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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Update on the Woodbridge New Jersey Town Records

Our readers know how bad the images were on the microfilmed Woodbridge Town Records. Genealogical serendipity made the Samuel Bunnell Jr. birth record jump out.

George Farris has worked through the nearly 200 images but found no other references to Samuel Bonnell.  There was one record in 1690 that looked sort of like Sam Bonnel but on closer examination I think it was actually Sam Dennes, an earlier Woodbridge settler.  1690 seemed rather early for Samuel Bonnel to be in Woodbridge records anyway.  John Bunnell is also taking a look at that page to be sure.  About 100 pages of the images were for records in the 1600s.  I did not find the records that we were looking for for Samuel Bonnel in 1710 and 1715.  It's clear that the record in 1707 that you pointed out is definitely a birth record for Samuel, Jr.  There were no Burrells in that area at that time so this record has to be for the Samuel Bunnell family.

Helpful Maps at the Princeton University's Nova Cæsarea: A Cartographic Record of the Garden State, 1666-1888

This came from George Farris:

There are a couple of maps that are helpful in determining the locations of the FitzRandolph lands in these transactions at  Maps at Princeton University Library

One of these shows the owners of the land along the Post Road from Amboy to Trenton as of 1766.  There are no FitzRandolphs listed at that time, but there are several properties listed for Thomas Leonard who was a major landholder around Prince Town.  Another set of maps on the same page documents the Middlesex/Somerset County line.  From this it's clear that Prince Town was split between the two counties so that land west of the main road was part of Somerset.  So the two tracts were not very far apart and the larger one was partially bounded by Stony Brook and would now be part of Princeton University.  This would seem to indicate that at least one of the Samuel Bonnells was in the Prince Town area by 1731 and is consistent with the later references to the Bonnells being near Penns Neck - just across Stony Brook from Princeton..

The FitzRandolphs seem to have spread from Woodbridge throughout the region.  There were some around Brunswick and Perth Amboy as well as further south along all of the major roads.  Note that the references to the Kings Road in the 1734 FitzRandolph deeds refer to the post road from Brunswick to Princeton while the previous reference involving the bridge over the South River at what is now Old Bridge, NJ refers to the Amboy-Burlington Road.  These were different branches of the Kings Road through NJ.  Members of the FitzRandolph clan owned land along both of these roads.  Since there were references to Samuel Bonnell involving both of these roads I've wondered whether Samuel, Jr. and Samuel,Sr. might have migrated at different times along different routes.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Samuel Burrell, Son of Samuell Burrell and Susanna his wife was born May ye 26 1707 in Woodbridge Town Records

Followers of this blog know of the efforts to sort out Samuel Bunnell records. I haven't been active in this, only posting the work of others. It became clear the original records need to be consulted, or rather the microfilmed version. I was therefore thrilled to find via the FamilySearch catalog that my local family history library (in Orange, California) had a copy of microfilm 16,596, Early Vital Statistics of Woodbridge Township Liber A, filmed by Bibliofilm, Corp. in 1938. No one had to go to Salt Lake City! 

George Farris told me exactly what to look for so this morning I made the effort. I’ve looked at a lot of New England town records and naively expected them to be similar. Boy was I wrong. I completely understand why there’s disagreement about their contents because they are a mess.

The images on film are dark and often illegible because of blotches that may be stains on the pages or merely shadows. Can’t tell. The lighting wasn’t right when they were filmed 80 years ago. Scraps of paper were put on top of pages when they were scanned, concealing part of the page underneath. Sometimes the light beneath a page was so bright the writing on the back bled through into the image.

The records themselves are a mess. Loose pages. Indecipherable handwriting. Torn edges. Blotches and stains. Worse yet, they aren’t in any kind of order that I could find. One set of pages has marriages in alphabetical order, but anything after R is illegible, and it only covers a narrow period of time. Another set of vital records seems to be organized by family.

Bless the LDS volunteers because they helped me figure out how their one scanner-microfilm reader hookup worked. I captured 190 images as best I could. I took images of every page that seemed to have a marriage or other vital record. Some of them didn’t come out very well as the black around every page influenced the scanner adjustments. If I could have cropped the image before scanning it, the scans would have turned out better. I couldn’t. I felt lucky to be able to scan them at all. The volunteers suggested I take a photo of the image on the microfilm reader, but I don’t have a smartphone (I know, I'm a Luddite) and wasn’t smart enough to bring a camera or my iPad. Plus the images on the microfilm reader were awful. 

I wrote all this up in an e-mail to the Samuel Bunnell team and attached an image as a sample, the one page that had records for last names starting with B. The attachment came on my screen really big, and one of those serendipitous things happened. Right in the middle, huge and clear where I couldn't possibly miss it, was one of the items they were looking for. “Samuel Burrell, Son of Samuell Burrell and Susanna his wife was born May ye 26 1707.” Unbelievable!

This image confirms the accuracy of Rev. Joseph W. Dally's transcription in Appendix E, "The Story of a New Jersey Township" (available free at this link:  The Story of a New Jersey Township

I just hope we can find everything else they're looking for in the images I made.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Increment 20: Will of John Severns and Land Sale to Nathaniel Fitz Randolph

From John Bunnell:

Here is the last increment of documents procured from my quick, wave-top-level search of the New Jersey State Archives.  They are two secondary source documents.  

The first is the will of John Severns of Trenton, New Jersey.  It mentions Samuel Bunnel as an individual to which the estate was indebted.  It looks like Severns was indebted to just about everyone in the county.  That is, however, except for Jacob Wright and Peter Rossell, who are not listed on the following pages. 

The second document captures a land sale to Nathaniel Fitz Randolph from his father.  The witness is listed as “Samll Bumill (?).”  I am convinced that this was one of the Samuel Bonnells.  First, the spelling with an “i” and the contraction that looks like “Sam’ll” is what we have seen on almost all of the other signatures.  Second, Samuel Bonnell and Nathaniel Fitz Randolph were co-jurors in the 1764 inquisition.  Third, Samuel Bonnell provided evidence for the King in the road and bridge maintenance case along the King’s Road that eventually resulted in the writ against two other Fitz Randolphs, Richard and Eseek.  The fact that this document also alludes to the Randolph property being along the King’s Road reinforces the fact that all of these are related.  

The two entries for the Randolphs, which appear to address the same property several years apart, provide quite a few clues as to the location.  The position adjacent to “Prince Town” aligns nicely with our knowledge that the Bonnells were living near Penn’s Neck in the 1750s.  The other property that straddles the Middlesex-Somerset line along the King’s Road may indicate that both families lived very close to the line and provides a clue as to why the Randolphs were responsible for the maintenance of a section of this road.  If both families were relatively close to the county line, this may provide some insight as to why the debt document in which Samuel Bonnell, Jr. was the codefendant during this same timeframe (1730-1732) was prosecuted in Somerset County.

I think this will be all from the Middlesex chapter until one of us can get back to New Jersey for a closer look.  We have made tremendous progress and I am fairly certain we have properly reconnected the Kentucky Bunnells (an amazing achievement, although we will still need to look for more confirmatory evidence).  Nonetheless, there are still many unclear questions from the New Jersey chapter.  In particular, we have not untangled Samuel Bonnell Sr. from Samuel Bonnell, Jr. on many of the documents in the 1740s, 1750s, and 1760s.  After this, it still seems that there are not enough Samuels to account for the length of activity around the Windsor / Trenton area, particularly the appearances that extend well into the 1800s (maybe there was a Samuel III, brother to William?).  Also, we still need to sort out the Isaac Bonnell from Perth Amboy who was the Sheriff of Middlesex County during the 1760s and 1770s.  Finally, we are all waiting expectantly to see what Margaret has to report from the Woodbridge document regarding Samuel and Sasanna from 1707.  I imagine all of this is discoverable, as the harvest from my hurried and undoubtedly incomplete search illustrates that Middlesex, Somerset, and Hunterdon Counties have not been thoroughly researched.

Until such time as we get new information from New Jersey, I’ll start working back through the William Bunnell story from end to beginning in an effort to clean up loose ends and ensure the documents are available for wider collaboration via

All the best…

From George Farris:

Regarding the John Severns will, while the wording is not definitive, I think this is a list of debts owed to him rather than the other way around.  Severns was a fairly wealthy merchant in Trenton and also apparently a money lender according to descendants of other people on this long list of accounts.  The list extends for another 1-1/2 pages.  Pages 426 and 427 are attached.  It's interesting in that many of the people are listed by their occupations, locations or other descriptors such as "the lame man", "Jasper's son", "widow's son", "great", "small", "old", "baker's son", etc.