This is one of those scene-setting posts – the first of a series, I’m sure. This time, about an amazing place. A spot I sometimes wish I’d never heard of, but can’t stop thinking about.
Researching the residents of the Minisink Valley (just one of its many monickers) can feel like navigating of the House of Mirrors from “Lady From Shanghai”, minus the gun-wielding psychopath. There’s only one way through – and I keep running, face first, into dead-ends that look like doorways.
Fact – Our setting is at the confluence of the Delaware and Neversink Rivers, and their respective valleys and tributaries. It’s an all-roads-lead-to sort of place, right there where New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania came together like three children in a backseat.
That about does it for facts. From here on out, we’re faced with history, and someone’s version of facts.
If your research library is the Internet, and you’re moving through your virtual library stacks by locations – towns, counties, or states – Good Luck!
- Three states, with borders that were in flux much of the time.
- Counties? YIKES! I’ve honestly lost count of the number of county histories or historical societies one would have to consult to get the complete story of the area. (Pennsylvania, I’m looking at you!)
- Primary towns in the region are Port Jervis, New York, and Montague, New Jersey – but nearly every town has been known by at least two or three different names over the years. (And that doesn’t even take into account wacky spelling variations!)
If you’re researching family names, you won’t have it much easier.
- Families were large, but it seems like the same dozen first names were the only ones anyone knew.
- They’re Dutch. Agnietje and Grietje and Tjerck – Oh my!
- And even if the families weren’t Dutch, they appear Dutch because that’s how the local church scribes writing out the church records heard things.
- Even within families – and even after folks started adopting British surname conventions – names or spellings changed in one generation and back again in the next.
- No one worried too much about consistent, accurate spelling – so even folks who didn’t change their names effectively had them changed (or at least obscured) for posterity.
Even dates can be dicey – penmanship, transcription proficiency, records condition, and the methode du jour for calculating the month and/or year ALL play a part.
All whooshed together, these factors make for a crazy game of Existential Telephone well into its fourth century. Who knows how far removed we are now from the facts as they actually happened!
So why bother? Well, if you’re a borderline OCD/uber-competitive sort (as I am), you won’t be shown up by a bunch of 200-year olds. If you’re just a regular person, there is simply too much history here to ignore.
- Several generations of my 17th Century Dutch immigrant-ancestors, and their descendants, called this area home.
- I have family who moved through the region on their way from Connecticut to settle (with varying degrees of success) in Pennsylvania and beyond.
- Many of those Connecticut families (most of them, in my case), as well as the in-laws and innocent bystanders they incorporated along the way, ended up settling the Ohio Western Reserve.
- I suspect this was the home of my Staten Island relations before they went to Staten Island.
- And I had ancestors fall during brutal battles here in Indian skirmishes, as well as the French-Indian War and the American Revolution.
I’ll get into specifics next time out. In the meanwhile, as the Dutch say, Tot ziens!