Marriage Returns, 1684-1892

RECORD GROUP: County Clerk
SERIES: Marriage Returns
DATES: 1684-1892
VOLUME: 11.5 cubic feet

Marriage jpg for webpage
***Click here to search the Marriage Returns database***
Marriage returns are documents submitted to the county clerk by ministers and justices of the peace.  The series includes 12,170 marriages performed in Monmouth County, New Jersey. When the clerk received the “return” from the officiate, it was recorded in “Marriage Books.” The clerk would write the book and page number on the back of each return which also included officiant’s name, names of participants, and addresses. The collection does not contain records of Catholic or Jewish marriages.
The most significant Acts which affected the documentation of marriages in Monmouth County were the following:

1795 March 4
Act Concerning Marriages

1848 March 3
An Act relating to the registering and returns of births, deaths, and marriages

1862 March 11
A further Supplement to the Act entitled, An Act relating to the registering and returns of births, deaths and marriages in the State of New Jersey, approved March 3, 1848

1866 April 4
A Supplement to an Act Concerning Marriages, passed March 4, 1795

1874 March 27
Revised Statutes, An Act Concerning Marriages, Births, and Deaths

1876 April 17
A Supplement to the Act entitled, An Act concerning marriages, births, and deaths, approved March 27, 1874

1878 April 5
An Act concerning the registry and returns of marriages, births, and deaths

1880 March 12
An Act to render more effective the ordinances of County Boards of Health and Vital Statistics in the several counties of this State and to define their powers and duties

1887 March 31
An Act to establish in this State, a board of health and a bureau of vital statistics and to define their respective powers and duties

Prior to 1795, filing and recording of all marriages within the Province of New Jersey were the responsibility of the Governor’s office. On March 4, 1795, through an Act of the General Assembly, the record keeping of marriages shifted from the state level to the county level. All ministers and Justices of the Peace were directed to file a return of all the marriages they performed with the County Clerk. Returns were to be made within six months or three months for the marriages of minors. The return was to include the bride and groom’s names and the date the marriage took place. It was to be signed by the Justice of the Peace or minister and his affiliation. Parents’ names were not required. The County Clerk also was responsible to record each marriage in what were commonly referred to as the “Marriage Books,” which are held in the Clerk’s office in Freehold.

The recording procedure at the county level remained in effect until 1848 when, through an act of Legislature entitled, An Act relating to the registry and returns of births, deaths, and marriages, approved March 3, 1848, the responsibility for record keeping was transferred to the municipal level by requiring township and town clerks to keep all records of births, deaths, and marriages. The township or town clerk was also required to send lists, each year, to the Secretary of State detailing the town’s births, deaths, and marriages. The Act of 1848 also required additional information on the marriage return, such as ages, occupations, parents’ names, and the town of the bride and groom.

The March 3, 1848 Act was widely ignored. Marriage returns continued to be sent to, and recorded by, the County Clerk for another 30 years. In addition, the required information such as age, parents’ names, etc., was, in most cases, not included. The 30 and 60 day return period was completely disregarded by most, if not all, ministers and Justices of the Peace who often filed their returns from a year to seven years after the marriage.

In another attempt by the Legislature to set guidelines for the recording of marriages, a March 11, 1862 act entitled, A further Supplement to the Act entitled, An Act relating to the registering and returns of births, deaths and marriages in the State of New Jersey, approved March 3, 1848, directed that returns be sent to the township or town assessor, who would send the documents to the township or town clerk. The clerks were to keep specific books for the recording of all births, deaths, and marriages and submit a yearly report to the Secretary of State.
The County Clerk, at this point, was only responsible to supply each township or town clerk with the blank books.

The March 11, 1862 Act of the General Assembly should have made the law very clear but marriage returns continued to be recorded in the County Clerk’s office.

To add to the legislative confusion, two additional laws were passed within eight years, the first on April 4, 1866 and the other on March 17, 1874 (1874 Revised Statutes of New Jersey). Each of these laws directed ministers, Justices of the Peace, and keepers of religious society records to submit their marriage returns not only to the township or town clerks, but to the County Clerk’s office as well. The 1874 Act also stressed the importance of township and town clerks supplying the Secretary of State with annual reports.

The ultimate responsibility for records of marriages, births, and deaths was slowly shifting back to the State level with the Acts of Legislation of April 7, 1876 (Supplement to the Act of March 24, 1874), April 5, 1878 and March 12, 1880. Through these Acts, “vital statistics” became a household phrase and the County Clerk’s role as record keeper of marriages was eliminated. In each of the 1876, 1878, and 1880 Acts of the General Assembly, town and township clerks and assessors continued to be given responsibility for the recording of their town’s vital statistics but were to make all reports to the Clerks of the Boards of Health & Vital Statistics, where such Boards existed. It was the duty of the Clerk of the Board to submit an annual report to the Secretary of State.

By an Act of the General Assembly on March 31, 1887, the Bureau of Vital Statistics was established, eliminating County level recording and bringing the system full circle back to the State of New Jersey.

The Marriage Returns series documents 12,170 marriages in the period 1684-1934. There are no records from 1893-1933 and only one in 1934, which happens to be a certificate of a Catholic marriage.

By law, the minister or Justice of the Peace was required to submit a return to the County Clerk of the marriages performed within six months or three months in the case of minors. Throughout the Marriage Returns series, it is rare that the six-month and three-month requirement was followed. The majority of returns cover a period of anywhere from one to two years, with many marriages listed on each document. There also are many returns listing marriages over a period of three to seven years; and in some cases, seven to ten years.

From 1684 to 1794, there are only a few returns. Early returns are rare because, prior to 1795, all returns were supposed to be submitted to, and recorded in, the Royal Governor’s office.  From 1795 to 1878, there are 59 to 213 returns per year, except in 1864, when there are only 25.

Once the return was received by the County Clerk, it was recorded in what is commonly referred to as the “Marriage Books.” Books A, B, C, D, E, and F represent the marriages recorded by Monmouth County Clerks from 1790 to 1887. The books include the names of the bride and groom, sometimes their residences, officiate, and date the ceremony was performed. The Clerk also was required to write the book and page number on the back of each return.

While the Marriage Books are a good source of information, the returns also include officiant’s name, affiliation and, in some cases, where the ceremony was performed. It is rare for early returns (1800-1840s) to mention parents’ names. Later returns (1850-1887), in most cases, do include names of parents. Also, for some marriages, witnesses are mentioned.

Marriage returns cannot be found within the Monmouth County marriage collection for Catholic marriages performed in a church by priests (except as noted above) and Jewish marriages performed by rabbis.  Marriages in towns that became part of Ocean County in 1850 are not available after that date.

There are instances when Monmouth County residents living close to other county lines traveled to a church or Justice of the Peace in another county to get married.  For example, a couple who lived in Upper Freehold could have chosen to be married at a church in Mercer or Middlesex County. These marriages were not recorded by the Monmouth County Clerk and are not indexed at the Monmouth County Archives.

There are instances of out-of-county people getting married and filing the record in Monmouth. About 200 brides or grooms listed their residence as Burlington County; the same in Ocean County. Some listed their residence as New York; a few were from other countries.

This collection is open to researchers.
A searchable online database is available at Marriage Returns, 1684-1892. Microfilmed marriage records, books and indexes by husband’s name and another by wife’s maiden name are available in Archives reading room. The indexes also include the husband’s and wife’s towns, where the ceremony was performed, and the minister and his affiliation or the Justice of the Peace. If available on the return, information such as ages, parents’ names, or other miscellaneous information is provided in the index. The index also provides, for each marriage, the book and page of the Marriage Books. A microfilm roll number is provided for quick and easy accessibility in locating the document.
Due to the extensive overlapping of years on each return by the ministers or Justices of the Peace, chronological order is not strictly followed. The documents are arranged in Marriage Book order, beginning with the earliest dates and ending with the latest dates within Book A, B, etc.
Monmouth County Archives
125 Symmes Drive
Manalapan, NJ 07726
Phone: (732) 308-3771
The Marriage Returns and Marriage Books were transferred to the Monmouth County Archives by County Clerk, Jane G. Clayton before 1994.
The Marriage Returns finding aid was created September 28, 2012, updated May 30, 2013, and updated June 2015 by George Joynson. The Marriage Returns database was created March 31, 1997. An additional 505 records were added and updated June 24, 2015.
Marriage information can sometimes be found in Deeds; online local newspapers such as Red Bank Register, Matawan Journal, and Ocean Grove Times, other local newspapers that are not online, family bible records and various other sources.