If you are looking to trace your Eastern European ancestors in New York records, there are three fabulous resources you will want to explore–and all are available for free.
1. FamilySearch. Because of its extensive efforts in microfilming civil and church records in many areas of Eastern Europe, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City, Utah has been a long-standing excellent resource for genealogists. New York researchers with Eastern European roots should start with local and county records. Begin first with the free FamilySearch Wiki (click “Browse by Country” and “United States,” then click on New York on the map. You can also get to the New York page directly via https://www.familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/New_York. This page lists each New York county and you can click on a county link for more information. The FHL catalog can be searched online for free, and desired microfiche and films can then be ordered online (for a small fee) and sent to your local FamilySearch Center. But there’s more: FamilySearch is bringing many historical records online for free. When you access the main website, click on “United States” and then “New York” to see those indexes and images currently available on the site. In order to view some of the records, you will need to sign in to your free FamilySearch account. (If you don’t have one, you will be prompted to create a new account by providing an e-mail address and setting a password). Digitized images/indexes include deaths and burials, naturalization and probate records, and New York state Census records 1865, 1875, 1892, 1905, 1915, and 1925. Note that the collections may consist of just indexes, only browseable images, or a combination of both. When you are ready to make that genealogy leap “across the pond,” check FamilySearch’s large collection of atlases, gazetteers, and maps, word lists for translating foreign language documents, and letter writing guides that can assist you in submitting requests to many Eastern European archives. For more information, go back to the Wiki, and browse by your country of interest.
2. The Ellis Island Database (EIDB). This database, first launched in April 2001, contains immigration records of some 22 million immigrants who came to the U.S. through the port of New York from 1892-1924. A significant number of immigrants hailing from various countries in Eastern Europe passed through Ellis Island on their way to a new life in America. You can search the site for free, but you must register with a user name and password. As a result of some major upgrades, the latest version of the site offers user many expanded search capabilities. In addition, if your immigrant ancestor arrived at the Port of New York prior to 1892, another online site, CastleGarden, offers an index to these earlier years, but for online copies of the actual passenger lists, you’ll need to use subscription site Ancestry.com, or view microfilmed copies available from FamilySearch.
3. Old Fulton Postcards. While exploring your family history, you may often find your immigrant ancestors mentioned in historical newspapers—not just in obituaries, but in social columns, news stories, classified advertisements, and more. The Old Fulton Postcards website offers New York State historical photos and newspapers from 1795 through 2007. It serves as a searchable repository of many of the old Newspapers published in New York State. To get the most out of your searches, be sure to click on the “FAQ_Help_Index,” and read the sections on “tips and solutions.”
If your Eastern European ancestors settled in New York, or even just passed through on the way to another place, the three websites above should provide a great way to jumpstart your genealogy, and help you learn more about their lives on both sides of the ocean.