What? Wait! You’re Telling Me There Are No Indexes!?

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 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!

Post-June 1878
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:

Vital Record 1901 1902 1903
Births 37,711 38,598 51,494
Marriages 17,041 18,950 19,787
Deaths 32,114 31,874 32,227

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:

Vital Record 1901 1902 1903
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.

Vital Record Arrangement
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.

16 thoughts on “What? Wait! You’re Telling Me There Are No Indexes!?

  1. Thanks for the info. It’s very helpful to have it in such a clear and concise form. I need to print this out and keep it near my computer. And I guess I need to plan a road trip to the NJSA 🙂 I have been impressed by the quick response time when I submit records requests to them. They must have a great staff working there!

  2. Can you please clarify what is available for the May 1848 through May 1878 group? My 3g grandparents were apparently married in Newark (Essex Co) in June of 1858. Are actual marriage certificates available or are only images from the record books available? I ask because after seeing two different online index entries I ordered the images of the Township and City of Newark register books. Each book has an entry for a wedding performed on June 5, probably by the same person (one says “G(?) Sandford Justice of the Peace ” and the other says “G Sandford Esq(?) Justice Officer.” One is for the marriage of Frank Spitz to Johanna Sap whereas the other is for the marriage of Frank Fitz to Johanna Lapp. I found an online (typed) church index for my 2g grandmother’s baptism which lists the parents as Franz Spitz and Johanna Lapp and what I believe to be my 3g grandfather’s second wife’s Civil War pension record which lists her husband as Frank and Franz Spitz on different documents and includes a death certificate for his first wife (who would be my 3g grandmother) which lists her name at the time of death as Johanna P. Spitz. If marriage certificate images are available I would love to find out if my 3g grandmother’s parents names are available and whether the two different entries in the Township and City registration books are two inconsistent trasncriptions from one wedding or whether there were really two weddings that day. I have had little luck in finding any Sap family in Newark but have found Lapp families. It also occurs to me that the same pen-stroke shape with slight spacing change is used for a cursive L and S, thus increasing the chance that two readings of the same handwritten word could yield different transcription. Thank you!

    • The Registers of Births/Marriage/Deaths for 1848-1878 are bound pages that were submitted by local registrars to the Bureau of Vital Statistics (today’s NJDOH). Certificates do not come into use until June of 1878.

      Without seeing the copies of what you’re referencing, it’s hard to give you an explanation of the differences that you found. Can you provide the citations (online sources) for each?

      And yes, I would agree with you the L/S are often mistaken when transcriptions are compiled.

      • Thank you for clarifying. What I have is probably the best evidence I can obtain for an 1858 marriage since the certificates were not used until 1878.

        I requested from the NJ State Archives: Marriage Records, May 1848-May 1878
        Reference Number: Bk. K : Pg. 337 and for the second record: Bk. K : Pg. 402
        Groom: Spitz, Franke, for the second record: Fitz, Frank
        Bride: Sap, Johanna, for the second record: Lapp, Johanna
        Location: Newark (for both)
        Place of Registration: Essex Co. : Newark (for both)
        Marriage Date:06-05-1858 (for both)

        The top of the page I received from The Archives labelled Volume K, page 337 says “Return of Marriages in the TOWNSHIP of Newark…” and the page I received from Volume K, p 402 says “Return of Marriages in the CITY of Newark…” The Township book page contains exclusively marriages officiated by various Justice Officers, whereas the City book contains a mixture of marriages officiated by clergy and Justices of the Peace.

    • Marcie, a quick look at Liber K that contains Essex County marriages for the two entries (p.337 & 402) you listed do show that the marriage is recorded twice. The full list for July 1857-June 1858 are numbered by the City Clerk. His submission is dated 16 July 1858. My interpretation is that Frank & Johanna’s marriage return from the JP is recorded twice.

      • Thank you for the interpretation! I had been trying to determine if it was one marriage entered twice or two similar but separate marriages. Please forgive my cluelessness, but can you explain where you found the date (16 July 1858) for the county clerk’s submission? I only have the top part of each of the two pages I cited in volume K and I cannot find a date on which the information was submitted. Is it elsewhere on the page or on other pages in the same book? Thank you again for all of your help! I really appreciate it as I am new to NJ marriage records.

      • The certification for this reporting period (1857-58) is on page 308 of Volume K. I’m not sure why the pages are out of “numerical order”, but that is the order they were bound into the Liber.
        michelle at jerseyrootsgenealogy dot com

      • I was unable to reply to your last answer below, so I am replying here. Thank you very much for the information about page 308. I had only received copies of the top sections of pages 337 and 402 so I am grateful for the additional information!

  3. What a great post! One thing I have struggled with is variances in spelling when doing research. For example, I called my Aunt and asked who was “Fasciola.” She said “nope, that’s Fieramosca! When they would collect information about residents, they would just guess on spellings.” Definitely makes things a little more challenging.

  4. Michelle, this is such a helpful guide. Thank you so much for sharing this. Time to print it and slip it into plastic for future reference. See you at the archives!

  5. Thank you for the much needed post!
    Perhaps you can guide me to another area of need for me; my uncle Frederick H Stevens was an Alderman in Jersey City (10th Ward), 1899-1903, I’m not certain beyond that. My only source has been old newspapers, and I did glean one grainy photo-sketch from the newspaper as well.
    I am trying to find some sort of official Public Servant list for that time frame.
    Can you suggest a direction for me? I am out of state, and my librarians here were of no help.
    Thanks for guidance.

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