Genealogists convene for 96th annual meeting at Alexander Library


genealogicalsocietyfacebook
Photo by Facebook |

For 96th consecutive year, the Genealogical Society of New Jersey met at Alexander Library to discuss the ever-expanding practice of tracing ancestry through genetics. The society was formed in 1921 and has since adopted a more interactive model.


Advancements in technology in the past few years have fostered numerous tools and concepts to aid in individuals’ searches for their ancestry. 

Ancestry.com, a company founded in 1983, has more than 2.7 million paying subscribers, making it the world’s most expansive DNA database. In efforts similar to these websites, the Genealogical Society of New Jersey (GSNJ) aims to preserve family history, particularly for those with New Jersey roots. 

The society convened on Nov. 4 for its "96th Annual Meeting" at Alexander Library on the College Avenue campus.

Established in 1921, the society's primary goal is to transfer tombstone information onto other means, according to the website. Since its inception, the society has shifted its focus to be broader and more interactive.

“We point (individuals interested in tracing their genealogy) in the direction as to where they can go to get information. If not in our collections, in other collections throughout the state. We (also) have a service whereby a corresponding secretary will do a limited amount of research in the society’s collection here at Rutgers,” said GSNJ President Chester Lawton.

Much of the genealogical journey, though, is reliant on the individual. Lawton emphasized the importance for people to conduct their own research as opposed to depending on the society’s assistance. The organization and its collection exist as stepping-stone resources, not the ultimate answer.

Many times, historical records direct individuals away from their anticipated path to another county or possibly another state. Michelle Chubenko, a professional genealogist, and presenter at last week’s meeting, encouraged researchers to delve into unexpected paths. 

Successful research comprises of “doing the wrong things, looking in the wrong state, looking in the wrong time and looking in the wrong publications” with a dash of serendipity, Chubenko said.

Chubenko was the focal speaker at the "Annual Meeting," discussing the substantial breadth of resources and information lying in state documents and online. A genealogist with more than 27 years of experience, Chubenko has conducted research across several states in the country and several countries in Europe. 

She appeared on an episode of TLC’s "Who Do You Think You Are?" and has founded her own organization, Jersey Roots Genealogy.

Chubenko’s lecture, like many presentations hosted by GSNJ, delineated the types of resources available in the state — marriage documents, land deeds, religious certificates, online archives — and how to best utilize them. Much of this information can be found in the GSNJ newsletter, one of the staples of the society, she said.

Lawton said the primary job of the organization is to function as a publishing society. The GSNJ publishes the Genealogical Magazine of New Jersey.

“It’s our goal to continue publishing scholarly articles about genealogical research. We also publish primary source documents, so people can access those records without having to go to different states or other locations,” she said.

To maintain member interest and collaboration, the society hosts seminars in addition to inviting presenters to annual meetings. The 2017 seminar took place in June at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) in East Brunswick. 

As a day-long event, the seminar included two tracks of lectures, said Joan Lowry, the membership chair of the society. Track one of last year’s seminar was centered on advanced methodology, while the second focused more on historical context and its implication for documentation.

Although GSNJ has maintained the same goals since 1921, there are several improvements the officers and trustees would like to implement, Lawton said. 

Lowry said the digitization of the society’s collections is one of the forefront objectives. Within the next year and a half, the society aims to launch a website accessible to members. In lieu of physically searching for documents, members would be able to search through the society’s sources and find indexed publications.

The ultimate goal is to encourage people to go beyond readily available records and discover what is not so obvious, Lawton said.

“Genealogy and history are intimately tied together. When people get an interest in who preceded them, where they came from, they start thinking ‘what makes me who I am?’ You get involved with history when you do that research. The search itself becomes the journey,” Lowry said.


Kelly Kim

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Targum.