The moment I learned about Alec Ferretti’s success with obtaining twentieth century New Jersey marriage indexes in conjunction with Reclaim the Records, I knew what my first target would be: my grandparents’ marriage.
I’ve been a professional genealogist for 18 years, and somewhat paradoxically, rarely have time to indulge in researching my own family history, but we all have those gaps that torment us, and this was one of mine. I had to look.
My grandparents were from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, both children of coal-mining Rusyn immigrants, so logically, they would have married in Luzerne County, PA. But no, the records came up empty. Then I tried nearby counties including Broome in New York as it was once known as a Gretna Green – that is, a place where laws made it easier to get married. Nothing.
My dad – their first child – was born in Harlem in Manhattan, so perhaps they married in New York City? I tried all five boroughs. Nope.
By now, my father and I were starting to entertain the notion that his parents had a common law marriage, and that no record would exist.
But then this New Jersey index arrived. After years of searching, I had resigned myself to yet another disappointment, but still, you have to be thorough, right? So I looked – and there it was!
Oh, the names were butchered – Smolenyak was Smolenisk and Sydorko was Sedurka – but it was them!
For this particular period, the only information provided was the year and certificate number, but I knew for sure the record existed. My first instinct was to order it through the New Jersey State Archives, but their online ordering system only permits requests up to 1916 at the moment, so I turned to professional researchers sending the specifics I had along with the guess that Essex, Hudson, and Union counties (close to New York) were most likely. I struck out twice with people who wanted to help, but weren’t available, but this was a case of third time lucky. The last one I contacted was at the Archives when I reached out to her and pulled the record within minutes.
Moments later, I was on the phone with my dad (not a fan of technology, so no computer or smart phone) who insisted that I methodically talk him through every snippet of information in the record. After so many years of waiting, he was sucking the marrow out of the bone, and I was rewarded with stories about the witnesses and other tangential memories.
Coincidentally, I had selected Reclaim the Records for a Seton Shields Genealogy Grant a week or two before all of this transpired because I’ve been so impressed with the accomplishments of Brooke Schreier Ganz and the organization she’s created. I’m sure I would have found the record regardless, but then again, maybe there is such a thing as genealogical karma. Why not find out yourself?
P.S. In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I was invited to join the Reclaim the Records board – but this was after I had selected the initiative for a grant and before I had made notification.
As a reminder, you can apply for a Seton Shields grant here. Don’t miss checking out the cool projects I’ve had the opportunity to contribute to over the years, plus an article that will give you a behind-the-scenes peek into my grants program (and might help you increase your odds of being selected when you apply)!