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Most of New York's probate records are maintained by the Surrogate's Court, which was established in each county in 1787. However, the New York State Archives holds two large groups of probate records: wills, inventories, and other documents recorded, filed, or maintained by the colonial Prerogative Court, 1686-1783, and its successor, the State Court of Probates, 1778-1823; and wills from the New York County Surrogate's Court, 1787-1879.
The Archives also has small groups of wills probated by the higher State courts prior to 1847; and out-of-state wills filed in the Secretary of State's office, 1823-1966.
Probate records in the State Archives are a rich source of genealogical and historical data. The records contain information on the property of decedents, the relationships of heirs, controversies over wills, and the settlement of estates. Of special interest for social history are the many wills made by women; wills bequeathing or manumitting slaves; and wills and estate inventories listing personal property such as clothing, furniture, and tools.
This leaflet identifies and discusses the various courts and offices that have filed, recorded, or maintained probate records in New York since 1665; briefly describes the probate records in the State Archives; and lists all known indexes and abstracts of those records. The leaflet concludes with a bibliography and a topical guide to New York probate records available for specific time periods and regions. More information on probate records is available from the New York State Archives.
Probate records in the State Archives may be used at the Archives' research room. Certain record series have been microfilmed by the State Archives, and the film may be borrowed on inter-library loan or purchased.
The State Archives has also purchased from the Genealogical Society of Utah microfilm copies of many early New York probate records. That microfilm is available for use in the Archives research room but is not available for sale or inter-library loan.