The Incredible Value of Probation Records

It took a remarkable amount of patience, persistence, and kindness with government officials and archivists—well over two years’ worth—but my client and friend finally did it. She got a copy of her research subject’s probation records from 1940s Brooklyn. What neither of us was prepared for was the volume of detailed information we’d find in the ninety-seven pages of that probation file: information about her immigrant subject’s origins, background, parents, husbands, children, and close associates, in addition to the details of the case and its participants, observational notes taken throughout the subject’s probation, and correspondence with various government agencies and charitable organizations with a particular interest in the subject or her case.

Relatively little has been written for genealogical researchers about probation records, and a brief exploration of the record type suggests that the process of finding them can vary significantly in different locations. They may be currently managed by the pertinent county or district court, the Department of Probation, the Department of Justice, the District Attorney’s Office, or local archives. In this particular case, the record was found in an unprocessed collection of Kings County Supreme Court probation case files at the New York City Municipal Archives. Suffice to say, finding probate records is too complicated a subject to tackle in one brief article. At the moment, I simply want to introduce this record set to a broader audience.

Ninety-seven pages in a single PDF can be a little overwhelming when you’re trying to navigate to a particular section, or topic, or data point. So I did what I do when I get a Civil War pension application file of a similar length, for example. I created a quick and easy table of contents. That’s what I’ve copied below. Go ahead. Give it a gander. And imagine what you could find out about your ancestor’s life with just one file like this one.

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  1. December 17, 2021 8:54 pm
    • January 4, 2022 12:34 pm

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