Genealogy Lesson #10:
County Boundary Changes
"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)
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.
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)
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!
Your friend in genealogy