Monthly Archives: June 2011
Back in the groovy 60’s and 70’s when all our neighbors drove down to the Jersey Shore each weekend we had to be different, the King family headed to Stonington Connecticut. We would visit my grandparents and enjoy the Rhode Island beaches a few miles away. I brought along my personal companion, motion sickness…. My parents would plop me in the back seat with several brown grocery bags doubled, make me buckle-up, and tell me to try to sleep. The trip usually included a fog of cigarette smoke and me asking them to pull over, which usually fell on deaf ears (pretty typical of most parents of that era). Three and a half hours later we would arrive at our destination, and I would bounce back once on solid land. I recall kissing the ground on one of the trips, stunning my grandparents. I had gotten sick 11 times that ride, and my 9-year-old self must have decided to be a bit of a wise guy. Though today I can’t read in the car, I usually don’t have motion sickness when traveling.
When I started genealogy back in the mid-90’s there was only one way to get census records, and that was via microfilm. Two Saturdays a month I would trust the husband with our 2 year old twins, and take a few hours to go to the basement of Alexander Library at Rutgers University. I had to cram a lot of research in those brief times so I did everything as quickly and efficiently as possible. To be honest I was also afraid that my husband would decide 2 toddlers were too much for him, so I would fly out of the house as quickly as possible. Don’t get me wrong I love my children, but my sanity was at stake here! I would skip breakfast grab my bag and a coffee and head to my few hours of quiet.
I recall the relief of finally understanding out how Soundex worked and then finding my family on the 1920’s census. Ironically my first dip in the genealogy pool had the family I was researching, Fennimore indexed as Tenimore, so I had to go line by line manually through my hometown. It was during this long search that my old buddy motion sickness crept back into my life. I think at the time I had it confused with a more recent acquaintance morning sickness, but I was able to rule that out easily enough. To say I was less than pleased is an understatement. I had to cut one trip short because it was just so bad, and I even questioned if I would be able to continue with this obsession, hobby.
I decided I wouldn’t be beat so easily, and tried some strategies to keep myself from feeling icky. It never occurred to me to ask fellow genealogists for solution, because I assumed I was the only person to have this malady. Recently I attended the spring program sponsored by the Genealogical Society of NJ, and struck up a conversation with a fellow attendee. I believe we were discussing the convenience of online census records, and feeling friendly shared that I tend to get sick when viewing microfilms. Much to my surprise she told me many researchers encounter that same problem. I guess I need to get off the Internet, out of cemeteries and talk to actual living people a little more frequently!
This past Monday I was at our state archives and thanks to a protest practically had the place to myself. I had headed out extra early to beat the demonstrators and made it in right before they closed off the road. I meant to grab a protein bar, but the voracious teenagers beat me to them (schools out) so I went sans breakfast. I was speeding through the reels, had a good machine that didn’t need to be manually cranked and the drawers were all mine, so no waiting for others to grab 10 films…Nirvana! It was then my stomach lurched a bit, and my old pal said “I’m baaaaackkk”. Luckily I was a little better prepared this time and employed my sour stomach avoidance strategy. While this may not work for you it seems to work for me.
Tips to avoid “Motion Sickness”:
- Do not look at the screen while you wind forward – I can’t stress this enough! It is better to scroll past and back track than constantly keeping your eyes on the screen.
- Do not research on an empty stomach – My theory (non-scientific) is that there must be too much acid in the stomach, and it needs food to keep it busy. My hypothesis may be wrong, but it does help to have something to eat before the symptoms set in.
- Mints or Jolly Ranchers – Again not sure why but a tic tac, or a hard candy seem to help relieve the queasiness for me.
- Fresh Air – Particularly if you are in a basement or small-enclosed area, a step out to get a few breaths seem to close down the symptoms.
- Drink some water. Can’t say if it’s the actual act of leaving the machine to search for a water fountain, or the drinking of the water that provides relief but it seems to help.
So weak-stomached genealogists unite! Please feel free to share any tricks that have helped you over the years, or at the very least know that you are not alone. I’m going to need them I have some newspapers searches to do, and unfortunately I have only “decades” as dates.
New Jersey officially started collecting vital records in 1848. Some towns and counties did have vital records collected, but it is not consistent and varies from locale to locale. I have found the period of 1820-1848 to be some of the most difficult records to track down. This is when you really need to go to alternate sources. Some are easier to obtain than others, and creative problem solving as well as analyzing the quality of the sources is imperative.
Church records and cemeteries are usually my first starting point. I try to find a historical association for that area, check out their website, or pay an in-person visit. Quite frequently they will have a list of churches active at the time, or even some of the church records. I visit cemeteries and that certainly can yield information, but not everyone has a tombstone when interred, or they can be damaged with age. You can even inquire at a particular church to see if they have records, or look on family search (LDS) if you have a family history center near by and order the tapes.
Bible records are another source of vital statistics. It was a long-held tradition to write the births, deaths and marriages in the family bible. The Genealogical Society of New Jersey has an extensive collection of bible records. They are housed at the Rutgers University in New Brunswick, Alexander Library Special Collections room. Like anything else bible records need to be reviewed with objectivity. Does the handwriting meet the period? Or does this look like something added a century later? Is this your ancestor, or one with the same name? In some cases this may be the only data you will ever find on an ancestor so bible records can be a very important source.
Bible and church records are some of the more obvious sources of data, but there are some obscure records that you will need to be creative to obtain. This is where local history, libraries or genealogy groups come into play. I had one ancestor that I couldn’t pin down the date of death; I searched in her county of last residence but no luck. I did know the family used a specific undertaker, a town over (and in another county) so I was hoping to find his records at a historical society. I ended up finding them at the town library, in records room that was rarely visited. Not only did I pin down my ancestor’s death date, but also two children that were born and lost at an early age. The journal indicated what was ordered for each funeral, how much it cost, where their grave was and many times cause of death. The information not only provided the basic dates, but also gave a brief glimpse of life, as they knew it.
A good genealogist does not take every record at face value and assume it is correct. A certain amount of analysis needs to be deployed. This is true even with official vital records. My one brick wall ancestor his death certificate has the same date for birth as well as death, but listed old age as cause of death. That is obviously incorrect even though it is what was gathered when the certificate was issued. The same is true of less traditional sources of records, proceed with caution, if at all possible having multiple independent sources of information is the best bet.
Following is a list New Jersey groups/libraries I have found that have historic holdings. Most are located in my areas of research Hunterdon, Morris and Somerset Counties. I’m sure there are more out there, but this is the short list:
Bernardsville Public Library – 1 Anderson Hill Rd, Bernardsville NJ
Bernardsville Library has a local history room, but limited to specific hours. Vertical files, Local books, pictures, and copies of the Bernardsville News 1932 onwards.
Bernards Township Library – 32 S Maple Ave Basking Ridge NJ
Although it’s not listed on it’s website there is a room with historical records. You need to approach the Reference Desk to get access. They don’t generally want you poking around in there alone. This library has a free genealogy group that meets the 4th Tuesday of most months. They usually have a program/lecture at these meetings and a mingling period.
Long Hill Township Public Library – 917 Valley Road, Gillette NJ
There is a local history room open Weds 1-3. I have yet to get there in that time so can’t speak to the holdings, which are not in their online catalog.
The Historical Society of Somerset Hills – 15 West Oak Street, Basking Ridge NJ
This society’s main interest is Bedminster, Bernards Twp, Bernardsville, Far Hills, Peapack & Gladstone. I have not yet been able to get there in-person but there is a library with some genealogical items. Limited hours, check the website beforehand.
Hunterdon County Historical Society – 114 Main Street, Flemington NJ
I plan on trying to make a visit shortly; it appears there is quite a bit of data for genealogists.
The Tewksbury Historical Society – 60 Water Street Tewksbury NJ
Very small, but contains quite a bit of information on the town of Tewksbury (New Germantown).
North Jersey History and Genealogy Center – (Morristown and Morris Township Library) 1 Miller Rd, Morristown NJ
This is probably my favorite place to visit. Quite a few holdings, great facility and very generous hours.