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Feb 7, 2020

Elwood Usinger and GRIP

February 7, 2020

This time of year seems like the perfect time to begin new projects, including genealogy projects. With the holidays over and spring not here yet, it always seems like I have more time to devote to my family history.  I’ve decided to focus my own efforts this year on my husband’s lines since, unlike my own fairly well-researched lines, his family does not seem to have benefitted from much serious research. It seems odd that few have looked into his lines because all of them trace back to colonial times, and three fourths of them are from southern New Jersey, which ought to make research easier, or at least more localized.

Since all the records are pretty much in one area (or at least in New Jersey, which to a Westerner, seems like a pretty small area), I’ve taken several trips to New Jersey to visit archives, historical societies, cemeteries and museums. Add in a few trips to the Family History Library and the National Archives plus all of the online sources available, and it’s no surprise that I’ve been able to trace many of my husband’s lines back to the 1700s and some even further into the 1600s. However, I have hit a few brick walls, where try as I might, I haven’t been able to get further than about 1800.

And, then there’s the line where I can’t advance my research any further than the 20th century. That stubborn brick wall line belongs to my husband’s second great grandfather, Elwood Usinger. Elwood was born in about 1849 in Gloucester County, New Jersey and died in that same county in 1916. Since Elwood Usinger is an unusual name, and he lived relatively recently, it would seem that finding more information about him would be a snap. Too bad that hasn’t been the case; after years of searching for Elwood, I still haven’t been able to name his parents or find any siblings for him. Apparently, he just spontaneously generated, like a mushroom, in Gloucester County.

It is true that I have found multiple records for Elwood including a marriage record, a listing of the birth of his only child and a death certificate. Other records indicate that Elwood was seemingly very active in local affairs since he served as a chosen freeholder for Gloucester County (similar to a county commissioner) for over 20 years, owned and operated the only hotel in his small town, ran a bridge contracting business, was the head of the local school board and was named by the state governor to the New Jersey State Bridge and Tunnel Commission, which oversaw statewide bridge construction. He even ran for county sheriff, although he lost by a few votes. All of this resulted in lengthy obituaries in several local newspapers, but none of them mentioned his parents or any siblings.

As I researched deeper into Gloucester County, it turned out that the surname Usinger was extremely rare in the area. In fact, there was only one family with that name. The family was descended from a German emigrant who arrived in Gloucester County in the 1700s. By the time of Elwood’s birth, the emigrant’s son was still living, and he had several sons and daughters of an age to potentially be Elwood’s parent. However, Elwood never lived with any of them as a child, and none of them mentioned him In their wills. It seems probable that Elwood is related in some way to the single Usinger family in Gloucester County, but I haven’t been able to figure out just what that connection might be. So far no records have surfaced showing any connections, and DNA tests have shown no matches for my husband to any descendants of the single Usinger Family.

At this point, I’m at an impasse, but I have just registered for the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP) which is being held in July of this year. Luckily for me, one of the offerings is a week-long course on New Jersey research. I’m eagerly anticipating attending GRIP next summer to hone my New Jersey research skills; I’m sure Elwood’s family is just waiting to be found.

Carol Stetser

Researcher/Director at Large