By Rick Geffken |
FREEHOLD – Ron Bennett of Jackson has traced his family back to the earliest days of Monmouth County when many of his ancestors lived in Atlantic, today’s Colts Neck.
“I have done a bit of that kind of research at the New Jersey State Archives and at the County Clerk’s office, etc. and it is not fun,” Bennett said.
Not long ago, before genealogy search sites and popular TV shows about celebrity forebearers, it took a lot of work to find your family’s roots. Grandparents and older relatives and their sometimes hazy memories were the jumping off point for insights into your heritage.
Besides studying the scribbled notes on the backs of fading photographs, you waited months for records of birth or death certificates from city or state archives. You visited federal repositories in New York or Philadelphia to sit for vision-blurring hours at machines that scrolled microfilmed census records on reel after reel. If you got lucky, and knew what you were doing, you’d find out that your great-grandmother Bridget came from County Cork, or that your German great uncle Herman was really Polish.
Local libraries sometimes had microfiche editions of newspapers, but you had to wade through years of numbing news coverage to find even a nugget of information about your family. Then came personal computers, the internet and cheap DNA testing, and making those connections with far-flung relatives, alive or dead, became much easier. When ancestry.com became widely available, family research was transformed.
So Bennett and other researchers were particularly happy about the late-January announcement from the Monmouth County Historical Association (MCHA) that their microfilmed archive of The Freehold Transcript, a newspaper published from 1888 to 1963, has been digitized and is fully searchable on newspapers.com.
Almost immediately Bennett found a clipping about his family in the paper.
“It’s a 1901 article about Uncle Sam Bennett’s wife and her dilemma in getting some furniture into her house. Pretty funny stuff.” The story details how Mrs. Bennett hired carpenters to cut a hole in the side of her house next to the stairs to get a valued bedroom set up to the second floor. Not earth-shaking genealogy, perhaps, but certainly valued family lore.
Joe Hammond, MCHA’s curator of museum collections, said, “There are published lists of all of the New Jersey newspapers which are digitized and available at various websites. There’s a big hole (in coverage) in the center of the state. None of the Freehold papers have ever been made available, scannable and searchable on the internet.” Although astute researchers have used the Asbury Park Press and the Red Bank Register online archives for some time, the former lies behind a paywall.
The historical association joined with newspapers.com to include the complete 1888 to 1963 run of the defunct Freehold newspaper online. Hammond is delighted. “There’s been quite a buzz about (the announcement) on our Facebook page, a lot of dialogue there from people who are very excited. This has generated more commentary than anything we’ve put up on our Facebook page in quite some time.”
The MCHA next plans to send the Monmouth Democrat and Monmouth Inquirer to newspapers.com.
Monmouth County historian Randall Gabrielan welcomes the news. “While the Transcript has utilitarian value, as a user of the Monmouth Democrat and Monmouth Inquirer for many years, I have found those two papers have greater historical value.”
These MCHA announcements are all the more significant because access to The Freehold Transcript is available in the MCHA research library for free to MCHA members and a nominal fee of $2.50 for students and seniors, $5 for everyone else.
A personal subscription to ancestry.com (which includes newspapers.com) is a hefty $389 per year. For newspapers.com alone, a six-month introductory subscription costs almost $75. Although their database includes more than 73 million pages from 3,000-plus newspapers, few researchers will use more than just a tiny portion of the resource. The advantage is that paying users can access these sites from the comfort of home offices, anytime day or night. The research library is open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Ron Bennett summed it up this way: “The MCHA has opened a door for me.”
This article was first published in the Feb. 15-22, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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