This database contains 13 volumes of details abstracted from early New Jersey wills.
In 1846, the New Jersey Historical Society urged the state legislature to gather copies of documents relating to the history of the state, both in the country and those in London that dealt with the colony’s early days. The Society got the support it was looking for in 1872 and began assembling and editing the materials that would be printed as the New Jersey Archives: Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New Jersey. The Archives include copies of records from a wide variety of documents from the state’s early history, with some predating the earliest permanent European settlement of Bergen in 1660.
The abstracts in this database are summaries of original wills and associated documents deposited with provincial secretaries, the secretary of state (until about 1804), and eventually county clerks in early New Jersey. The 13 volumes contain abstracts for thousands of wills (more than 3,000 in one volume alone), which, along with valuable genealogical details, offer a glimpse into the times and lives of the testators. The preface in the first volume of wills offers this description:
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.
What You Can Find in These Records
Abstracts capture and summarize the main points of a will and can include details such as dates, names, place of residence, spouse, family members, date proved, executors, the value of an inventory made of the estate, and descriptions of real estate and bequests. Documents abstracted may also include inventories and records related to administrations and guardianships.
Entries are arranged alphabetically by name of the testator. Some volumes also provide an index of names in the back. These indexes do not include the names of the testators, but they list names found within the entries, which can be a valuable research tool. Also, if you find an entry that you want to trace back to the original source, it can be helpful to refer to the preface for the volume. Not all volumes have a preface, but most do, and these typically explain to some degree where the original came from as well as abbreviations and other particulars of the abstracts.
Some of the older wills include double-year dating to correct for the change to the Gregorian calendar; however, this has not been supplied on all the relevant entries.
30 Jun 2020: Will date, probate date and one relative name spouse, father, child (whichever appears first) were keyed and added to the collection. No new records were added.