Genealogy Group makes trip to Manchester Probate Court

By Lisa Stone - ReminderNews
Manchester - posted Thu., Sep. 19, 2013
Probate Court staff members - Judge Michael Darby, Daniel Angelica, Debra Daniels and Linda Scanlon - greet the Genealogy Group. Photos by Lisa Stone.
Probate Court staff members - Judge Michael Darby, Daniel Angelica, Debra Daniels and Linda Scanlon - greet the Genealogy Group. Photos by Lisa Stone.

Judge Michael Darby of the Manchester Probate Court gave a tour and a brief history of the court to the Genealogy Group on Sept. 10.  Darby answered several of the group's questions about the method of doing research through the probate court, which is located at 66 Center St., in Manchester.

The probate court, which used to be known as the "Hall of Records," became Probate Court in 1698.  Before a formal building was established for the probate court, Darby’s predecessors kept all records at their houses.  As the years passed, the records accumulated, so they needed to be kept in a designated building for safe keeping.  Today, some records are kept at the town hall in a vault that only the probate employees have access to, whereas the other records are at the probate court itself.

“This building was once used as a jail," said Darby. "That is why there are cells in the basement. Today, there are no doors on the cells, but it is interesting to see them just the same. Back in the day, tramps were allowed to sleep off their over indulgence of liquor and leave in the morning. I guess it was a lot like 'The Andy Griffith Show.'” 

The jobs of the probate court are more expansive than most people think. Darby said his office handles not only the settling of estates, but the guardianship of mentally retarded people and the guardianships of children. “It really bothers me to have to take children away from their parents and place them either in the foster care system or have them become adopted, but the alternative is to allow them to have a dysfunctional and sometimes dangerous childhood. To not give them the best chance at a great childhood would be even worse,” proclaimed Darby. “I must say that it really does my heart good to grant adoptions to children that came from a terrible situation and are now going to a great home.”

Pat Christie-Brooks asked the judge, “What happens to all the really old documents?  Do they get shredded?” Darby was pleased to answer that although he had the right to shred the documents, he thought that would be a terrible waste of history. The old documents are handwritten and the copies of the documents are also handwritten.  There are no exact copies. The fact that each one is unique due to the fact that there were no copy machines in that era, Darby said made it worthwhile to save each piece of paper.

The probate judges in Connecticut are elected, not appointed. “That is why I want to do my best for the citizens,” said Darby. “If they are not happy with my running of the office and don’t feel that we are here for them, they will not re-elect me. I work for the citizens of Manchester and I make sure my entire office treats people with courtesy and respect. The Connecticut probate court is the oldest indigenous court in the new world. I am very proud to be a part of that.”

Linda LoSchiavo of Vernon said, “I found this very interesting. I learned a lot and had fun doing it. There is a lot of history in that building.  I loved it.”

Dan Ricard, a private investigator, said,  “I am here to learn how to trace someone’s lineage as well as find information about current situations,” said Ricard. “This will help me with my job, I’m sure.”

Since the Civil War, there have only been eight judges at the Manchester Probate Court. “The judges didn’t have to be an attorney until two and a half years ago,” said Darby.  “I can’t imagine doing this job without formal education in the law.”

Darby prides himself on the fact that he offers customer service to the Manchester citizens.  He introduced some of his staff to the group. In attendance were Debra Daniels, Linda Scanlon and Daniel Angelica.  “My staff is here to serve you.  You just need to ask us for what you need and then give us a day or so to find it.  We are happy to help,” he said.

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