Walking Through Hudson County History

Summer finally got here to New Jersey, even if we had our doubts that it ever would, back there in the dark days of February and March. What better way to celebrate than by getting your walking shoes on and exploring a bit of the past through a series of Hudson County history tours?

If you’re in the area, take a look at the topics below. All tours cost $10, and reservations are required. (Be advised that all tours also require walking over a variety of distances. If you have any questions, contact the tour leader.) For more information, see the Hoboken Museum’s tour page.

May 30: Lafayette History Tour (presenter: Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy) –Drs. Jenny Furlong and Rebecca Shapiro, historians, explore Jersey City’s oldest neighborhood, including historic residences and such prominent landmarks as the American Type Foundry and St. Mary’s Greek Byzantine Rites Church.

June 6: A Walking Tour of Bayview-New York Cemetery (presenter: Hudson County Genealogical & Historical Society) — Historian Dennis Doran of the Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy leads a walk through a cemetery where many notable politicians and entrepreneurs from Jersey City’s past are buried.

June 7: A Walk Along the Harsimus Branch Embankment on Sixth Street (presenter: Embankment Preservation Coalition) – The coalition will explore this imposing remnant of the Pennsylvania Railroad in downtown Jersey City, which they are working to transform into a nature habitat and public park as a segment of the East Coast Greenway.

June 14: The Stevens Family Legacy (presenter: Bob Foster, director of the Hoboken Historical Museum) – Gain insight into the impact left in Hudson County by the prominent (and civic-minded) Stevens clan, including a visit to Hoboken Cemetery on Tonnelle Avenue, where many family members are buried.

June 20: “On The Waterfront” Bus Tour (presenter: Hoboken Historical Museum) – Cinema buffs will enjoy this excursion led by film industry expert Lenny Luizzi, which highlights Hoboken locations from the classic film starring Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint.





New Jersey Newsiness

A tale of two Saturday events: The drum beats ever louder for the Global Family Reunion on Saturday, June 6 at the New York Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows. The sheer volume of activities and speakers is daunting, but so is the awesomeness potential.

You could pose for the world’s biggest family photo or do a family-themed scavenger hunt — or match brawn with an arm-wrestling machine!  Not to mention the presentations by genealogical heavy-hitters like Henry Louis Gates Jr. (Finding Your Roots) Maureen Taylor (the Photo Detective) and CeCe Moore (Your Genetic Genealogist).

How-so-ever …

I would be derelict in my duty if I failed to point out the Genealogical Society of New Jersey is holding its spring program on the Very Same Day, June 6th,  from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the New Jersey Historical Society in Newark. No scavenger hunts, but:

  • James Amemasor and Doug Oxenhorn will be presenting Doing Research at The New Jersey Historical Society.
  • Christopher Zarr will be presenting NJ and the National Archives at New York City.
  • Melissa A. Johnson will be presenting Researching Your Newark Ancestors.
  • Catherine Stearns Medich will be presenting So What is New at the New Jersey State Archives.
  • Andy McCarthy will be presenting New Jersey Collections at NYPL.
  • Joseph R. Klett will be presenting Colonial New Jersey Research.

It is undeniable: If New Jersey research smarts are what you’re after, head to Newark. Here’s the program brochure. Note that free parking will be provided.

I know you really wanted to check out the arm-wrestling machine. But it is all about sharpening the skillz, is it not?

Plus: free parking! In Newark! I mean, come on!


Meanwhile, in May … Thank goodness not everybody is scheduling things for the first Saturday in June. Here are two more New Jersey events to consider:

May 2: The Montclair Historical Society is presenting its Restoration Fair at its headquarters, the historic Crane House, 108 Orange Road. Check out free workshops on repairing vintage roofs and researching your house’s history. Also, the society will be holding its annual herb sale, so you can get started on the heirloom garden, too.

May 9: Mark the calendar for the Spirit of the Jerseys history fair: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., rain or shine, at the  Monmouth Battlefield State Park in Manalapan. Wander the historic battlefield and check out exhibits from historical sites and societies from all over the state. A list of exhibitors is here.


After the storm: Fighting for a slice of local history

Life is not a disaster movie. This is generally a good thing. But one important way in which real life falls short is its lack of a boffo end scene. Real life is full of messy loose ends and aftermaths that won’t quit.

The rest of the country may have moved on from Hurricane Sandy, but Sandy hasn’t moved on from the Northeast, as evidenced by this item by Mark Di Ionno of the Star-Ledger on the Keyport (NJ) Steamboat Dock Museum. The museum collection was a unique take on the area’s history as a steamboat hub, moving Jersey produce and timber to consumers in New York City. Read how the museum volunteers performed a sad triage as the storm approached, “putting red dots on the things we knew we had to move,” as a longtime coordinator said. 

Volunteers managed to save a lot — maps and deeds and photographs; examples of glass that reflected the local bottlemaking industry. But they just couldn’t move everything in time, and Sandy’s raging storm surge gutted what was left. “Heartbeaking,” says one of the museum’s founders.

Slowly, volunteers are salvaging what they can, and thinking about a new home for the Steamboat Dock Museum. Here’s wishing them well as they do what local history buffs around the country do best — reclaiming a unique heritage for future generations.

Straphanger history, GIF-style

Readers of this blog might have noticed that I have a lot of ancestral ties to Brooklyn. With this comes a long and honorable heritage of subway ridership.

And my oh, my, subway geeks will LOVE this animated map depicting the evolution of the New York City subway system.

It’s a terrific reminder of how something so synonymous with NYC was not always a part of city life.

(via Atrios)

The Stories Your Street Could Tell …

I’m working on a history of my house, mostly for my own selfish pleasure but also to practice my skills in this particular research area. When I spot any vintage news items involving my street, I naturally go on alert. Not long ago I was searching local newspaper microfilms for an obituary when I stumbled upon a terribly sad story from 1938 that took place across the street from where I now live. (Preliminary poking around in censuses and directories indicates that some relatives of the people mentioned in the news item may still be living, hence the brackets.)

Child Found Drowned in Goldfish Pool Here / Mother Transfers From Ship and Returns to Montclair

An 18-month-old baby […] was drowned on Saturday when she fell into a goldfish pool at the rear of [a] home on […] Place. Deputy County Medical Examiner Olcott said the death was accidental and caused by drowning.

The article went on to say that the toddler was staying with her aunt at a house neighboring the yard with the goldfish pool. Sadly, the scenario in the story could still be written today: The child went out of sight only for a few minutes, but somehow managed to circumvent a high fence around the pool. The toddler’s mother was on a ship en route to South America, but was intercepted off Cape Hatteras and transferred to a liner headed back north, so that she arrived back in New Jersey the following day.

It was strange and sad to read about such a tragedy on a street I know so well — a street that continues to be a favorite of families with young children. I can tell you that there’s no trace remaining of the goldfish pond mentioned in the story, but it was still oddly disturbing to read about something like that happening on our pleasant little street, even though it was so long ago.

Now I’m wondering what news items might be out there about my own property. I suppose  that’s a hidden hazard of doing house history reports — not all the stories are going to be colorful and heartwarming.  And I guess I’ll be mentioning this possibility up front in doing this sort of research for someone else.

The Unrecorded Past

Writing family history would be a heck of a lot easier if our forebears just thought a bit more of themselves. Those of us related to prominent individuals are lucky: The big cheeses of the world tend to leave more traces. They’re more likely to have thought their lives were worth recording for posterity. The little cheeses, not so much.

True, once in a while a non-royal, non-presidential family comes along that’s addicted to writing letters or keeping diaries, like the Paston family in 15th-century England.

But you don’t find Paston types growing on just any family tree.

And once in a while something comes along that is so big, and so universal, it sparks a correspondingly big and universal desire to bear witness. (Think of the Civil War era!)

Still, in between monumental military conflicts and the March 1887 coal invoice are all sorts of events that don’t rate a separate chapter in the history books. Nonetheless, they leave you wishing you could picture the part played by your long-ago relatives. File them under notable but not epochal, I suppose.

I’d love to know what my Capital District forebears were up to during these happenings, for example:

• The unrest at the Watervliet Arsenal in West Troy, N.Y. an outgrowth of the infamous 1863 draft riots in New York City.

• The great Troy fire of 1862.

• The Hudson River floods of 1913.

• And I wonder what they thought of Kate Mullaney, who organized the Troy laundresses into a force demanding better working conditions for the women and girls in the collar factories.

What history do you wish you could recover from your family tree?

Links, 10.4.10

One of the perks of blogging is that one can just skip the introduction if one doesn’t have anything snappy to say. In fact, it is probably better to shut up if one doesn’t have anything snappy to say. Let the links speak!

Emerald Isle stuff: The National Library of Ireland has made several collections of vintage photos available online. Not sure how long they’ve been up, but they’re very interesting. Images date from the mid-19th century. (h/t to Bob Ryan of the NY-IRISH listserv) … Also, they write letters to the editor over there. Especially when they’re disgruntled at the service at the Irish Records Office. This one is a masterpiece of factual detail and polite contempt.

Wasteful or prescient?: There is criticism in Norfolk, Va. about hiring a cemetery records keeper for $42K annually when the city’s finances are strapped, as are many municipal finances nationwide. The city says the current system of index cards is falling behind. Critics say the records are in good shape due to the current efforts by a mix of city staff and volunteers. One can only hope the record keeping doesn’t fall by the wayside, however it ends up getting done.

Brick wall basics: I always like Martin Rigby’s columns in the Liverpool Echo. This time out he offers a clearly written primer on  attacking brick-wall problems. I wonder how often all the really obvious stuff has been tried before a brick wall is declared? I think I’ll use this article to make a checklist for myself.

Blog bits:

— Kimberly Powell tackles tombstone translations (and gives me a chance to alliterate away, while she’s at it).

— Sassy Jane blogs about the anatomy of a mistake. This sort of ‘fess-up is always incredibly helpful to read.

— Chris Staats uses a nifty construction analogy to sort out his arguments about Internet research, pro and con.

— At GeneaBloggers, a call for genealogy blog participation in Blog Action Day 2010: Water, with some intriguing prompts to get you going. Also via GeneaBloggers, we are reminded that the academic journal site SAGE Journals is offering free access until October 15 — a good chance to gather background on whatever esoteric question is on your mind.

I’m off to buy a pumpkin for the squirrels to attack. Hope you enjoy the week.