New Jersey genealogy has its challenges and this RecordClick genealogist loves them! And researching New Jersey genealogy is high on my personal top ten lists for seeking out wonderful tidbits of information.
Let’s begin with government and religious records which provide the most hope for family historians who are doing ancestor searches in the time period before official census and vital records collections were instituted. When conducting a New Jersey genealogy search, government records may provide genealogical researchers with the biggest challenge. That is because the development of the various levels of government has taken a unique twist in New Jersey that affects New Jersey genealogy.
First, there was East Jersey and West Jersey. Then, counties and towns began to be created. Today, there are villages, cities, towns, boroughs and municipalities. According to John P. Snyder in “The Story of New Jersey’s Civil Boundaries, 1606-1968”, in 1968 New Jersey had 53 cities, 21 towns, 257 boroughs, four villages, and 232 townships. Add municipalities and counties and that’s a lot of government records for your New Jersey genealogy search. Whew!
Don’t let those numbers be overwhelming. A family history researcher needs to think small because the ancestors probably lived in one place at a time so that the first challenge is to find them. The next step in the New Jersey genealogy search is to determine the civil area where they lived and where the records, if they exist, are located. Here are some dates to remember because they may mark when the name changed in the area where those ancestors in New Jersey lived:
• 1675 – East Jersey and West Jersey were created.
• 1682-83 – The four counties of Bergen, Essex, Middlesex and Monmouth were created.
• 1693 – The designation of towns and townships in East Jersey was formalized. By this time, twelve formal townships had been created in East Jersey.
• 1700 – As of this date, 24 formal townships had been created in West Jersey.
• 1702 – East Jersey and West Jersey were reunited.
• 1702-76 – Twelve townships were formed. The cities of Burlington, Perth Amboy, and New Brunswick were created as well as the boroughs of Trenton and Elizabeth.
• 1798 – The New Jersey Legislature passed “An Act incorporating the Inhabitants of Townships, designating their Powers, and regulating their Meetings.” There were 104 townships.
• 1877 – An act regarding the process of cities separating from a township was passed.
• 1878 – Borough Acts passed.
• 1888, 1892, 1895 – Town incorporation laws were passed. The first two (1888 and 1892) were declared unconstitutional.
• 1891 – Village incorporation law passed. It was repealed in 1960.
• 1896 – A number of the Borough Acts were repealed.
• 1897 – New laws regarding boroughs were enacted.
• 1917 – A number of acts were passed regarding lower levels of government. They included a municipal annexation act, name changes, and consolidation.
Today, every property in New Jersey is in some type of local jurisdiction. The three basic categories of these jurisdictions are: 1. county; 2. town or borough; 3. city, village or municipality.
So what does this mean? Let’s look at Elizabeth, New Jersey, which is in the northeastern part of the State of New Jersey, as an example for you genealogical detectives doing New Jersey genealogy research:
1740 – Formed by royal charter in Essex County.
1789 – Re-chartered by state.
1790 – Reduced in size
1805 – Reduced by portion in Rahway twp.
1808 – Reduced, as part formed Union twp.
1834 – Reduced, as part formed Clinton twp.
1855 – Became Elizabeth city, together with township.
1857 – Set off to Union County.
1861 – Part to Linden twp.
1863 – Part to Union twp. (from Elizabeth “township”)
1908 – Part from Union twp.
1920 – Part from Union twp.
1932 – Part from Roselle borough.
1693 – Formed as Elizabeth-Town twp.
1713 – Boundary changed with Newark twp.
1741 – Part to Somerset County.
1794 – Part to Springfield twp.
1798 – Incorporated as Elizabeth twp.
1804 – Part to Rahway twp.
1834 – Part to Clinton twp.
1855 – Township and borough became Elizabeth city.
Elizabeth is an extreme case, but it demonstrates how governmental boundaries can change and the importance of historical maps. In the 1700s and the early 1800s, Elizabeth township and Elizabeth borough were not the same place. The descendants of a family that lived in Elizabeth borough when it was chartered in Essex County in 1740 may be residing in Elizabeth city in Union County 115 years later and still be in the same house.
Confused, dear family history researcher? That is entirely O.K. Begin big by researching land records, naturalizations, marriages, and court records on the county level. Then, of course, don’t forget to “follow the money” with tax lists which may lead the New Jersey genealogical researcher to the other levels of government – townships and boroughs. Someone has to pay the salaries of the civic leaders and employees. There may be assessment records and voting records at more than one level of government. On the lower levels of government – villages and townships – expect to find things like dog license applications, requests for building permits, or violations of local ordinances.
As a New Jersey genealogy researcher, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Township, village or municipal offices and their staffs may be easy to find. Or not. A local librarian might also be able to provide information on where governmental offices are and what New Jersey genealogical records may be found for your ancestor search. Many townships do have web sites, so try an internet search. Short histories and activities of the area are often found on a township web site.
Still lost in New Jersey genealogy? You’re not alone. Genealogical searches in New Jersey aren’t easy. The experts in New Jersey genealogists will assist you. We are knowledgeable in searching to get that missing document at that certain governmental office–wherever it is. We will get you organized and prepare that special family history research whether it is New Jersey genealogy or so many other places!