It seems like ages ago, but it was only last month that I ventured out to yet another new repository. The NGS lesson at that time included surveying marriage records at different types of repositories.
If always knew what to do, I wouldn’t need to take the course. Vital records are confusing. They are different for different states, counties and towns and they are different depending on the time period. Looking at records was part of the assignment. Finding where to look at the records was the challenge.
Websites for the Union County Clerk and the Burlington County Clerk didn’t have any information on a collection of marriage records. I had hoped to do some personal research during this assignment, so I tried Monmouth County Clerk next. The Monmouth County Clerk’s Office did not send their records to the State Archives in Trenton, but maintains them at the County Archives. That was my good luck. I could do the assignment and maybe get a little research in too!
I’m torn here between wanting to give lots of information about the Archives and sharing my positive experience in researching records there. The Archives is great, extremely researcher friendly and accessible. The website is so informative about its collection and the circumstances affecting marriage returns and records. “Marriage Returns,” particularly the “Scope and Content” section is well worth reading if you want to understand New Jersey records.
So it looks like I’ve decided to go the “share the experience” route. Someone in my course recommended calling a repository in advance, explaining that I am a student and asking for assistance with what I need to survey. I decided to send an email instead. I emailed and asked if I could meet with someone to go over marriage records. Tara Christiansen, Reference Archivist, emailed the same day offering to meet with me and show me around. She met me on arrival and went over the records with me.
Tara showed me two sets of index books, one under the husband’s name and one under the wife’s name. The collection description states that the earliest record is from 1790. The Justice of the Peace submitted marriage returns, but they were not always submitted on a timely basis. One example, pictured here, is a return by Justice of the Peace John Antram from May 24, 1795 to July 13, 1796 with 18 marriages listed!
I asked to see a random return from the index; Tara went into the back and retrieved a folder with the original return. The originals are individually encapsulated in archival envelopes, filed in folders, stored in archival boxes and kept in a temperature-regulated area not accessible to the public. The marriage books are also available on microfilm and may be copied from the microfilm, but the books are not generally available to the public. I am so amazed and tickled that these records have been so well taken care of that I was able to look at the original document from 1795!
The General Assembly established the Bureau of Vital Statistics on March 31, 1887, but returns continued to be submitted to the County Clerk after that date. The records are primarily returns, although Tara did show me a Certificate of Marriage for Andrew J. Donate and Helen M. Murphy, which was performed in 1934. It is, however dated 1/25/51 [sic] and states, “as appears from the Marriage Register of this Church.” The certificate includes the name and location of the church, the bride and groom’s names, the date of the marriage, the religious denomination, the State, Reverend and two witnesses. It is a part of the collection because it was submitted, but there is no additional information.
I did some other research at the Archives and I think I am getting the hang of it. It’s good to make a plan, ask a lot of questions, admit I am still learning, and ask for help.