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.
It’s tough to explain the satisfactions of genealogy to nonparticipants. And I completely understand their bewilderment. Why does anyone want to traipse around cemeteries cooing over tombstones? What exactly is so much fun about libraries?
But there’s one thing that everybody seems to get, even the most bored and impatient of listeners:
It’s really, really nice to find the lost babies.
That’s what I call those children who lived and died between census years, the ones who exist perhaps as a question mark on an old family data sheet, or — in the case of my great-great aunt Rose (Connors) Brant — as a statistical squiggle on the census returns.
Rose (1860-1914) had six children, six living, when she and her family were counted in the U.S. federal census in Jersey City in 1900. When 1910 rolled around, she was the mother of eight children, seven living, her youngest child being born in about 1905. On my genealogy program, Rose’s tally was four pink circles for the girls, three for the boys, and one Unknown, which, in Reunion anyway, is a white space.
Those white Unknown spaces sadden me to no end, and the mysteries they contain can stay unresolved for years, sometimes for always. Happily, this particular mystery occurred when civil registration for vitals was well under way in New Jersey.
At the state archives in Trenton, births for earlier years are filed by certificate number.To find one, you need to examine an index reel that is arranged by year and parents’ surnames. Since Rose’s two youngest surviving children were born in 1900 and 1905, that meant she could have had a child in between — or she could have had a child after 1905, but before 1910. I decided to try that earlier time frame first, seeing as Rose was already nearing age 40 in 1900.
And very soon I found her missing child — a little boy, born just before Christmas 1902, and dead of meningitis by September 1903. I was saddened at how brief his life was. But it still felt good to type a name over that “Unknown,” and convert the white tag to blue. It’s strange to think how a life can be reduced to a set of numbers scrawled on a census tally sheet — and satisfying when you can be the person who puts a name where there was once just a statistic.
I never pass a cemetery without a second look, or a third, or even pulling over to take a fourth.
So when a chance came to tour two landmark Catholic cemeteries in Jersey City, I put on my sturdiest, ugliest walking shoes and met up on a lovely June Saturday morning with other members of the Hudson County Genealogical and Historical Society. On the agenda: an in-depth look at St. Peter’s Cemetery, on Tonnelle Avenue, and sprawling, gorgeous Holy Name on West Side Avenue, final home to many prominent (and in some cases infamous) figures from Jersey City’s past.
We carpooled to St. Peter’s, a good thing because St. Peter’s has to be one of the trickiest cemeteries to access anywhere. This might sound cheeky to those who must hack their way to ancestors in overgrown rural burying grounds, but there are other hazards in life besides brambles, and Tonnelle Avenue (a k a U.S. Highways 1 and 9) is one of them.
Those are my feet on the left, in the beat-up loafers. I was very hard on shoes, my mother said. That was also the opinion of Manny, the guy who measured us at Martin’s Shoe Store in Plainfield, N.J. He and my mother would mourn the state of my current shoe, and shake their heads, and sigh.
“She’s really hard on shoes, isn’t she?” Manny would say.
“Let’s hope this pair lasts,” my mother would say.
In my defense, I would like to draw your attention to that ripped sole of the Keds sneakers on the right, which belonged to one of my younger sisters, proof that I was not the only kid who was hard on her shoes.
The shoes in the center belong to a littler kid who went easier on them, because he didn’t play as hard as we did. However, being a little kid, he was about to commit the equally heinous sin of Growing Like You Wouldn’t Believe, necessitating a pair of new shoes in an equally indecent amount of time.
Shoe shopping was a definite event back then, partly because shoe stores were fuller-service destinations, as opposed to today, when the only stores that make a big deal of fussing over you are the ones catering to marathoners or people with really bad bunions.
But the other reason was that when seven kids all needed shoes at the same time, it meant major shopping expeditions. These took place in August, when we bought school shoes, and late spring, when we bought summer play shoes. Easter shoes were also important, but because we wore dress shoes so infrequently, we handed them down a lot. This might cause responsible parents to clutch their throats in horror today, but my mother would have thought it irresponsible to waste a set of patent-leather Mary Janes that had only been to Mass once or twice. So every Easter, we’d root around the closets and line everyone up to see which dress shoes fitted whom.
Shoe shopping was always a mixed experience for me. I loved the look, smell and feel of new shoes, but I hated being called to account for the damage I wreaked on them. “You really banged these up, kid,” Manny would say, as Mom nodded in sad agreement.
How did I do it? I was never sure. As far as I knew I was just running and walking in them, not using them to pound fence posts. Every year, I would vow that my shoes would stay smooth and whole until they no longer fit. But every year, I wore out my shoes before I outgrew them. The pleasure of new shoes was always shadowed by my awareness of their fleeting glory.
I never did turn into a person who collects shoes. I still tend to buy a pair I really like and wear it into shreds, despite good-intentioned vows to buy that one great pair in several colors and rotate them. Maybe all that early training in shoe shopping has conditioned me to stick with the tried-and-true, and await its inevitable decline.
Or maybe I’m just really hard on shoes.