New Jersey Estate Records: What exactly are the Secretary of State Pre-1901 Estate files?

For researchers, it is often a rare occurrence to “run” into appointed officials and actually begin to take a liking to them. In this case, I’m going on record and saying that Secretary of State Samuel D. Dickinson is fast becoming a favorite. He was appointed in 1902 and remained in office until 1912. During his tenure, I can credit his office with two accomplishments for which genealogists today are most thankful – the enumeration format for the 1905 State Census of New Jersey along with the conservation and arrangement of the pre-1901 estate files.

Upon taking office in 1902, Secretary Dickinson found that he inherited a collection of records that were overused and in disarray.[1] He charged his deputy, J.B.R. Smith, to the task of inventorying the estate records and forming an arrangement system. And what a task he had! Mr. Smith grouped the estate files into four distinct groups:

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New Jersey Estate Records – A Primer

Disclaimer:  This primer assumes that the reader understands the actions of probating a will and the administration of an estate.

As genealogists, we all know that research rarely is straight-forward and it often throws us curve balls whenever it can.  Understanding the hierarchy and collections of estate files (aka probate records) can be daunting for many doing New Jersey research.  The first key factor beyond location is timeframe.  Folks, it is extremely important to remember that New Jersey has been keeping these types of records since 1670!

Early History

We can track New Jersey’s growth from the New Netherlands’ (Dutch) and New Sweden (Finnish and Swedish) settlements in the early 1600s to its birth in 1664 through an English royal grant as “Nova Cæsarea” and to the Quintipartite 1676 deed, where the colony was split into the “twin provinces” of East and West Jersey, right up through statehood in 1787.[1]   This multi-faceted evolution of today’s New Jersey had a large impact on the record-keeping of estate records.

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Family History Month celebrates 25 years!

Happy 25th Birthday Family History Month!

Started by the Monmouth County (NJ) Genealogy Society in 1990, the Family History Month initiative hit mainstream genealogy in 2001.  Since then, it’s popularity has steadily risen and today, you can read about national coordination of events to celebrate:

And a bit closer to home, I’ve compiled a list of New Jersey events in October:

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New Jersey Estate Records, 1670-Present

To the readers of JerseyRootsGenealogy…

With all the fanfare that was generated by the last month’s release of Ancestry’s new collection — New Jersey, Wills and Probate Records, 1656-1999 — and subsequent changes to the collection last week which included a name change to New Jersey, Wills and Probate Records, 1785-1924, I would like to announce the following multi-part series to be published shortly:

  • New Jersey Estate Records – A Primer
  • Records Collections – What exactly are the Secretary of State Pre-1901 Estate files?
  • Surrogate’s Courts – Why is the year 1804 so important?
  • Using the Online Collections – Ancestry vs. FamilySearch

Stay tuned… I promise it’ll be worth the wait!


Using Facebook for New Jersey Genealogy

Last week, I was the featured guest on The Forget Me Not Hour: Your Ancestors Want Their Stories to Be Told radio show hosted by Jane E. Wilcox.  She invited me to speak about creating virtual genealogy communities. As a founding member of the Facebook group Nashi Predky / Our Ancestors for Ukrainian Genealogy, I have been willing to talk about starting online communities using social media.  Prior to this interview, I presented at the APG’s Professional Management Conference during day one of their poster sessions.

My poster “Creating a Virtual Community:  Nashi Predky (Our Ancestors) Unites Ukrainian Researchers” focused on the creation of a Facebook group to fill researcher’s need of an online “home” for Ukrainian genealogy. By using the social media platform of Facebook, researchers have the ability to use live arena to get and share information.  While being “only” on Facebook does limit the group’s reach, our success is definitely measurable.  Our group gained over 830 members within its first 12 months!

So, how does this relate to New Jersey genealogy?  The answer is quite simple… Were you aware that there are 40+ groups that focus one NJ genealogy and history?  If not, maybe I can convince you to become a member of one or more!

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South Jersey Church Records… Across the Delaware River

Researchers with roots in South Jersey, particularly those in Burlington and Camden counties, should pay special attention to a collection from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) in Philadelphia.  Officially titled —  Pennsylvania and New Jersey Church and Town Records (1708-1985) —  this collection was indexed, digitized and made available through Ancestry in January 2012. The bulk of the church records within the collection comes from Protestant and Methodist church congregations.  However, additional material available includes cemeteries, funeral home records, historical societies, and newspapers.

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New Jersey Vital Records: What? How? Where? in 2015

I’ve updated a 2013 JRG post on accessing vital records in New Jersey:

Yes, unfortunately, obtaining vital records can be a challenge in New Jersey if you don’t know where to start your search. On March 3, 1848 New Jersey passed “An ACT relating to the registry and returns of births, marriages, and deaths, in the state of New Jersey” which required town clerks to annually submit a certified copy of births, marriages and deaths that occurred in their jurisdictions. This law created a wonderful set of records, we as genealogists, use to solidify our family branches, twigs and roots.

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