Source Information

New York State Archives
Ancestry.com. New York County, New York, Wills and Probate Records, 1658-1880 (NYSA) [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.
Original data:

Court of Probates [and pre-1778, Prerogative Court]. Probated Wills, 1671–1815. Series J0038-82. New York State Archives, Albany, New York.

Court of Probates [and pre-1778, Prerogative Court]. Probated Wills, 1665–1787. Series J0038-92. New York State Archives, Albany, New York. [New York City records continued to be recorded in the Prerogative Court through the British occupation during the American Revolution.]

Court of Probates [and pre-1778, Prerogative Court]. Records of wills and probates, 1665–1787. Series J0043-92. New York State Archives, Albany, New York.

Surrogate’s Court (New York County). Probated Wills, 1787–1829. Series J1038-92. New York State Archives, Albany, New York.

Surrogate’s Court (New York County). Records of wills and probates, 1787–1879. Series J1043-92. New York State Archives, Albany, New York.

About New York County, New York, Wills and Probate Records, 1658-1880 (NYSA)

When the English took control of New York in 1664, legislation was put in place requiring wills to be recorded in accordance with British common law practices. Prior to that, the colony was under the control of the Dutch, who followed civil law practices, where devising wills and property distribution fell under more contractual guidelines.

Initially in New York, wills were recorded in the Prerogative Court of the colony, but beginning in 1778, these responsibilities were transferred to the newly created State Court of Probates. Then, beginning in 1787, most of the responsibilities for the recording of wills and administration of estates was moved to the newly established Surrogate’s Court, which processed estates on the county level. The Court of Probates heard appeals until 1823 when it was abolished, and appeals were then sent to the Court of Chancery. Since 1847, appeals from orders and decrees of the Surrogate’s Court have gone to the New York Supreme Court.

This collection contains probate records from the Prerogative Court, the State Court of Probates and the Surrogate’s Court of New York County. Below is a list of the series included in the collection from the New York State Archives.

  • J0038-82 Probated Wills, 1671–1815 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.
  • J0038-92 Probated Wills, 1665–1787 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.
  • J0043-92 Record of Wills and Probates, 1665–1787 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.
  • J1038-92 Probated Wills, 1787–1829 Original wills and scattered other documents relating to probate. Arranged by assigned file number.
  • J1043-92 Record of Wills and Probates, 1787–1879http://www.archives.nysed.gov/a/research/res_topics_legal_probate.shtml Recorded wills and grants of administration; proceedings to determine authenticity of disputed wills; a few letters of attorney, letters of administration with will annexed, and letters testamentary issued when an executor was unavailable to act. Some wills are in foreign languages, with translations. Starting in 1823 many volumes contain wills of out-of-state residents. Some volumes are missing.

For more information about probate records from the New York State Archives, see the guide to Probates on the New York State Archives website.

About Probate Records

Probate records encompass the administration of an estate, whether that estate is “testate” (through a will) or “intestate” (without a will). Whether the decedent left a large estate or just some personal property, there’s a good chance that a probate file exists in a local court that oversaw distribution of property, the guardianship of a minor, or payment of debts.

The contents of a probate file can vary from case to case, but certain details, like the names and residences of beneficiaries, which typically state any relationship to the decedent, are found in most probates. An inventory of the estate assets can reveal personal details about the occupation and lifestyle of the deceased. There may also be references to debts, deeds, and other documents related to the settling of the estate.

Types of Probate Records

Here are some of the types of documents you may run across:

Wills.

Wills direct the distribution of the estate, according to the wishes of the testator. When the testator dies, the executor or executrix petitions the court for letters testamentary to prove (probate) the will. If the will is judged to be valid, it will be recorded in the will books of that court. The recorded will may include affidavits of witnesses attesting to the authenticity of the will and the competence of the testator at the time it was written. A copy of the will may also be found in the loose papers of the probate packet.

Letters of Administration.

In cases of intestate estates, letters of administration are requested to grant an administrator (usually the widow/widower or eldest son) the right to oversee the distribution of the estate in accordance with the prevailing laws.

Inventories.

An inventory of the estate may be included in the probate records listing the assets with appraisals so that an accurate accounting could be made and probate fees could be accurately levied. Inventories can give you some insights into your ancestor’s relative wealth, lifestyle, and occupation.

Distributions and Accounting.

You may find documents relating to the distributions paid out of the estate for administrative costs, allowances for heirs prior to settlement, and the final distribution of the estate. You may also find receipts and documents relating to the sale of estate assets.

Bonds.

Administrators, and at times executors, of estates may have been required to post a bond that would cover the value of the estate to protect the heirs from misconduct. Bondsmen were typically close family members, so these are important documents.

Guardianships.

If a minor child or a family member deemed incompetent and dependent had an interest in the estate, you may find guardianship papers included in the probate file. In addition, the guardian may have needed to post a bond equaling the value of the inheritance.