New York Court Records

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United States Gotoarrow.png U.S. Court Records Gotoarrow.png New York Gotoarrow.png Court Records

Major New York courts that have kept records of genealogical value include the following:

1638–1664: Director General and Council of New Netherland was the highest court and governing body in New Netherland.

There are three published volumes for 1638–1660: Van Laer, Arnold J. F. Register of the Provincial Secretary; Council Minutes. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company,1974. At various libraries (WorldCat); FHL Book 974.7 H2vL. Each volume is indexed. The records for 1649–1651 have been lost. Remaining records give genealogical information about many early immigrants.

1653–1674: Courts of schouts and schepens were the Dutch courts having criminal and civil jurisdiction. These were replaced by the mayor's court.

Records of these courts are found in Edmund Bailey O'Callaghan, translator, and Berthold Fernow, editor, The Records of New Amsterdam from 1653 to 1674 Anno Domini, Seven Volumes. (1897; reprint, Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1976). At various libraries (WorldCat); FHL Book 974.71 P2f 1976; Volumes 1–4; FHL Film 982184; Volumes 5–7 on FHL Film 982187, items 1–3. The index is in volume 7. Immigrants and their occupations are sometimes listed.

1664–1688: Colony of New York records are found in: Christoph, Peter, editor. New York Historical Manuscripts. English. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing, Incorporated, 1980. At various libraries (WorldCat); FHL Book 974.7 H2ny Volumes 2–3. Volume 2: Books of General Entries of the Colony of New York, 1664–1673.At various libraries (WorldCat) Volume 3: Books of General Entries of the Colony of New York, 1674–1688.At various libraries (WorldCat). These books list some marriages, divorces, denizations, passports, and court decisions.

1664–present: Justice's courts are presided over by justices of the peace who perform marriages, issue summons for debts, and rule on minor civil suits.

1665–1683: Court of Assizes was the highest provincial court. It was established in New York City, hearing both civil and criminal cases. Along with the Court of general sessions of the peace, the Court of Assizes had jurisdiction over probates.

The records for 1665–1682 have been published as Christoph, Peter R. and Florence A. Christoph, editors, New York Historical Manuscripts: English. Records of the Court of Assizes for the Colony of New York, 1665–1682 (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1983).At various libraries (WorldCat); FHL Book 974.7 H2ny, v. 4. The records contain appeals, some probates, and divorce records.

1665–1962: Courts of general sessions of the peace were county courts having jurisdiction over criminal cases such as desertions, vice, apprenticeship disputes, bastardy, and other violations of vice and immorality laws. These courts handled probate matters from 1665 to about 1683. They heard only criminal cases after 1691. Their jurisdiction was transferred to the county court in 1847, except in New York County where the courts of general sessions of the peace continued until 1962.

Some early quarter sessions records have been published in Kenneth Scott, editor, New York City Court Records, 1684–1804, Genealogical Data from the Court of Quarter Sessions, Four Volumes. (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 1982–88). 1684–1760:At various libraries (WorldCat) FHL Book 974.71 P2s; 1760–1797: At various libraries (WorldCat); 1797–1801: At various libraries (WorldCat);FHL Book 974.71 P2sk; FHL Book 974.71 P2sb, and 1901–1804:At various libraries (WorldCat);FHL Book 974.71 P2sc. Records contain lists of persons involved in cases of stealing, assault, battery, and illegitimacy.

1674–1784: Mayor's court existed in New York City and Albany. It handled civil suits, apprenticeships, and naturalizations. Early records are in Kenneth Scott, editor, New York Historical Manuscripts. Minutes of the Mayor's Court of New York, 1674–1675 (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1983). At various libraries (WorldCat); FHL Book 973 P2fc.

Records at the National Archives—Northeast Region include:

  • U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York,
  • M886, minutes and rolls of attorneys (1789–1841),
  • admiralty case files (1790–1966),
  • prize and related records for the war of 1812 (1812–1816),
  • bankruptcy records: Act of 1800 (1801–1803), Act of 1841 (1842–1843), Act of 1867 (1867–1878), and Act of 1898 (1898–1929),
  • judgment records (1795–1911),
  • law case files (1795–1938),
  • criminal case files (1846–1868, 1913–1966)

U.S. Circuit Court for the Southern District of New York,

  • M854, minutes (1790–1875),
  • trial notes (ca. 1834–1853),
  • appellate case files (1793–1911),
  • judgment records (1794–1911),
  • law case files (1790–1912),
  • equity case files (1791–1911),
  • criminal case files (1790–1912)

U.S. Court of Appeals (known as U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals from 1891–1948) records are at the National Archives—Northeast Region but are not available on microfilm.

These District and Circuit Court records are not available at the Family History Library. For more information about New York court procedures, see Alden Chester, Courts and Lawyers of New York, a History, 1609–1925 (New York, New York: American Historical Society, 1925).  FHL Book 974.7 P2c v. 1–3; and FHL Film 6100435–37.

Kronman, Barbara. The Guide to New York City Public Records, Fourth Edition. (New York, New York: Public Interest Clearinghouse, 1992). FHL Book 974.71 A3k. Includes chapters on city government, courts, libraries, and personal information. Shows how to obtain vital records, name change records, and naturalizations.

For Further Reading

Folts, James D. Duely Constantly Kept: a History of the New York Supreme Court, 1691-1847 and an Inventory of its Records. (Albany, Utica, and Geneva Offices), 1797-1847(Albany, New York: New York State Court of Appeals and New York State Archives and Records, 1991). At various libraries (WorldCat); FHL Book 974.7 P2d. The guide to New York Court records before 1847, but also contains an explanation of the organization of the courts after 1847.

Joslyn, Roger D. “Court Records,” in Alice Eichholz. Red Book: American State, County and Town Sources, 3rd ed. (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Pub., 2004). At various libraries (WorldCat); FHL Book 973 D27rb 2004. Gives a brief overview of court records in New York State.

Remington, Gordon L. “Divorce Records, New York Style.” Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly, 12(September 1997): 90-91. Explains where divorce records can be found and rules of access.

Sperry, Kip. “Lis Pendens as a U.S. Genealogical Source.” Genealogical Journal. 2(June 1973):51-53. Explains a record that the Family History Library has for many New York Counties.