Jan Meisels Allen
On March 11 Don Solomon replied on this forum to my March 5 posting
regarding the New York State Chief Surrogate Court Justice issuing an order
restricting public access to records included in probate files. Don stated,
"I think the genealogical impact of this proposal may be less urgent than it
may seem. The proposal appears to be tailored to a specific group of court
files - those involving guardians and custodians, mostly pertaining to
mentally disabled persons. As I read it, the proposal does not apply to
files involving probate of decedents' estates, which are of much more
interest to genealogists."
I shared Don's comments with a professional genealogist who also serves on
the Records Preservation and Access Committee along with me, as he is
talking with the Court in New York State to get answers to a number of
genealogists' questions regarding on how to access the types of documents
that are specifically restricted in the order. He has advised me that to
the best of our current knowledge 'all' files in the Surrogates Courts
throughout NY State fall under the new restrictions not just guardianships
and similar files such as conservatorships.
While genealogists use the term "probate" in New York State that only refers
to estates with valid wills I have been advised that New York State
Surrogates Court includes probate and administration and guardianship. A
guardianship would not include a death certificate - it would be exceptionally
rare for that to happen, nor include a list of firearms, yet these items are
included on the list of restricted files along with articles 17 and 17A
which are involving guardians and custodians, guardians of mentally retarded
and developmentally disabled persons.
As I learn of answers to the questions posed by the professional genealogist
to the Court, I will share them on this listserve.
Jan Meisels Allen
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee