Two record collections available online offer a different approach to surrogate court records in New York State.
Between 1786 and 1829 the Supreme Court and the county courts of common pleas shared with the Surrogate’s Courts the power to prove and record wills devising real property, and also wills whose witnesses were unable to appear in court. In addition, between 1801 and 1829 the Supreme Court had the exclusive power to prove and record wills devising real property located in several counties.
However, until 1802 the Court of Chancery had the exclusive power to appoint legal guardians for minor heirs, and shared this power with the Surrogate’s Court between 1802 and 1847. Between 1830 and 1847, the Court of Chancery also shared with the Surrogate’s Court the power to take proof of wills when the testator or the witnesses resided out of state. After probate in chancery, a Surrogate’s Court supervised the administration and disposition of the estate, as it did with those proved in the court of common pleas.
Chancery minute books and filed decrees and papers contain much information on guardianships and on appeals from the Surrogate’s Courts, through 1847. They may provide information about the lives of obscure ancestors, including guardianships, divorces, and mortgage foreclosures. The records include the extensive Chancery records formerly in New York City, transferred to the Archives in 2017.
A significant index to NYS Supreme Court of Judicature and Court of Chancery documents are now available online free via a partnership between the New York State Archives and Ancestry.com. The materials consist of a card index to court judgements, orders, pleadings, and other court documents filed by clerks of the Supreme Court of Judicature and Court of Chancery.
(Information on guardianships in Chancery Court records has also been previously abstracted by Kenneth Scott, in Records of the Chancery Court, Province and State of New York, 1691-1815 (1971).
Photo of the inside of the United States Supreme Court, courtesy Flickr User Phil Roeder.