NEHGS member Denise Crawford of Mesa, Arizona, recently wrote to a staff person here at NEHGS with an enthusiastic endorsement of a new set of online records: “I have just spent the last five hours having an absolutely wonderful time finding wills and probate records in St. Lawrence and Wayne Counties for my families in the New York, Probate Records, 1629–1971, collection on FamilySearch.org. Maybe you can get the word out that these records are online now so that folks aren't spending a fortune trying to get them from the counties.”
I’m happy to publicize this collection, which debuted on FamilySearch on January 25, 2012. Genealogists researching New York ancestors will indeed be thrilled to find this material online.
Forty-five out of New York’s sixty-two counties are represented. (Counties south of Delaware, Albany, and Rensselaer are excluded, as is Schoharie.) The collection is browsable, but has not been indexed and is not searchable. The content and year range of the probate records vary by county; for some counties there may be a general index to probate, for others there may be an index to wills only. Most records end in the 1920s with some indexes continuing to 1971.
New York researchers should be aware of other important probate record sources.
An extremely useful database (available to NEHGS members), covering 52 counties, is Abstracts of Wills, Administrations and Guardianships in N.Y. State, 1787–1835 on AmericanAncestors.org. This database was created by William Applebie Daniel Eardeley, and the original materials are part of the Brooklyn Historical Society's manuscript collection. Eardeley abstracted original estate proceedings, and indexed all the names in his abstracts, i.e. those of the decedents, executors, administrators, petitioners, guardians, witnesses, named beneficiaries and minor children. (Eardeley did not abstract Kings County, so instead, records abstracted by DeWitt Van Buren in Abstracts of Wills of Kings County Recorded at Brooklyn, N. Y., are included.)
New York State Probate Records: A Genealogist’s Guide to Testate and Intestate Records (NEHGS, 2011) by Gordon L. Remington offers detailed background on these complicated records, as well as maps and county-by-county summary pages which list published and online indexes.
While the addition of the collection on FamilySearch means many more New York probate records are available online, many sources still remain available only in print or on microfilm. For instance, of the forty-five counties, probate petitions for twenty of them are on film at the Family History Library. However, none of these petitions seem to be included in the FamilySearch collection.
Happy hunting in New York probate records!