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The big news this week for researchers in New Jersey is the upcoming release of adoptees’ birth records.

Governor Christie reached an agreement with bill sponsors on changes to the proposal, the most significant of which is the effective date of the unsealing. They have extended the time in which the birth parents can request that their identifying information not be released. When the bill was passed by the state legislature in February, the records were to be opened after 6 months.

Since 1940, original birth records were sealed at the time of adoption and a new one was generated with the adoptive parents’ names. Under the amended bill, adoptees will be able to request an uncertified copy of their original birth certificate after January 1, 2017. Birth parents will have until December 31, 2016 to submit a document of contact preference, indicating whether they are agreeable to be contacted directed, through an authorized intermediary or do not wish to be contacted. Their choice can be changed at a later date.

For adoptions occurring after August 1, 2016, the original record will be available without redaction, with the birth parents again having the option to submit a contact preference.

The legislation also addresses health histories, foundlings and children surrendered under the state’s Safe Haven Infant Protection Act. The complete text of the conditional veto and the proposed changes can be found here.

The changes still need to be approved by the Senate and General Assembly. Both are scheduled to hold voting sessions later this month. The New Jersey Department of Health will then adopt regulations that will set forth the manner in which requests for these records will be released.

Of course this is good news for adoptees who want their original record. It’s also good for genealogists, as siblings, spouses and direct descendants will also be able to request the record.

But noticeably missing from those authorized are the birth parents. I do not understand why the birth parents would not be able to get a copy, as it is their information on the record, and they could have obtained a copy of it at the time of the birth. I am curious to see if the regulations promulgated by the Department of Health will address this.






New Jersey will not become a modern day Gretna Green. Governor Christie has vetoed legislation that would have eliminated the 72-hour waiting period for marriage licenses issued in the state, saving us from the possibility of tacky 24 hour drive-thru wedding chapels.

The current 72 hours required between the application and issuance of a marriage license in New Jersey is a cooling off period to prevent impromptu nuptials that might be regretted when the blinding light of a new love or the rush of spontaneity dims. When I served as a Municipal Clerk, there were a few instances when the couple was not aware of or misunderstood the waiting period.  A visit to a Superior Court Judge always saved the day.

Senate bill, S2399, would have allowed for the immediate issuance of marriage licenses. It  was designed in part to attract destination weddings to the state, particularly Atlantic City. As the once popular seaside resort struggles to find its place between a shore town and a casino/entertainment venue, it was thought that this could draw betrothed east-coasters away from Las Vegas.

“Gretna Green” is a term used for a town that is a popular wedding destination, usually due to its less-restrictive marriage regulations. These regulations could be a waiting period or a minimum age requirement. Its origination comes from a town in Suothern Scotland where many young couples were married after England set the minimum marriage age at 21.

If your search for a marriage record has been unsuccessful, try looking for a “Gretna Green” near the couple’s usual place of residence. Very often it is a town just over the county or state border. A list of popular wedding destinations can be found here on Family Search.

Should you find a couple who did go outside of their hometown to marry, it does not necessarily mean that they were trying to avoid a regulation. It could be that they wanted to keep the union private, had friends or family members in the other town, or they simply liked that location better.

When all else fails, try looking in Vegas.


Next Monday, the New Jersey Assembly is scheduled to consider a bill that would require criminal background checks for all state, county and municipal individuals handling vital statistic records. Assembly Bill 465 was first proposed in 2005, presumably in response to the 2004 arrest of Hudson County Deputy Registrar Jean Anderson, who inserted false birth certificates into the city’s records. Foreign born individuals then applied for and received a certified birth certificate based on the false information, which they then used to obtain US passports.

After the incident, the state limited Jersey City’s authority to issue birth certificates. Those born in the Hudson County community before 1965 (including several of my Davis cousins) must now get their certified copies from the state Department of Health in Trenton. It’s been eight years. One would think they could have double-checked all of the birth certificates in the city’s records against those filed with the state by now to allow the city to resume issuing certificates. But that’s another story.

The actions by the convicted clerk are serious. She assisted foreign-born individuals in assuming a false identity, securing false citizenship status and possibly compromising the national security. But I am not convinced that this bill would keep something like this from happening again.

There is no indication in any of the news accounts that Anderson had any prior offenses. If she didn’t, this legislation would not have disqualified her from being hired or prevented the incident from happening. Sadly, I think you will always find people who will violate the public trust for the right price.