FamilySearch has made great strides in providing digital records collections available freely for researchers and currently, there are eleven New Jersey Historical Records Collections. The focus of ‘Part B’ in the comparison of Ancestry vs FamilySearch is the collection – New Jersey Probate Records, 1678-1980. It has been online since June 2014. The collection is comprised of digitized images from the microfilming of the County Surrogates’ Courts in the early 1970s. The records available include a variety of components: wills, administrations, bond, receipts, indexes, adoptions and more.
Unlike the Ancestry version of digitized microfilm images, this collection is only browsable, meaning users have to do the digital page-turning. It is important for researchers to know that each county had the choice of organizational method and indexing format of their records. Smaller or more rural counties chose the simple format of alphabetical estate indexes and chronological recording. While other counties, mostly those with a high number of estate filings, chose a more complex method for indexing. Some chose to use the Russell Index (L-M-R-T key letter) or Split Column index methods when creating their “Surrogate’s Estate Index to Dockets”.
Once you have selected the browsable collection, New Jersey Probate Records, 1678-1980, you will get a choice of counties. While the Garden State does have 21 fine counties, only 20 are represented. The records of the Surrogate’s Court of Morris County were not microfilmed, thus unable to be included in this digital collection.
Researcher’s Caveat: If you were to browse the lists of records for each county, the list of choices will vary. The higher the population in the county, the more records created that could be microfilmed. Also, the microfilming project used the “72-year rule”, so most estate files (loose papers and such) were only filmed from the beginning to 1900. As for the indexes, it is “hit or miss” with the counties. Some are filmed through 1971-72, others end earlier. For example, Hudson County Surrogate’s Docket Index goes through 1953, but don’t believe the start year of 1804 as the county wasn’t formed until 1840.
Tools to Use
Decedents who died testate up through 1900 can be easily located using the publication Index of Wills, Inventories, Etc. in the office of the Secretary of State Prior to 1901 published in 1912. Post-1900, researchers will have to surmise a location using other records, such as US Federal and NJ State censuses, to ascertain the residence of the decedent and then consult to corresponding Surrogate’s Court records. For post-1804, remember that you should be consulting the Surrogate’s Index to Dockets to be certain there were no estate proceedings for your decedent within that county.
To read more on any of the FamilySearch Historical Records Collections, consult the FS Wiki. Here is link to the FamilySearch Wiki: New Jersey Probate Records.
SUMMARY: Overall, I do think that the New Jersey Probate Records, 1678-1980 collection offers a fine selection of digitized original probate records for researchers, albeit in ‘raw form’. However, the key to success with this collection is knowing how to use the available records within each County. The multi-step process will be discussed an upcoming blog post. There’s just too much info to put into one post on this subject. Remember, this series is up to post #5!
Blogger’s Comment: FamilySearch, if you’re listening, it would be wonderful if you could expand the screen to view the entire list of browsable items.
- Take A Closer Look: Examining NJ Estate Records, 1600s – 1700s – 1800s