Today the AP reported on how one long-forgotten casualty of World War II had finally been rediscovered and inscribed upon his hometown’s memorial. I’m glad to read those stories, where neglect ends in recognition.
A couple of years ago I did a pro bono bit of research, looking for a man killed in World War II who’d been “found,” in a sense, at a garage sale. A medal, plus a copy of a citation, had surfaced in a box of miscellaneous items. The seller had no idea where they’d come from. Since the fallen soldier had lived in my hometown, the buyer hoped I could lead him to living descendants who might want the medal.
Unfortunately that didn’t happen. The soldier was an only child, married but childless, and his widow never remarried. This garage-sale mystery ended with a cold trail and a bit of sadness that his story had ended up in a box in a stranger’s garage.
On Memorial Day, it seems especially fitting to think of ways to preserve and protect veterans’ stories. Here are a few examples. I’m sure there are others in other places. Maybe there’s one near you, too.
• The Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project is a national initiative to collect and preserve first-hand accounts from veterans.
• The Biography Project of the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Foundation collects biographical information on the men and women listed on New Jersey’s memorial. At the link there’s a list of the veterans for whom there are still no photographs; the foundation welcomes any clues from the public.
• And the NYU Veterans Writing Workshop provides opportunities for veterans to tell their own stories.
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.
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).
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.
For such a little state, New Jersey has undergone a wealth of boundary and place name changes, with Bergen County providing more than its fair share of riches. The confused but determined researcher has a true friend in this .pdf file:
Compiled with impressive detail by Patricia A. Wardell, this file provides the full scoop on historic places from Acquackanonk to Zingsem. Wardell gives quick historical snapshots of many localities, and best of all, she cites her sources. These include county and local histories, colonial-era road surveys, church records and diaries, all of which give important insights about names the locals used for their towns and hamlets – names otherwise lost to history.
So if you find yourself squinting at a funny-sounding place name that can’t be Googled on a present-day Bergen County map, give this fascinating dictionary a try. If nothing else, you’ll learn a lot about the region’s history.
Pro tip: Pay attention to that “and Vicinity” part. Bergen County’s rich and complicated history means that a lot of the entries are connected to neighboring counties such as Passaic and Essex in New Jersey and Rockland County in New York.
There are so very many ways (and people) to commemorate on Veterans Day, but being a Garden State enterprise, the blog takes the occasion to shine a spotlight on the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which is located just off the Garden State Parkway in Holmdel, behind the Garden State Arts Center. Official Veterans Day commemorations at the memorial are set for 11 a.m. today, organized by the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial Foundation.
• One goal of the Biography Project coordinated by the foundation is to ensure that there’s a photograph to correspond with each name on New Jersey’s Vietnam memorial wall. There are still more than 300 names without photographs. Check the list to see if maybe you recognize one of them and can help.
• A few months ago Sue Kaufman, who with Ivan Kossak writes the always interesting Hidden New Jersey blog, posted a lovely and fascinating piece about Captain Eleanor Alexander, the only woman among the 1,563 New Jerseyans killed in Vietnam. It also links to a vivid and heartfelt letter from Captain Alexander’s fellow nurse Rhona Prescott, who pays tribute to a “supernurse, the backbone of the O.R.”
Michelle’s post will also bring you up to speed on the legislative background behind New Jersey’s state censuses, and why they ended, in case you are like me and find this sort of thing extremely satisfying to know. Thanks, Jersey Roots!
Once you’ve fiddled with GPS coordinates and old address books and decided that you’ve located a great candidate for your ancestor’s Catholic church on a present-day map — you do not want to find out it was only founded sixteen years ago. Save yourself some grief with …
It also covers some of the parish mergers that make genealogy in these urban parts so interesting nowadays, although it may not be 100 percent up to date in that department. It’s a starting point, anyway.