Background of New Jersey Vital Records
Genealogically, New Jersey is one of the better early states, as far as vital records go. It has kept continuous records of deaths, births, and marriages since May, 1848. Those records can be found at the New Jersey State Archives. The deaths and marriages are indexed through 1940, while the births are indexed through 1923. Researchers looking for transcribed records from May of 1848 to May of 1878 must request them in writing. Several consolidated indexes of events for that 30-year span exist, but some of them are more detailed than others.
Consolidated marriage and birth record indexes for 1878 to 1903 are extant. Groom only indexes for 1901 to 1903 are as well. Death indexes are arranged by registration period, which ran from July to June. An alphabetical index for 1901 to 1903 is available. Marriage records from 1904 onward are filed by year and alphabetically according to groom name. The state health department has a bridal index for 1901 onward.
From around 1670 onward, there was a colonial law in New Jersey that required births, deaths, and marriages to be recorded. There was also a law created much later, in 1799. However, neither of those laws were universally followed. In fact, only records from Piscataway and Woodbridge from that time period are extant. Rev. Joseph W. Dally published the Woodbridge records in 1750. A later reprint called them Vital Records of Woodbridge, New Jersey. Some of those records go back to the 1660s. The Piscataway records were published beginning in volume 2 (18960; 73 of Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society, 3d series. However, the original records are no longer available.
The New Jersey State Archives has early marriage bonds from 1711 to 1795 on file. Some of that information was published with some other marriage and church records in volume 22 of Documents Relating to the Colonial History of New Jersey, 1st Series, 42 vols. That collection is commonly called “New Jersey Archives.” It was later reprinted as William Nelson, New Jersey Marriage Records, 1665-1800. Charles Carroll Gardner also published a collection of bonds from 1727 to 1751. That collection is called The Genealogical Magazine of New Jersey (vols. 14 through 23). Many of those original records can be found at the New Jersey State Archives. The originals are generally more detailed than the published versions. Original records may include parent names if minors were involved. Bondsmen names may also be included.
From 1795 onward, county clerks were charged with keeping marriage records. Most of those records have been published or placed on microfilm at the New Jersey State Archives. Original marriage books or returns can also be found there for the following counties: Burlington, Cumberland, Essex, Mercer, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, Union.
The Rutgers University Alexander Library archives is home to a Department of Special Collections, which holds the original Middlesex County records. The following counties have individually published record books: Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Monmouth, Salem, Sussex.
The Genealogical Magazine of New Jersey has also published some county records, including the earliest records available for the counties of Morris, Essex, and Monmouth. Somerset County records can be found in the Somerset County Historical Quarterly. Some slave birth records, mainly from the early 1800s, can be found at the New Jersey State Archives. Two counties have also had their records published. Those records can be found in Book of black birth [sic] in Bergen County, N.J. between 1804 and 1844 as recorded in the Bergen County Clerk’s Office at Hackensack, as well as in Black Birth Book of Monmouth County, New Jersey, 1804-1848. The Genealogical Magazine of New Jersey 54 (1979): 83-94 contains Warren and Sussex County slave births. Researchers can also refer to the Guide to Vital Statistics Records In New Jersey for more information on available records.
From 1743 to 1850, the chancery court was primarily responsible for granting New Jersey divorces. However, some were also granted by the legislature. Those records can be found at the New Jersey State Archives. A collection called “Index of Colonial and State Laws of New Jersey Between the Years 1663-1903 Inclusive” can also be found at multiple libraries, including the New Jersey State Library. The records are also available in “New Jersey Legislative Divorces, 1778-1844,” The American Genealogist 34 (1958): 107-12. The original 1830 laws have been microfilmed. They can be found at the New Jersey State Library and at the New Jersey State Archives. The Chancery Court records for divorces up to 1850 are also housed at the archives. Indexes are available on microfilm up until 1900. Later records of divorce can be obtained from the Clerk of the Superior Court, Matrimonial Section, Hughes Justice Complex.