Jersey Genealogy: A Research Guide Using Local History Collections

By Andy Mccarthy, Librarian II
February 9, 2015
Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
Hudson County Atlas, Bayonne.

Atlas of Hudson County, Bayonne, NJ. 1919. Image ID: 3991145

“: a local pride; spring, summer, fall and the sea; a confession…” - William Carlos Williams, Paterson.

In 1609, Dutch explorer Henry Hudson sailed west from the port of Galway Bay in search of a northwest passage to Indo-Russia. Crossing the Atlantic, Hudson instead found northeast passage to New Jersey. The explorer sent men inland who returned with red and green tomatoes the size of bowling balls which they had seized from the food supplies of the Seminole indigenous tribes whom inhabited the stretch of Pine Bogs along the Union City River. Returning to Europe, Hudson and his men distributed their booty of tomatoes on the black markets of the Midlands and the Andalusian steppe, where the fruit eventually found its way to Southern Italy. So goes the genealogy of the pasta sauce.

If the truth of these facts provokes questioning, the local history resources related to New Jersey available in the New York Public Library's Milstein Division might prove a useful pursuit. The division holds an abundance of genealogical and historical material related to the state once known as a “barrel tapped at both ends,” given the migratory magnetism of the neighboring Big Apple and City of Brotherly Love.

Perhaps familiar to New Yorkers as a garden state of smokestacks, or surrogate playing field for the Jets and Giants, or otherworld of childhood memory, New Jersey bucks understanding from without and blinkers perspective from within. It is where Albert Einstein died and Joe Pesci was born; during the American Revolution, the colony was defended by the rebel father of Robert E. Lee and governed in exile by the Tory son of Benjamin Franklin; South Mountain Reservation in West Orange served as the shooting locale for The Great Train Robbery (1903), the archetype of movie westerns, produced by Thomas Edison, whose 60,000 square foot lab was down the hill off Northfield Avenue; and in 1981 Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco along Kittatinny Ridge in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area was the setting of grade-Z slasher franchise Friday the 13th. “The Voice” turns 100 this year, and the ref desk in Room 121 is ready for questions on The Chairman’s family history or his history with the Family.

My Jersey Lily.

Image ID: 1257088


While New Jersey was the first Mid-Atlantic state to legislate the registry of vital record information, in 1848, and the third in the U.S., it also has been lamented as infamously underdocumented, with gaping holes in the record because of British destruction of courthouses, churches and county repositories in the Revolutionary War, in addition to patterns of delinquent recordkeeping. 19th century Boards of Freeholders have been known to sell off pension documents as waste paper, and county clerks to chuck out marriage records over 20 years old. In 1997, using a calculation based on the ratio of historical publications to state population, the Task Force on New Jersey History determined that New Jersey ranked the lowest of the original thirteen states. However, as noted by legion NJ genealogist Kenn Stryker-Rodda, NYPL, in combination with the NY Historical Society and Brooklyn Historical Society, contains more “unofficial documents” on New Jersey than all the collections within the state itself.

“New Jersey genealogy,” says Stryker-Rodda, “is not for the lazy minded, the unimaginative, or those who demand quick results.” Collections in the Milstein Division now include the humongous addition of the unique Jersey resources formerly housed at the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society. Yet, while the NYPL catalog lists 121 entries under the subject heading “New Jersey—History,” searching “New York (N.Y.)–History” brings up 781 entries. The spike in curatorship of New York City’s past since the 1970s has yielded hundreds of documentaries, microhistories, neighborhood blogs, targeted guidebooks and revisionist museum exhibits, while in comparison New Jersey has benefited briefly from the best show in TV history, The Sopranos, to the worst, Jersey Shore.

New Jersey materials have been a highlight of research collection policy at the Local History and Genealogy Division since the inception of the New York Public Library. Whether appreciated or unfairly deprecated, the proximity to New York City, a symbiotic early colonial history, and a major legacy of cross-migration and industrial connections, qualify New Jersey’s past at NYPL as local history.

a proposed double-deck vehicular tunnel under the Hudson River (1919).

Proposed NYC-NJ Tunnel. 1919. Image ID: 810062

Local History

With a total area of 4.8 million acres, and 1,200 inhabitants per square mile, New Jersey is the most densely populated state in America. In land area only larger than Delaware, Connecticut and Rhode Island, New Jersey tallies 8.8 million people within 7,355 square miles; roughly twice the amount of residents of Ireland but nearly one-fourth the size.

New Jersey is a peninsula, with only 48 miles of border out of a total 480 that are land-based. Traditionally, migration to New Jersey was aquatic; into the ports of Newark and Perth Amboy from Long Island and New England, down the Passaic River from New York State , and up or across the Delaware River from Pennsylvania.

What colonial proprietors in the 17th and 18th centuries once officially delineated as East and West Jersey is today perceived in the idioms of North and South Jersey. North Jersey is roughly the seaport crook of hyperpopulation and industry that converges with New York City, with the stretch of Highlands bordering New York State that includes a patch of the Appalachian Trail. South Jersey is anchored in Delaware Bay by Cape May, flanked at the ocean by Atlantic City and coordinated east of Philadelphia across the Delaware River by the city of Camden. The state capital of Trenton is too equatorial to easily fit in either domain, and the New Jersey coastline, “down the shore,” from Sandy Hook Bay down to Cape May, straddles both sections, whether proprietary or imaginary. Summerers in Belmar, N.J. refer to Union County as “up north,” while on a clear day the Rockaways in Queens might be visible from the beach, and Atlantic City is still a two hour drive south.

Bayonne Bridge

Bayonne Bridge. Image ID: 730854F

New Jersey was known as the “Corridor State” in the American Revolution, the “connector of North and South.” If the Mason-Dixon line had extended to the Atlantic Ocean, six counties in New Jersey would fall south of the border. Conversely, between 1685-1692, Boston was the capital of New Jersey, when King James, the former Duke of York, corralled all the New England colonies under one short-lived dominion. In the Civil War era NJ was sometimes referred to as a “border state” because of its strong Democratic politics and softness on slavery. When George McClellan, former Major-General of the Union Army, ran against President Lincoln on the Democratic ticket in 1864, he lived in West Orange, NJ.

In the late 18th and early 19th century, Jersey gave women and blacks suffrage rights equal to white male property-owners, on an alleged typographical error that was soon revoked, and was “the last state in the north to abolish slavery.” However, the inductive Quaker presence in early East Jersey led to the subtle initiation of free African-Americans as landowners in the Shrewsbury area south of the Navesink River. Monmouth County Deed Books show multiple real estate transactions involving free blacks, dating just before passage of the Gradual Abolition Act (1804) through the end of the Civil War. The town of Fair Haven was a viable active black community where locals organized as trustees of schools and the Methodist Episcopal Mount Zion Church.

Land Use

Colonial land transactions are the key but controversial legacy around which much of the local and genealogical history of early New Jersey revolves. As recounted in numerous writings on early Jersey history, the territory formally originated as an English colony with two separate claims to the land.

In 1664, anticipating the submission of the Dutch West India Company to British forces, King Charles II granted northeast regions in the New World to his brother, James, Duke of York, while those areas were still known as New Netherland. New Amsterdam and Fort Orange upstate were increasing in size and consequence, while the central areas west of the lower Hudson River were inhabited by the Unami, the Turtle Clan; north by the Minsis, the Wolf Clan; and southwest by Unalachtigo tribes, the Turkey clan. These Delaware Indians outnumbered the additional handful of Germans and Scandinavians in 1660s NJ. The Pavonia Massacre in 1643, when Dutch marauders slaughtered Lenni Lenape men, women and children in modern Jersey City, was one of several imperial acts which disposed the Native American tribes in Jersey lands as violently intolerant of Dutch colonists, whom generally stayed out of in fear of attacks.

Massacre of Indians at Pavonia.

Massacre of Indians at Pavonia. Image ID: 834404

The Duke of York, also known as the Duke of Albany, was appointed lord high admiral after the Restoration, and fervently supervised the operations of the English navy against the supremacy in world trade of the Dutch, with whom England feuded in 1652, then 1665, and again in 1672. In the New World, King Charles assumed the right to overrule colonial authority, alter boundaries, and seize territory by conquest. The King granted James “an astonishing assortment of lands extending from the St. Lawrence to the Delaware.” Before the Dutch surrendered their port colony, having been promised English citizenship under royal oath in exchange for sustaining the well-established Dutch court system, the Duke of York conveyed land-granting powers to incipient Governor Richard Nicholls, who issued the “Duke’s Laws,” renamed the colony, and referred to New Jersey as “Albania.”

Nicholls validated the 1664 purchase between Long Island settlers John Ogden, John Bailey, Daniel Denton and Luke Watson, and Lenni Lenape real estate agents Mattano Manamowaouc and Couesccoman, for 500,000 acres of land in what was once a scarcely colonized sprawl of New Netherland between the Raritan and Passaic Rivers, and which would later form the counties of Essex and Union. The men were now freeholders of the flatlands west of the Hudson River, and formed what would be known as the Elizabethtown Associates.

Meanwhile, soon after the departure of Nicholls from English ports, the Duke of York, flush with the megalomania of impending conquest, was seized with magnanimity. Having just empowered Nicholls to issue land patents in his new domain, the Duke, apparently without any sense of contradiction, bestowed the lands of Albania to loyal friends from the Admiralty, Sir George Carteret and Lord John Berkeley, who received the vast acreage in the form of a proprietorship. Sir George got “East Jersey” and Lord John “West Jersey,” which divisions, in various permutations, would characterize the state through the 21st century.

Map of East and West Jersey. 1682.

Map of East and West Jersey. 1682. Image ID: 433742

The divisions were split by a roughly 45 degree boundary line between Little Egg Harbor and Minisink Island in the Delaware River, today in Sussex County.

Lord Berkeley had been loyal to the Stuart brothers when Cromwell drove out the monarchy, and joined Charles and James in exile on the Isle of Jersey, near the coast of France, which was the domain of Sir George Carteret, later to hold the office of Treasurer of the British Navy.

His Royal Highness James Duke of York and Albany.

His Royal Highness, James, Duke of York and Albany. Image ID: 423111

Sir George and Lord John were invested with shareholding rights within their divisions, the authority to collect remunerations for the use of the property, and the ability to transfer proprietorship to other parties. However, this arrangement would have voided any title obtained in the manner of the freeholders who purchased land under the Nicholls grant, known as “headrights,” and instead would have beheld the settlers to “quit-rent” payments to the proprietors rather than ownership.

Hopefully, so far, this geo-narrative sounds perplexing, and that any inquiries or requests for clarification will be directed to the reference desk in Room 121 of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.

The years 1664 to 1702 form the first period of dispute and civic upheaval over the proprietary claims to the lands of East and West Jersey. Before Nicholls was finally made aware of the Duke’s deal with Carteret and Berkeley, due to the lumbering dispatch of letters via oceanic passage, the Governor had authorized the sale of numerous Jersey lands both East and West. An increasing amount of settlers claimed that the Duke had never properly owned the land, the proprietorship was false, and no rent should be due.

Little resolution was achieved, including the name of the settlement. The proprietors claimed that Elizabethtown was named for the wife of Sir George, while the ex-Long Islanders claimed the provenance in honor of the Queen. Still, the territory acquired its etymological ancestor from the isle birthplace of Sir George Carteret, Nova Caesarea, New Caesarea, New Jaesarea, New Jersey.

The “Concessions and Agreements” issued in 1665 by the Jersey proprietors provided for a registry of land transactions and the guarantee of “liberty of conscience” and freedom of religion. Persecuted and ambitious Quakers settled rampantly in West Jersey, and Newark was founded by Congregationalists sailing into the Passaic River from the puritanically constricted settlements of Connecticut. Though a more indiscriminate mandate on religion was proffered in order to attract more settlers, whom arrived chiefly from Long Island and New England, atheists were not tolerated. It may be that today atheists are better tolerated in New Jersey than settlers from Long Island or New England…

Original trustees such as the Elizabethtown Associates were ineluctably forced to reckon the political and economic disposition of the proprietary system, which was rooted in English plantation laws and the feudal relationship between owners and tenants. But little had been codified in distinguishing the right to political office and legislative decision in relation to the conveyance of land title. Both sides invested their own idea of land rights with political consequence, and confusion between the act of land-holding and the right to govern was sustained. The trustees contended that the Duke’s gift to the Lords was simply a “grant of the soil,” with no transfer of governmental powers. The Council of Proprietors sought to enforce laws and create political bodies while collecting quitrent payments, akin to dues for occupation and husbandry of the land, often in the form of barrels of pork.

In 1670, Philip Carteret, a young cousin of Sir George, debarked at New Jersey as a representative of the proprietors, assumed the role of governor of both East and West Jersey, yet, ironically, soon bought into the Elizabethtown Associates, which group was disputing the claims of the proprietors. Complicating the gnarled network of antagonisms, New York Governor Sir Edmund Andros demanded that Carteret yield all Jersey authority to New York. Philip balked and asserted that Jersey, though in adherence to the “Duke’s Laws,” garnered its own independent jurisdiction, and as a result, vessels trading in Jersey ports were exempt from paying customs to New York. Governor Sir Edmund Andros did not agree with this, and subsequent to further brinkmanship, ordered gubernatorial henchmen to invade the home of Carteret, drag the Jerseyman from his bed, imprison him in New York State, and administer a vicious drubbing that caused permanent and eventually fatal wounds to New Jersey’s first governor.

The Landing of Governor Carteret in New Jersey.

The Landing of Governor Carteret in New Jersey. Image ID: 1207338

The Crown sought to equalize these disagreements in 1702 with the appointment of a Royal Governor of both New York and New Jersey, Lord Cornbury, to whom the proprietors relinquished governmental power. However, disputes continued into the 1730s and 1740s, with land riots in West Jersey and the successful jailbreak in Newark of dispossessed yeomen Robert Young and Thomas Sergeant, orchestrated by a determined gathering of three-hundred citizens armed with cudgels and staves. The militia cocked their muskets, the sheriff drew his sword, but the jailbreakers were not attacked and the two men went free.

In the ensuing years, lawsuits neared a resolution, but appeals to the king, claims of errors in the proceedings, and overruled verdicts stalled both clarity and closure.

In Historical and Genealogical Miscellany; Data Relating to the Settlement and Settlers of New York and New Jersey (1903), one of the many compilations of NJ local history available in the Milstein Division, one finds the brief “Discourse By Way of Dialogue between an old Inhabitant of the County of Monmouth and a Proprietor of the Eastern Division of New Jersey.” The succinct dialogue between “William” and a nameless proprietor is contemporary to the 17th century and demonstrates the convictions of landowners against the claims of the proprietors:

Pro. You Will not allow then that King Charles had a Right to the Soil. Therefore the Proprietors none.

Will. No because he never had it by Discovery Conquest Gift nor Contract. Therefore no right to the Soil.

Pro. Pray by what title Do you Pretend to hold your Land if not by patent from the Proprietors, Wee hold our Land by an honest Purchase and Consideration paid for.

Will. A Title Derived from a Charter Granted to the Sons of Adam by the Great and Absolute proprietor of the Whole Universe God almighty and has Stood Recorded In the best record on Earth 3,198 years…

Pro. Then you Deny that there is any acknowledgement due to the Proprietors?

Will. Yes Wee Do.

William’s glib Jersey-style comeback merges a Protestant eco-evangelism with the minutiae of early U.K. land laws.

The Tombstone of Aaron Burr, Princeton, NJ.

The Tombstone of Aaron Burr, Princeton, NJ. Image ID: 420481

Library Resources

When searching the NYPL research catalog for genealogy materials that relate to a specific region, it is always most useful to select the "Subject Heading Explorer" and conduct subject searches by county name to yield the most comprehensive results:

  • [NAME OF COUNTY] (N.J.) -- Genealogy.
  • [NAME OF COUNTY] (N.J.) – History, Local.
  • [NAME OF COUNTY] (N.J.) -- History.
  • [NAME OF COUNTY] (N.J.) -- Maps.
  • [NAME OF COUNTY] (N.J.) – Description and Travel.

For example:

For a broader sense of Jersey genealogical items in the catalog, start with the below subject headings:

  • New Jersey -- Genealogy.
  • New Jersey -- Genealogy -- Indexes.
  • New Jersey -- History, Local.
  • New Jersey -- History.
  • New Jersey -- Description and travel.
  • New Jersey -- Biography.
  • New Jersey -- Population -- Statistics.

Materials will include local histories, periodicals, estate records, business information, family trees, travelogues, guidebooks, and anecdotal miscellanea, in addition to official reports on potentially relevant subjects such as environmental conditions, municipal projects, transportation, demographics, and agriculture. Also, the Map Division is abundant with NJ collections:

  • [COUNTY] (N.J.) -- Maps.
  • New Jersey -- Maps.
  • Atlantic Coast (N.J.) -- Maps.

Subject headings are highly useful for grouping together materials on a specific topic, but sometimes are not all-inclusive. Hours could be spent browsing the results of a simple subject search using “New Jersey,” or pairing the state with a topical search term in a keyword search, like “transportation” or “Muslims” or “oysters.” For instance, if a researcher were interested in 19th century sources on NJ fraternal organizations, a potentially rich avenue of genealogy or local history, one will not find subject headings which group together the many items in NYPL collections on this subject. Keywords are needed. Pairing the phrase “New Jersey” with keywords like “proceedings” or “organization” or “minutes” will yield more heterogeneous results on private groups, political clubs, and legislative actions.

Many of the Family Files and Locale Files in the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society Collection are relevant to New Jersey subjects, and can be especially fruitful when searching a particular family name.

Jersey materials authored or organized by the Roosevelt-era Works Progress Administration and Federal Writers’ Projects feature:

Sharpening axes used by the Bureau of Entomology and Plant Quarantine. Bloomfield, New Jersey. 1938.

Bureau of Entomology and Plant Quarantine. Bloomfield, NJ. 1938. Farm Security Adminstration photographs. Image ID: 4001201

Collections of the New Jersey Historical Society, full-text volumes 1-9 (1846- 1916) are available on HathiTrust.  Volumes 10-26 (1927-1993) are available by request.

Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New Jersey / New Jersey Historical Society. 1880-1928. Newark, NJ: Daily Journal. Available in NYPL digital databases, the full run of the Documents is arranged chronologically and each volume is indexed.

The contents of the four volume Genealogical and Memorial History of the State of New Jersey (1910), edited by Francis Bazley Lee, is summed up by its subtitle, “a record of the achievements of her people in the making of a commonwealth and the founding of a nation.” The first entry is for the Frelinghuysen family, described as having given New Jersey “more great and distinguished men in proportion to their numerical strength as a body of individuals than almost any other family.” Patriarch Theodorus Jacobus was born in 1691 in East Friesland, ordained a minister in 1715 and three years later charged with leading the congregations of the Dutch Reformed Church in the Raritan Valley. A number of constituents accused Frelinghuysen of heresy because of the askew interpretations of church teachings in his sermons. “Evangelical fervor” combined with a habit of “autonomous actions” characterized the minister’s tenure, along with official complaints, threats of excommunication, and demands for “Peace Articles” that would reckon the domine to the church status quo. Frelinghuysen was an independent but strict mind. Family descendants would include Senator Joseph S. Frelinghuysen, at whose country home in Somerset County President Warren G. Harding signed the 1921 treaty to formally end World War I. Today, an avenue is named for the family out by Newark International Airport.

The Milstein Division holds multiple boxes of historic travel and promotional brochures, arranged by city. This evocative collection is uncataloged and undigitized, but easily accessible by visiting Room 121 in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building and inquiring with a reference librarian.

NYPL Digital Collections features thousands of finely zoomable photos, illustrations, cartographic and atlas collections, portraits, and stereographs. Search the online Picture Collection for images pulled from books, magazines and newspapers among the tens of thousands of visual materials collected in Room 119 of the central library.

It is advisable to search the NYPL Archives and Manuscripts Home Page for potential New Jersey primary sources. A related stand-out trove is the Stryker-Rodda collection, comprising the papers of the F.Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald of tri-state area genealogy.

Marriage document. 1782. Manuscripts and Archives.

Jersey Marriage document. 1782. NYPL Manuscripts and Archives. Image ID: 4005164

In addition, the digital databases available at NYPL are serendipitous sources of regional Jersey history, as the below three examples might illustrate:

A spike in New Jersey scholarship over the last fifteen years is well reflected in the volumes made available through the library’s account with Project Muse, where numerous books and academic anthologies regarding NJ subjects are available to patrons in the research libraries. Most notably invaluable are A New Jersey Anthology (2010) and New Jersey: A History of the Garden State (2012), both published by Rutgers University Press and edited by Maxine N. Lurie, professor Emeritus in the Department of History at Seton Hall University.

Sand Artist, Atlantic City. Brochure Collection, Milstein Division.

Sand Artist, Atlantic City. Brochure Collection, Milstein Division.

Vital Records

NYPL holds a multitude of sources for early vital records dating prior to 1848, the year NJ passed vital records laws:

Geological Map of NJ.

Geological Map of New Jersey. NYPL Map Division. Image ID: 3991172

Land Records

The controversy over proprietorship versus patent is well-recounted in books, local histories, and the Guide to the Records of the East and West Jersey Proprietors, only recently processed and made available by the NJ State Archives. Plenty of land records and transcribed primary sources are published in Jersey serials like New Jersey History and the Genealogical Magazine of New Jersey. Because of the thorny, abstruse, multi-lapping and contradictory predicament of early Jersey land records, cross-referencing among primary and secondary resources is recommended. Use the below subject headings as points of entry for NYPL collections:

Also, the below three sample titles are prized subject resources:

Centuries back, roads were scarce and the capitals distant. It was common for land transactions to remain unrecorded for many years because of travel difficulties, which is ironic for a state later stereotyped for its manifold mandala of interstates, parkways, highways, skyways and turnpikes, which toll roads in NJ trace back at least to the first decade of the 19th century in boosting transit and generating cash. The first Public Roads Act was passed in 1673 by the East Jersey Assembly, the local governing body organized by the landowners under the Nicholls grant.

The land records of the East Jersey and West Jersey Proprietors have only recently migrated to the collections at the NJ State Archives in Trenton. In 1998, the East Jersey records moved from their 300+ year old home in the former colonial capital of Perth Amboy, and not until 2005 did the West Jersey Proprietors do likewise from the former capital at Burlington. “The main purpose of proprietary records,” says NJ State Archivist Joseph R. Klett, “is to document land surveys and the initial severance of title from the proprietors.”

Numerous resources in the Milstein Division are available for tracking the shifting county boundaries and emergence of new counties from former territories, as in the creation of Union County from a chunk of Essex in 1857. Three in particular:

Newspapers & Periodicals

In 1777 New Jersey founded one of its earliest newspapers, the New Jersey Gazette, in South Jersey, while two years later East Jersey found the New Jersey Journal. Both were funded by the state as instruments of “war measure,” though the Journal was a paper for the military while the Gazette was espoused by the State Legislature and Governor William Livingston. “I can assure you,” the Governor wrote to printer Isaac Collins, a Quaker from Trenton, “that the blaze of our Eastern Comet the New Jersey Journal has not diverted my attention from the western light the Gazette…” Unlike New York City across the Hudson from East Jersey and Philadelphia across the Delaware from West Jersey, the “Cockpit of the Revolution” operated a state-funded press unthwarted by Tory command, but belabored by lack of paper and the routine capture of post-riders who dispatched the issues and collected subscriptions.

Collins was continuously struggling for funds, often printing his news using old army “tent-bags,” and supplemented the state money by operating a general store, selling paper and printing goods, and hosting slave traders. Dependent on the state for finances, Collins maintained his publication’s independence of opinion. Collins printed a caustic and tasteless attack on Governor William Livingston, the benefactor of the Gazette, under the alias Cincinnatus, and when the Legislature demanded Collins reveal the true name of the author, the printer refused, publishing under his own byline two pieces titled “Liberty of the Press.”

Gordon Printing Press Works. Seminary Street. Rahway, N.J.

Gordon Printing Press Works. Seminary Street. Rahway, NJ. Image ID: 105795

New Jersey is currently represented somewhat marginally by digitized newspaper resources, most of which early printings are found in the database America’s Historical Newspapers, including the Gazette, and in America’s Historical Imprints, a useful database of distributed printed matter that may serve as an indirect point of entry for business information, city directories, or local history information.

NYPL collections include many obscure, older, or short-run NJ newspapers on microfilm. A major exception is the Hudson County succession of newspapers that evolved into The Jersey Journal, which, though a major publication in the industrial, commercial, and highly residential metro peninsula of Hudson County, the paper is only available in full on microfilm at a handful of Jersey repositories, and digitally by subscription online. In addition, the New Brunswick Public Library has begun a newspaper digitization project.

As with searching New York and U.S. newspapers, historical newspaper publications in NJ are best found by subject searches:

  • [TOWN] (N.J.) -- Newspapers.
  • [COUNTY] (N.J.) -- Newspapers.
  • [ETHNIC GROUP] -- New Jersey -- Newspapers.
  • [ETHNIC GROUP -“Americans”] -- New Jersey -- Newspapers.

As a result of the absence of comprehensive or complete collections of New Jersey genealogy sources, and the scattershot predicament of NJ records, the use of serials and publications may yield tractable results. The open stacks in the Milstein Division, Room 121, feature extensive runs of the two most valuable NJ genealogy journals, New Jersey History and the Genealogy Magazine of New Jersey (GMNJ).

GMNJ, issued triennially by the Genealogical Society of New Jersey, publishes the commonly sought but not always found genealogical timber that builds family history research. A surname index provides the point of entry for family notes and lineage histories, baptismal rolls and registers of vital information, gravestone inscriptions, 18th century loan office records, tax ratable lists, church records, county census schedules, an ongoing series reprinting New Jersey Supreme Court Cases (1704-1760), and likewise information. Issues on the open stacks in the Milstein Division run to 2004 and current issues can be accessed in Room 119.

New Jersey History, the successor publication to the Proceedings of the NJ Historical Society (first published 1845), is a Willowbrook Mall of niche articles covering a multivalence of historical NJ subjects, with titles like “Strikes and Society: Civil Behavior in Passaic (1875-1926);” “Ezra Pound’s Tribute to Newark;” and “Oraton, Sachem of Hackensack.” Issues can be navigated using a bibliographic index (1845-1992) of subjects, names, and authors, or a subject index (1845-1919). Many issues of the Proceedings and NJH can be accessed at NYPL research libraries using the digital database HathiTrust, and all issues are available either in the Milstein Division open stacks or by request. Current issues are made available freely online by Rutgers University Libraries (2009-present).

New Jersey Genesis and The Jerseyman: A Quarterly Magazine of Local History & Genealogy are two additional genealogy journals offering much research fodder for the Garden State.

All serials and periodicals devoted to NJ subjects can either be searched using the NYPL search platform for electronic journals, or using the below sample catalog searches:

  • Genealogy New Jersey Periodicals.
  • New Jersey -- Genealogy -- Periodicals.
  • New Jersey -- Economic conditions -- Periodicals.
  • New Jersey -- Politics and government -- Periodicals.

It is also suggested to use the state and county advanced search function to search periodicals at the Periodical Source Index.

Symphony Hall, Newark, NJ.

Symphony Hall, Newark, NJ. Image ID: TH-57106

Census Records

Often incomplete and unindexed, state censuses were taken in New Jersey every ten years between 1855-1915. NYPL collections include Jersey state census schedules on microfilm in Room 119 of the Schwarzman building. Locate these materials in the catalog using the below suggested subject headings:

  • [NAME OF COUNTY OR CITY] (N.J.) -- Census, [YEAR].
  • New Jersey -- Census, [YEAR].

Family Search has digitized and made searchable the NJ State Censuses for years 1885, 1905, and 1915.  Rarely are indexes available for microfilm copies of these census records. NJ state censuses are arranged by local township, borough, precinct or ward district, and searchable by municipal subdivision. Once the locality is identified, one must browse the pages for the subject name or address. If an address is unknown, NYPL holds numerous NJ city directories, which are described in a subsequent section below. It can be a foggy procedure and patrons should inquire with Milstein librarians beforehand about research steerage in Jersey census records.

Up to 1895, which census is searchable on, the state census did not list address. Columns indicating nationality are divided by German-born, Irish, or “other,” suggesting the high populations of Germans and Irish, and the marginalization of New Jersey’s abundant first and second generation ethnic populations. The 1905 state census is the first to list a street address, and includes the birthplace of parents, with the exclusive nativity columns for German and Irish removed. The 1915 schedules include occupations and the school attended by enumerated children. Sometimes the school will be named, but often the column will simply indicate “grammar” or “high school,” with a column for public, private or parochial.

In addition, for Federal census indexes that zero in on a particular NJ county or city, use the above census subject headings for population schedules and indexes as well as nonpopulation schedules like mortality, manufacturing, or Merchant Seaman schedules.

Tax ratables abstracted and indexed by genealogist Kenn Stryker-Rodda act as a “census of the heads of families and of bachelors who had a source of income outside the family.” Cattle, horses and swine are enumerated, but not children; families might have been taxed according to horned animals and fatback, but not kids. These tax lists are published in multiple issues of the Genealogy Magazine of New Jersey and in the microform series County Tax Ratables, 1778-1822. Also useful is Revolutionary Census of New Jersey; an index, based on ratables, of the inhabitants of New Jersey during the period of the American Revolution / Kenn Stryker-Rodda.

5-Year-Old Cranberry picker in Brown Mills, NJ, 1910.

Cranberry picker from Browns Mills, NJ. 1910. Image ID: 464525

Some alternative NJ census resources:

City Directories

The earliest Jersey directories date back to circa 1830. NYPL collections, accessed on microfilm, can be located in the catalog using the below subject headings:

Types of directories include basic residential listings, business, the county farm journal, and railroad directories, and specialized reference publications like The Classified Directory of Negro Business Interests, Professions of Essex County, compiled by Ralph William Nixon for the Bureau of Negro Intelligence, Newark, New Jersey (1920). For digitized directories, Ancestry has dozens of towns and counties dating up to the late 1950s, for both major hubs like New Brunswick or small exurbs like Verona.

Greater details on the scope and history of these Jersey resources is found in the 1993 edition of Guide to New Jersey City Directories / Michael Brown. Non-NYPL repositories of city directories are highlighted by the collections at Newark Public Library and the New Jersey State Library.

Indigenous Peoples

The pre-proprietary landowners recognized binding real estate transactions with Delaware tribes, which, though civilized and nonviolent, slowly extinguished the peoples from the territory. At the time of first European contact, the indigenous population of New Jersey is estimated between 8-12,000; by 1700, the number was around 2,400-3,000; in 1763 had dwindled to less than 1,000; and by 1800 diminished to fewer than 200. These tribes migrated out of the state with little traces of assimilation into New Jersey culture. East Jersey laws in the 1660s allowed tribesmen to collect the bounty on killed wolves, but white men were fined heavily for sharing liquor with any indigenous people. In 1832, Delaware professor and Revolutionary War veteran Shawuskukung, or “Wilted Grass,” known to whites as Bartholomew S. Calvin, successfully petitioned the state legislature for $2,000 in land reparations. The speech was published in The Daily Union History of Atlantic City and County, New Jersey.

Subject headings for indigenous history:

  • Delaware Indians -- History.
  • Delaware Indians.
  • Delaware Indians -- Folklore.
  • New Jersey Indians Of North America.
Russian church and orphanage.

Russian Church and Orphanage. Image ID: 490751

Religion, Racial and Ethnic Subjects

NYPL collections should be mined for materials that support the multiethnic and polysectarian identity of Jersey, a subject whose scope demands its own research guide. As usual, key subject headings are a springboard:

  • [ETHNICITY] – New Jersey – History.
  • [RACIAL GROUP] – New Jersey – [ COUNTY OR TOWN].
  • [RELIGIOUS GROUP] – New Jersey – [SUBJECT].
  • Immigrants -- New Jersey -- History.

For example:

Many of the materials related to houses of worship are transcriptions of primary sources. Also, a thorough overview of the Jersey melting pot is found in The New Jersey Ethnic Experience / edited by Barbara Cunningham.

Friendly Sons of St. Patrick

Friendly Sons of St. Patrick dinner at Essex County Country Club, menu. 1895. Image ID: 4000002958


Explore the NYPL catalog for NJ research handbooks and guidebooks:

  • New Jersey -- Genealogy -- Bibliography.
  • New Jersey -- Genealogy -- Sources.
  • New Jersey -- Genealogy -- Handbooks, manuals, etc.
  • New Jersey -- History -- Handbooks, manuals, etc.
  • New Jersey -- History, Local -- Guidebooks.

The below two items are notably inspired and synapse-inducing:

Other Resources

Rounding out NYPL collections is the selection of external resources available for Jersey research. Birth, marriage and death certificates can be accessed by contacting the New Jersey State Archives.  A handful of collections are digitized and searchable online, including vital records in select date ranges, population schedules for Passaic County and Atlantic City in the 1885 state census, Federal Writers' Project photographs, Civil War Service Records, and Early Land Records (1650-1801) of the East and West Jersey Proprietors.

Additional vital indexes have been digitized for specific date ranges and made available by Reclaim the Records.

The affiliated New Jersey State Library has an extensive Genealogy & Local History collection and a thorough search portal and links page of NJ research resources.

The myriad collections in the New Jersey Information Center at Newark Public Library include several rooms of Jerseyana. The New Jersey Historical Society, also in Newark, advocates the research advantages of its manuscript collections and library collections, along with the NJ Digital Highway.

Substantial digital collections are available freely online at the Bayonne Public Library; the plentiful Special Collections at Rutgers University Libraries feature bulk genealogy materials; and no NJ genealogy research is practicable without consulting the resources, publications, and events series at The Genealogical Society of New Jersey.

Still, there are many things left out, unexplained, forgotten, glossed over, or abandoned to the Meadowlands off Route 3 in Secaucus. Librarians in the U.S. History, Local History & Genealogy Division encourage researchers to reach out to the reference desk in Room 121 at, where New York City collections, like the Statue of Liberty, share a land border with New Jersey.

Holland Tubes, Jersey City, NJ.

Holland Tubes, Jersey City, NJ. Image ID: 1630055