by Sara Weissman, MCHS Volunteer and Reference Librarian (Ret., Morris County Library)
August 23, 2022
One of the most frequent research requests posited to MCHS is the history of the inquirer’s home. With historic houses both grand and quaint dotted throughout the county, there are always residents curious to know who once called their abode “home.” Whether you are the fourth or the fourteenth owner, the most efficient way to search a property’s history is in fact… backwards. Here are some helpful resources and links to investigate your house’s history, starting from what you know.
The Morris County Clerk offers deeds searchable online as far back as 1964, and each document states from whom the seller acquired the property. This allows a title trace without having to navigate the periodic street re-numberings which can make directory listings problematic (Acorn Hall was once 35 Morris Avenue, but is now 68). The primary search point is the buyer or seller names, but the returned records can be narrowed or sorted by date to go back to the earliest known title transfer available online.
Morris County Clerk, to order items not online:
How far back you can research online is highly influenced by the length of previous ownerships. If the earliest available resident was a longtime owner, it’s possible to reach the late 19th century. On the other hand, if the property changed hands frequently, the search may only yield sales to the 1950s.
Maps filed by developers are online back to the 1800s and generally name the principals involved. For example, surveys of George Chrystal’s land in Dover (Chrystal St) can be found for 1869, 1910 and 1996. When Singer Manufacturing bought out the Musconetcong Iron Works development in Netcong in 1924, the company filed a map with the county, detailing property owners’ names and dates of their purchases.
For those with homes built in the 19th century (or earlier), historic maps can provide periodic snapshots of property ownership. County maps and atlases listing owners (1853, 1868, 1887) can help narrow down the decade of construction. There is also a 1910 atlas that covers much of south and central Morris County, but does omit municipalities in the north and west. The Morristown/Township Library provides the map plates 1868-1910 in their digital history web.
When you have exhausted online resources, with deed book number and page reference, you can visit the County Records Vault in Morristown or mail in a check (electronic payment not accepted) to request copies.
While researching your home can be fun and interesting, if you need the information for any legal purpose, best to leave the historical digging to a professional firm. Happy Hunting!
Morris County Tax Board, owners by town, 2000-2022
NJ Dept Banking and Insurance, 2022 title insurers (25)