Ok, so you've seen some clips from The Bond Force Legacy in the Media Library and you've visited a few of the other pages on this site. You've also placed your order for your own copy of The Bond Force Legacy on DVD. Now you're thinking to yourself, How can I do this for the 'X' family and for that old home by the bridge? Even if I don't make a feature length documentary or build a website, where can I at least gather this type of information about that family and about that historic home? The 'X' in those sentences might well be your family, and that historic home might well be yours!
This page is intended to give you some ideas about how and where to look for information about local history and genealogy.
If your goal is to gather information about the residents of a particular home over time, you'll want to start with the ownership history of the property. This is something called the chain of title, and it can be purchased from a title company. Since virtually every property must have clean title before a real estate transaction can be finalized, thousands of title reports are prepared each year in New Jersey alone. As a result, there is a fair bit of competition in the title report industry. Look on-line for real estate title companies, or look in the phone book. Call a few, find out which ones are prepared to help for free or for out of pocket expenses only (like the costs of copying), and cut a deal. For example, if you are or know a lawyer who does some real estate closing work, ask whether there is a contact person who you could approach for a favor. With the title report in hand, you should now know the name of the people who owned the property since title information was filed, when they owned, and where they came from just prior to moving to the property.
With the names in hand, your real research can begin. Go to the local library (e.g., for The Bond Force Legacy, we spent many hours in the Roseland and Livingston libraries), the regional library (for us, the Newark Public Library), the state library (e.g., the New Jersey State Library), historical society libraries and, possibly, the Library of Congress. Also, spend some time on-line. Search your local sites (e.g., for The Bond Force Legacy, we reviewed Roseland's website, Livingston's website, and the website for the North Essex Chamber of Commerce, among others).
If you happen not to know everyone in your community (who does?), you must find a way to reach them. Join your local and regional historical societies (e.g., the New Jersey Historical Society), attend meetings and talk to people. Unlike most areas of research, much of the knowledge surrounding particular people - especially people who weren't famous (or infamous) - is only known anecdotally by the elders in the area. You must find these people and talk to them. By the way, don't put this off. When you feel like leaving this process for another day, think of the following: Young people might die. Old people will die.
Spend some time researching the genealogical websites. Try the free ones first. Here are a few examples from the hundreds of sites now online:
i. The website of The Horseneck Founders History and Genealogy Society, Inc., spearheaded by Dr. Beverly Crifasi.
ii. The website of The Roseland Historical Society and The Roseland Landmarks & Historic District Commission.
iii. The Genepool. Joann Rabun's research on many Newark founders includes documents, maps and notes; this was the source of the EdBall Gedcom database of 10,000 of Newark's founders, since Edward Ball and his wife Abigail Batchley.
iv. Cyndi's List for NJ genealogy resources. Cyndi Howell has created the largest genealogical link resource on the internet.
v. Virtual Newark. Glenn Geisheimer has created an important repository of data about Newark.
vi. The Olive Tree Genealogy. Lorine M. Schulze provides a renowned resource on Huguenot immigrants, 17th century Dutch naming patterns, Militia muster rolls and passenger lists from ships sailing to the New World.
Next, find descendents. For The Bond Force Legacy, we were lucky enough to track down Ed Grant in Connecticut - simply by talking with people in town and asking if anyone knew where we might find former owners of the property. Ed Grant, who has since passed away, was one of the great-great grandchildren of Isaac Bond and Charlotte Condit. Ed had a treasure trove of information about the Bonds and the Forces, and, without his help, The Bond Force Legacy could not have been made. His widow, Doris, and his older son, Bob, were also invaluable resources.
If you are not lucky enough to find your own Ed Grant by asking around, write a letter to the editor of the local paper, explaining what you are doing. Often, the local press will run your letter in the Letters to the Editor section. For The Bond Force Legacy we wrote to the local papers, including The Progress. The Progress was kind enough to print our letter in the Letters to the Editor section of the paper. [link here to letter] As a result, about a dozen people called with tidbits of information. If you have no luck getting coverage for free, and you can afford it, put an ad in the paper.
If you're searching for information about a family with an uncommon name, use the phone book. You'd be surprised how helpful people can be if you call them and politely ask for information.
You must find the religious organization with which the family affiliated. There, you should find information not only about dates of birth and death, but religious events, too (e.g., christenings, brises, the dates children became full members). We were about two years into the process of researching the Bonds and the Forces for The Bond Force Legacy when we were permitted to see the ledgers from The Livingston Baptist Church on a weeknight in July. While Pastor David Long sat in his office, the director, Jack Gordon, pored over a stack of several volumes, spanning the period from the formation of the Church in the 1850s to the present. At the end of the earliest volume he found the ledger entry that conclusively proved that Jonathan Force III of Livingston was also the Jonathan Force III of Roseland (then Centerville).
The cemetery itself is fertile ground for information about families and their histories. More than just a source for dates of birth and death, the location of the plots and the size and styles of the stones or markers can provide valuable information about the families and individuals you're researching. Also, spend some time in the offices. Some cemeteries have remarkable records, and depending on the level of cooperation afforded you, you might find things like receipts for the burial of a subject or the identity of the descendents who are paying the bills for care.
You should also consider reviewing police blotters, local newspaper articles and court dockets. Start with your local publication (in Roseland it is The Progress) and your local police department. For court records, a good place to start is in your local court (in most instances, it will be a municipal court), but also make a trip to your county seat or regional courthouse. Although reviewing un-indexed blotters and old copies of newspapers is very much like looking for a needle in a haystack, it might prove worth the effort. For The Bond Force Legacy we found articles about the divorce proceedings between Frank Bond Force and Irene White Force as well as articles about an assault at The Bond Force House. By the way, if you are reviewing un-indexed material, consider indexing some or all of it as you review. You can make the next historian's job infinitely easier if you leave behind an index of the materials you've reviewed!
At every step of the way, look for pictures - and identify them. Ask everyone who might know for whatever information they have about the places and people in the pictures, including the names, birth and death dates, parents and children, jobs, personalities, everything. Now, do not rely on your memory to capture all of this information. Write it down, and write down the source of the information. Also, do it right away. Do not assume that you can do this at your leisure. For The Bond Force Legacy we were shown a photo album containing about 100 images - all headshots or family portraits - from about 1850 to 1880. Unfortunately, even though we knew that this was a Bond family album, none of the photos was identified. Since everyone who knew any of these people is dead, the album is a silent testament to the anonymity that comes from being nameless.
Every tidbit of information should be documented. For example, say you are at an open house at a museum and you are talking to a docent about your project and the docent tells you that the grandfather of the person you're researching used to work at the tannery in the neighboring town. Exhaust that person's knowledge, write down what you learned and when and from who you learned that information. Get contact information. You just don't know if you will want to contact that person again. Similarly, if you find a reference worth noting in a book, copy the relevant pages, together with the title and cover pages - so you can identify the title, author, date of publication and publisher. If the author is still alive, contact her. She might well have additional information that did not make it into the published work about your subject.
Finally, information is of no use to anyone if it can't be accessed. Create a file for each topic or subject area relevant to your research and update each file as you discover new information. Compare and contrast the information you receive. Most often, you will find that you have conflicting information in the file. For example, for The Bond Force Legacy, two history texts indicate that Dorinda Bond lived until 1905, and a third set her date of death as 1883. We found that these texts had to be wrong. First, we found her gravestone. To corroborate the date on the stone, we found a copy of the receipt for her coffin and burial, indicating the she died in November of 1882. In other words, the reliable sources - published history texts - were wrong. You must always try to determine the credibility of the information you receive by considering and comparing the reliability of the sources. To do this, you must always record information about your sources.
Finally, and most importantly, have fun!