Navigating New York Probate Records on FamilySearch

FamilySearch added many New York probate records recently and I have been having some good luck finding records.  But, it can be a bit of a process to get to the records.  So instead of just posting a copy of one of my finds, I'll post about the process I went through to get to it.

The person I will be looking for is Francis Plaine Smith.  I do not know when he died or where.  But, I do know he was living in Oyster Bay, Queens, New York at the time of the 1870 US Census and that he does not appear in any subsequent censuses.

1) First I went to FamilySearch and narrowed the collections down to just New York:

2) The collection I want, "New York, Probate Records, 1629-1071" is at the bottom.  I'm going to click on "Browse Images" to the right of the collection title.  Once I do, this comes up:

3) A listing of New York counties appears.  Since Francis' last known address was in Queens (circled in red above), I'm clicking that one.  Then this appears:

4) A listing of everything available for that county comes up and I scroll up and down (note the red arrow) until I reach what I am looking for.  Not all counties have a general index of names volume(s), though each individual record volume (i.e. "Letters of Administration, 1864-1868 vol G") seems to have a name index towards the front.  In the case of Queens, there is a general index of names and I clicked on the one I believed Francis was in, "General card index 1787-1900 Rhoads, William-Zubrod, Charles."  This opens up the volume and I hunt around until I find who I believe to be my Francis P(laine) Smith:

Note the image field box (within the red box).  I began my search by typing in a random number in this box, then another until I had narrowed my search down to the image I wanted.  The previous image also concerns this same Francis P. Smith:
With these images (as with all images on FamilySearch) I can make viewing adjustments (in the red box), save to my computer or print (encircled in red) or skip ahead to the previous or next image (encircled in blue).

5) According to the card above, Francis' will can be found in volume 4, page 231.
I'm going to click on Queens again (encircled in red above) to get back to a listing of everything available for that county (see screenshot 3 above).  I scroll down to wills and look for the volume I want, which is "Wills 1875-1898 vol 4-6."  To make sure this is the right volume, I look for an index at the beginning.  On image 6, I find:
Francis' information is in the red box.  I know I'm in the right place.

6)  Next, I want to find page 231.  Page numbers and image numbers rarely seem to correlate, but I'll type in 231 in the image field box (see screenshot 4 above).  It takes me to pages 440 and 441, so I know to halve my next search.  I type in various numbers until I reach page 231, which ends up being on image 124:
After reading the will, I know for sure that this Francis P. Smith and my Francis Plaine Smith are one and the same.  It is a wonderful document that not only gives me Francis' death date and place, but also a listing of his living brother and many nieces and nephews as well as their places of residence in 1877.  With a name like 'Smith,' several of these people were brick walls for me before this document gave me locations in which to search for them.

I am so thankful that FamilySearch added these documents.  If you have New York ancestors this collection is certainly worth a look.  I hope this makes navigating FamilySearch easier, if not I'd be happy to help.

Disclosure: I am in no way affiliated with FamilySearch or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, nor did I receive any remuneration of any kind from anyone for writing this post.


  1. Well done...I missed that these were available now. I'm making a list...

  2. This is a nice brief navigation guide. Researchers should realize that in many cases only a few types of, or limited date-ranges of types of, records have been uploaded - and it is not always obvious what material is missing. For Seneca County, for instance, Will Book A2 is missing, and for most or perhaps all Counties the estate files which may have extremely helpful affidavits are not available. Yet every County has its pluses and minuses. Researchers should look at the FHL Catalog for each County, looking at categories other than the catch-all "Probate Records" listing which has a lot more than just probate-of-wills material. In many instances the GSU and FHL did not microfilm all records held by the Surrogate Courts or earlier authorities or the appellate courts that handled many estate matters (whether in law or in chancery). So as usual, what's "on the web" is a pleasing and still tantalizing Tip of the Iceberg.


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