Author Archives: Heather Husted

Researching New Jersey’s Mental Hospitals

1849 New Jersey State Asylum Report

1849 New Jersey State Asylum Report
1849 State Asylum Report Title Page
The reports of New Jersey’s State Asylums to the Legislature are now digitized and available online in our New Jersey State Publications Digital Library. These documents are snapshots of how the State perceived, housed, and treated the mentally ill. Researchers of the history of medicine, the history of social movements, and the history of patient rights will find these collections of interest.

On Tuesday February 5, Digital Librarian Caitlyn Cook presented “From Dorothea Dix to the Post-War Era: Historic Reports of New Jersey’s Mental Hospitals.” Cook discussed the unique contents of over seventy years of government documents, during a period when the treatment of mental illness was undergoing profound change.

The State Hospital network included facilities in Trenton, Morristown, Ancora (Hammonton), Glen Gardner, Arthur Brisbane (Farmingdale), and Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital. Our collection is incomplete, but you can browse our print holdings in our catalog under the heading Psychiatric Hospitals – New Jersey or by searching the State Library catalog by facility name. The most complete collections of reports in the Library’s collection are from the Trenton and Morristown facilities and these, as well as Ancora, have been digitized. Additional reports will be digitized over time. We actively collect and will add new state documents to the library’s collection when they are made available to us.

Digitized State Hospital Collections

To date, librarians have digitized the following State Hospital collections.

What do Asylum Reports contain?

State Asylum at Trenton baseball team
State Asylum at Trenton baseball team
Report contents varied widely year to year. A budget statement was always included, but in some years you will find photographs of patient activities and treatment rooms, architectural drawings, and renderings of building works. The other persistent feature of asylum reports are patient statistics; these did vary year to year, but they typically include gender, race, occupation before admission, reason for the illness and its duration, and New Jersey county of origin. The eugenics movement in the early 1900s prompted reporting on patients’ ethnicity, level of education, and literacy. In some years, you will find charts that attempted to correlate diagnosis with ethnicity. Some reports contain pathology reports, x-rays, microscopy, and summaries of autopsies conducted at the hospital, including individual patients’ ages and genders, as well as brief summaries of autopsy findings.

Other Sources for Asylum Research

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of the Trenton Asylum, 1908
Plans of the asylums were included in some reports, but can also be viewed on fire insurance maps. State employees and TESU staff and students can access the interactive database Fire Insurance Maps Online with their state library card. Older fire insurance maps are public domain; freely available digital collections can be accessed from Princeton University and the Library of Congress.

Asylum reports did not name individual patients and will be of limited use to the genealogist. Extant patient records are in the collections of the New Jersey State Archives and are unavailable to the public except under extraordinary circumstances. Records of the chancery court (also held at the State Archives) may contain information about the legal circumstances under which patients were committed.

U. S. Federal Census returns include names of all patients and staff residing on the campus. On some returns, resident occupations and ethnicity were included. To find state asylum listings on the Census, try searching for the superintendent at the time the census was conducted. For example see the 1850 record for asylum superintendent Dr. Horace Buttolph; asylum residents and staff appear on pages 30-35. See Dr. Buttolph’s record in 1870; residents and staff are enumerated on pages 47-64.

About the Digital Publications Library

The New Jersey State Library’s State Publications Collection preserves all works published by the State and its entities, whether print or born digital. The digitization of our extensive print holdings is ongoing. Visit our collections in the New Jersey State Library Digital Publications Library. For questions about asylum reports, state publications, and other digital collections, contact Caitlyn Cook, New Jersey Reference & Digital Librarian, or Deborah Mercer, New Jersey Collections Librarian.

Using Ratables for New Jersey Genealogy

image of twelve shilling note, printed 1776

What are ratables?

Ratables are lists of heads of household compiled in order to levy a tax.  Heads of household were typically males and in some cases widows.  These taxes were levied periodically from 1773-1822.

Tax rates were based on a number of variables set by the New Jersey General Assembly, such as how many “improved” (i.e. arable) acres were owned, how many and what type of livestock, whether you owned a carriage, and how many servants and enslaved persons were contracted and owned.

The specifics of what was taxed and at what rate changed when each new tax was issued.  Information collected about the taxpayer varied based on what was being taxed for the period of that ratable.

Somerset County 1784 Book 1778 page 10
A ratable from Somerset County, 1784. Courtesy New Jersey State Archives ; Department of State

What can you do with ratables?

Ratables are an important primary source for pre-1830 genealogy research in New Jersey.

The first set of ratables was issued in 1773-1774, while New Jersey was a province, then regularly until 1822. There was no statewide census of colonial New Jersey.  The federal census returns for New Jersey conducted from 1790-1820 are lost; the first available statewide census return for New Jersey is 1830.  There are less census returns available for New Jersey than any other state. Genealogy researchers use ratables as a census substitute.

Lists of all known taxpayers in a town and lists of all known taxpayers with the same surname facilitate cluster genealogy, name studies, local history studies, and brick wall research.

Revolutionary Census of New Jersey

There are several published transcriptions and compilations of tax lists. The Revolutionary Census of New Jersey compiled by Kenn Stryker-Rodda is the most used.  This index groups individuals by last name from three different ratables: 1773-1774, 1778-1780, and 1784-1786.  There is no complete set of ratables for all regions in this time period, so by using these three sets, all townships are covered.

“For the revolutionary period there is at least one list for each of the townships into which the thirteen counties of the colony/state were divided… Two successive lists have been incorporated into this index whenever possible, as individuals were sometimes omitted from a list, and because names were spelled differently even by the same assessor.” (Stryker-Rodda, p. v.)

image of twelve shilling note, printed 1776
reverse of a New Jersey twelve shilling note, printed in 1776

The index is alphabetical by last name, and includes their township. For the financial details and to see all taxpayers of the same town listed together, you can refer back to the transcriptions of the ratables published in the Genealogical Magazine of New Jersey. A “code” in the front of the book indicates which issue of GMNJ contains the transcription.  The New Jersey State Library has a complete set of the Genealogical Magazine of New Jersey available for in-library use.

What can you learn from ratables?

The account of the taxpayer’s property lists several features of his wealth.  Tax was calculated by multiplying these numbers by rates.  For example, the tax burden for a householder in 1773/1774 ranged from 2 shillings to £4.  Those who owned a furnace or glass-house could be taxed up to £10.  There are a number of carve-outs and exemptions, similar to modern tax policy.

Information Contained in Ratables

1773-1774

1778-1780

1784-1786

  • a number without a letter: number of acres of improved land
  • c: number of horses and/or cattle
  • gm: grist mill
  • hh: householder
  • ms: merchant shop
  • rc: riding chair
  • s: servants or enslaved persons
  • sm: single man
  • sm&h: single man who keeps a horse
  • v: vessel (boat)
  • a number without a letter: number of acres of improved land
  • c: horned cattle
  • ex: exempt
  • h: horse(s)
  • h&l: house and small lot
  • hh: householder
  • p: hog(s)
  • rc: riding chair
  • s: enslaved persons
  • sm: single man who works for hire
  • sm&h: single man who keeps a horse
  • u: acres of unimproved land
  • £: amount out at interest
  • a number without a letter: number of acres of improved land
  • c: horned cattle
  • ex: exempt
  • gm: grist mill
  • h: horse(s)
  • h&l: house and small lot
  • hh: householder
  • p: hogs

Other Indexes to Ratables

  • Jackson, Ronald Vern, ed. New Jersey Tax Lists, 1772-1822. five volumes. American Tax List Indices. Salt Lake City, Utah: Accelerated Indexing Systems, 1981. This work is an alphabetical index of taxpayers and includes the taxpayer’s name, town, county, and date they appeared on the tax list. It is not comprehensive, does not include all lists or even all counties. The contents are also searchable as part of Ancestry’s database New Jersey, Compiled Census and Census Substitutes Index, 1643-1890.
  • Norton, James S. New Jersey in 1793: An Abstract and Index to the 1793 Militia Census of the State of New Jersey. Salt Lake City, Utah, 1973.  This is a transcription of ratables created as a result of an NJ Law of 30 Nov 1792 “to take a list of all and every free and able-bodied white male Citizen, between the ages of eighteen and forty-five Years.” Those who did not serve and paid a $3 tax, as well as certain occupations, are listed as “exempt.”  There are no extant 1793 ratables from Bergen, Cape May, Salem, and Somerset, but the author reconstructed a list of these men from other sources.

Access to Ratables at the New Jersey State Archives

Of the total number of ratables recorded, only about a thousand (4% of the total) still exist. Almost all original extant ratables are in the collections of the New Jersey State Archives and are available on microfilm.

The Tax Ratables Collection Guide published by the New Jersey State Archives lists all extant ratables and microfilm copies available at the NJSA. “This series includes original tax ratables from the period 1773-1822, as well as photocopies of several tax lists currently in the custody of various historical societies.” Ratables are part of the New Jersey General Assembly Collection.

These collection guides (also known as finding aids) include the microfilm reel as well as the citation to GMNJ if a transcription has been published.

Questions about access to microfilmed ratables should be directed to the New Jersey State Archives. Researchers are welcome to browse the print indexes listed above and issues of the Genealogical Magazine of New Jersey in the State Library Information Center on the fourth floor of the New Jersey State Library.