Questions & Answers

I am just starting genealogy research. Do you have any suggestions?

My three best tips: 1. Start with what you know and work backwards in time; 2. Cite your sources, from books, manuscripts, letters, even phone conversations; 3. Make friends with your relatives (you never know who has the family Bible or photos of great-great grandma until you ask). See my article on Genealogy 101: Starting Your Family Tree. Check out FamilySearch research help for information on beginning genealogy to specific records and unique situations.

Read how-to books, family history magazines such as Ancestry and Family Tree, and genealogical journals. Take classes or attend conferences.

Read my blog posts for suggestions:

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My ancestors lived in Elizabethport in the 1600s. Since Union county didn’t exist before 1857, am I at the right site?

Yes! The Union county NJGenWeb project covers communities now contained within present-day Union county, regardless of the time period. (Elizabethport is now part of the city of Elizabeth.)

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Why can’t I find actual record transcriptions on your NJUnionGenWeb site?

I use the NJGenWeb Archives pages to host all record transcriptions related to my NJUnionGenWeb site and provide links to the data on the appropriate Community and/or Records pages. The NJUnionGenWeb Archives includes area histories, Bibles, biographies, cemeteries, census records, church records, directories, family histories, land records, military records, newspaper articles, obituaries, penny postcards, school records, tax lists, vital records, and wills/estates records. Not only does it have a great search engine (county, state, and nationwide), it also has an easy-to-use submission form so anyone can add records.

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Is there a genealogy society for Union county?

Not exactly. There’s a county historical society, but its focus is not genealogy. Some communities do have genealogy or historical societies, and you will find them listed on their individual Communities pages. The state Genealogical Society of New Jersey offers programs as well as a quarterly journal, mostly filled with record transcriptions.

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Where can I find Bible records for New Jersey relatives?

Good question! Ask your relatives first. If you’ve done thorough research on collateral lines, ask those relatives too. The Genealogical Society of New Jersey has been collecting Bible records for decades. The Society’s manuscript collections, including Bible records, are at Special Collections and University Archives, Alexander Library, 169 College Avenue, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ. Some transcriptions have been published in the Genealogical Magazine of New Jersey, available at local libraries with a genealogy collection. The National Genealogical Society, New England Historic Genealogical Society, Daughters of the American Revolution, and other societies have been collecting Bible records for years, so check out their web sites for more information. Check the NJGenWeb Archives for Bible records in the state and in Union county. Also try the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections, libraries, and anywhere else that collects old stuff. You may not find a Bible in the location you expect!

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When did New Jersey start collecting vital records? How can I find earlier records?

Most church officials kept records of baptisms, marriages, and burials as part of their duties. Some of these records still exist, but finding them can be a challenge. Some are in private hands, at church archives, or in historic collections at libraries and societies. I have tried to include links to the resources I know. You may also want to check the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections.

From 1795 to 1878, ordained ministers and Justices of the Peace were required to send marriage certificates to the county clerk. The state began collecting vital records in May 1848.

The NJ State Archives has municipal and county records in its collections, including marriage records. Check out the NJ State Archives for searchable databases. You can order vital records from the State Archives; some years are available for in-person use only. Some libraries, genealogical societies, and the Family History Library may have copies of these microfilms. See also FamilySearch indexes and images.

For more recent birth, marriage, and death records, contact the NJ Bureau of Vital Statistics and Registration. You can also order records through the national VitalChek service.

If you know the location of a birth, marriage, or death, it’s sometimes faster and easier to contact the town clerk’s office instead. Each Community page lists the clerk’s address at the top as well as URLs for cemetery transcriptions and other vital record transcriptions. For instance, the History and Genealogy of Westfield, New Jersey, & Vicinity web site includes Presbyterian church baptism, marriage, and burial records.

You also may want to ask if someone from the NJUnion email list can do a look up for you.

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How are the NJ vital records indexed? Are there specific Union county codes I need to know?

May 1848 – May 1867
The Vital Records are on ledger pages, and there are few individual certificates. They are arranged:

  • First, by county (Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, etc.) or by major city (Jersey City, Newark, Trenton)
  • Second, by type of record (Births, Marriages, Deaths)
  • Third, by year (May 1848 – May 1849; May 1849 – May 1850, etc.)
  • Remember, Union county didn’t exist before 1857, so look under Essex county.

June 1867 to May 1878:
The Vital Records are on ledger pages, and there are few individual certificates. The VR are arranged:

  • First, by year (June 1867 – May 1868; June 1868 – May 1869, etc.)
  • Within each year, there are specific volumes for Births, Marriages, or Deaths
  • Each volume is arranged Atlantic County through Hudson County, or Hunterdon County through Warren County.

June 1878 to December 1900:
The VR are arranged:

  • First separated by type of records. Births, Marriages, and Deaths are each their own series of records.
  • Second, the records are grouped by Fiscal Year (June 1878; July 1878 – June 1879; July 1879 – June 1880, etc.).
  • Within each Fiscal Year the records are arranged by County and/or major City (for example, Union county [general], Elizabeth, Plainfield, Rahway, etc.).
    • Within each general COUNTY the records are grouped by the first letter of the surname, but are not listed in any order.
    • Within each specific CITY the records are grouped by the first letter of the surname, and then grouped by month (July, August, September, etc.).

Codes for Union county:

  • Union County [general] – 90
    • Elizabeth – 91
    • Plainfield – 92
    • Rahway – 93

Remember that Plainfield and Rahway are on the county line, so if you can’t find a record, check another county. Some individuals may have recorded an event across the county line because that location was closer to them. Rahway is on the county line with Middlesex County. There are three Plainfield-named towns in three different counties:

  • Plainfield in Union County – 92
  • South Plainfield in Middlesex County – 66
  • North Plainfield in Somerset County – 86

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Why are early federal censuses for Union county not available?

Most of the 1790-1820 New Jersey censuses were destroyed. However, there are ways around missing censuses, such as using tax lists. Remember that before the founding of Union county in 1857, most of the communities were in Essex county. (Some towns were founded later than that. Check the Timeline for dates.) Check out the list of NJ censuses available for Union county.

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My ancestor immigrated to the United States. Where can I find naturalization and citizenship papers?

Before the American Revolution, New Jersey was a British colony, so anyone coming from Great Britain was automatically a citizen. Aliens (or non-naturalized citizens) could own property and participate in everyday matters, but they could not vote. Before the 20th century, you’ll find that many immigrants chose not to become naturalized citizens. Some early naturalizations were granted by the legislature and can be found in Laws of the Royal Colony of New Jersey 1703-1775 (New Jersey State Archives, 1977), while others were granted by the Supreme and Chancery Courts of New Jersey (see card file index at NJ State Archives). From the 1790s to 1906, immigrants also petitioned the local county’s Court of Common Pleas. Union county’s Court of Common Pleas granted naturalizations well into the 1980s. These records have been transferred to the NJ State Archives. After 1906, the United States government created the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) department and federal district courts (in Camden City, Newark, and Trenton) handled naturalizations. For these federal records, you can request records from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

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How can I find which church my relatives belonged to? Are there lists of churches somewhere for given time periods?

See other NJ Resources for a list of maps available. Then find your relatives’ home locations on a historic map and see what churches were near them within the timeframe of the map’s print date. (I was surprised to learn that my Scottish Presbyterian grandparents went to a Lutheran church down the street because it was closer to their house.) Look for city directories (the forerunner of phone books) for lists of churches for a specific year. The New Jersey Churchscape also lists churches. Once you know which church fits your timeframe, check for church membership and baptism, marriage, and burial records, if available.

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How can I get an obituary?

You can find microfilmed copies of newspapers at the New Jersey State Archives and at various libraries or through interlibrary loan. The Elizabeth Public Library will provide photocopies of obituaries found in their newspaper collections for a fee. In addition, there are numerous web sites that include obituaries and death notices.

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How can I find out where my ancestors are buried?

For more modern burials, check the death certificate and/or the obituary for the cemetery location.

For older burials, check if there are any cemetery transcriptions available for locations where your ancestors may be buried. The NJUnionGenWeb Archives has some tombstone lists, including one for Rahway Public Cemetery. (Thanks to a bunch of wonderful volunteers who transcribed this 1950s manuscript for the NJUnionGenWeb.) You’ll find links under individual Community as well as Records pages for other sites as well, including the Friends Burial Ground in Plainfield site. Some historians published tombstone transcriptions as part of town, county, or state history books or as separate books. One of the best known cemetery books for Union county is Inscriptions on Tombstones and Monuments of the First Presbyterian Church & St. John’s Church at Elizabeth, New Jersey 1664-1892. Check sites such as Find A Grave for user-contributed graves and Internet memorials.

If you think you know where an ancestor may be buried based on religious affiliation and/or proximity to home, try to contact the cemetery. You’ll find lists of cemeteries on individual Community pages. If there’s no office, you might try posting a question on one of the groups or message boards found here: NJUnion Queries.

If you don’t find a grave where you expect to, that does not mean your ancestor was not buried there. On one of my family plots at Evergreen Cemetery in Hillside, there are four tombstones, all male. Yet when I asked the cemetery office for the burial plot list, I found 17 people were buried there. Remember, tombstone transcriptions are just that: a record of grave markers in existence at the time the recorder visited the cemetery.

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I’m going to New Jersey to do on-site research. Do you have any recommendations?

Contact the New Jersey Travel & Tourism board for maps and brochures. If you need a place to stay or want recommendations on what to see, go to TripAdvisor or other travel sites. There is information and resource links in the Communities section of this site.

Make a list of research goals, such as find grandma Hilda’s grave, get photocopies of great-great uncle Herbert’s will, take photos of the old homestead, interview Aunt Bea. Then figure out what tasks you need to perform to meet these goals. That includes finding out as much information as possible before your trip, like plotting where the homestead was located, finding the hours of the State Archives (for wills), getting Hilda’s death certificate or obituary to find out where she was buried, etc. Contact the places you want to visit, find out their hours of operation, get directions, and check their online catalog and finding aids. See what materials they already have online so once there you can focus on what’s only available onsite. Write down which materials you wish to use (including call numbers) in each repository, so you’ll be ready as soon as the doors open and not waste valuable time, plus you’ll be more likely to stick to your research goals. Map out your research trip to see how much you can accomplish within the time period. If you have a GPS unit, bring it so you don’t waste valuable time getting lost like me.

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Do you know anyone who can provide on-site research for me?

The Genealogical Society of New Jersey provides a list of professional researchers. If it’s a simple request, you may want to ask a question on one of the groups or message boards found here: NJUnion Queries.

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I have Union county records I’d like to share. Where should I submit them?

If you have Union county genealogical or historical materials to share, the NJGenWeb Archives has an easy-to-use submission form. We’re always looking for Bible records, biographies, deeds, obituaries, pensions, wills, censuses, and much more. Recently, I transcribed lists of church officials and undertakers from select city directories, high school yearbook graduates, and Elizabeth mayors from 1738 to present day. Other people have transcribed cemetery records and vital records.

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How can I become a NJGenWeb volunteer?

We love people who want to help! The NJGenWeb Project has plenty of dedicated people but we’re always looking for more. See the state web site for details.

The USGenWeb also has various positions from national, regional, state, county, and town coordinators to special projects and archives coordinators.

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Page Updated March 2024