Court Records

Court records are divided into two categories, criminal and civil.  Criminal actions deal with the bringing of public offender to justice.  Whereas, civil actions deal primarily with the protection of individual rights.  Non-adversary civil proceedings, such as name changes, naturalizations, adoptions, probate may have significant genealogical importance.

There are two types of court systems, the individual states and the federal government.  The federal court records have limited value to the family researcher.  Most of the genealogically important records will be found in the state court system.

Major New York State Courts

Date(s) Description of Courts and/or Records (with publications, films)
1638-1664

Director General and Council of New Netherland was the highest court and governing body in New Netherland.

  • 1638-1660, Register of the Provincial Secretary; Council Minutes, by Arnold JF Van Laer, Genealogical Publishing,  1974

1653-1674

Courts of schouts and schepens were the Dutch courts having criminal and civil jurisdiction.  These were replaced by the mayor's court.

  • The Records of New Amsterdam from 1653 to 1674 Anno Domini, 7 vols., Edmund B OCalaghan, Berthold Fernow, ed., 1897, reprint 1976 Genealogical Publishing

  • volumes 1-4 LDS film #982184

  • volumes 5-7 LDS film #982187 (index in volume 7)

  • Immigrants and their occupations are sometimes listed.

1664-1688 Colony of New York records.
  • New York Historical Manuscripts, Peter Christoph, ed., 1980 Genealogical Publishing

  • Vol 2, Books of General Entries of the Colony of New York, 1664-1673

  • Vol 3, Books of General Entries of the Colony of New York, 1674-1688

  • These books list some marriages, divorces, denizations, passport and court decisions.

1665-1683

Court of Assizes was the highest provincial court.  It was established in New York City, hearing both civil and criminal cases.  Along with the Court of general sessions of the peace, the Court os Assizes had jurisdiction over probates.

  • 1665-1682, New York Historical Manuscripts: English. Records of the Court of Assizes for the Colony of New York, 1665-1682, Peter R & Florence A Christoph, eds., 1983 Genealogical Publishing

  • the records contain appeals, some probates, and divorce records.

1665-1962

Court of general sessions of the peace were county courts having jurisdiction over criminal cases such as desertions, vice, apprenticeship disputes, bastardy, and other violations of vice and immorality laws.  These courts handled probate matters from 1665 to about 1683.  They heard only criminal cases after 1691.  Their jurisdiction was transferred to the county court in 1847, except in New York County where the courts of general sessions of the peace continued until 1962.

  • 1684-1804, New York City Court Records, 1684-1804, Genealogical Data from the Court of Quarter Sessions, 4 vols., Kenneth Scot, ed., National Genealogical Society, 1982-88.

  • Records contain lists of person involved in cases of stealing, assault, battery and illegitmacy.

1674-1784

Mayor's court existed in New York City and Albany.  It handled civil suits, apprenticeships, and naturalizations.

  • 1674-1675, New York Historical Manuscripts. Minutes of the Mayor's Court of New York, 1674-1675, Kenneth Scott, ed., Genealogical Publishing, 1983.

  • The above book list probates, marriages, lawsuits, licenses, names of freemen, and person taking allegiance oaths.

  • The Mayor's court of Albany was established in 1686 and continued during the colonial period.

  • The records are at the Albany County Hall of Records.

1691-1847

Courts of common pleas were established in each city and county to handle civil cases such as marriages, naturalizations, name changes, probates, exemptions from military duty, lunacy cases, tavern licenses, insolvency cases, old age assistance, manumissions, laying of roads, insolvency, settlement of boundary disputes, and child support and custody.  They handled appeals from justices of the peace.  The court was replaced by the county court.  In New York City, the court of common pleas and the superior court were abolished in 1895 and their activities taken over by the supreme court.

1683-1895

The court of oyer and terminer and general gaol delivery was a county court that had jurisdiction over capital crimes such as treason and murder. 

1664-present

Justice's courts are presided over by justices of the peace who perform marriages, issue summons for debts, and rule on minor civil suits.

1686-1877

The Prerogative Court was headed by the governor or his delegate.  It had jurisdiction over all estates in the New York City area and over larger estates elsewhere in New York Colony.  The court also registered marriage licenses but did not possess jurisdiction over matrimonial proceedings like divorces.  The constitution of 1777 replaced this court with the court of probates.

1691-present

The Supreme Court is a statewide court which holds terms in each county.  Since 1847, it has heard appeals from the surrogates court.  Only in some counties today, usually the largest ones, does the court handle naturalizations.  The county clerk is also clerk of the supreme court. 

  • 1691-1704, Collections of the New York Historical Society, published by the society in New York, 1957-59.

1778-1823

The Court of Probates handled most probates for 1778-1787.  Until 1783 in British occupied New York City, Long Island and Staten Island, the Prerogative Court handled probates also. 

1787- present

Surrogates Courts are countywide courts with jurisdiction over probates, some adoptions, and guardianships.  Before 1787 surrogates were appointed to act in place of the prerogative.

1821-present

Circuit courts were the trial terms of the supreme court.  The term "circuit court" was not used after 1895.  Since 1896, the supreme court has held trial terms periodically in each county.

1683-1847

The Court of Chancery had statewide jurisdiction over civil equity matters, such as mortgage foreclosures, real property proceedings, sale of estates, in dower and curtesy, naturalizations, matrimonial disputes, divorces, guardianships and child custody.  It absorbed the court of probate and had appellate jurisdiction over surrogate's courts.  After 1847 equity responsibilities were assigned to the supreme court.

  • The Records of the New York Court of Chancery, 2nd through 8th Circuits, 1823-47, are now at the state archives.

  • The Records of the New York Court of Chancery, 1st Circuit, 1823-47, which sat in New York, are at the New York County Courthouse, Office of the County Clerk. 

  • Records contain decrees, files, indexes, minutes and orders.

1847-present

County courts are the major trial courts for each county with jurisdiction over criminal matters, minor equity cases, and some appeals.  They assumed the duties of the court of common pleas. 

Federal Courts

Eastern District

 

  • Brooklyn Division (Brooklyn, Kings, Queens, Richmond)

  • Hauppauge Division (Suffolk County)

  • Uniondale Division (office is in Brooklyn but no specific counties assigned)

Southern District
  • New York City Division (Bronx, New York County, and nearby counties)
Northern District
  • Albany Division (Albany and surrounding counties)
  •  Binghamton Division (Broome County and surrounding counties)
  • Syracuse Division (Onondaga County and surrounding counties)
  • Utica Division (Oneida County).
Western District
  • Buffalow Division (Erie County and surrounding counties)
  • Rochester Division (Monroe County and surrounding counties)

Records at National Archives
Northeast Region

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of NY, M886
  • minutes and rolls of attorneys, 1789-1841
  • admiralty case files, 1790-1966
  • price and related record for the War of 1812, 1812-1816
  • bankruptcy records
    • Act of 1800, 1801-1803
    • Act of 1841, 1842-1843
    • Act of 1867, 1867-1878
    • Act of 1898, 1898-1929
  • judgement records, 1795-1911
  • law case files, 1795-1938
  • criminal case files, 1846-1868, 1913-1966

 

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, M 854
  • minutes, 1790-1875
  • trial notes, ca 1834-1853
  • appellate case files, 1793-1911
  • judgement records, 1794-1911
  • law case files, 1790-1912
  • equity case files, 1791-1911
  • criminal case files, 1790-1912

 

U.S. Court of Appeals
  • known as U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals from 1891-1948

Types of Court Records
Covered at at this website

Marriage/Divorce Naturalization Legislative Adoption
Probate/Estate/Wills Property Business Guardianship

(This website is evolving and new subjects may be added in the future as
the need arrives.  As time goes on, each of the above types will be covered in depth.)

Probate/Estate/Wills Records

Most of New York's probate records are maintained by the Surrogate's Court, which was established in each county in 1787. However there are other types 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.

 
Surrogate's Court, New York County (Manhattan), Record Room
Surrogate's Court, County Clerk's Office
31 Chambers Street, Room 402
New York, NY  10007
(212) 374-8287
 
Available Records:
  • wills and indexes, 1662 to present
  • all records of probate
  • letters of administration and estate taxes, 1830 to present
  • some estate files include a copy of the death certificate and testimony from individuals identitying family member, potential heirs
  • guardianship cases, 1808 to present
  • adoptions and commitments, 1924 to present

Mail Requests for Records
Cast $70 for the search of a record by full name over 25 years old and $25 for records under 25 years, plus the cost of copying the record.  (See below for LDS film numbers for record indexes)

 
LDS Family History Films for Probate Court Records
  • Abstracts of will probated in the Common Pleas Couty (also known as Mayor's Court), 1817-1892; Supreme Court of Judicature, 1821-1829, 1847- 1870, all of New York County; film # 860314
  • Abstracts of wills for New York County, New York, from 1808-1814; film # 860314
  • Final statements of debits or credits which are not found in the decrees on Accounting of deceased persons.  The accounts are arranged in alphabetical bundles, but they are not in strict alphabetical order; films start with # 911271+
  • Administration bonds, 1753-1866, films start with #907917+
  • Decrees on accounting, 1828-1865; indexes, 1828-1907
    • Index to decrees A-N 1830-1907, film #872176
    • Index to decrees O-Z 1830-1907, film #872177
    • Decrees on accounting 1828-1835 (bound with own index), film #907916
    • Decrees in bundles, index and bundle films start with #872177+
  •  Estate orders, 1840-1865, films by year, start with # 900421+
  •  Executors renunciations, 1792-1890, index, 1830-1912, films start with #911785+
  • Inventories, 1862-1865, contains inventories of deceased persons possessions. The material is arranged semi-chronologically, but the dates given are only an approximation since many individual papers are out of proper chronological order, films start with #907919+
  • Letters and petitions of administration, 1798-1862, films start with # 913432+
  • Letters of administration, 1768-1866; index, 1743-1910, films start with # 872170+
  • Letters of collection 1858-1865, film #912839
  • Letters testamentary, 1793-1806, film # 17417
  • Letters testamentary, 1830-1866, films start with #892774+
  • Miscellaneous orders, 1803-1870, films start with # 909250+
  • Miscellaneous probate records, 1800-1869, films start with # 909302
  • Orders admitting wills, v. 2 1851-1853, film #912840
  • Orders admitting wills v. 3 1853-1855 Orders admitting wills v. 4 1855-1857 Orders admitting wills v. 5 1857-1859 Orders admitting wills v. 6 1859-1860, film #912841
  • Orders admitting wills v. 7 1860-1862 Orders admitting wills v. 9 1862-1864 Orders admitting wills v. 10 1864-1866, film #907910
  • Orders granting and denying petitions, 1828-1865; index, 1830-1882, films start with  #912807+
  • Petitions and accounts, 1803-1888, films by surname start with #913516+
  • Petitions for letters of administrations, 1830-1876, film arranged by year, start with film #892796+
  • Probate proceedings, 1830-1865, are arranged by month of final filing. They are not in alphabetical order. They are not in numeral order. Only the date can be found by looking for decendent's surname in the index to wills, films start with #895749+
  • Proceedings in the sale of real estate, 1800-1872, index, 1800-1872
    • Proceedings in the sale of real estate, 1800-1872, index, 1800-1872
    • Index to the proceedings in the sale of real estate, 1800-1872, film #912835
    • Proceedings in the sale of real estate, v. 1-3 1800-1833, film #912836
    • Proceedings in the sale of real estate, v. 4-5 1834-1856, film #912837
    • Proceedings in the sale of real estate, v. 6 1856-1872, film #912838
  • Proceedings to probate wills of real estate, 1830-1867, films start with #900915+
  • Real estate proceedings, 1800-1880, films start with #906856+
  • Record of dower, 1831-1856 (Dower is the right of a widow to a part of her husbands land and property even though it may have been inherited by another), film #912832
  • Record of wills, 1665-1916; index to wills, 1662-1923 (New York County), films start with #872164+
  • Selected wills from the New York County Surrogate's records, film #17123
  • Special collection bonds, 1849-1870, film #913527
  • Wills and administrations, 1680-1804, films start with #497592+
  • Wills, 1787-1822, original records at the Office of the Clerk of the Court of Appeals for the State of New York in Albany, film #17416
  •  A list of wills, receipts for wills, Administration bonds, inventories relative to the Southern district of the State of New York : heretofore filed in the Probate office of the said State, delivered by the Judge of Probate thereof to the Surrogate of the City and County of New York in pursuance of an act of the Legislature passed the thirtieth day of March, 1799, film #17411
  • Index of wills for New York County (New York City), from 1662-1850, film #17827
  • Index to letters of administration of New York County, from 1743-1875, film #1425588
  • Index to New York City inventories of estates, 1783-1834, film #514685
  • Index to wills for New York County, New York, from 1851-1875, film #860313
  • Municipal archive indexes, 1830-1929, film #899357
  • Rejected wills index 1807-1926, film #912806

Other Published Resources
  • Abstracts of wills of New York County from March 22, 1850 to April 1856; copied and compiled by Gertrude A. Barber, 1950-1960
  • Index of wills on file in the Surrogate's Office, Hall of Records, New York, N.Y., for the years 1801-1820, typed and compiled by Georgia C. Washburn, 1937
  • Index, Names of Principals to Abstracts of Wills, 1665-1776, on File in the surrogate's Office, City of New York, Reprint, Palatine Transcripts, 1981

  • Ellis Island, Gateway to the American Reeves, by Pamela Reeves, 1998
  • Evidence!  Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian, by Dlizabeth Shown Mills, 1997
  • Genealogy Online for Dummies, by Matthew L. Helm, April Leigh Helm, 1998
  • Guide to Naturalization Records of the United States, by Christina K. Schaefer, 1997
  • Hudson Mohawk Gateway, An Illustrated History, by Thomas Phelan, 1985
  • Naturalization & Related Records, New York State Archives, Information Leaflet #6
  • Netting You Ancestors, Genealogical Research on the Internet, by Cyndi Howells, 1997
  • New York Archives Magazine, Volume 1, Number 1, Summer 2001
  • New York, Past and Present, by C. Poli, 1998
  • New York Extra, A Newspaper History of the Greatest City in the World from 1671 to the 1939 World's Fair, From the Erick C. Caren Collection, 2002
  • The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy, 3rd Edition, by Val D. Greenwood, 2000
  • The Unpuzzling Your Past Workbook, by Emily Anne Croom, 1996
  • United States, Naturalization Laws, 1790 to 1954, LDS Research Guide
  • Web Publishing for Genealogy, by Peter Christian, 2000
  • Women and Naturalization, ca. 1802-1940, NARA, by Marian L. Smith, 1998
  • Genealogical Resources in the New York Metropolian Area, by Estelle M. Guzik, 1989
  • New York State Probate Records: A Genealogist's Guide to Testate and Intestate Records, by Gordon L Remington, 2002

 

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