December 28, 2019
Last week I spent a few days in southern New Jersey doing research on my husband’s family. It’s the first real research trip I’ve taken for a while, and it reminded me how important it is to get away from the computer and actually visit brick and mortar repositories.
My first stop was the New Jersey State Archives in Trenton, New Jersey where I was able to access a number of death and birth certificates for more recent generations of the family. These certificates are not available online, but I could have ordered them from the Archives via their website – to the tune of $10 per certificate! Since I wanted certificates for close to 20 ancestors (my husband’s family all stayed close to home for several hundred years up until he left in the 1970s), I had long planned to get all of the certificates at once when I visited the Archives since the self-serve cost is $.50 each. Luckily my husband was with me, and while not a genealogist, he does enjoy scrolling through microfilm, so he spent a morning searching for and copying all of those certificates. In the meantime, I was able to search for possible Revolutionary War ancestors and not only found a half a dozen, but also was able to access the supporting documentation for their service.
Our next stop was an ancient burying ground tucked away in subdivision in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. While there are pictures of this little cemetery online, nothing is better than actually standing where my husband’s eighth great grandparents were buried. In their day, the subdivision was part of their plantation, and while much has changed, it was still interesting to see where their land actually was situated.
Later in the week, I spent a couple of days in the Gloucester County Historical Society library in Woodbury, New Jersey. The library is a regional repository for southern New Jersey records and is also the official repository for older Gloucester County records. Since most of my husband’s family was from Gloucester County, the library was “must see” for me. Although the library isn’t huge, it is crammed full of southern New Jersey resources, and the librarians who helped me were knowledgeable and friendly. I had accessed the Society website in advance of my visit, but the librarians pointed out some additional resources based on what I was using at the library. One of the records they helped me find was an original court examination of one of my husband’s ancestors in which she stated that she was “with child”, who would likely be born a bastard and be a charge to the public purse. She stated the name of the father and signed the document with her mark. The document was dated 27 August 1798 and is the only source of my husband’s fourth great grandfather’s identity that I’ve been able to find.
Another piece of serendipity occurred while we were at the library. My husband and I were talking about a record we’d found describing an old log cabin dating from the 1600s, and the man at the table next to us overheard our conversation. He asked us if we’d like to visit the cabin, because if we would, he’d call the present owner and set up a visit. While the cabin wasn’t built by my husband’s family, it was built by a Finn during the New Sweden period of New Jersey’s history, and my husband’s family lived in the area at the time. Arrangements were made, and we drove out to the see the cabin; seeing the hand hewn logs and standing in front of the large fireplace made the lives that Howie’s ancestors lived real for us. To top off the visit, the owner of the cabin had a large holly tree growing in the backyard. When she heard that I had been looking for a few branches to take home to decorate my house for Christmas, she insisted I cut way more than I’d planned. Back at the hotel, we wrapped the branches in bags and crammed them into our suitcases; right now they’re the highlight of my Christmas decorating since we can’t grow holly in Colorado.
While my research trip was short, it was definitely worth the time and effort it took to make it happen. It’s easy to get complacent and assume that everything is online now, but all it takes is a few days at repositories to disabuse yourself of that notion. Now that I’ve spent a week in New Jersey, I’m anxious to visit other ancestral locations because, even if I’ve visited in the past, I know that there are more treasures to be found. This was my first research trip in a while, but it definitely won’t be my last.
Researcher/Director at Large