Monmouth County Surrogate to Digitize over 80,000 Estate Files (1967-1992)

Estates from 1967 to 1992 to be available on Surrogate’s Records Room computers

FREEHOLD, NJ – The conversion and indexing of over 80,000 microfiche estate records to a digitized format is under way in the Monmouth County Surrogate’s Office, announced Surrogate Rosemarie D. Peters. When the conversion is completed, the records, extending from 1967 to 1992, will be imported into the existing imaging software system and will be available on computers in the Surrogate’s Records Room in the County Hall of Records, Main Street, Freehold.

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Using the Online Collections – Ancestry vs. FamilySearch: Part B

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.

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New Jersey Estate Records: Surrogate’s Courts – Why is the year 1804 so important?

For an intimate revelation of social conditions in New Jersey during the first sixty-five years of English supremacy it would be difficult to imagine a volume richer in material than this. From about 1680 it was the general practice to deposit wills with the Provincial Secretaries, by whom they were filed or recorded—usually both,—together with inventories of estates, accounts of executors and administrators, and other papers pertaining to such matters, and many odd documents having no apparent relation thereto—as ante-nuptial contracts, marriage licenses, and the like. These records were brought together in 1790 or shortly thereafter, in the office of the Secretary of State at Trenton, where they are now carefully arranged and preserved.

~ William Nelson, 
Introductory Note on the Early Testamentary 
Laws and Customs of New Jersey, 1901

Although the Governors’ appointments for Surrogates’ within the counties came to be though the law giving them their posts for a 5-year term, their duties were limited. In 1784, “An Act to ascertain the Power and Authority of the Ordinary and his Surrogates &c” was passed to further define the duties of Surrogates and extended duties to granting the Probates of Wills, Letters of Administration, Letters of Guardianship and Marriage-Licenses, and to the Hearing and determining of estate disputes.[1] The common practice for the county surrogates to send wills which they had proved to the Register of the Prerogative Court to be recorded.[2] No original wills or inventories were kept locally with the Surrogate.

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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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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!