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Surrogate Court Records

In New York State it is the Surrogate Court that handles estates and guardianships. Yates County was organized in 1823, and at that time a separate Surrogate was appointed for this county. Before that time, the Surrogate for Ontario County oversaw the probate of estates and the appointment of guardianships. We have transcribed the cases having to do with these early estates elsewhere on this site: see the Ontario County Wills & Administrations page.

The first Surrogate for Yates County was appointed in 1823, and though his office has moved to several locations in Penn Yan during the intervening 175 years, it appears that the records are still intact. 

A project has begun to index and transcribe the 30 books of Wills recorded in Yates County since 1823. The indexes created so far, and copies of the transcripts or microfilmed originals are available on site: see the Yates County Will Index pages.

The older series of files consists of 299 boxes of papers originally arranged in packets lettered A through E in each. These papers document the estates of deceased persons and the appointment of guardians for orphans up through about the 1920s; the most important paper in each packet for genealogical purposes is generally the petition. A petition had to be filed in order for a will to be probated, or for the estate of a person dying without a will to be administered, or for a guardian to be appointed for minor children. After 1829 the petition for probate or for letters of administration was required to list the names and whereabouts of all heirs at law, whether or not they were beneficiaries of a will. The will itself was recorded in a series of books separate from these files. In a few cases the original will is in the packet of papers. Guardianships were also administered by the petition process; and often all living adult relatives of the minor orphans were listed on the petition. In the index linked below, guardianship files are denoted by the code GDN. 

The Surrogate Court's more current files are in the custody of a Clerk. They consist of thousands of file folders, and are all indexed by the name of the deceased person or orphan, as is the earlier series, in a set of large books.

An index to all persons mentioned in petitions filed in the first 130 boxes is in database form at the County Historian's office. This database covers most 19th century and very early 20th-century estates and guardianships, from 1823 through 1903. It is being extended, but for the present only these first 180 boxes are on line. See the tables below.

All papers filed with the Surrogate Court are available for use by the public, and may be freely copied. The County Historian will upon request copy selected papers from these files for $1 a page. Unless the requester states otherwise only papers of genealogical interest will be copied, as some estates run into hundreds of pages.  

To request copies, you must:

  • state your postal address so the papers can be sent to you with a bill;
  • give the index citation as complete as you can, but make sure you have the full packet number; 
  • put "Surrogate record request" in the subject line. 
Your copies will be mailed to you with a bill.

Submit copy request

The index is divided generally into two sections. One is an every-name index to all persons mentioned in estates recorded within the time limits mentioned above. Women whose maiden names are mentioned or implied in a petition are listed twice, under their married names with the maiden name in parentheses, and under the maiden name alone. The name of the person whose estate it is, is marked off with a *. For guardianships, the children needing guardians are marked with a (GDN).

The second part of the index, instead of being alphabetical by name, is numeric by packet number. In this way you can tell who the people are who are listed in a particular packet. It will perhaps be easier if you look up the name you're interested in first in the alphabetical index, and then use the packet number to go to the second index and see who else is listed in the same estate. The packet list files are enormous, and if you don't have broadband will take a while to download, perhaps as much as a couple of minutes. Within each packet, if it's an estate the decedent will be marked with a #; if it's a guardianship, the child or children needing guardians are marked with (GDN). In each packet there will be one or the other.

Both indexes have been divided into a number of smaller files, on account of the size of the database. The indexes represent about 50,000 names in about 8000 estates and guardianships.