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From the Green Valley News, Wednesday 3 October 2007, page B10

Genealogy Today, by Betty Malesky

Off to the Courthouse

October is Family History Month. Green Valley Genealogical Society will celebrate the occasion with a booth at the White Elephant Country Fair. Stop by and visit with our members. If you have questions about how to start researching your family, here’s your chance to ask them. Don’t let the month go by without thinking about what you can do to perpetuate your family’s history.

As many of you know, courthouses are among my favorite places. In August I visited two New Jersey courthouses for the first time, one in Warren County and the other in Hunterdon County.

Before setting out I needed to know the history of county formation in New Jersey. Goldbug Software has developed Animap, an excellent computer tool for this purpose. It displays county histories from inception of the state or territory until today with clickable map illustrations.

New Jersey was established in 1675 with four counties and subsequently split into East Jersey and West Jersey in 1683. In 1714 Hunterdon County was formed from part of Burlington County and the yet unsettled northern section of West Jersey. Morris County was taken from Hunterdon in 1739 and Sussex County from Morris in 1753. In November 1824 Warren separated from Sussex.

Knowing theses dates I was able to determine where to find my family’s records at a given time period. Since my Scots Irish ancestor lived in Hunterdon County before the American Revolution but probably not before 1714, I started there. The present Hunterdon County Courthouse was built in 1828 and is best known as the site of the 1935 Lindbergh kidnapping trial. The County Clerk’s office is still housed in the building. Researchers have free access to the original deed books and a coin-operated copy machine is conveniently located in the hallway.

Hunterdon probate records are at Surrogate Court in the new Justice Center two blocks from the courthouse. Since researchers must pass through security here, my sister could not enter as she wouldn’t relinquish her camera. So while we could take digital camera photos of deeds in the courthouse, the "no camera" rule prevented photographing probate records.

The son of my Scots Irishman settled in Sussex County in 1809 in an area situated in Warren County by 1825. The Warren County Courthouse was also built circa 1825 and is still in use today. Here the County Clerk is located just inside the door and the Surrogate Office immediately opposite across the hall. Both locations are prior to the security checkpoint for easy access. Copies are made by county staff or the researcher may take digital photos.

Digital photos are really helpful as they can be downloaded to your computer home and magnified as much as necessary to facilitate reading. The digital images are sharper and cleaner than those on available microfilms made up to forty or fifty years ago.

Before visiting a courthouse, list the names you will be searching and a brief plan to keep you on track. If you are new to courthouse research, obtain a copy of Christine Rose’s book, Courthouse Indexes Illustrated. Over 30 illustrations and easy-to-follow instructions demystify decoding the myriad indexes found at courthouses whether using records in person or on microfilm. Wills and deeds are just part of the story. Rose’s earlier book, Courthouse Research for Family Historians discusses all of the record types you may expect to find at the courthouse and how to use them.

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