At the time of European arrival to Onondaga County, the Onondaga people (their name means “People of the Hills”) had resided in the area for centuries. In fact, their land was both physically and spiritually central within the Iroquois Confederacy. During the French and Indian War and the American Revolution, European activity in what would become Onondaga County was limited to the creation of strategic forts and other military endeavors, including harsh Continental retaliation against the Onondaga’s alliance with the British.
Through New York State’s New Military Tract, which provided land for some Revolutionary War soldiers, people of European descent began settling the county in the 1780s and 1790s. Many of the first settlers were migrants from New England or parts of eastern New York.
Onondaga County was finally established in 1794 from parts of Herkimer and Tioga County, with its county seat at Syracuse. Three new counties were then formed from Onondaga County: Cayuga, Cortland, and Oswego.
Like much of Upstate New York, Onondaga County was profoundly affected by the construction and opening of the Erie Canal and other transport routes across land and water.
For much of the 19th and at least part of the 20th century, a variety of industries flourished in the county: agriculture and other types of farming, tourism, and a variety of mills.
Manufacturing, agriculture, and the service industry are currently some of the main loci of the county’s economy. Since the middle of the 20th century, the county has also experienced rapid suburbanization centered on the city of Syracuse.
Places to visit in person
- Directories, 1861-present
- Judgments and liens, maps, mortgages and deeds 1794-present
- naturalization records, 1802-present
- New York state census for Onondaga County 1855, 1865, 1875, 1892, 1905, 1915, 1925
- Marriage records: City of Syracuse 1908-1935
- Marriage records for towns in Onondaga County 1880-1935 (later records with town/village clerks)
Onondaga County Office of Vital Statistics
Onondaga is one of the four “County Registration Districts” which have consolidated the administration of birth and death records. While civil birth and death records prior to 1880 may still be found with city, town or village clerks, later records may be found here. Holdings include:
- Birth and death certificates for towns in Onondaga County 1883-present
- Birth and death certificates for Syracuse 1873-present
- Marriage records for the City of Syracuse 1873-1907
The Central New York Genealogy Society is a “must visit” for anyone researching Onondaga county. The New York State Family History Conference in September of this year is a great opportunity to speak with them in person. The CNYGS is co-hosting the event with the NYG&B.
This society currently publishes information on 33 New York counties. Since 1961, CNYGS has produced Tree Talks, a quarterly journal featuring abstracts of records, including census and church records. Special collection County Packets are also available, which include all of the Tree Talks information CNYGS has published on 49 counties.
The website of the Central New York Genealogical Society is a goldmine of helpful information, abstracts, the Society’s Surname project, and several years’ worth of online name indexes for Tree Talks. Pay them a visit today!
For a list of many more archives and repositories to visit in Onondaga County, check out our New York Family History Research Guide and Gazetteer.
- Rootsweb has a fantastic collection of Onondaga County Military records covering every major conflict from the Revolutionary War to the Vietnam War.
- Fully searchable archives of the Post-Standard capture the last 180 years of Central New York history, with issues dating back to 1809.
- The New York State Library has a handy list of all Onondaga County newspapers available in their microfilm collection.
- We have dozens of other recommendations in our Onondaga County Research Aid available exclusively to members of the NYG&B.
The NYG&B Record has published many articles that pertain to Onondaga County research:
- Kellogg, Minnie L. “Cemetery Inscriptions from Pompey Hill, Onondaga County, NY.” Vol. 44, No. 1 (1913): 69-87.
- LaPiana, John C. “Descendants of Samuel Jerome of Pompey, Onondaga County, New York.”
- vol 120 (1989) no.2 : 85-88, no. 3 153-155, no. 4: 202-205
- Sisco, Louis Dow. “Onondaga County Records.” (late 18th century)
- vol 30 (1899) no. 4: 237-242
- vol 31 (1900) no. 1: 36-38, no. 2: 79-82, no. 3: 170-174, no. 4: 242-247
- vol 32 (1901) no. 1: 25-30, no. 2: 108-111, no. 3: 156-160, no. 4 204-206
- vol 33 (1902) no. 1: 17-20, no. 2: 76-79, no. 3: 156-161, no. 4 242-246
- vol. 34 (1903) no. 1: 44-47, no. 2: 93-97, no. 3: 206-210, no. 4 263-267
- vol. 35 (1904) no. 1: 17-19
- Scisco, Louis Dow. “Federal Census, 1800: Onondaga County.” vol. 53 (1922) no. 3: 225-234, no. 4: 352-367
- “Van Tine Family Bible Record, Onondaga County.” Vol. 140, No. 1 (2009): 35-36
Learn more about Onondaga County research
If you’re interested in learning more about researching your ancestors who lived in Onondaga County, please consider becoming a member of the NYG&B.
- Full access to our research aid articles
- Access to the entire (searchable) archives of the NYG&B Record and The New York Researcher
- Access to all of our digital collections
- Many more benefits