Tag Archives: Genealogy

Publishing Your Genealogy for Amateurs

A popular way to memorialize and share genealogical research is through publishing.  However, the road to publication can be confusing and daunting.  Please join us as Lew Mexler, Caryn Alter, and Stephen Cohen, discuss their experiences regarding publishing genealogical research and stories.  Lew Mexler will focus on his father-in-law’s memoir and his collaboration with academic colleagues while Caryn and Stephen will discuss their genealogy workbook titled What’s in a Name? A Young Person’s Jewish Genealogy Workbook, which serves as a wonderful guide for budding genealogists in terms of writing and publishing your work.

Lew Meixler is currently the Chair of the Jewish Genealogy Club of Mercer County and has given two previous talks on Genealogy at the State Library.

Caryn Alter and Stephen Cohen, both longtime genealogy enthusiasts, are founding members of the Mercer County Jewish Genealogy Society at Beth El Synagogue.  Professionally, Caryn is a registered dietitian and has done freelance writing; Steve has a PhD in chemistry, and is a writer, calligrapher, and occasional choral-music arranger. He is the co-author of America’s Scientific Treasures (2nd ed.), due out this Fall from Oxford University Press.


Fields marked with an * are required

Please indicate the classes you would like to attend by clicking on the appropriate box below.

*You must use Yes to answer the last question*

African American Cemeteries in New Jersey

History is made everyday by ordinary people, much of which relates to our own family history.  The story of our families is unique and well-worth preserving.  One way we try to preserve that history and the memories of our loved ones are through cemeteries.  As we continue to celebrate Black History Month, Cherekana Feliciano, from the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical, will touch on this very personal aspect of history by examining African American cemeteries in New Jersey.  She will provide an overview of the history of these cemeteries in New Jersey, their current state and what the future may hold for them, including examining what role/responsibilities the general public and the African American community at large has in ensuring their upkeep and survival.


Fields marked with an * are required

Please indicate the classes you would like to attend by clicking on the appropriate box below.

*You must use Yes to answer the last question*

AncestryLibrary Edition Workshop – Registration Full


This hands-on session is designed to introduce you to AncestryLibrary edition, which is available for free at the New Jersey State Library.   Although AncestryLibrary contains much of the same information as Ancestry.com, there are several key differences, which exclude Family trees, The Member Directory, Ancestry Message Boards, AncestryDNA®, and the following record collections: Historical Newspaper Collection, Family and Local History Collection, Obituary Collection, Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, Biography Genealogy Master Index,Freedman’s Bank Records.  Elana Broch will help users become familiar with AncestryLibrary by focusing on the U.S. Federal and NJ State census records as well as immigration records.  We encourage you to bring you own research topics so that Elana and our staff can assist you in your research.

Elana Broch is an amateur genealogist who has spent much of her research efforts trying to find out about her grandfather, Saul Lichtman, a 1941 Holocaust victim. She is a research librarian at Princeton University.

Research Sources – Primary, Secondary and Tertiary

Trenton’s annual Patriots Week celebration runs from Thursday, December 26, 2019 through Tuesday, December 31, 2019.  Attendees learn about the events and people from Trenton’s history during the Revolutionary War.

History is a study of the past.  This includes the action of people and the occurrence of events.  What sources do researchers use when writing history?

The New Jersey State Library contains original and copies of historic documents, reports, and maps that represent primary, secondary and tertiary sources. That’s why historians love to use our collection and find it to be so valuable in the work they do.


Sample list of Hessian soldiers captured at the Battle of Trenton Dec 26, 1776
A transcription of an original list of Hessian Soldiers captured in the Battle of Trenton December 26, 1776.

A primary source is a first person account of an event.  Letters, diaries, photographs, or eyewitness accounts from news reports all give a sense of what occurred at the time of an event and are are key to understanding history. For example, Continental soldiers compiled a list of Hessian soldiers taken prisoner following the Battle of Trenton on December 26, 1776.  A transcriptions of the original document provides primary source information.  The original document includes the name, rank, unit and disposition of each soldier captured. Historians and and genealogists appreciate this very specific level of information.

Letter from George Washington requesting provisions from residents of several states
George Washington’s letter requesting provisions from residents of NJ, PA, DE, MD, and VA.

In 1778 General George Washington wrote an open letter to the residents of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.  In it, he asks for support in the way of provisions for his troops in order to continue their campaign against the British.  This letter, with its lofty ideals and eloquent reasoning, is a primary source that was published in the New Jersey Gazette on Wednesday March 4, 1778.

General Washington’s letter is juxtaposed with an advertisement in the same Gazette issue calling for the return of an enslaved man named Levi who fled his enslaver.  Here is a primary source providing two very different stories from the same point in history.  Sources like this give historians a lot to discuss and interpret about the different struggles for freedom occurring at the same time. These discussions and interpretations become secondary sources and are key resources for other researchers to use.

Advertisement asking for return of an enslaved person named Levi
Advertisement asking for return of an enslaved person named Levi



Title page of Stryker's The Battles of Trenton and PrincetonWilliam S. Stryker (b. 1838, d. 1900) researched and wrote about some of the most important historical events pertaining to New Jersey and the Revolutionary war.  He used many primary source documents and included them in the work he compiled.  His commentary and interpretation of the events that occurred in his work titled The Battles of Trenton and Princeton make his original writings secondary sources.  This particular title is priceless to many researchers and history buffs.

Here is an example of the author describing the significance of a correspondence from Colonel Joseph Reed to Colonel von Donop, followed by the text of the original correspondence.

Correspondence from Colonel Joseph Reed to Colonel von Donop
Correspondence from Colonel Joseph Reed to Colonel von Donop


Encyclopedia of New Jersey entry about the Battles of Trenton
Encyclopedia of New Jersey entry about the Battles of Trenton

Finally, a tertiary source is one that distills the information from various sources to give a broad overview of a topic.  Examples of tertiary sources include encyclopedias, handbooks, and textbooks.  Encyclopedia of New Jersey includes an article that provides an overview of the Battle of Trenton.  This information is compiled from various secondary sources.




Join us!

As part of Patriot’s week, on December 26th the State Library will be hosting author William ‘Larry’ Kidder to discuss his book, Ten Crucial Days: Washington’s Vision for Victory Unfolds.  This program will be from 12 pm to 1pm on in the Level 2 Reading Room of the State Library.

Webinar: Finding Your Women Ancestors in New Jersey Records

Thank you all for joining us yesterday to learn more about how to research your women ancestors in New Jersey genealogy collections.  Please see below for the link to the webinar recording.

Some things to remember when you’re strategizing how to locate your female ancestors:

1. Regardless of the time period in New Jersey, some form of marriage records have always been kept by civil authorities (not just churches). Women will always be listed by birth name (or previous married name if widowed) in these records.

Catherine Vulku Declaration of Intention, Burlington County

2.  Vital Records (birth, marriages, and deaths) were reported to the state of New Jersey beginning in May 1848.  Even if your woman ancestor was born pre-May 1848, check for any marriage or death records after May 1848, as these records will likely have authoritative biographical information.  Any New Jersey State vital records more than 100 years old are owned by the New Jersey State Archives.

3.  If your woman ancestor immigrated to the United States and applied for citizenship after 1920, regardless of her marital status, she will have her own naturalization application.  (In 1920, women in the United States were given the right to vote, thus becoming full citizens.  Prior to 1920, women naturalized under their husbands or fathers.)

4.  Always check land records!  These records can be genealogical gold mines that trace the purchase history of the property and spell out kinship between parties.

I hope you enjoyed the presentation!  Slides are available on the Guides and Handouts page of the Genealogy Research Guide.

WEBINAR – Finding Your Women Ancestors in New Jersey Records

Are you trying to research a female ancestor from New Jersey and don’t know where to start?  Regina Fitzpatrick, Genealogy Librarian at the New Jersey State Library will review how to find women in popular New Jersey genealogical collections.  Learn smart research strategies within individual collections and more about collections you may not have thought to check for your ancestor.

Click here to register!

Persist and Prevail: African American Family Achievements Program Recap

Thank you to Muriel Roberts and Barbara Polk Riley for sharing their family histories in honor of National Family History Month.  African American lineages can be difficult to trace further than a few generations and thanks to Muriel and Barbara, there are some tricks that may help people when searching for ancestors who were or came from former slaves.

A unique aspect to both of their families was the propensity to refer to people, especially males, by their middle names.  As a result, they ran into many roadblocks by searching for their ancestors, thinking that the name relatives called them was their first name when actually it was their middle name.  Oftentimes, names can be confirmed by checking vital records (birth, marriage, and death), which is why it is so important to obtain these documents when starting research on any ancestor.  They can confirm or reveal important information that can be used to identify other relatives, locations, and time periods with certainty.

Muriel Roberts was able to find a wealth of information through a little known source, the Works Progress Administration’s Slave Narratives, published between 1936-1938.  During the Great Depression, the Roosevelt Administration commissioned writers to produce books and documents on a wide variety of topics, one of which was to record interviews of former slaves.  Comprising of roughly 3,500 interviews, the Slave Narratives can provide a wealth of first-hand knowledge that can greatly influence one’s research into their African American lineage.  While the interviews were only 1-2 pages long, they contain important information such as names, both family and owners, locations, including during and after slavery, and occupations.  These narratives can be a major breakthrough and a hidden treasure trove for anyone researching slave ancestry.

It is also important to consider DNA testing when dealing with African American ancestry.  In some cases, a person’s ancestors may have been the offspring of a white owner and African slave.  This may be revealed through matches in a person’s DNA which can lead to more avenues for one to look, including wills that may confirm the presence of a slave ancestor.

Anyone who can prove ancestry to a slave can join the lineage society of the Sons and Daughters of the United States Middle Passage.  As a lineage society, there are stringent requirements regarding what documents are needed to prove direct ancestry, but the society has many resources available to its members that can help further along genealogical research.

Persist and Prevail: African American Family Achievements

Tracing African American lineage in the United States can be very difficult, especially if one’s ancestors were slaves.  While records were kept listing slaves as property, often times they did not include the name of the slave and if they did, it was only a first name.  Please join us as Muriel “Dee Dee” Roberts and Barbara Riley Polk discuss how a 1938 Works Progress Administration slave narrative helped answer their family questions and expanded their research.  They will also touch on how DNA testing was able to confirm their findings.

Dee Dee is currently serving her 4th year as Secretary and 9th year as Membership Chairperson for the New Jersey Chapter of the Afro–American Historical and Genealogical Society.   She is also a member of the Hudson County Genealogical Society and a charter member of SDUSMP, Sons and Daughters of the United States Middle Passage.

Barbara Riley was a professional librarian for over 40 years and is an amateur historian and a collector of books of the African American experience.  She also volunteers in the Local History Department at the Plainfield Public Library.


Fields marked with an * are required

Please indicate the classes you would like to attend by clicking on the appropriate box below.

*You must use Yes to answer the last question*

Picturing Your Research: Finding, Procuring, and Preserving Images

There is an old saying that pictures are worth a thousand words.  While this may be up for debate, what is true is that a photo is worth nothing if it is destroyed.  Many of us have family photos that we consider precious and want to pass down, but we must first preserve those images.  Michelle Novak, a professional genealogist, shared some of her secrets for not only preserving family photos, but also ways to find and procure photos that have genealogical relevance.

Photos bring life and reality to one’s genealogy.  They not only show us how an individual or location appeared at a given period of time, but also tell us more about the life they lived.  Most of the time, photos are passed down within the family, but there are other sources from which one can find personal or relevant photos to augment one’s collection or inform their research.  National repositories such as the Library of Congress, National Archives II, or Historic Aerials as great places to check, as well as local organizations such as the NJ State Archives or local historical societies.  While they may not have named individuals associated with a picture, they may have location-specific pictures that can include former properties, places of employment, or public gatherings in which a family member may appear.  Additionally, photo sharing sites such as FamilySearch or Facebook Groups are a great way to exchange photos that extended family or unknown familial connections may have.

Before we discuss how to preserve images, it is important to point out that all photos are copyrighted material.  The copyright holder of a photograph is the individual who took the picture, not the subject of the photograph.  According to U.S. copyright law, a photograph becomes public domain 70 years after the death of the copyright holder.  However, this only applies if you plan on using the images for any commercial or reproduction purposes, which includes sharing it on public sites such as Facebook.  Additionally, it is important to think about the wishes of the subject/subjects of the photograph before sharing it; is this something that they would want others to see?  One tool to help track down the origin of an image, such as one that was used as a feature image on a genealogy blog, is Google Reverse Image Search.  You can upload the file and Google will attempt to track down all of the sources where the image is found online.

So now that we have all of our photographs, how do we keep them safe?  First and foremost, all photographs will age and degrade, regardless of how we store them or try to preserve them.  However, limiting their exposure to light and storing them in archival sleeves will certainly help slow any degradation.  Sleeves that have a PAT Passed designation are certified to be of the highest archival quality.  Additionally, storing certain photos in a freezer will help slow down any degradation.

The easiest and best way to “preserve” a photograph is to make a digital scan.  Scanners are considerably cheaper than 10 years ago and have such high resolution capabilities that you can make very good copies of your photos.  Additionally, scanning photographs will allow you to enlarge small photographs to see in greater detail.  Standard flatbed scanners are the best when dealing with photographs and you should avoid All-in-One machines as their scanning software and capabilities are much worse when dealing with the details of a photograph.  Michelle’s mantra is “do it once and do it well”, which means scan your photographs using the highest resolution you can.  The minimum recommended resolution is 600 ppi (pixels per inch), with most modern scanners being able to capture images in 2,400 or 3,600 ppi.  Additionally, you can purchase flatbed scanners that will also create positive images of slides and negatives.

Once you have your photos scanned, it is important to come up with a file-naming convention that will allow you to easily identify any photograph.  Having a photo named grandma.jpg tells you very little about the photo; please see page 5 of the handout for examples of how to name your files in more detail.  Also, you can use photo-editing programs, such as Adobe Photoshop, to extend the canvas of the photo to include important information, including image location, date, subject of the photo, or whatever else you feel is important to know about the image.

For more information about finding and preserving your photos, please take a look at the handout, https://www.njstatelib.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Picturing-Your-Research.pdf, or contact Michelle Novak at mnovakdesign@me.com.

Picturing Your Research – Finding, Procuring, and Preserving Images

Did you realize that you have a UNIQUE, never shared before collection of archival materials in your house right now? Your family photos!  Your research can come alive with images, but finding, scanning, and preserving them can be a daunting prospect. In this talk, we’ll look at all three—from the perspective of a designer, photographer, researcher, and archivist (in training). Michelle D. Novak will give us an introduction on how to best scan the images you have, ways to find images in collections to supplement your research, new online resources to help identify those mystery people, and share some tips for protecting the photos and artifacts for future generations. (P.S., It’s her favorite talk and a hot-topic!)

Michelle D. Novak is a brand designer at [MND] (mnd.nyc) which serves finserv, education, and technology clients; genealogist; and teacher. She is a Master of Information student (formerly, MLIS) at Rutgers University in archives and digitization, holds a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design, and certificates from Boston University, Gen-Fed, and the Genealogical Institute of Pittsburgh, among others. Novak is Trustee and Webmaster for the Genealogical Society of Bergen County (GSBC), New Jersey, and a former Trustee of the Genealogical Society of New Jersey (GSNJ). She also serves as Project Administrator for the GSNJ-NJSA New Jersey Early Land Records Project (a joint project between the Genealogical Society of New Jersey and the New Jersey State Archives); Editor of the GSBC’s national award-winning newsletter, The Archivist; and is involved with numerous transcription, indexing, publicity, and digitization projects.


Fields marked with an * are required

Please indicate the classes you would like to attend by clicking on the appropriate box below.

*You must use Yes to answer the last question*

Using Online Polish Archives for Genealogical Research Program Recap

Researching Polish ancestry can be a difficult endeavor that requires patience and knowing where to look.  Dr. Elana Broch, Assistant Population Research Librarian and amateur genealogist, has done years of research on her Polish lineage, even visiting Poland to try and find primary documents to answer her family history.

One of the most important things to recognize about Polish ancestry is Polish history.  Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Poland as a country often did not exist.  Parts were under the control of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Ukraine, Germany, and Russia.  Therefore, depending on the time period, document languages and location names may have changed depending on who was in power.  Additionally, if you are looking for Jewish ancestry, family and town names may be Jewish or Yiddish, adding yet another layer to deciphering someone’s lineage.  JewishGen has a wonderful Communities Database that is worth looking at even if you did not have Jewish Ancestry.  The database maps the location names over time so you can better understand where records may be and in what languages.  Additionally, Poland was a crossroads of conflict in World War 1 and 2 so many records were destroyed, leaving gaps in civil registration collections and vital records.

On the bright side, the Mormon Church, responsible for Ancestry.com (subscription) and FamilySearch (free) have digitized countless Polish related records during their mission trips so some (but not all) records are available through those sites.  It is highly recommended to check Ancestry and FamilySearch first to see what information and records you can find on your Polish ancestors before moving forward.  The best place to find information would be the United States and specific state censuses, which during the later half of the 19th century and forward, list places of birth and all of the names within a household, rather than just the head of household.  This information can be critical in tracing a relative back in Poland, but remember, that if the place of birth was listed as Russia or Germany, they may have actually been living within the borders of present-day Poland.

If you have exhausted these resources and are looking to find records in Poland, be aware that there are multiple archival institutions and locations, depending on what you are looking to find.  Also, you will need to write to the specific archive or employ a professional genealogist in Poland to obtain the records as a vast majority of their records (outside of those digitized on Ancestry.com or FamilySearch) are not digitized.  The Central Archives of Historical Records (AGAD), are the official repository for materials that are no longer under Polish privacy restrictions.  This includes birth records that are over 100 years old and marriage and death records over 80 years old.  Additionally, the AGAD contains information from Ukraine.  The Civil Registry Office (Urząd Stanu Cywilnego) contains vital records that are still protected under their privacy laws.  There are many regional archives where most records are currently housed, which is why it is critical to determine the location an ancestor lived to accurately determine which region or district archives to contact.  Lastly, there are local parish or archdiocesan archives that will contain important genealogical records such as baptism and marriage records.

The Polish Archives does have a searchable website that comprises of 4 different databases, however all of the information is in Polish, which means you will need to use a translation service such as Google Translate or a browser extension that can translate the page for you.  While some of the filters and headings are in English, all of the collection titles, descriptions, and notes are all in Polish.

It is highly recommended to check out the FamilySearch Wiki on Poland Genealogy to help determine what records to look for and where to find those records.  For more information on the presentation or help with Polish genealogy, please contact Elana Broch at ebroch@princeton.edu.  For a copy of the presentation, please visit https://www.njstatelib.org/assets/PolishArchivesPresentation.pdf.