New Jersey Court Records
Major New Jersey courts that have kept records of genealogical value include the following:
1675-1947: Courts of General Quarter Sessions of the Peace were county courts with jurisdiction over minor criminal cases such as desertions, vice, apprenticeship disputes, and bastardy. Also known as county courts, they had civil jurisdiction prior to the creation of the courts of common pleas in 1704. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of some records of the courts of quarter sessions.
1675-present: Small Cause Courts and Justices' Courts are presided over by justices of the peace. Justices of the peace perform marriages, issue summons for debts, and rule on minor civil suits. They also once had criminal jurisdiction over bastardy, domestic violence, trespass, disorderly conduct, and forcible entry. Most of these courts have been replaced in the twentieth century by district and superior courts. Some of their records have been deposited with county clerks, but some were kept by families of the justices. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of some justice of the peace records.
1682-present: The Supreme Court of Judicature has statewide appellate jurisdiction in civil matters, original common law jurisdiction, and criminal jurisdiction in capital crimes such as treason and murder. Some common law matters handled by the court included dower, naturalization, land title, and child custody. The early minutes also record criminal matters such as trespassing, adultery, prostitution, disturbing the peace, malfeasance, assault, and rape. In 1947, the Supreme Court of Judicature became the highest court in the state. The state archives and the Family History Library have the New Jersey, Supreme Court, Index to Supreme Court Cases Before and After the Revolution, 1709 to 1842 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1978; FHL film 1028304-305) and New Jersey, Supreme Court (Burlington County), Early Index to Supreme Court Minutes, 1681-1842. (Not Published Bibliofilm, 1938; FHL film 016538 item 2). The state archives has the actions-at-law, 1709 to 1842; minutes, 1681 to 1820; judgements, 1704 to 1866; dockets, 1681 to 1873; and docket books and indexes, 1842 to 1947. The case files, 1842 to 1947, are in the possession of:
Clerk of the Superior Court
R. J. Hughes Justice Complex
Trenton, NJ 08625-0971
1684-1696, 1705-1947:The Court of Chancery was a statewide court that gradually received civil and equity jurisdiction over matters such as mortgage foreclosures, lis pendens (probate disputes over land title), land partitions, the enforcement of the payment of debts, probate suits, lunacy inquisitions, naturalizations, divorces, and child custody. These functions are now handled by the superior courts. The largest collections of New Jersey court records at the state archives and the Family History Library are the chancery court records. These include:
- Chancery Court Cases, 1743-1845 (beginning with FHL microfilm 1032125.) These are indexed by plaintiff.
- Enrolled Decrees, 1825-1850. (FHL 298 films). There is an index to enrolled decrees, 1825 to 1854 (FHL film 1032124), but the usual way to access records is to use the chancery docket books, 1824 to 1900 (FHL films 1023876-81), and dockets, 1824 to 1900 (FHL films 1023882-84 and 1024050-62). Case files and indexes from 1850 to 1947 are at the office of the Clerk of the Superior Court.
- Chancery Register, 1781-1894 (FHL films 1018599-608.)
- Court Executions, 1810-1900 (On 84 FHL films beginning with 1019886.)
1693-1947: Courts of Oyer and Terminer and General Gaol Delivery were county courts that had jurisdiction over all crimes committed within the county except for the capital offenses of treason and murder. Records are found at the county clerks' offices.
1704-1947: Courts of Common Pleas have recorded civil cases such as marriages, naturalizations, name changes, exemptions from military duty, lunacy cases, tavern licenses, insolvency cases, old-age assistance, manumissions, settlement of boundary disputes, and child support and custody. They also handled appeals from justices of the peace. These county courts were replaced by the superior court.
The state archives has the original loose papers and tavern petitions for some counties and microfilm copies of the records for other counties. Some of these records are also on film at the Family History Library. Tavern petitions are valuable because they show the signatures of people in the community who approved the license.
1799-1947: Circuit Courts were county courts with civil and equity jurisdiction (since 1838) over such matters as mortgage foreclosures, name changes, marriages, adoptions, estate partitions, naturalizations, debts, and probate suits. Circuit courts were replaced by superior courts.
1877-1983: District Courts were city courts that were given county-wide jurisdiction in 1884. They had jurisdiction over minor criminal offenses and civil suits. They replaced the small cause courts in most places and were later replaced by the special civil part of superior courts.
1947-1978: County Courts took over the functions of the courts of common pleas, oyer and terminer, general quarter sessions, special sessions, and orphan's court. County courts were replaced by superior courts in 1978.
1947-present: Superior Courts are the major trial courts with county-wide jurisdiction over civil and criminal matters. They perform the functions of all the former county courts. Records of criminal cases are located at the county courthouses. Records of civil cases are at the office of the Clerk of the Superior Court.
Records at County Courthouses
The county clerk served as the clerk to the courts of common pleas, oyer and terminer, quarter sessions, special sessions, and circuit court. The records of these courts are usually found at the county courthouse.
Many types of documents may be found in county court records in addition to minutes, dockets, judgments, executions, appeals, and case files. The Family History Library has, for example, microfilms of Hunterdon county court affidavits, liens, indictments, insolvent petitions, recognizances, coroner's inquests, miscellaneous records, and a card index from 1700 to 1900. These records are located in the Family History Library Catalog under the Author/Title Search (FHL films 802468-500). Additional courts and types of court records are described in New Jersey Naturalization and Citizenship and New Jersey Probate Records.
For more information about New Jersey court procedures, see:
- Clevenger, William M. and Edward Q. Keasbey. The Courts of New Jersey: Their Origin, Composition and Jurisdiction . . . Some Account of their Origin and Jurisdiction. Plainfield, New Jersey: New Jersey Law Journal Publishing, 1903. (Not available at the Family History Library.)
- Records of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, 1789 to 1967', and records of the circuit courts (absorbed by the district court in 1911) are found at the National Archives—Northeast Region (New York City). These records include bankruptcy proceedings. Most have been microfilmed as Records of the U.S. District Court of New Jersey and Predecessor Courts, 1789-1950 (FHL films 1493227- 412).