On row after row of shelving covering two floors of the New York City Surrogate’s Courthouse, records of the City and the New York courts dating back as far as 1674 have been stored for decades. According to the New York Times, many of these historic documents are being moved to the New York State Archives and the City’s Department of Records for better preservation and restoration. Some will be digitized to be more widely available for research. Highlights of the records mentioned by the Times include shelves of immigration documents from the 18th and 19th centuries. Court records include a lawsuit by Eliza Jumel for divorce from the elderly Aaron Burr, who died the day the divorce was granted, on grounds of infidelity. There are court papers from an 1857 case in which slaves had been transported from Virginia to New York by boat, en route to their owner’s new home in Texas. Chester A. Arthur, long before he became president in 1881, argued for release of the slaves once the boat docked in New York, where slavery had been abolished (the court held that “under the existing laws they were free, and were entitled to be discharged.” Lemmon v. People ex rel. Napoleon, 1857 WL 6808 (N.Y. Gen. Term. 1857), aff’d sub nom. Lemmon v. People, 20 N.Y. 562 (1860)).
Some of the records, originally sealed with wheat paste, have been chewed by rats. Some are on parchment, some in leather-bound books, and the earliest written on scrolls. Many have not been opened in over a century.
New York City Municipal Archives Digital Galleries