Persons of Interest: John Willson [or Wilson] and Mary Ayers of Sussex County, New Jersey
Relationship: 4th great grandparents
 “New Jersey, County Marriages, 1682-1956,” database with images, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VWRS-S1S : 12 December 2014), John Willson and Mary Ayres, 1814; citing Sussex, New Jersey, New Jersey State Archives, Trenton; FHL microfilm 961,018.
 “New Jersey, County Marriages, 1682-1956,” database with images, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VWR3-Y2Z : 12 December 2014), John Wilson and Mary Ayres, 12 Nov 1814; citing Sussex, New Jersey, New Jersey State Archives, Trenton; FHL microfilm 1,294,802.
Document Descriptions: I picked these marriage record documents to feature mainly because they’ve been sitting around waiting to be connected and filed ever since I found them while sitting at the Salt Lake City Family History Library (FHL) a few years ago. Yes, that’s right, a few years. I’d like to think I’m efficient but these documents prove I’m not, by any means, an expert filer or expert researcher… yet.
When you travel to a research facility, whether it’s a library, archive, or historical society, one of the things that you should look for are the items that are unique to the facility; things you won’t find elsewhere or need to be there physically to see or examine. In February of 2014, I was sitting at one of the FHL catalog computers when I searched for John Willson and Mary Ayers on FamilySearch.org. The same site you can access from your own living room. I got some search results:
Woot-woot, right? Well, the images would have been available just as readily from the comfort of my own home. I didn’t need to travel all the way to Salt Lake City for these. That means I wasted a bit of time on these documents when I could have been using that time to search the FHL’s unique family genealogies (1st floor) or their wide variety of books that are specific to geographical regions (3rd floor). Lesson learned.
Document 1: Looking at the information/notes (an important step) provided by FamilySearch about the first of the documents  shows:
- That the marriage records come from microfilm of original records at the Sussex County courthouse (Perhaps I should look at the original next time I’m in Sussex County? Are they even accessible? Have they been transferred to the NJ State Archives?)
- That the microfilm include indexes, Volume A and Volume B
- That the records consist of one microfilm reel and were filmed in 1974
- And that there are some delayed recordings of marriages at the end of vol. B (hmmm… worth making sure I take a look at to make sure I’m not missing anything?)
Navigating to the beginning of the marriage records portion of this microfilm shows the information about when the film was created and who filmed it. Image 122 (of 478 on this microfilm) shows that this portion is Marriage Volume A covering the years 1795 to 1853 and was found in the Clerk’s Office at the Hall of Records in Newton, New Jersey. It has since been transferred to the NJ State Archives in Trenton. A few images later (124) we find some information on the quality of Volume A. There are a number of things wrong with the volume including unreadable copy, faded writing, tight binding, and repairs that block readability. We find an image of the book’s spine and then a notice that the whole volume has been filmed. The front page of Volume A shows that it is a “Record of Marriages in the County of Sussex in the State of New Jersey” and begins the listing of marriages, the first being recorded on the 6th day of September in 1795.
Document 2: Looking at the information/notes on the second document  shows:
- That the marriage records come from microfilm of original records at the Sussex County courthouse
- That the records include marriage papers and marriage license applications
- And that the records span five microfilm rolls and were filmed in 1980
Navigating to the beginning of this microfilm shows the information about when the film was created and who filmed it. Scrolling through some of the images at the front of the microfilm shows that these are loose papers. There are scraps of papers, cover sheets, folders, and certifications mixed throughout the microfilm. The organization seems to be by person reporting, i.e. John Johnson, esq, Clerk for Newton, recorded all (image 644 on the microfilm) of Reverend Teasdale’s marriages for 1815 in one batch. Since Mary and John were married late in 1814, their record appears among the 1815 marriages.
Scanning those records around my Mary and John shows an Ephraim Kimble (another family name) and I’ve made a note to explore that later since I don’t immediately see that particular Kimble connected in my family tree database.
After looking at everything on the microfilms, I suspect that the Volume A was created at a later date to consolidate the information found in all the loose scraps of papers and folders at the Sussex County Clerk’s Office in Newton, New Jersey.
Document Scans and Transcriptions:
First record  (with torn page):
We can see from the image of this page, the fragile paper of the original has broken away in some spots and the ink is very faded. There is also a reflection of light in the center seam showing that the volume has been taped together at some point in its life. It has been 42 years since this volume has been digitized, let’s hope the archivists at the State Archive in Trenton are preserving it as it should be to keep it from deteriorating more.
The first column has the date of the marriage. I can make out “1814” and the the day of “12” but the month is illegible. Based on the other record, it would be so easy to just interpret the missing month as November, but it truly is illegible. If this were the only record available, the month would have to be recorded as indeterminate or missing. So, the date of marriage would be 12 [undetermined month] 1814 until the actual month was discovered.
The second column has the couple married and by whom. It states, “Married by the Rev’d Thomas Teasdale, minister, John Willson to Mary Ayers.” The “minister” piece is a important in that other entries show that other couples were married by justices of the peace, ministers, and esquires. The use of the word “minister” also hints at religious affiliation. It would need to be determined which churches were active in 1814 in Sussex County and who used ministers as opposed to priests which imply Catholicism.
The section that the Mary and John appear to be a listing of everyone that the Reverand Thomas Teasdale had married within a certain time frame. Perhaps he was a circuit minister or perhaps he only traveled to the courthouse certain times during the year to record the marriages at the courthouse. Either way, nine couples had their marriages recorded by the Reverand Teasdale at this particular time and they show up in this volume.
Second Record :The second record is a record of the marriage of Mary Ayers to John Wilson. This record looks to be in much better shape than the one previously looked at. There are no columns in this case, just a straight listing of marriages performed by Thomas Teasdale.
The text, the first listing at the top of the page, reads, “This is to certify that John Wilson and Mary Ayres were married Nov’br 12, 1814 by me Thomas Teasdale.” I now have a full marriage date for John Wilson to Mary Ayers!
I believe, based on looking at the microfilm as a whole, that these are the original records with which the first record, Volume A, above were created from. (See the document description section above.)
In the second document, Thomas Teasdale certifies that he had married John Wilson to Mary Ayers on 12 November 1814. It is direct evidence since it explicitly answers my research question, “When were John Wilson and Mary Ayers of Sussex County, New Jersey, married?” It is primary information because it is Thomas Teasdale’s firsthand knowledge that he was there and he is certifiying that he is the one who married my 4th great grandparents. It was recorded by the Sussex County Clerk shortly after the marriage happened, not years later. It is an original record because a photocopy/digital copy of a record that does not look like it’s been tampered with. It can be considered to be the same as looking at an original, especially if the original is protected in some way to preserve the record. This is a higher quality of record than the first record. Why? Well, it’s in Thomas Teasdale’s writing. I know this by comparing the handwriting of his listing to the cover sheet (see the photo in the document description above) provided by John Johnson, County Clerk, who has a different script.
In the first document, the one with the torn bottom, Thomas Teasdale was recorded as having married John Willson to Mary Ayers on the tweleth day of some month in 1814. It is not his certification, just a record that he married the couple. It is still a very useful record even if the month can’t be determined since it narrows down their marriage year to 1814. Comparing the two records found on Mary and John’s marriage, shows that document with the torn bottom page is a derivative (created from another source) and is most likely a compilation of numerous other records, mainly the loose papers microfilmed later in 1980. Given that it’s a transcription/compilation of other documents, it is more subject to error in that someone had to copy the information into Volume A.
Additionally, by examining the films thoroughly, I now highly suspect the first document (torn page items) was used to create the modern typed listings found in the Sussex County Clerk’s Office, the only copies available to the public in that office. That makes the typed listings in the binders at the Clerk’s office a tertiary derivative! A copy of a copy of a copy. Three chances to mess up dates, names, places. Three chances to omit something found in the original loose papers.
If I had not fully looked at all the information found in both microfilms (FHL 961,018 filmed in 1974 and FHL 1,294,802 filmed in 1980), I would not have known that later film was most likely a good chunk of the source material for the indexes, Volume A and Volume B found in the earlier film. I was fortunate that the effort to digitize records for Sussex County did not quit with the original filming in 1974. The later 1980 filming provides a much more reliable, higher quality, and robust (it did have the marriage month) source than just Volume A. It also highlights the need to find the source records and dig, dig, dig, and dig some more for originals. So, just a bit of wasted time at the FHL did yield some good information that I used to enhance my family tree.