The Historian's Office
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
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
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
Your copies will be
mailed to you with a bill.
- 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
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.
ALPHABETICAL INDEX TO PRINCIPALS
ALPHABETICAL INDEX TO PRINCIPALS & HEIRS