Research: Topics: Legal & Correction Records: Probate Records

Probate Records

1. Prerogative Court (1686-1783); Court of Probates (1778-1823)

Between 1665 and 1686 wills were usually proved (determined to be authentic), and administration granted in a local court of sessions or the mayor's court in New York City, or by the governor. After 1686 the royal governor possessed final jurisdiction in probate matters. The provincial secretary or his deputy served as the governor's delegate or "surrogate" and presided over what was called the Prerogative Court. After 1670 wills and grants of administration were required to be recorded in the secretary's office. A 1692 act exempted from this requirement wills for estates valued at less than 50, and located in counties "remote" from New York City. All wills from New York, Kings, Richmond, Westchester, and (until 1750) Orange County were to be recorded in New York City. Starting in the early eighteenth century a deputy surrogate was appointed in each county to perform routine duties in relation to settling estates.

The Prerogative Court continued to operate in British-occupied New York City, Long Island and Staten Island during the Revolutionary War. In 1778 the State Legislature established a Court of Probates, which assumed most of the colonial governor's powers in probate matters. A 1787 statute established a Surrogate's Court in each county. The Court of Probates' jurisdiction was limited to hearing appeals from the Surrogate's Courts; supervising estates of New York residents who died out of state, and of non- residents who died within the state; and issuing certain types of orders. The Court of Probates was abolished in 1823, and its remaining jurisdiction was given to the Surrogate's Court. Between 1823 and 1847 appeals from the Surrogate's Court went to the Court of Chancery. Since 1847 appeals from orders and decrees of the Surrogate's Court have gone to the Supreme Court.

The pre-1787 records of the former Prerogative Court and the Court of Probates were divided in 1802: original wills and other filed papers relating to the "Southern District" (New York, Kings, Queens, Suffolk, Richmond, and Westchester Counties) and all record books were transferred from Albany to the New York County Surrogate's Court. (The records sent to New York City included series J0038-92 and J0043-92, described in this leaflet.) Other filed papers of the Court of Probates remained in Albany. After the court was abolished, the Albany records passed into custody of the Secretary of State (1823-29), the Court of Chancery (1829-47), and the Court of Appeals (1847+). These records were placed on deposit at the Historical Documents Collection, Queens College, CUNY, in 1973, and transferred to the State Archives in 1982 and 1985.

J0038-82 Probated Wills, 1671-1815 (10 cu. ft.) [11 rolls microfilm]

Contents: Wills (most in English, some in Dutch) and a few letters of administration and property inventories. Most of the testators resided north of Westchester County. Many of the wills are copies of wills in series J0038-92, described below. Arranged by assigned alphanumeric file number. Documents are stable but fragile; use microfilm.

Microfilm: 1) New York State Archives film (includes folder list but no index to testators); 2) Genealogical Society of Utah (GSU) film, 12 reels, available in NYS Library (includes card index to testators).

Preferred index: "Record of Wills, Albany, New York from a Collection of New York State Court Records: Index," available on microfilm in New York State Archives (series A4700-99) and in New York State Library (index is a photocopy of a typescript, derived from card index; indicates the numerous wills not indexed in Fernow).

Other indexes and abstracts:

  1. card index to wills, available on reel 1 of GSU microfilm
  2. Berthold Fernow, comp., Calendar of Wills on File and Recorded in the Offices of the Clerk of the Court of Appeals, of the County Clerk at Albany, and of the Secretary of State (Albany: 1896; repr. Baltimore: 1967, 1991) (a letter/number code in parentheses in the margin indicates wills in this series; note that many other wills present in this series are not indexed in Fernow)
  3. "Index of Wills, 1671-1841," listed in a 1939 inventory of pre-1847 court records held by the Court of Appeals (present location of this index is unknown).

J0038-92 Probated Wills, 1665-1787 (24.5 cu. ft.; 16 rolls of microfilm)

Contents: Original wills and scattered other documents relating to probate of wills and administration of estates. Most but not all testators resided in New York City, Long Island, Staten Island, or Westchester County. Organized into two sub-series: 1) ca. 1658- 1738; 2) ca. 1739-1787. There are copies of many of these wills in series J0038-82. Wills are arranged by an assigned file number, with separate numbering sequences for the two sub- series. A few wills in this series are missing. Documents are fragile and some are in fragments. Access may be restricted.

Microfilm: Genealogical Society of Utah has filmed, and the State Archives has copies of, sub-series 1, ca. 1665-1738. Sub-series 2, ca. 1739-1787, has not been microfilmed.

Indexes/Abstracts:

  1. Kenneth Scott, "Early Original New York Wills," National Genealogical Society Quarterly, 51 (1963), 90- 99, 174-78, 185 (indexes wills in sub-series 1 and indicates those wills not recorded in series J0043-92);
  2. Julius M. Bloch, Leo Hershkowitz, and Kenneth Scott, "Wills of Colonial New York, 1736-1775," NGSQ, 54 (1966), 98-124 (indexes wills in sub-series 2);
  3. Kenneth Scott and Leo Hershkowitz, "Index of Original Wills (1776-1829)," NGSQ, 55 (1967), 119-45;
  4. William H. Pelletreau, comp., "Abstracts of Unrecorded Wills Prior to 1790 on File in the Surrogate's Office, City [i.e. County] of New York, 1665-1800," Collections of The New-York Historical Society, 35 (1902) (abstracts and indexes only the wills in this series that were not recorded in series J0043-92);
  5. John J. Post, comp., Index to Wills Proved in Supreme Court, Court of Common Pleas, County Court and Court of Probates, and on File in Office of Clerk of Court of Appeals (New York: 1899) (indexes only wills affecting title to real property located within present five boroughs of New York City).

J0043-92 Record of Wills and Probates, 1665-1787 (38 vols.; 14 rolls of microfilm)

Contents: Mostly wills and grants of administration; many wills pre-dating 1700 are in Dutch with English translations. Series also contains estate inventories and accounts of administrators (pre-1708); and letters of administration (pre-1743). Volumes also contain some non-probate records, including scattered entries of marriage licenses, ca. 1684- 1706. Condition of volumes is generally good; some paper is brittle.

Microfilm: Filmed by Genealogical Society of Utah. New York State Archives has copies of this film.

Preferred Index:

Ray C. Sawyer, "Index of New York State Wills, 1662-1850, on File at the Office of the Surrogate for New York County," 2 vols. (typescript, 1931-32), available on microfilm in New York State Archives (series A4699-99) and in New York State Library

Other indexes and abstracts:

  1. series J2043-92 Index to Record of Wills and Probates (see below under Surrogate's Court [New York County]);
  2. all but two libers have contemporary and/or later indexes to testators (and sometimes executors as well) in front or back of liber;
  3. William H. Pelletreau, comp., "Abstracts of Wills on File in the Surrogate's Office, City [i.e. County] of New York, 1665-1800," Collections of The New-York Historical Society, 25-34 (1892- 1901), 36 (1903), 40-41 (1907-08) (includes name indexes to testators);
  4. marriage licenses are abstracted and indexed by Kenneth Scott in New York Marriages Previous to 1784; A Reprint of the Original Edition of 1860 with Additions and Corrections (Baltimore: 1984), pp. 573-618;
  5. estate inventories are indexed in Kenneth Scott, "Early New York Inventories of Estates," National Genealogical Society Quarterly, 53 (1965), 133-38.

Related Records: The New York County Surrogate's Court retains transcripts of this series. The transcripts have been filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah.

J1032-04 Letters of Administration, 1743-1783 (2 rolls microfilm)

Contents: Letters were issued by authority of the royal governor in his capacity as judge of the Prerogative Court of Probates. The letter contains the name and residence of the decedent and designates an administrator.

Microfilm:   Filmed by Genealogical Society of Utah. New York State Archives has a copy of the film.

Indexes: Several indexes are found on the microfilm with groups of letters to which the indexes relate.

J1033-04 Bonds of Administrators, 1753-1798 (1 roll microfilm)

Contents: Administrators of estates were required to give bond for the good performance of their duties, including making an inventory of the personal property of the deceased and to render an account to the court. Bonds relate to estates in various parts of New York Province (1753-1776) and New York State (1782-1798).

Microfilm:   Filmed by Genealogical Society of Utah.   New York State Archives has a copy of the film.

Indexes: Microfilm contains indexes to decedents for bonds dated 1753-1776 only.

J0043-85 Record of Wills and Probates, 1787-1822 (2 vols.; 1 roll of microfilm)

Contents: Wills registered by the Court of Probates, for which the court had granted letters of administration. Most wills were proved before a county surrogate or other judge. Volumes are fragile.

Microfilm: Filmed by Genealogical Society of Utah. New York State Archives has a copy of the film.

Preferred Index:

Berthold Fernow, Calendar of Wills on File and Recorded in the Offices of the Clerk of the Court of Appeals . . . (New York: 1896; repr. Baltimore: 1967, 1991) (cited as "Vol. I" and "II");

Other indexes:

  1. index to testators in front of each volume;
  2. William A. D. Eardeley, "Index to Wills of New York State from 1653 to 1815" (typescript, 1941, available at New York Genealogical and Biographical Society library), pp. 72-83.

J0039-04 Record of Letters Testamentary, 1793-1801 (1 roll microfilm)

Contents: Letters testamentary were issued by the Court of Probates when the executor designated in a will was unable to perform the duties of the office.

Microfilm:   Filmed by Genealogical Society of Utah. New York State Archives has a copy of the film.

Index: Index to testators at front of volume.

J0042-04 List of Wills and Other Documents Delivered by the Judge of the Court of Probates to the Surrogate of the City and County of New York, 1799 (1 roll microfilm)

Contents: Roughly chronological list of wills that were transferred to the New York County Surrogate's Court when the Court of Probates removed its office to Albany in 1799. Each entry gives name of testator, residence, and date of will. Wills relate only to estates located within the First Senatorial District (New York and adjacent counties); the wills date from ca. 1662 to 1786. At the end of the main list are other lists of documents transferred, such as inventories, accounts of administrators, etc.

Microfilm:   Filmed by Genealogical Society of Utah.   New York State Archives has a copy of the film.

J0039-85 Exemplifications of Wills and Letters of Administration, 1783-1801 (1 vol.)

Contents: Official transcripts of wills, codicils, and letters of administration registered by Court of Probates. Volume is fragile.

Indexes:

  1. Index to testators in front of volume;
  2. Fernow, Calendar of Wills (cited as "Vol. III").

J0301-82 Inventories and Accounts, 1666- 1822 (7 cu. ft.) [7 rolls microfilm]

Contents: Inventories of personal property, and accounts of decedents' debts and credits, prepared by administrators and executors. Most of the inventories and accounts relate to estates located north of Westchester County. Most of the accounts date after 1787. Arranged in three sub-series, 1666-1699, 1700-1775, and 1776- 1822, and thereunder alphabetically. Documents are fragile.

Microfilm: 1) Filmed by New York State Archives (includes container list but no index to decedents or administrators); 2) filmed by Genealogical Society of Utah.

Index/Abstract:

  1. Kenneth Scott, "New York Inventories, 1666-1775," National Genealogical Society Quarterly, 54 (1966), 246-59;
  2. Kenneth Scott and James A. Owre, comps., Genealogical Data from Inventories of New York Estates, 1666-1825 (New York: 1970).

Related Records: Estate inventories for New York County and nearby counties for 1725-53 and 1776-86 are in possession of The New-York Historical Society, and are indexed by Kenneth Scott, "Early New York Inventories of Estates," NGSQ, 53 (1965), 138-43.

J1301-04 Estate Inventories, ca. 1730-1753 (1 roll microfilm [part])

Contents: Original inventories of estates; documents were filed in New York City but relate to estates in many parts of the province.

Microfilm:   Filmed by Genealogical Society of Utah.   New York State Archives has a copy of the film.

Index: Several indexes to groups of inventories are included in the microfilm.

J2301-04 Record of Estate Inventories, 1779-1786 (1 roll microfilm [part])

Contents: Volume contains inventories of estates recorded by the clerk of the Court of Probates.

Microfilm:   Filmed by Genealogical Society of Utah.   New York State Archives has a copy of the film.

Index: Index at end of volume.

J0033-82 Administration Papers, ca. 1700- 1823 (12.5 cu. ft.) [17 rolls microfilm]

Series contains letters of administration, performance bonds of administrators and executors, renunciations of executorships, accounts of administrators and executors presented to the court, property inventories, appeals from Surrogate's Courts (after 1787), court orders, and other documents relating to administration of estates. Arranged alphabetically by decedent. Documents are stable but fragile; use microfilm.

Microfilm: Filmed by New York State Archives (includes container list but no indexes to decedents or administrators).

Abstract/Index: Kenneth Scott, comp., Genealogical Data from Administration Papers, from the New York State Court of Appeals in Albany (Middletown, NY: 1972).

Related Records: The New York County Surrogate's Court retains records of letters of administration of the Prerogative Court and Court of Probates for the period 1743-1787. These records have been microfilmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah.

J0032-83, -85 Letters of Administration, 1787-1823 (4 vols.; 1 roll microiflm [Vol. 1, 1778-1791, only])

Letters of administration for estates of New York residents who died out-of-state, or non- residents who died in the State. Most of the letters are for estates of persons who died intestate (without a will). Volumes are fragile. (The first volume of this series, commencing 1778,as well as five volumes of administration bonds, 1787-1823, have not been transferred to the Archives.)

Microfilm:   Filmed in part by Genealogical Society of Utah.   New York State Archives has a copy of the film.

Indexes/Abstract:

  1. Index to decedents in each volume;
  2. William A. D. Eardeley, "Index to Wills of New York State from 1653 to 1815" (typescript, 1941), pp. 88-104;
  3. Kenneth Scott, Genealogical Data from New York Administration Bonds, 1753-1799 and Hitherto Unpublished Letters of Administration (Collections of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, Vol. X) (New York: 1969) (abstracts volumes for years 1787-99 only).

J0208-82 Orders and Decrees, 1811-1823 (1 vol.)

Volume contains orders and decrees and summaries of court proceedings concerning administration of estates of out-of-state residents and non-residents dying in New York; and appeals to the Court of Probates from the Surrogate's Courts.

Index: Volume contains index to decedents and type of proceeding.

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