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The Surrogate's Court in each county generally has records dating back to the establishment of the county or 1787, whichever was later. Record keeping was systematized by an 1830 statute. Surrogate's Courts maintain records of wills, letters testamentary, letters of administration, orders and decrees, and appointments of guardians; and filed papers, including original wills, petitions for probate (gives date of death and lists next of kin), performance bonds, property inventories (seldom found after ca. 1900), administrator's or executor's accountings, etc. Surrogate's Courts create comprehensive indexes to records and files.
In recent decades many courts have ceased recording documents in books and substituted microfilm recording. Some courts have disposed of old property inventories, which have no continuing legal value. Most Surrogate's Court records are retained permanently because they may document title to real property or the legal status of individuals. Surrogate's Court records statewide occupy over 200,000 cubic feet, with over half a million record retrievals yearly. The court is authorized to charge substantial fees for records searches conducted by court staff.