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Beginning Genealogy Lesson #10:
County Boundary Changes

Date: 97-02-26 21:13:52 EST
From: Lon2000
DearMYRTLE,
"One of my ancestors died in Hopewell, Hunterdon County, New Jersey in 1806. Then in 1838 the boundaries changed and Hopewell is now located in Mercer County, New Jersey. For my records do I list the place as Hopewell, Hunterdon or Hopewell, Mercer or both?"

For Further Reading:

USGenWeb (then click for state & counties)
http://www.usgenweb.org

 

DearLON2000,
Your question is well founded, and something to address in this series of Beginning Genealogy Lessons. The hard and fast rule for genealogy researchers is
record the place or locality as it was at the time of the event. This will direct you to the correct courthouse which may hold documentary evidence of your ancestor's activities.

How do you determine the county boundaries?

You'd have to place the township on a current map, and check the following resources for the historical boundaries:

Now, let's play with the practical application of this information.

It is possible that if your ancestor lived and died in the home which had been in the family three generations before him and three generations following his demise, that some interesting conclusions could be drawn.

We know your ancestor died in 1806 Hopewell, Hunterdon County, New Jersey. Unless you actually know his age at death, you might have to jump to a conclusion that he was about 50-60 years of age when he died. (Typical for the time period.) This would mean he was probably born in 1746-56, and that her perhaps married circa 1766-1776. Consider the US Revolutionary War may have had an impact on the marriage date. This means you also need to look for military service in the New Jersey State Militia or the Continental Army. Consult Daughters of American Revolution (DAR) indexes. (Harold says I digress...)

Your first step is to try to locate probate records, since you know the exact date. After looking this up in both the Red Book and The Handybook, I've found that the Secretary of State in Trenton hold the originals, but county courthouses in New Jersey maintain copies of wills and administrations of estates beginning (luckily) in 1804. At the time of his death the county was Hunterdon, and should be listed as such in your genealogy management program. You may be able to draw conclusions as to his age from the will, especially if his wife has only one or two young children. (We're not considering second wives, but that is also a possibility.) If his sons are inheriting property without guardianship then you can assume they are 18-21, also serving to support our estimated birth year.

Since Hunterdon County was created in 1714, we hope to find several earlier generations of ancestor's probate/wills. The wills are indexed from 1682-1805. Ronald Vern Jackson edited an Index to New Jersey Wills, 1689-1890, the Testators. (AIS, 1979) If there are many individuals by that surname in the records, and the relationships are not readily apparent, you must turn to other records to verify lineage.

Another important clue is that the family held the property for a total of seven generations. Armed with this information you can find records of deeds at the local county clerk's office after the 1785 land act. Earlier records are part of the New Jersey Archives XXI 1664-1790 maintained at the Secretary of State's Office. The Red Book (Ancestry) reports that these are indexed in Colonial Conveyances: Provinces East & West New Jersey 1664-1794, 2 Vols. (Crestview Lawyers Service) As you trace the recording of deeds as each generation inherited the property, you'll note:

  • Name of the former owner, (so you'll know who died)
  • Date of land transaction (so you'll also know what probate record to obtain)

Consider that the Hunterdon County Clerk in Flemington has the marriage records from 1795-1875, per The Handybook for Genealogists. This means you will need to search Hunterdon County for a marriage entry for your known ancestor (we guessed circa 1766-1776), and each gentleman you discover in reviewing the land and probate records. I have not seen New Jersey marriage records for that time period, so I do not know if parents of the bride & groom will be mentioned.

Let me add, that if you had an ancestor who resided in the family home prior to 1714, the parent county of Hunterdon County was Burlington. However, something must have happened since Burlington County (although an original county created in 1683 from the Western New Jersey provincial government) only reports having divorce records from 1966, probate & land records from 1785 and civil court records from 1880.

For those generations of individuals who lived in the family home after the 1838 county boundary change, you would be reviewing the records in Mercer County.

We haven't yet discussed naturalization, newspaper records, county histories, federal & state census records, etc., but I think you have enough to keep you busy for a while!

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt     :)
DearMYRTLE,
Your friend in genealogy

 

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