Recently I wrote of my love for the Hunterdon County Historical Society, mentioning one of their manuscript collections. Soon afterward, I noticed on the Hunterdon County Genealogy email list that someone asked about the Society, I emailed her their website. I decided to go a step further and demonstrate how to use the online catalog to develop a research list. I recommend familiarizing yourself with the record arrangement of any facility before any research trip. This approach can work anywhere. It’s just at HCHS you need to work with a PDF of the detailed inventory to get to the buried treasure.
Organization is Key
I have a “pull list” in excel where I keep track of items that I need, and the repository. I would recommend this for anyone who plans to do research. It can be a pad, index cards, whatever works for you. I like excel because I can sort by the repository. When I take a vacation day to research, this approach maximizes the use of my time.
Hunterdon County Historical Society’s Manuscript Organization
The Historical Society catalog is useful but. it has its quirks, you need to review the detailed inventories to get to the contents. In this example, let’s say that I am researching a man named George H. Forker. He lived in Hunterdon County, so I decided to see what records he left behind.
I’ll pull up the Hunterdon Historical Society Manuscript Page:
Scrolling down the page, I can see the individual collections, there are several pages. I’m interested in something in the second group, collection-number 47, Hunterdon County Historical Society Collection IV; I’ve already browsed parts I and II. The burgundy font indicates there is a hyperlink to see more. I’m going to download the inventory documents.
The preliminary inventory is an index for parts I-III. There are several entries for Forker. I will need to find pages 58, 78, and 79 in the more detailed inventories to see a description and locate the folder numbers.
Part 1 is pages 1-46
Part II is pages 47-89
Part III Separation Sheets – Items moved from this collection to another location.
The index doesn’t really provide a description of what is in this collection, so I will be looking at three pages of the inventory for more detail. I start with page 58.
I begin with page 58 and decide I’d like to get a copy of the marriage certificate. If I were conducting this search in person, I would need to go to another book to look up which microfilm contained the folder, and it’s location. If you were to make this request to the society via their request page, I would imagine that you would need to provide the collection number, name, and folder. Perhaps, specifying the item of interest.
I went to the microfilm and found the folder with the marriage certificate:
An interesting document, which could be useful. I performed a cursory search of the New Jersey state archives database and the catalog. It appears as if this marriage was not in the vital statistic records, and Hudson county records at the archives don’t cover this period. Ancestry does have the church records imaged, though, and there is an entry in the ledger book. The certificate is more visually appealing. If I were researching George, I would go through this process for all of the records in the inventory, or at least add them to my excel file for future trips.
I hope this example demonstrates how to efficiently use the HCHS Manuscript collection. The Historical Society does have a card catalog, which has earlier records, but it does not contain every manuscript, so I prefer the inventory.
Whether you are conducting the search yourself or requesting assistance from a third-party, it is always best to focus your efforts. For example, if I sent a research inquiry to the Historical Society and asked for information on George Forker, who is to say what I will get in return. The request is very open-ended. There probably is quite a bit of information available, and you want to make the most of the time allotted to you. The depth of the Hunterdon County Historical Society collection is quite impressive. Using their website can help you move your historical or genealogical research forward.
Figure 1 – Hunterdon County Historical Society (https://hunterdonhistory.org/ : accessed 18 February 2020), “Manuscript Collections.”
Figure 2 – – Hunterdon County Historical Society (https://hunterdonhistory.org/ : accessed 18 February 2020), “Preliminary Inventory, Collection 47. Hunterdon County Historical Society Collection Part IV.”
Figure 3 – – Hunterdon County Historical Society (https://hunterdonhistory.org/ : accessed 18 February 2020), “Inventory p. 58, Collection 47, Hunterdon County Historical Society Collection Part IV.”
Figure 4 — “Hunterdon Manuscript Collection,” Marriage Certificate, George W. Forker and Amanda Wannamaker (1864), Folder 684, Collection 47. Hunterdon County Historical Society Collection Part IV; Hunterdon County Historical Society, Flemington, New Jersey.