A tip about how to find "closed" New York City death certificates #general

Asparagirl <asparagirl@...>

Here's a tip how to find "closed" (meaning >from recent years) New York City
death certificates. It doesn't work every time, but it's worth a shot.

Get a copy of the decedent's papers through the NYC Surrogate's Court,
meaning their will or probate or estate papers -- or get those of a deceased
close relative for whom your relative might have served as executor (or might
once have been listed as executor, even if they never actually served), or a
beneficiary who slightly predeceased your relative (meaning the will was
never updated).

These Surrogate's Court records are not only open but also *free* (plus the
minor cost of any Xeroxes) to get in-person for years between 1964 and the
present. You can also get them prior to 1964, but they would need to be
ordered a few days ahead of time, because they're not on site. Really old
NYC Surrogate's Court papers have been microfilmed and may be available at
the New York State Archives.

These files sometimes have copies of people's death certificates filed in
them, and not necessarily the person who is deceased, but any prior executors
too, and possibly any beneficiaries who slightly pre-deceased the person
whose file you've pulled.

The best part is that if your relative filed their papers in Manhattan (New
York County), the office to do this is located right in 31 Chambers Street,
the same building that holds the Municipal Archives, so you can do it all in
one trip. They're open >from 9 to 5 on weekdays.

For example, my great-grandmother died in Manhattan in 1984. Her death
certificate is closed to me under NYC's strict records requirements, even
though I can prove descent. (It's not closed to her two children, but I'm
not about to go bother my elderly grandmother for notarized papers so I can
get a copy.) But her probate and estate papers were filed in Manhattan,
too, and they're open to everyone. So, years ago, I walked into the fourth
floor at Chambers Street and asked to get copy of her papers. They weren't
particularly interesting -- but they did have a copy of her husband's
brother's NYC death certificate filed in there amongst the documents. He had
died in Manhattan too, in 1983, and presumably they had to file a copy of his
death certificate with her papers to prove he could not be an executor
anymore (and he had no children). His 1983 death certificate would have been
off limits to me too - if I had gone through the usual routes.

There's more information about NYC Surrogate's Court in this PDF:
[MODERATOR NOTE: shortened URL - http://goo.gl/1q0Xca ]

Note that New York *State* (not City) started restricting public access to
some of its Surrogate Court's records starting in February 2014, but it seems
they might only be doing that for records of guardianship and similar files,
not for all probates and estate files. So it may be possible to use this tip
in state courts too, not just the city.

- Brooke Schreier Ganz
Sausalito, California

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