Researching families in colonial New Jersey through early statehood can be challenging and researchers often need to look at a variety of record sets. An often overlooked group of records is that of petitions to the government – governor, legislature, etc. These letters from the citizens of the province reflect sentiments ranging from taxation, hunting, war and even opposing expressing opposition to elected officials.
The compilation — New Jersey Petitions by John D. Stemmons — is comprised of 5 volumes spanning 1740, 1745-1794 and utilizes the petitions found within the manuscript collection of Legislative Records at the New Jersey State Archives. Researchers will find over 20,000 entries of inhabitants in New Jersey that cannot be replicated by any other record set for the time period.
In preparing these volumes, the compiler chose to use petitions that generally had more than 10 names and a location given. Those petitions with less than these criteria are excluded from the abstracts.
In the beginning of each volume contains a List of Petitions or inventory of documents with a basic description that was used to extract the signers’ names. All name entries are presented in alphabetical order by surname. Due to the recording clerks’ interpretation of surnames, it is important to check variant spellings.
Benefits of Petitions/Memorials
Beyond the obvious boon of locating your ancestor’s name on a petition for a known locality, other positives include seeing original signatures or lack of by using their ‘mark’, familial relations (son of), and even marital status of female signers.
Where to find Volumes 1-5
A quick search of WorldCat shows that the Allen County (IN) Public Library, Wisconsin Historical Society, Houston (TX) Public Library, Library of Congress (DC) and the Family History Library (Salt Lake) have the complete set. This is in addition it being in the collections of the New Jersey State Archives in Trenton and Rutgers University Alexander Library in New Brunswick.
Unfortunately, if you are looking to add this set to your home library, you will have to look very hard. The publisher cannot be located online and using AbeBooks.com, I could not locate used copies for sale.
Overall, the compilation is a wonderful resource to use for mid-18th century New Jersey research. If you have not consulted the set, I urge you to do so.
 Department of Education, New Jersey State Library, Bureau of Archives and History, Manuscript Collection, 1680s-1970s (Series #: SEDSL006); BAH: Legislative Records, 1724-1796 (Boxes 1-12 to 1-16); New Jersey State Archives, Trenton.
 Unlike its sister colonies in New England, the Province of New Jersey did not continue the practice of recording births, marriages and deaths with town clerks. Also, the US Federal censuses for 1790-1820 are not extant and church records for the early to mid-1700s may not be complete for early congregations due to records loss.
 Memorial – A document presented to the legislative body, or the executive, by one or more individuals, containing a petition or representation of facts. (Black’s Law Dictionary, 4th Edition, page 1136).