Ancestor Searching in Morris County

Sara Weissman, MCHS Volunteer and Reference Librarian (Ret., Morris County Library)
October 26, 2021

So many resources – books, databases, indexes, maps, etc. – have gone online in the last 25 years that for better or for worse one can do a reasonable genealogy without ever getting up from the computer. In addition to national or state records such as censuses, resources unique to Morris County can add greater detail to local ancestors’ life stories. From maps and land records to births, deaths, and marriages, here are some handy links to find more about ancestors who called the county home.

18th Century:

In 1752 a list of Morris freeholders (aka property owners) was drawn up as preparations were underway to create Sussex County from part of Morris County (1753). The first of its kind, it dates to when the entire county was just five towns (Hanover, Pequannock, Morris, Roxbury, and Mendham) and covers freeholders who lived in areas that would remain Morris County. Quite a few surnames are still found in the area 270 years later.
https://mclib.info/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/1752.pdf

The first County taxation (1780) is indexed online and available in its entirety on microfilm at the Morris County Library.
https://mcl.mainlib.org/tax_book.pdf

19th – 20th Century:

Wills of Morris County residents from 1804 to present can be searched at the Surrogate’s office, but need to be retrieved in person at the office, for a fee. 
http://www.morrissurrogate.com (Select “Search Probated Estates” under “Learn More.”)

The Heritage Commission’s County Archives require an appointment to view documents. Held in the archives are building contracts (1853-1972) and other land records, road returns (1741-1915) which often include property owners, court records, minutes of the Board of Chosen Freeholders (1786-1943), and tavern, hotel, and saloon licenses (1797-1904).
https://www.morriscountynj.gov/Departments/Heritage-Commission/Morris-County-Archives

Local newspaper The Morris County Chronicle (1877-1915) can be an excellent source for happenings in the area around the turn of the century to the first days of WWI, particularly in Morristown. Available through the Library of Congress, it is keyword searchable and often comments on the comings and goings of local residents, public events, marriages, and deaths. Best for Oct. 1897-Dec. 1914, but a few pre-1897 editions are available.
https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85035816/#tab=tab_advanced_search

 For the Central and Western portions of the county such as Rockaway, Jefferson, Dover, and Washington Twp., newspapers Iron Era (1872-1905) and The Rockaway Record (1899-1935) similarly report on resident’s comings and goings, etc. However, they are not keyword searchable, so best used when at least a rough date for an event is known.

Iron Era: https://www.rtlibrary.org/iron-era/
The Rockaway Record: https://www.rtlibrary.org/rockaway-record/

Maps (19th-20th Century):

Rutgers, Princeton, and the Morristown/Morris Twp Free Public Library have digital copies of historic maps which note county property owners 1853-1910.

1853 Map of Morris County: http://mapmaker.rutgers.edu/Morris/Morris_County1853.jpg
1868 Beers Atlas of Morris County: https://jfpl.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15387coll1/id/7/rec/10
1874 Map of Morristown: https://library.princeton.edu/njmaps/counties/morris.html
1887 Robinson Atlas of Morris County: https://cdm16100.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15387coll6
1910 Mueller Atlas of Parts of Morris County: https://cdm16100.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15387coll8

Additional Resources:

Full texts of books on a variety of local topics and families can be found online.

Searchable in Google books:
http://books.google.com

and through University of Michigan’s HathiTrust project:
http://babel.hathitrust.org

(Two very useful early Morris books are Percy Crayon’s Rockaway Records of Morris County and the 1885 History of the First Presbyterian Church, Morristown, NJ, both of which list baptisms or “parentage”, marriages and burials.)

The State Archives offer indexing of early court, marriage, death and land sale records and a reasonably priced, fairly prompt ordering service for document copies. Individual town’s Registrar of Vital Statistics may also have local birth and death records.
https://wwwnet-dos.state.nj.us/DOS_ArchivesDBPortal/index.aspx

Check your local library for access to databases like Ancestry. In Morris County, all libraries offer HeritageQuest Online, from home, and the County Library accesses Ancestry.com from within the library.
http://www.mainlib.org

The Morris Area Genealogy Society (MAGS) does up to an hour of research for a membership fee of $15 if you can’t travel and have hit a dead end.
https://mags-public.weebly.com/research-requests.html

MCHS also holds archives that include historic documents from the 17th-20th centuries, including information on some local families. While not open to the public, MCHS’s research assistant can fulfill research requests. To make a request, complete the contact form on our website: https://morriscountyhistory.org/contact/

Did you enjoy this blog? MCHS is an independent nonprofit. Please consider supporting our mission at morriscountyhistory.org/donate or become a member at morriscountyhistory.org/get-involved/ to help us continue to preserve and promote Morris County history through programs, exhibits, and blogs like this.