Background Sources for New Jersey

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This entry was originally written by Roger D. Joslyn, CG, FUGA, FGBS, FASG for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

This article is part of
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the New Jersey Family History Research series.
History of New Jersey
New Jersey Vital Records
Census Records for New Jersey
Background Sources for New Jersey
New Jersey Maps
New Jersey Land Records
New Jersey Probate Records
New Jersey Court Records
New Jersey Tax Records
New Jersey Cemetery Records
New Jersey Church Records
New Jersey Military Records
New Jersey Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
New Jersey Archives, Libraries, and Societies
New Jersey Immigration
New Jersey Naturalization
Ethnic Groups of New Jersey
New Jersey County Resources
Map of New Jersey

There is a sizable amount of published material on the history of New Jersey. Richard P. McCormick, New Jersey from Colony to State, 1609–1789 (1964; rev. ed., Newark, N.J.: New Jersey Historical Society, 1981) gives an excellent coverage of the first 180 years. Samuel Smith, The History of The Colony of Nova-Caesaria, or New Jersey (Burlington: James Parker, 1765), still considered one of the old standards, has lengthy quotes from records. It was first reprinted in 1877 (Trenton, N.J.: Wm. S. Sharp) and as recently as 1975 (Spartanburg, S.C.: The Reprint Co.). Francis Bazley Lee, New Jersey As a Colony and As a State, 4 vols. (New York: The Publishing Society of New Jersey, 1902) is also among the standard works. The Outline History of New Jersey, by Harold F. Wilson and others (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1950) was intended for students and serves as a quick and helpful reference, with a long bibliography. Not to be overlooked is The Encyclopedia of New Jersey, published by Rutgers University Press in 2004.

New Jersey has its share of “mug” books, which must be used with caution, and some of these also contain a history of the state. Some examples are The Biographical Encyclopaedia of New Jersey of The Nineteenth Century (Philadelphia: Galaxy Publishing Co., 1877); Bibliographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of the Third Congressional District of New Jersey (Philadelphia: Biographical Publishing Co., 1896); Biographical, Genealogical and Descriptive History of the First Congressional District of New Jersey, 2 vols. (New York: Lewis Publishing Co., 1900); William Brown, ed., Biographical, Genealogical, and Descriptive History of the State of New Jersey (Newark, N.J.: New Jersey Historical Publishing Co., 1900); Samuel Fowler Bigelow, The Biographical Cyclopedia of New Jersey, 2 vols. (New York: National Americana Society, 1909); Francis Bazley Lee, comp. and ed., Genealogical and Memorial History of the State of New Jersey, 4 vols. (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1910); Nelson’s Biographical Cyclopedia of New Jersey, 2 vols. (New York: Eastern Historical Publishing Society, 1913); Mary Depue Ogden, ed., Memorial Cyclopedia of New Jersey, 4 vols. (Newark, N.J.: Memorial History Co., 1915–1917); Cyclopedia of New Jersey Biography, 3 vols. (Newark, N.J.: Memorial History Co., 1916); Irving S. Kull, ed., New Jersey: A History, 5 vols. (New York: The American Historical Society, 1930); William Starr Myers, ed., The Story of New Jersey, 5 vols. (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., Inc., 1945); Richard M. Huber and Wheaton J. Lane, eds., The New Jersey Historical Series, 26 vols. and 5 supps. (Princeton: D. Van Nostrand, 1964–65). These and many other works are indexed in A New Jersey Biographical Index (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1993), and New Jersey Family Index: A Guide to the Genealogical Sketches in New Jersey Collective Sources (New Brunswick, N.J.: Genealogical Society of New Jersey, 1991), both compiled by Donald Arleigh Sinclair.

Of more narrow focus are two works by John E. Pomfret, who covered the proprietary period in The Province of West New Jersey and The Province of East New Jersey, 1609–1702: The Rebellious Proprietary (Princeton: Princeton Press, 1956, 1962); and William A. Whitehead, East Jersey Under the Proprietary Governments, New Jersey Historical Society Collections, vol. 1 (Newark, N.J.: Martin R. Dennis, 1875). With these works researchers should consult The Minutes of the Board of Proprietors of the Eastern Division of New Jersey, 1685–1794, 4 vols., edited by George J. Miller, Maxine N. Lurie, and Joanne R. Walroth, the first three volumes of which were published by the General Board of Proprietors of the Eastern Division of New Jersey (Perth Amboy, 1949–60) and the fourth by the New Jersey Historical Society (Newark, 1985).

Adrian C. Leiby, The Early Dutch and Swedish Settlers of New Jersey (Princeton: D. Van Nostrand Co., Inc., 1964) is but one example covering this part of New Jersey’s history. Other works dealing with the Dutch and Swedes are listed in the New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware chapters.

There are many more titles concentrating on certain aspects of New Jersey history that help trace persons and families, and provide important historical background. One example is From Indian Trail to Iron Horse: Travel and Transportation in New Jersey, 1620–1860, by Wheaton J. Lane (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1939).

Several town and city histories have been published in addition to county histories (see pages 4-5). John Stillwell, Historical and Genealogical Miscellany: Data Relating to the Settlement and Settlers of New York and New Jersey, 5 vols. (1903–32; reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1970) contains source material and genealogies, mostly relating to Monmouth County, New Jersey, and Staten Island, New York. Scotland and Its First American Colony, 1683–1765, by Ned C. Landsman (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985), is among the modern, scholarly works, and concerns lowland Scot settlers in eastern and central New Jersey.

Some of the works in this category need to be verified in original records. High on this list is Orra Eugene Monnette, First Settlers of Ye Plantations of Piscataway and Woodbridge…1664–1714, 7 vols. (Los Angeles: Leroy Carmen Press, 1930–35). In spite of its length, it must be used very cautiously, for even Monnette’s transcriptions of source records are filled with errors. (See The American Genealogist 34 [1958]: 213-15.) Likewise, John Littell’s Family Records, or Genealogies of the First Settlers of Passaic Valley (And Vicinity) fits into the “useful for clues but undocumented category” (1852; reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1981). Typed indexes by Mabel Day Parker and Elmer T. Hutchinson are at the state library, The New Jersey Historical Society, and Rutgers University. Another example is Pioneer Families of Northwestern New Jersey (Lambertville: Hunterdon House, 1979), assembled from ninety-four newspaper articles from various contributors edited by William C. Armstrong in the 1930s. Other early but potentially useful works include publications on early settlers of Trenton, Monmouth County, Newton Township (in Gloucester County), and Cape May County (descendants of Mayflower passengers).

Generally more reliable scholarship on New Jersey families is found in various journals, and not to be overlooked is the two-volume Genealogies of New Jersey Families from the Genealogical Magazine of New Jersey, selected and introduced by Joseph R. Klett (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1996).


Kenn Stryker-Rodda’s chapter on New Jersey in Milton Rubincam, ed., Genealogical Research: Methods and Sources, vol. 1 (revised, Washington, D.C.: The American Society of Genealogists, 1980), 221-33, is excellent for good background reading. Earlier material by Dr. Stryker-Rodda, just as useful and delightful to read, are New Jersey: Digging for Ancestors in the Garden State (Detroit: The Detroit Society for Genealogical Research, Inc., 1970); “New Jersey Records: A Genealogical Haystack Full of Needles,” The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine 24 (1965): 3-14; “Genealogical Spadework in the Garden State,” Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society 79 (1961): 264-81; and “That Genealogical Quagmire: New Jersey,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 48 (1960): 59-71. See also Edith Hoelle’s “Genealogical Resources in Southern New Jersey,” available at the Gloucester County Historical Society.

John P. Snyder, The Story of New Jersey’s Civil Boundaries, 1606–1968, 1st ed. (Trenton, N.J.: Bureau of Geology and Topography Bulletin 67, 1969), clearly shows county, township, and city boundary changes, enhanced with maps.

Consult the following earlier works for early place-names: Henry A. Gannett, A Geographical Dictionary of New Jersey (1894; reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1978), Geographic Dictionary of New Jersey, Bulletin 118 of the U.S. Geological Survey (Washington, D.C., 1894), and Thomas F. Gordon, Gazetteer of the State of New Jersey (1834; reprint Cottonport, La.: Polyanthos, 1977). New Jersey Local Names, issued by the State Department of Transportation (rev. Trenton, N.J., 1995) and also available online at gives a more modern list of New Jersey places.

Bette Marie Epstein, Daniel P. Jones, Joseph R. Klett, and Karl J. Niederer, comps., Guide to Family History Sources in the New Jersey State Archives, 3d ed. (Trenton, N.J.: Division of Archives and Records Management, 1994), although currently out of print, is an excellent guide to the archives’ wonderful collection of original source material.

Dated, but still a useful bibliography, is William Nelson, The Public Archives of New Jersey (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1904), reprinted from the Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the year 1903, vol. 1: 479-541. Nelson was then chairman of the Public Record Commission of New Jersey. This work covers deeds and other land records, wills, marriage licenses, court and military records, and catalogs the contents of the two “New Jersey Archives” series published up to that time.

An Analytical Index to the Colonial Documents of New Jersey in the State Paper Offices of England, compiled by Henry Stevens and edited by William A. Whitehead, New Jersey Historical Society Collections, vol. 5 (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1858), is also dated but identifies some New Jersey sources not in this country.

Not to be overlooked is Rosalie Bailey’s guide to Dutch naming systems (see Background Sources for New York).