City Guide: Newark, NJ

By Thomas MacEntee Premium

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Newark—New Jersey’s largest city and the seat of Essex County—has a long history as a vibrant industrial hub that attracted our ancestors through the centuries. While many have departed the Gateway City for points farther west, genealogical riches remain. Treasure-filled records document residents from the earliest Puritan settlers to 20th-century immigrants—and we’ll help you find them.

Developing history

Puritans from Connecticut founded Newark in 1666, initially calling it the New Plantation of New Ark. Newark received township status in 1693 and a royal charter in 1713. The New Jersey legislature incorporated Newark as a township in 1798 and a city April 11, 1836.
During the first 100 years, Puritans maintained a tight grip on Newark society. The theocracy ended only in the 1740s when Episcopalian missionaries arrived. Newark was a prime manufacturing location during the Industrial Revolution. Its shipping business and the 1835 arrival of railroads spurred a diverse industrial base, attracting immigrants from New York. Companies in Newark gave us patent leather, celluloid, billiard balls and dentures. 
In the mid-19th century, Newark became home to a burgeoning insurance industry; Prudential Financial is still headquartered here. As the city’s economy grew, so did its population—peaking at more than 450,000 in 1948—and its national prominence. But typical of many East Coast cities, Newark’s fortunes declined after World War II with decreased industry and middle class migration to  the suburbs. Racial tensions culminated in July 1967 riots.
Despite a population now half of its peak, Newark remains vibrant, with an active business community, cultural attractions and universities. Today’s Newark is living up to its modern nickname: The Renaissance City.

Record industry

Access records of Newark ancestors through several repositories. The Newark Public Library, home to the Charles F. Cummings New Jersey Information Center, holds books, newspapers, documents and pictures for New Jersey, Essex County and Newark. The New Jersey Historical Society (NJHS), based in Newark, has an online Genealogists’ Guide outlining its resources, including more than 1,200 family files from NJHS patrons. Individuals can also find a name index to these files and information about research requests on the group’s website.
The New Jersey State Library in Trenton holds 18,000 genealogy titles and family histories. The state archives also has online databases and resources. 
Vital Records: New Jersey vital records begin in 1848. Certified birth certificates for immediate family and grandparents are available from the city Department of Child & Family Well-Being.
It may be easier to access vital records on the state level. The person named in the record must be deceased. Order records from May 1848 to May 1878 by mail from the state archives (see the archives website for a fee list). Request records starting in June 1878 from the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (about $25). You can order birth records older than 80 years, marriage records older than 50 years and death records older than 40 years. has some New Jersey marriage records and an index. Also check the Family History Library’s (FHL) various microfilmed vital records for Newark and Essex County (rent the film through your local FamilySearch Center).
Censuses: Though New Jersey was counted in every US census, its records are missing from 1790 through 1820. Censuses from 1830 through 1940 are on subscription sites and; several also are on the free
New Jersey conducted a state census every 10 years from 1855 through 1915. Records are at the state archives and the Newark Public Library. The 1885 census is on Family­ and the 1895 one is on

Church records: First, try to find out your ancestors’ denomination . Most of northern New Jersey was Dutch, but remember that the Puritans established Newark. For information on early Newark churches, see New Jersey Churchscape.

For Catholics, Seton Hall University’s Walsh Library has the Archdiocese of Newark Collection, which includes parish registers (1832-1914), histories, census data, oral histories and sacramental records. The Newark Public Library’s vital records collection includes some early church records. For Quakers, see William Wade Hinshaw’s Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy.
City directories: The state library has city directories for Newark, including online versions. Subscription site Fold3 has almost all Newark directories from 1861 to 1923.
Maps: New Jersey universities are your best resources for old local maps. Rutgers links to many digitized maps. Princeton has late-1800s and early-1900s Sanborn fire insurance maps for Newark.
Naturalizations: Date determines the location of naturalization papers. For Newark naturalizations prior to 1914, check the Essex County Hall of Records (part of the court system) and FHL microfilm. Naturalizations from 1914 to 1930 could be at the Hall of Records or the US District Court for New Jersey. You can order citizenship papers for 1906 and later online from the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (now the Citizenship and Immigration Service).
Probate files: New Jersey probate courts are called surrogate’s or orphan’s courts. The Essex County Surrogate’s Office, located at the Hall of Records, keeps wills and probate files. In addition, the Superior Court Records Management Center has wills, administrations, inventories and guardianships sent to Trenton since 1901. See the state archives’ holdings of microfilmed Essex County court records; the FHL has some copies.
Property: The New Jersey state archives has pre-1785 land records; after this, check the Hall of Records. The state archives’ Proprietary Warrants and Surveys 1670-1727 database indexes records of the proprietors of the East and West New Jersey provinces. The FHL has more than 5,000 microfilms of New Jersey land records.
Cemeteries: Start with the list of Essex County cemeteries at Find-A-Grave. Old Newark also has an extensive listing.
Newspapers: The Newark Public Library has a large collection of local papers, and the state archives has microfilmed Newark newspapers. Subscription site GenealogyBank has a few local publications.



  • The Enduring Community: The Jews of Newark and MetroWest by William B. Helmreich (Transaction Publishers)
  • How Newark Became Newark: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of an American City by Brad R. Tuttle (Rutgers University Press)
  • Newark (Then and Now) by William Francis (Arcadia Publishing)
  • Newark’s Little Italy: The Vanished First Ward by Michael Immerso (Rutgers University Press)

Archives & Organizations

          465 Martin Luther King Blvd, Room 405,
          Newark, NJ 07102

          465 Martin Luther King Blvd, Room 206,
          Newark, NJ 07102, (973) 621-4900, 

          Box 370, Trenton, NJ 08625, (609) 292-4087

          52 Park Place, Newark, NJ 07102, (973) 596-8500,

          225 W. State St. Level 2, Box 307, Trenton, NJ 08625, (609) 292-6260

          185 W. State St., Box 520, Trenton, NJ 08625, (609) 278-2640

          5 Washington St., Newark, NJ 07102, (973) 733-7775

Fast Facts

Settled: 1666
Incorporated: Oct. 31, 1693 (township); April 11, 1836 (city)
Nicknames: Brick City, Gateway City, Renaissance City
State: New Jersey
County: Essex
County seat: Newark
Area: 26.11 square miles
Primary historical ethnic groups: African-American, German, Irish, Jewish
Primary historical industries: Financial services, insurance, jewelry manufacturing, leather manufacturing, shipping, transportation
Famous residents: Jason Alexander, Aaron Burr, Stephen Crane, Connie Francis, Whitney Houston, Ed Koch, Queen Latifah, Jerry Lewis, Shaquille O’Neal, Eva Marie Saint, Paul Simon, Frankie Valli 


1840: 17,290
1900: 246,070
1950: 438,776
Current: 277,140

Records at a Glance

Birth Records

· Begin: 1848

· Privacy restrictions: Genealogical copies are available for deceased persons whose birth occurred more than 80 years ago.

· Research tips: Order records from May 1848 to 1901 from the New Jersey State Archives. Order later birth records from the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services.


Marriage Records

· Begin: 1848 (some available back to 1665)

· Privacy restrictions: Genealogical copies are available for deceased persons whose marriage occurred more than 50 years ago.

· Research tips: Available from the same offices as birth records. See the state archives online indexes to marriages from 1665 to 1799 and 1848 to 1878.


Death Records

· Begin: 1848

· Privacy restrictions: Genealogical copies are available for deceased persons who died more than 40 years ago.

· Research tips: Available from the same offices as birth records. See the state archives’ index to death records covering June 1878 to June 1888.


Church Records

· Begin: 1666

· Research tips: Contact the local parish or national office for the denomination. Find Essex County church information at New Jersey Churchscape.


City directories

· Begin: 1835

· Research tips: Resources include the Newark Public Library and the Fold3 and Online Historical Directories websites.



· Begin: 1670

· Research tips: Deeds prior to 1785 are at the New Jersey State Archives. After 1785, contact the Essex County Hall of Records.


Naturalization records

· Begin: 1840

· Research tips: Records prior to 1906 are available on microfilm at the state archives or the FHL. After 1906, use the USCIS Genealogy service.


Top 5 Historic Sites

1. Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart

89 Ridge St., Newark, NJ 07104, (973) 484-4600
Among the largest cathedrals in North America, this Gothic-style church—under construction from 1899 to 1954—is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark.


 2. Jewish History Museum of New Jersey

145 Broadway, Newark, NJ 07104, (973) 485-2609
Founded in 2003 and located in the historic Congregation Ahavas Sholom, this museum bears witness to the 400 years of Jewish history in New Jersey.


3. Mount Pleasant Cemetery

375 Broadway, Newark, NJ, 07104, (973) 483-0288
Established in 1843, Newark’s oldest cemetery was the vision of jewelry maker Horace Baldwin. The 40 rolling, landscaped acres contain a wide range of monument styles and the graves of many prominent Newark residents.


4. New Jersey Historical Society

52 Park Place, Newark, NJ 07102, (973) 596-8500
Founded in 1845, this museum lets you explore New Jersey’s distinct identity and the historical contributions of New Jerseyans. Click Do History for information on genealogical research here. 


5. Newark Museum

49 Washington St., Newark, NJ 07102, (973) 596-6550
Besides viewing the world-class collections in the largest museum in New Jersey, you can tour its Ballantine House. This 1885 Dutch Renaissance mansion once belonging to a beer-brewing family is a National Historic Landmark.



1664 | English seize New Netherland—including present-day New Jersey—from the Dutch

1666 | Puritans settle Newark

1746 | Trinity Episcopal Church established, ending Puritan control

1815 | Seth Boyden, inventor of patent leather, arrives from Massachusetts

1831 | Morris Canal connects Newark with rural New Jersey

1836 | Newark incorporated as a city

1845 | Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Co. founded in Newark

1873 | Prudential Insurance Co. founded in Newark.

1886 | Rev. Hannibal Good invents transparent photographic film

1935 | Gangster Dutch Schultz killed at the Palace Bar

1967 | Riots kill 26 and injure hundreds

1970 | Kenneth Gibson elected Newark’s first African-American mayor

1997 | New Jersey Performing Arts Center anchors the cultural district