A general sentiment that I read quite frequently on the messages boards is that doing research in New Jersey is so difficult. Digging deeper, I find that the trouble is with the time period… the early 20th century. The trouble isn’t with the records themselves; the trouble is the lack of indexes!
Vital Records in New Jersey
Researchers are fortunate that New Jersey began recording state-wide registration of births, marriages and deaths in 1848. However, the multiple formats and document arrangements in the past 168 years often stymie the progress of researchers seeking records for their relatives.
From May 1848 through May 1878, the filing by local municipal registrars for births, marriages and deaths are arranged annually by fiscal year (July-June) and bound in register books. The format has limited information – date of event, name, sex, age, parents, and date of filing. Access to the indexed information from these register books can be accomplished digitally:
- New Jersey Births and Christenings, 1660-1980
- New Jersey Marriages, 1678-1985
- New Jersey Deaths and Burials, 1720-1988
New Jersey State Archives (NJSA)
Once you have the index citation, you can order the microfilm via FamilySearch or submit a mail reference request to the NJSA. I am very happy to report that most, if not all, mail reference requests are completed in less than four weeks. That’s an amazing turn-around time for a state agency!
As with everything, after a length of time enhancements are usually made. After 30 years, new legislation introduced a change that instituted the use of certificates for recording vital events. These new forms expanded the information to be submitted and provide genealogists with more detailed records for births, marriages and deaths. Note: The filing process in New Jersey is completed on a municipal level, and then submitted to the state Department of Health for recordkeeping. Historically, County Clerks in New Jersey were only responsible for receiving and recording minister’s returns of marriages performed. This duty ended in the 1870s.
But how do you get to those certificates for 1878-1900? This is a process that throws a curve to researchers. The indexes to this period have been microfilmed and the data has been indexed within the FamilySearch Historical Records Collections listed above. The physical microfilm is also available to use at the State Archives in Trenton. However, the actual certificates were not filmed by FamilySearch.
Another major caveat with these register books is the indexing format. They were created using the state’s fiscal year (July-June). Thus, researchers find themselves looking at multiple register books for the same year, if an exact date isn’t known. However, once an entry is located, the next step to the certificate is fairly straight-forward. Take note of the County, Town (location) and line number of the entry. This line number equates to the certificate number. For example, an entry on line 78 within “G” is certificate number G-78 for the fiscal year and county/town. Remember, it is possible to find multiple “G-78” certificates for each recording period. Be sure to cite the proper County and location on each record to avoid future confusion. Also, if someone can tell me which state employee was fixated on creating those fiscal year indexes, I would be forever grateful.
Again, after a 22 year period of filings, another change was made to the arrangement of the certificates. For the years 1901 through 1903, certificates are assigned chronologically a certificate number by each calendar year:
And here begins the tricky part for the indexes. Currently, the indexes for 1901-03 and the corresponding certificates are only available at the NJSA in Trenton. Each of the index formats varies slightly for this short period:
|Births||Name of child; names of parents; certificate number||Name of child; names of parents; certificate number||Name of child; certificate number|
|Marriages||Name of Husband; Maiden Name of Wife; certificate number||Name of Husband; Maiden Name of Wife; certificate number||Name of Husband; Date of Marriage; certificate number; Column for Maiden Name of wife is blank.|
|Deaths||Name and certificate number; some notations on locations for multiple same name entries; notations for race [B- black]||Name and certificate number; some notations on locations for multiple same name entries
*Published in book form.
|Name and certificate number; some notations on locations for multiple same name entries; notations for race [B- black]|
Early 20th century = No Indexes!
Yes, we’ve finally arrived at the bad news. Well, sort of. Beginning in 1904, another change was made to the arrangement of the certificates filed with the Department of Health. Certificates are arranged alphabetically by calendar year. In essence, this eliminates the need for an index for births and deaths. However, marriages filed by Groom’s surname leave a gap of finding women under their maiden name. Twentieth-century certificates are available on microfilm at the NJSA in Trenton.
|Births||1904-1923: Annually in alphabetical order by surname|
|Marriages||1904-1944: Annually in alphabetical order by Groom’s surname|
|Deaths||1904-1948: Annually in alphabetical order by surname
1949-1955: Annually assigned a certificate number
But there is a caveat to share with you! Closing the maiden name gap… If you’re seeking marriage records for the period of 1904-1948, you have the ability to utilize the Bride’s Index on microfilm at the NJSA in Trenton. The microfilming is complete through 1945; however, the Indexes through 1948 and corresponding certificates through 1944 have been shared with the NJSA by the NJDOH. Watch for upcoming announcements on availability in the Microforms Room.
Researching in New Jersey really isn’t that bad. While the indexes and records may not be available on the Internet, access at the New Jersey State Archives offers availability to researchers.
Blogger’s Note: The information in this post pertains to research at the New Jersey State Archives, not the NJ Department of Health. While mail reference handled by NJSA is for the period 1848-1915, In-Person research does offer access to those later years referenced in the above table.