POINT Chapter 15 Meeting -February 3, 2007

POINTers In Person
Lou Costello Chapter 15

Northern New Jersey


Pursuing Our Italian Names Together
February 3, 2007


The Northern New Jersey chapter of POINTers In Person met on February 3, 2007 at the Elmwood Park Municipal Building.  Twenty-two people attended, including a reporter and photographer from The Herald News, a daily newspaper covering the Passaic and Bergen Counties area.

Maria Carparelli (#2100) opened the meeting by sharing with the chapter correspondence she received from Clare Rondise who once lived in the area and desired to know if any of our members were researching family in the Emilia Romagna region.  Maria reminded members of our chapter’s tenth anniversary and thought it would be enjoyable if we could engage Coro d’Italia to celebrate the event.  This Italian-American inter-generational ensemble from northern NJ performs traditional songs and dances of Italy in authentic costumes.  Susan Berman (#4405) volunteered to contact that group for details and to set up a performance.

Mary Faith Radcliffe told members that she enjoyed the POINT National Conference in Los Angeles.  She especially thought it wise that all attendees separated into groups according to their ancestor’s region.  This gave her an opportunity to meet a woman researching the same names and they found a possible connection.  She is researching the San Fele (NA) area.

Susan Berman mentioned that a recent edition of Il Ponte featured an interesting piece on art.

Geri Mola alerted the chapter to lectures by genealogists sponsored by the Bergen County Genealogical Society to be held at the local community college.  The keynote speaker is Patricia L. Hatcher.

Maryanne Graham (#3654) presented the treasurer’s report.  The chapter has 89 members; 64 of them have kept their dues current.  Annual dues were collected.

Annita Zalenski (#39) gave a very informative presentation on an often overlooked topic, Cemetery Research in the U.S.  Annita brought the chapter on a journey encompassing small plots to large acreage cemeteries.  She divided cemeteries into two broad categories, the traditional cemetery (known for its upright monuments, markers of stone/marble, private mausoleums and statuary) and Memorial Parks (which were introduced about 75 years ago and have no upright markers).  Both have community mausoleums.

Annita then narrowed these categories into more specific types of cemeteries.  These include the often hard to locate family burial plots in family-name restricted cemeteries.  Religious-affiliated cemeteries (either those belonging to a parish or those larger ones owned by a diocese) are a familiar type.  Traditionally, those buried on the east side of the church were the members of prestigious families.  Those buried on the south side were less well-known and those buried on the north side were illegitimate children or adults with bad reputations.  Another type of cemetery was the country cemetery located in rural areas and often having no record keeper.  Garden Cemeteries began around 1831 and replaced parks.  These Victorian “cities of the dead” were complete with rolling hills, ponds, paths, stairs, small walking-bridges, landscaping and sculpture.  Gaetano Federicci 1880-1964), an Italian immigrant, became a prominent and talented stone sculptor around Paterson and his works are found in many local cemeteries.

Military Cemeteries were first established in 1862 and were originally intended for the Union veterans of the Civil War.  Memorial Parks are the newest addition of this “cemetery family”.  These were noted for their bronze markers, memorial architecture and expansive lawns.

Finally, there is the saddest of burial grounds, the potter’s field for the poor, the unwanted and the unknown.  The harsh reality such potter’s fields represent became more meaningful to the chapter, when Annita reported that archeologists were hired in 2003 to perform disinterment and reinterment activities at the Potter’s Field Cemetery in nearby Secaucus.  The work was done to allow for construction of an interchange for the NJ Turnpike.  They found the remains of 4,572 bodies (900 of these were identified and only two were reburied by their families).

Also, there are mass graves of victims of a common disaster, such as the 1872 earthquake in San Francisco; Lodge Cemeteries, restricted to members of individual fraternal organizations; and Ethnic Cemeteries.  Tombstone inscriptions may supply a clue to family history, or to civic fraternal, military or religious affiliation.  Sometimes they even include the foreign country of birth and whether the deceased was a victim of a disaster or epidemic.

If a researcher has no idea where a relative is buried, Annita suggested that he ask an older relative and seek the death certificate or obituary.  A funeral director near where the deceased lived is often very helpful, although funeral home records are not in the public domain.  The American Blue Book of Funeral Directors is a good place to start.  Try church records, the FHL Catalog Locality Search, published and online sources, such as the Tombstone Transcription Project on www.usgenweb.com.  Also, Geographic Names Information Systems (GNIS) is very useful.  Roadmaps, old newspapers and old city directories are also valuable sources.  Researchers should remember that sometimes a cemetery is known by more than one name.  Finally, one can contact the local town clerk.

Once a cemetery is located, the researcher should go to the cemetery office (avoiding mornings), request a map of the cemetery and ask for a photocopy of the plot card or of the names buried in the plot.  Sometimes, someone else (perhaps related) is buried there.  Annita’s Cemetery Researcher’s Kit includes insect repellant, sun screen, clippers, whisk broom, spray bottle with plain water, moist towelettes, camera and knee pads.  Always wear protective clothing, sturdy shoes and long pants.  Ask permission if a tombstone rubbing is desired.  Most importantly, treat all graves and monuments respectfully.

Researchers should keep in mind that everything carved in stone is not necessarily true.  Sometimes compilations of gravestone inscriptions by local historical societies contain errors by transcribers.  For various reasons, monuments were not always erected immediately after death and failed memories might lead to mistakes.  Also, some tombstones were purchased by mail order, with all the benefits and problems this entailed.

Annita concluded her presentation with a quick overview of cemetery art and symbols.

     Future meetings will be held on:
     May 5, 2007
     August 4, 2007
     November 3, 2007
     February 2, 2008

For details, see our website:     https://sites.rootsweb.com/~njpoint/


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