Common Pleas, 1721-1949

RECORD GROUP: Clerk of the Court Records
RECORD SERIES #: 2400
SERIES: Common Pleas
DATES: 1721-1949
VOLUME: 327 manuscript boxes, 194 record cartons, 102 books, & 218 rolls of microfilm labeled Pleas Court.

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Abstract
Inferior Court of Common Pleas (hereafter “Common Pleas”) records are primarily court cases involving smaller claims, although a wide variety of other civil (non-criminal) matters were also handled by this court.  The boxes of loose papers for these cases constitute one of the largest series in the Archives. Common Pleas records include loose papers, minute books, scratch minute books, judgment books, index books, appeals & notices book and a widow pensions book, spanning 226 years of Monmouth County court cases.  Common Pleas records in the Archives include but are not limited to:

  • Loose Papers, 1723-1900 – 37,949 records in 324 manuscript boxes + 7 oversized boxes
  • Loose Papers, 1901-1948 – 36,168 case files in 194 record cartons, plus 508 records in 3 manuscript boxes.
  • Minute Books, 1721-1947 – 64 books
  • Scratch Minute Books, 1911-1936 – 5 books
  • General Index to Judgments Books, 1869-1909 –  2 books
  • Judgments Books, 1799-1949 – 29 books
  • Appeals & Notices Book, 1869-1893 – 1 book
  • Widow Pensions Book, 1931-1936 – 484 records in 1 book
History
The Common Pleas court began England in about the year 1200 and in 1215 was authorized by the Magna Carta.   In 1704, the New Jersey Colonial Legislature established the Court of Common Pleas to hear civil cases.  An ordinance allowed Justices of the Peace to hear cases and appeals of debt or trespass less than 40 shillings without a jury. Soon after the New Jersey court was established, each county established its own Court of Common Pleas to handle civil matters.  The Monmouth County Common Pleas court had civil jurisdiction at common law over disputes, usually concerning failure to pay debts, as well as naturalizations, tavern licenses, peddlers, and name changes.

Hierarchically, Common Pleas was above the Court of Small Causes, heard by Justices of the Peace involving the smallest amounts of money, and below Circuit Court which was staffed by visiting Supreme Court justices. Appeals from Common Pleas were usually heard by Circuit Court.

The 1878 Revision to the Statutes of New Jersey provided that Common Pleas would be administered by two lay judges in counties having a law judge and of three in all other counties, provided that the Act did not apply to counties with more than 50,000 population.

In 1947, the new  New Jersey State Constitution eliminated the Common Pleas court and replaced it, along with the criminal courts of Oyer & Terminer and General Quarter Sessions, with the Superior Court of New Jersey.

Scope & Content
A Common Pleas record provides information about a civil case, ranging in length from one to twenty or more pages. Data in records include plaintiff and defendant, a term describing the type of case, names of representing attorneys and the judge hearing the case, and the result. Documents can include a declaration and statement of demand, an inventory of the items unpaid, a countersuit by the person being sued, and an appeal. Common Pleas case records can also contain a summons, order for discovery, declarations, notice of trial, contracts, leases, warrant for satisfaction of judgment, bond and costs. Some Common Pleas records mention names of family members and their relationships; executors or administrators of estates of deceased persons; and company executives, business partnerships and trade names.

The Monmouth County Archives has discrete record series pertaining to Building Contracts, Illegitimate Children, Marriages, Mechanic Liens Name Changes, Tavern Applications, and others.  Where references to such topics are found in the Common Pleas records, the databases for these record series have been updated with cross references.

Access Restrictions
Common Pleas cases involving lunacy orders and commitments to mental hospitals are restricted but reasonable requests for genealogical information can be provided by Archives staff from these records upon request.  Some 20th century Common Pleas records pertaining to welfare involving minors are also restricted.

Use
Microfilm or original documents will be provided to researchers at the archives. Replies to email requests for copies of Common Pleas cases will either be scanned and attached to a reply email if less than 5 pages, or copied and mailed for a modest copy fee and postage paid in advance. An index of Common Pleas loose papers is available at the archives. The Access database index of loose records 1723-1900 includes and is sortable by: plaintiff name, sometimes plaintiff town, defendant, sometimes defendant town, year, sometimes notes, and box number.

Arrangement
Series # 2400.10
Common Pleas Minute Books, 1721-1947
There are 64 Common Pleas Minute Books covering the years 1721-1947, where the cases are entered chronologically. These books have been microfilmed. Some books have an alphabetical index in the front of the book. The Common Pleas books were microfilmed on 47 reels.

Series # 2400.20
Common Pleas Loose Papers, 1723-1900
Common Pleas loose papers from 1723-1900 are contained in 324 manuscript boxes and are arranged by year starting with the year 1723 in manuscript Box 1, to year 1900 in Box 324. Within each year cases are arranged alphabetically by defendant. If the case involved action that continued over a year, the record will be found in the year that the case started.  These 37,000 records have been processed, microfilmed, and indexed in an Access database available in the Archives. The Access database includes: year, defendant, plaintiff, town, notes and box #. Digitizing is complete through 1865 and is continuing. Some have been posted online on the Open Public Records Search System (OPRS).

Common Pleas Loose Papers 1901-1949
Common Pleas Loose Papers from 1901-1949 are arranged by docket number 1-36,168 and contained in 194 record cartons. These were microfilmed as “Pleas Court” on 218 reels of microfilm.

Series # 2400.30
Common Pleas Judgment Books, 1799-1949
There are 29 Common Pleas Judgment Books, spanning 1799-1949. Judgments were entered chronologically. Some books have two alphabetical indexes, one for plaintiffs and one for defendants. Some records include docket numbers. These books have been microfilmed.

Series # 2400.40
Common Pleas General Index to Judgment Books, 1869-1909
There is one book labeled General Index to Judgments 1877- that is unusable and needs to be restored. 1-1-9. Another book covers 1869-1909 and is arranged chronologically.

Series # 2400.50
Common Pleas Widow Pensions, 1931-1936
Common Pleas Widow Pensions are contained in one book of 484 records entered chronologically and numbered consecutively, with an alphabetical index by widow’s surname. Records include the date the pension was filed, and remarks such as: granted, modified, revised, revoked, dismissed, denied, increased, or reduced. These have been microfilmed but are not in the Common Pleas Access database as of December 2, 2014.

Series # 2400.60
Common Pleas Scratch Minutes Books, 1911-1936
Common Pleas Scratch Minute books are hand written records of events as they occurred and later used to create the official Minute Books. These 5 books have been microfilmed.

Series # 2400.70
Common Pleas Lunacy Orders, 17 Books
Contact the Archives for additional information about this subseries.

Repository
Monmouth County Archives
125 Symmes Drive
Manalapan, NJ 07726
Phone: 732-308-3771

Acquistion Information
The Common Pleas records were transferred to the Monmouth County Archives by County Clerk, Jane G. Clayton before December 31, 1996.

Processing Information
Common Pleas were processed by Eugene Osovitz. Indexing began in 2003 and cases from 1723-1900 were completed November 21, 2014. This Common Pleas finding aid was first drafted by George Joynson on July 19, 2014, and revised by Gary D. Saretzky, January 8, 2015.

Related Material
Common Pleas loose papers from 1810-1817 have been digitized and are available online at OPRS.  Monmouth County Common Pleas records are only available through Monmouth County Archives.