In New Jersey we have, arguably, the most unique set of land records of the original 13 colonies. The New Jersey Early Land Records Project will facilitate and expedite an ongoing project at the New Jersey State Archives to make all of these documents—more than 80,000 land instruments—searchable via a single database.
In 1664, two individuals, Sir George Carteret and Lord John Berkeley, were given the right to make land grants for the territory between the Hudson and Delaware rivers—the colony of New Jersey. These individuals were later succeeded by the corporations of East and West Jersey and, for twelve generations, the proprietors’ meticulous records were maintained privately by the corporations.
The proprietors’ land rights survived the Revolutionary War and, in fact, continue today. For well over three centuries the proprietors appropriated acreage to their shareholders and local settlers. They meticulously recorded these transactions in their own books, also retaining original “returns of surveys” with contemporary sketches of tracts as they were delineated. (In the case of West Jersey, these and other “loose papers” date back to the 1670s.)
In 1998 and 2005, respectively, the records of the East and West Jersey Proprietors came to the New Jersey State Archives (NJSA). Since then, various initiatives by Archives staff have made portions of these materials—and also early land records of the former Provincial Secretary (predecessor to the Secretary of State)—more accessible to researchers.
To date, more than 20,000 land documents have been indexed in the State Archives’ Early Land Records online database. However, NJSA holds more than 80,000 colonial and proprietary land records and much more work needs to be done. This project will support these efforts.
The resultant free, online database will provide access to documents across more than 60 collections ranging from vast provincial/state- and proprietary-level sources to more obscure county record series and personal and family papers.
Why are these records important?
New Jersey’s early property records are of national significance for several reasons. Millions of American families descend from the immigrant settlers of colonial New Jersey whose lives they memorialize. They tell the story of settlement patterns and the land-distribution and legal systems in one of the original colonies. They also document interactions and relationships between New Jersey’s Indian sachems and European immigrants of varying ethnic and religious backgrounds. However, our land papers are also unique in comparison to those of the other colonies in that roughly two thirds of them were held privately for twelve generations.
What will the Project do?
The New Jersey Early Land Records Project will expedite the ongoing work at the New Jersey State Archives by providing funding for Project processing and archiving staff, materials, conservation, digitization, and related expenses. Project funds will supplement the considerable investments already made by the State of New Jersey and will allow for additional staffing hours for the Project—archivists who are experts in colonial land records.
The resulting online database, funded in part by this project, will be fully name- and place-indexed—encompassing people and property details from more than 80,000 land instruments. This can include grantors and grantees; witnesses; spouses, children, siblings, and other relatives and heirs; owners of adjacent property; officials, attorneys, clerks, surveyors, and others.
This database, which will encompass materials from more than 60 collections, will provide a rich new untapped resource for exploring settlement patterns and family history.
How can you help?
Donations and grants, of any amount, are welcome. Individuals and groups, including land-title professionals, land surveyors, archaeologists, lineage societies, and historians, genealogists, and those who love New Jersey and colonial history, have already joined us in supporting this ambitious endeavor.
The early financial support of those listed on the Project Donors page have enabled the NJSA to continue work on processing and indexing documents, conserve important and irreplaceable documents discovered during the unboxing, and sets the stage for the database initiative and related subprojects planned for the next three years of the project.
We especially encourage New Jersey historical and genealogical societies and those organizations with an interest in records from the colonial era to participate raising funds for this landmark Project. You contributions matter!
All project donations will be held in a dedicated project account and fund only project-related activities. This includes funds to contract processing archivists, equipment and materials, and database development, among other items. Additional sub-projects may include online mapping, K-12 educational materials, and outreach about the records, the time period, and the project.
Please help us spread the word about this important work and contribute to the project.
Donations are made to the Genealogical Society of New Jersey, a registered 501(c)3 organization, and may be tax-deductible. Please consult your tax advisor.
For more information
For more information about the Project, press inquiries, or ways your company or society can donate to the project, contact the
Project Administrator, GSNJ Trustee Michelle D. Novak.