure trove of genealogical and family history information, much of it primary because of the early dates. Fortunate are the descendants, both present and future generations yet unborn, of those early Yates settlers whose records have been lovingly preserved to help them learn from whence they came.

Swann used local vernacular such as SS, no 9, or County Home when recording places in Yates County and some surrounding areas. These have been translated into proper place names for the index, for example: Penn Yan, Yates County, New York for SS (Soldiers and Sailors Hospital); Town of Seneca, Ontario County, New York for no 9 (popular historic Seneca Presbyterian Church); and Town of Jerusalem, Yates County, New York for County Home. Extensive place lists compiled to aid indexing are available on the Yates County History Center website under Genealogy & Historic Research, New York, Yates County Swann Vital Records Collection, 1723-2009. These lists are designed to be searched on a computer (off-line) using the Adobe Reader Find option found in its Edit dropdown menu.

Coverage Map

To see a coverage map of FamilySearch's holdings of New York marriages click here.

What Can This Collection Tell Me?


Genealogical records are indexed to facilitate finding a record by computer search and not necessarily to convey all information the image contains. The Swann images must be viewed to obtain un-indexed information such as: parents, nearly always included in birth and marriage announcements; children, sometimes with birth dates; other spouses, sometimes with death dates; siblings; places of residence; occupation.

Indexes contain the following information when it is given in the record:

Marriages and deaths

  • Surname and given names for both spouses
  • Titles such as Mr, Mrs, Miss, Dr, Rev
  • Age (death records)
  • Date the event occurred
  • Place where event occurred: town/community, county, state.


  • Surname and given names of child
  • Son or Daughter in Title field when the record doesn’t contain given names
  • Birth date
  • Place where birth occurred: town/ community, county, state.

How Do I Search This Collection?

To begin your search it is helpful to know the following:

  • Name
  • Identifying information such as name of other family members, residence or event dates

Search by Name by visiting the Collection Page:
Fill in your ancestor’s name in the initial search page. This search will return a list of possible matches. Compare the information about those in the list to what you already know about your own ancestors to determine if this is the correct family or person.

View images in this collection by visiting the Browse Page:
To search the collection you will need to follow this series of links:
⇒Select "Browse through images" on the initial collection page
⇒Select the "Record Type" category
⇒Select the "Surname Range and Year Range" category which takes you to the images

Look at each image comparing the information with what you already know about your ancestors to determine if the image relates to them. You may need to look at several images and compare the information about the individuals listed in those images to your ancestors to make this determination.

With either search keep in mind:

  • There may be more than one person in the records with the same name
  • You may not be sure of your own ancestor’s name
  • Your ancestor may have used different names or variations of their name throughout their life

What Do I Do Next?

When you have located your ancestor’s record, carefully evaluate each piece of information it contains. Make a photocopy of the record, or extract the genealogical information needed. These pieces of information may give you new biographical details. Add this new information to your records of each family. The information may also lead you to other records about your ancestors.

I Found the Person I Was Looking For, What Now?

The following examples show ways you can use the information:

  • Use the names, dates, and places as the basis for family groups or to build a family pedigree
  • Use the dates along with places or residences to help you locate the family in other records, such as census, church, and land records
  • Use age listed to determine approximate birth dates
  • Use burial information to locate mortuary or funeral records, which could include names and addresses of family members

Keep in Mind:

  • You may need to compare the information of more than one family or person to make this determination
  • You may need to search for both their Indian name and their English name
  • Be aware that, as with any compiled source, transcription errors may occur
  • Compile entries for individuals and families with the same surname
  • Continue to search the records to identify children, siblings, parents, and other relatives who may have lived in the same locality or nearby. This can help you identify other generations of your family. Repeat this process for each new generation you identify
  • Look for variant spellings of the names. You should also look for nicknames and abbreviated names

I Can’t Find the Person I’m Looking For, What Now?

  • Check for variant spellings of the surnames.
  • Check for an index. Check online or with local historical and genealogical societies.
  • Search the indexes and records of nearby counties.

Citing This Collection

Citations help you keep track of places you have searched and sources you have found. Identifying your sources helps others find the records you used.

Collection Citation

"New York, Yates County, Swann Vital Records Collection, 1723-2009." Database with images. FamilySearch. : 14 June 2016. Yates County Genealogical and Historical Society and Oliver Museum and Underwood Museum, Yates.

Record Citation:
When looking at a record, the citation is found below the record.
Image Citation:
When looking at an image, the citation is found on the Information tab at the bottom left of the screen.

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