The New Jersey Death Index for 1901-2017 (with some gaps) is now online for free public use. The actual PDF’s of the image files are stored at the Internet Archive. Previously, only a few years of the death index were available, 1901-1903, and those were only available thanks to an earlier records request we made to the New Jersey State Archives.
On May 29, 2018, Reclaim The Records made a New Jersey Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request of the New Jersey Department of Health, through our attorney CJ Griffin of New Jersey law firm Pashman Stein Walder Hayden. We asked for a copy of the New Jersey death index from 1904-2017. The text of the request, as submitted through the state’s official OPRA portal, is reproduced here:
On behalf of my client, Reclaim the Records, please consider this an OPRA and common law request. My client seeks the New Jersey Death Index from Jan 1, 1904 to present date. The death index is simply an index of names of individuals who have died and it may contain a date of death and death certificate number. The NJ State Archives has released years 1901-1903, but no records are available after that. Please note we are not seeking death certificates, just a death index. More recent years may exist as electronic data and, if it exists in that form, then we seek that electronic data.
The New Jersey State Department of Health actually responded to our attorney’s request in record time, and without a fight. We’re guessing that they probably looked her up online and realized we’d hired the most badass OPRA attorney in the state, and then wisely decided not to stonewall or ignore us.
This was a far cry from their attitude a year ago when genealogist Alec Ferretti tried to get a copy of the very same death index from the New Jersey Department of Health on his own. Oh no, said an attorney for the state to Alec, we can’t just give you a copy of the death index! Why, we have rules about mortality data, and privacy! So very many rules!
Well, this is why Reclaim The Records is constantly fundraising so that we can hire attorneys — because while the various state Freedom of Information laws are supposed to treat all citizens fairly, in practice it seems that the citizens with attorneys get treated just a little better.
So, we drafted a new OPRA request, and our attorney sent it out under her name, and this time the state didn’t fight us. Funny how that works, right?
Anyway, the New Jersey Department of Health sent us every death index record they had, delivered as files on a USB stick. But it turns out that even the state Department of Health, who are legally required to keep these records, don’t actually have all of them anymore. Even though that’s, like, their job.
We were able to get all of the New Jersey death index records for about half of 1920-1924, all of 1925-1929, and then from 1949 to 2017! The files prior to 2001 are available in PDF format, each of them scanned images of typeset pages and old dot-matrix printouts. And the newer files from 2001-2017 are in two text spreadsheet (.CSV) files exported from the state’s own databases, and are text-searchable immediately.
But come on, who wants to sit and tediously search through spreadsheets? Nah, let’s do something better with all that data.
Your one-stop shop for everything you ever wanted to know about the New Jersey Death Index, with a searchable database of over 1.2 million records for 2001-2017 and direct links to over 500,000 digital images for the not-yet-transcribed 1901-2000 data. It’s all there and it’s all free, free, free!
What we have, and what we’re going to have
So, just to be clear, the following years of the New Jersey death index are still missing at the moment: 1904-1919, half of 1920-1924, and 1930-1948. So we at Reclaim The Records have reached out to the awesome and helpful people at the New Jersey State Archives in Trenton, and it seems likely that we may be able to get some of the missing years of data from them, although maybe just the early years. We’re planning to order microfilms copies from them, then scan those films, and then put that missing data online. But this probably won’t happen for another few months.
So that means that we might be able to get some or all of 1904-1919 and/or the missing half of 1920-1924 online in a few more months. We’ll know more details about the exact years soon.
But that would still leave 1930-1948 as missing any index at all. So we’re also going to keep working with our attorney to see if we can somehow force the New Jersey Department of Health to recreate those missing years of the index. We can’t ask them to do that under OPRA, because the law doesn’t require an agency to make a new record, only to release what records they have. But maybe the New Jersey vital records law or some other law can help us out here, since perhaps we could prove that the state has neglected something they’re required to do.
This tactic may or may not work, but we think it’s at least worth a try, and we’ll let you know how it goes.
What’s in the index?
Quite a lot! Some years of this death index have more fields of data available than other years, and it tends to get more helpful the more recent the record is. For example, most of the years of the index will at least give the age at death, from which you can infer an approximate birth year, but the later years of the index (after about 1985) also give the deceased person’s exact date of birth.
Some of these records give a numeric locality code for the place of death and/or the place of residence of the deceased. To translate those codes into the city or county names, use this locality list for 1949-1984 or this locality list for 1985-present. Unfortunately, the official key to the locality codes that was used prior to 1949 seems to be yet another file that has been lost by the state.
But don’t just wait for us to tell you about the data — go see for yourself at www.NewJerseyDeathIndex.com!
State or Vital Records Jurisdiction: New Jersey
Record Type: Death Records
Record Years: 1904-2017 (with gaps)
Record Format: Index
Record Physical Format: Combination of PDF's (of scanned images) and two CSV files
Number of Records (Estimated): About 1.2 million database records from 2001-2017, and about 500,000 images from 1904-2000 (with gaps)