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The value of land records lies in the fact that land was highly sought after and the transactions were recorded from the time settlers began to arrive. Therefore it is a consistent and continuous record of many ancestors lives. Land records can be used to learn where and when an individual lived in certain areas, as well as often revealing useful and interesting family information.
New Jersey has been a state-land state in which property has been distributed by the colony or state rather than the federal government. Various methods of distributing land have been used.
If you are new to land research, you may wish to read the Beginner’s corner and other articles included on the United States Land and Property page.
Land Records Before 1664
There are no records created in New Jersey of grants made during the Dutch period. See New York Land and Property for information about grants made prior to 1664.
Proprietary Land Records
In 1664 King Charles granted New Jersey to his brother, James, Duke of York. James, in turn, conveyed it as a proprietary colony to Lord Berkeley and Sir George Carteret. They chose Philip Carteret to be the first governor. Before Governor Carteret's arrival in August 1665, Governor Nicolls of New York made the first land grants (see New Jersey Emigration and Immigration). Once Carteret arrived, he chose a surveyor general to lay out lands. He also chose a chief secretary to record or register sales.
Following Berkeley's sale of his share of the colony in 1674, the area was divided in 1676 into two separate provinces, West Jersey and East Jersey. Each was governed by its own board of proprietors. The two boards of proprietors sold land to individuals through proprietary deeds. Each board kept separate records of these sales. The records include surveys, deeds, and minutes. These are records of the original sales of the land. Subsequent exchanges were recorded by the secretary of state until 1785 or by the county clerk, primarily since 1785 (see below).
The New Jersey State Archives has the proprietor land records for both East Jersey and West Jersey and has a growing online index of Proprietary Warrants and Surveys, 1670-1727 from both East Jersey and West Jersey. A good explanation about these records is at the New Jersey State Archives web site. This includes a history of the records and needed facts with ways to effectively use the records.
East Jersey Proprietary Records. The proprietary land records for East Jersey have not been microfilmed. The Family History Library has transcripts of surveys for what is now Passaic County, titled Perth Amboy Surveys for East Jersey, 1678 to 1814. (FHL Collection films 947881-83, index on film 947881).
Some records since 1901 are closed to the public. The minutes of the proprietors for 1685 to 1794 (missing 1706 to 1723) have been published in:
- The Minutes of the Board of Proprietors of the Eastern Division of New Jersey from . . . 1685-1794. Volumes 1-3. Perth Amboy, New Jersey: General Board of Proprietors of the Eastern Division of New Jersey, 1949-1985, Volume 4. (FHL Collection), book 974.9 R2m. Newark, New Jersey: New Jersey Historical Society, 1985. These include petitions for land grants, warrants for surveys, and quit-rent payments.
The East Jersey records were sent to the Archives in 1998 when the General Board of Proprietors of the Eastern Division of New Jersey dissolved.
West Jersey Proprietary Records. The records for West Jersey have not been published, but the originals at Rutgers University have been microfilmed. These include:
- Minutes, 1688 to 1951 (FHL Collection films 888812-14)
- Warrants, 1717 to 1754 (FHL Collection film 888815)
- Surveys, 1681 to 1952 (FHL Collection films 888803-11)
- Land records, 1700's-1800's, (FHL Collection film 888723)
For additional or more recent records, contact: West Jersey Proprietors, c/o Clerk, P.O. Box 158, 230 High Street, Burlington, NJ 08106
Secretary of State's Deeds
From 1664 to 1785, land sales between individuals were recorded as deeds in either the East Jersey capital of Perth Amboy or in the West Jersey capital of Burlington. In 1795 deeds were transferred to Trenton, where they became known as the secretary of state's deeds. It has been estimated that less than half of all land transactions were ever recorded as deeds. The secretary of state's deed books also contain some proprietary deeds, warrants, surveys, powers of attorney, mortgage releases, and other miscellaneous documents.
East Jersey. Deeds recorded by the secretary of state are now at the New Jersey State Archives and on microfilm at the Family History Library. These include deeds and indexes, 1667 to 1783 (FHL Collection films 522742-46 and 460030-39)
West Jersey. The New Jersey State Archives has the original West Jersey deeds. They are also on microfilm at the Family History Library:
- Deeds and surveys, 1677 to 1854 (FHL Collection films 460045-71)
- Grantor and grantee indexes (FHL Collection films 460043- 44)
- Salem deeds and surveys, 1672 to 1703 (FHL Collection films 460074-75)
- Gloucester deeds and surveys, 1682 to 1779 (FHL Collection films 460077-78)
- Indexes to Proprietary Records and Secretary of State's Deeds
There are four major printed indexes to early provincial and state land records of New Jersey:
- Nelson, William, Editor. Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New Jersey. Calendar of Records in the Office of the Secretary of State, 1664-1703. [Archives of the State of New Jersey, First Series, Volume 21]. 1899. Reprinted as Patents and Deeds and Other Early Records of New Jersey, 1664-1703. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1982. (FHL Collection book 974.9 B49a, Ser. 1 v. 21 (1898); FHL Collection film 844843]; fiche 6051369) This book indexes and abstracts most of the earliest deeds and surveys of East and West Jersey through 1703. All the original records abstracted by this book are at the New Jersey State Archives and on microfilm at the Family History Library. Use this index cautiously as some entire pages in the original records were not transcribed, and some entries that were transcribed were not indexed. A substantial number of pre-1704 records, primarily for West Jersey, were omitted from the book.
- Index to Powers of Attorney, Surveyor's Reports, Commissions, etc., Referring to Deeds. This card index is at the New Jersey State Archives and on film at the Family History Library (FHL Collection films 542530-31), filmed in 1972. In addition to secretary of state deeds and West Jersey surveys, it references such diverse types of records as civil and military commissions, naturalizations, oaths of allegiance, marriages, pardons, licenses, and cattle earmarks. It is listed in the Family History Library Catalog as Index of Names to Various Records in Various New Jersey Counties, 1600-1800s (FHL Collection films 946856 - 946861).
- Colonial Conveyances: Provinces of East and West New Jersey, 1664-1794. Two Volumes. Summit, New Jersey: Crestview Lawyers Service, 1974. (Not at the Family History Library). This is the principal index to use to locate pre-1785 secretary of state's deeds.
- Index to Deeds, Grantee and Grantor. A card index at the New Jersey State Archives. (FHL Collection films 539948-49, 540239-40, and 540603-605) This indexes secretary of state deeds for East Jersey, 1667 to 1784 and for West Jersey, 1677 to 1854.
County Land Records
The Land Act of 1785 gave county clerks the responsibility of recording deeds, but many deeds were never registered. Those that exist are at the offices of the county clerks.
County Land Records. The Family History Libraryand the state archives have more than 5,000 microfilms of New Jersey county land records. These include:
- Deeds to about 1901 for all counties except Union County.
- Grantee and grantor indexes to about 1920 for all counties except Bergen County.
The deed books for most counties record sales pre-date 1785. It is common in New Jersey to find deeds recorded many years, sometimes generations, after the original transaction took place.
Some county clerks have deeds that were actually recorded before 1785. These deeds are usually not included in the grantee and grantor indexes that start in 1785. These deed books may also contain powers of attorney, slave manumissions, wills, leases, agreements, maps, settlements of boundary disputes, and cattle earmarks. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of pre-1785 deeds for Bergen, Cape May, Essex, Hunterdon, Middlesex, and Monmouth counties.
Some counties also have separate volumes of "ancient deeds." These were unrecorded deeds from earlier times that were finally recorded beginning in the 1870s. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of ancient deeds for Burlington, Morris, and Passaic counties.
Mortgages. The earliest mortgages date from 1724. The mortgages often include a schedule of payments, the names of the assignees (persons to whom property is legally transferred), and the name of the mortgagor. New Jersey mortgages were seldom recorded until the date the mortgage was discharged.
A card index to county loan office mortgages is at the New Jersey State Archives. (FHL Collection film 913175). This indexes many mortgages of Burlington, Hunterdon, Gloucester, and Somerset Counties. County clerks began recording mortgages in 1766. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of:
- Mortgages to about 1860 or 1870 for all counties except Morris County
- Indexes for all counties, including Morris County, to the 1920s and later
- Assignments and releases of mortgages for many counties from 1850 to 1900
Lis Pendens. Lis pendens (disputes over land title) exist for all counties from about the mid-1800s to the present. They are found at the offices of the county clerks. These often contain detailed lists of all the heirs of someone who has died. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of lis pendens for Bergen, Essex, Hunterdon, and Union counties.
Road Returns. A rather unique source that is particularly useful for colonial New Jersey research is the road returns or road surveys. Road returns give the names of property owners through whose property the roads were to run and sometimes give the names of former property owners with the note "deceased." They are usually found at the county courthouses. Copies of road returns for most counties are on microfilm at the New Jersey State Archives. The Family History Library has road returns for Atlantic, Essex, Gloucester, Middlesex, and Somerset counties.