Research Spotlight: Colonial New Jersey Family History Resources
One of our genealogists shares insight into two Colonial New Jersey family history resources you may not be aware of!
Because the New Jersey colonial census records and the U.S. Federal census schedules of 1790 through 1820 for New Jersey were destroyed, early genealogy research there can be especially challenging. Building off of an earlier blog post – Two Excellent New Jersey Resources – here two more resources that should not be overlooked if you are researching colonial New Jersey family history through early statehood. While the name of the collection refers to the colonial period, the actual years encompassed include almost 40 years of statehood.
1. Colonial New Jersey Family History Resource: Colonial Tax Lists, 1772-1822
This collection’s primary value is to determine where a person may have owned land or other taxable holdings in New Jersey during the period from 1773 to 1822. The lists are arranged by county then township, however it is not complete for all years of 1772-1822 across all locations. The tax ratable lists offer considerable opportunity for researchers to place family members within a community.
Ratable – an amount derived at by applying a percentage calculation. In this respect the term is used to describe an asset that can have tax charged on it.
The state-wide revenue Law was enacted in 1782 to raise £90,000 in the newly formed state of New Jersey. The law is the basis for the subsequent tax ratable lists with minor revisions through 1822. The tax ratable lists in some instances offer more information when compared to the U.S. Federal censuses for the era. A wide variety of items, property and certain occupations to be taxed were described within this law.
Within the lists you will find the tabulation of men owning land, married men living within another household, single man with or without a horse, widows owning land, and more such as occupational information on merchants, shopkeepers, traders, tanneries, tavern owners, and ferry operators. Approximate ages and relationships can sometimes be inferred, however most tax ratable lists are in semi-alphabetic order, so the ability to surmise whose household they might be part thereof is lost. The text of the law defined the difference between Householders and Single Men.
Householders – All Householders (under which Description shall be included all married Men living with their Parents and not supporting a separate Table) the estimated Value of whose ratable Estate does not amount to Twenty-five Pounds, over and above their Certainties and other Estate made ratable by the Act.
Single Men – Every single Man, whether he lives with his parents or otherwise, who keeps a Horse, Mare or Gelding, any Sum not exceeding One Pound Two Shillings and Six-pence. Every single Man, whether he lives with his parents or otherwise, who does not keep a Horse, Mare or Gelding, any Sum not exceeding Fifteen Shillings; Provided always, That every single Man possessed of a ratable Estate, and Tax whereof amounts to the highest Sum he is above directed to be rated at, shall be assessed for such Estate only, and not as a single Man.
The State provided a template for preprinting the tax ratable forms for the local assessors to utilize, however most assessors used large sheets of paper to construct a similarly formatted table on the paper. This free-form construction forced the assessors to abbreviate or write-in the column headings in a small space, thus creating bleed-through or heavy ink areas at the tops of each page.
The coverage by township within each country varies greatly. Many townships do not have complete runs of tax ratable lists, only a select portion of the lists may be found in the collection today.
How to Access:
The complete manuscript series was microfilmed and available to digitally view in-person at a local Family History Center or at the Family History Library. A review of the catalog entry provides the complete listing by county and then township to determine the years available for research.
Also, a 5-volume set – New Jersey tax lists, 1772-1822 – was compiled and edited by Ronald Vern Jackson and published in the early 1980s. The series contains an every name index with the corresponding township, county, year and page number. Researchers should note that this publication is missing most of the townships for Burlington and Middlesex counties and all of Hunterdon County.
On Ancestry, this name index with year and tax list detail was incorporated into New Jersey, Compiled Census and Census Substitutes Index, 1643-1890. There are no images of the original tax lists provided.
Additionally, the book Revolutionary census of New Jersey : an index, based on ratables, of the inhabitants of New Jersey during the period of the American Revolution by Kenn Stryker-Rodda published in 1986 abstracted a large portion of the tax ratable entries for lists created 1773 to 1786.
2. Colonial New Jersey Family History Resource: 1793 Militia Census
What: The New Jersey Legislature enacted a law to reorganize the state militia in November 1792. This law required a statewide census of all able-bodied white Male Citizens between the ages of 18 and 45. The law also allowed for certain exemptions for service during the Revolutionary War, current militia duty, or an annual exemption payment of $3.00. Those occupations exempted from the fee were Ministers of the Gospel, personnel employed by the Federal government including Post Officers, Stage Drivers, Ferry Men on Post-Roads and others.
This militia census is considered a substitute record for the missing 1790 U.S. Federal Census. The arrangement is by township within each of the counties and includes lists of those claiming exemption. The county lists varied in format, but in the case of Middlesex County, the age of every man listed is included.
How to Access:
The complete manuscript series was microfilmed and available for in-person research at the New Jersey State Archives. It was also transcribed and compiled into New Jersey in 1793 by James S. Norton. In addition to the extant militia census lists, the compiler used the contemporary tax ratable lists for Bergen, Cape May, Salem, and Somerset as substitutes because the originals were no longer available.
Do you have ancestry in Colonial New Jersey? Consider hiring Legacy Tree Genealogists and allow our team of expert genealogists help you accomplish your research goals! Contact us today for a free consultation and to let us know what our experts can do for you.
 “Ratable,” Financial Times, http://lexicon.ft.com/term?term=ratable, accessed December 2018.
 James S. Norton, New Jersey in 1793 (Salt Lake City, Utah: n.p., 1973), accessed December 2018.