By: Anastasia Marchese
The Hackettstown Historical Society was started in 1975 by seventy-two charter members. Its mission is to be “dedicated to the preservation of the historic heritage of Hackettstown and the surrounding areas.” It is a fascinating resource for anyone interested in the history of the area and the people who lived here.
According to ABCNews, genealogy is one of the most popular hobbies in the US, second only to gardening. Genealogy sites are also the second most visited category of website. Gwen Chaar, President of the Hackettstown Historical Society can testify to that. “I get many requests from people who have roots in the Hackettstown area and who are trying to reconstruct their family trees. People also want to find out information about the ancestors who form it. An interesting historical tidbit is that Hackettstown is named for Samuel Hackett whose family was influential in the area. There is some debate however, as to whether or not he actually ever lived in Hackettstown.” Chaar said.
One of the amazing things about the historical society is the incredible number of historical resources it has access to. The society runs a museum where they house a library of almost 800 books related to New Jersey history. They have an online database of over 9000 names as well as a catalogue of genealogical files on site at the museum. There are also over 500 documents, property deeds as well as manuscripts and copies of manuscripts. Some of these primary sources predate the Revolutionary War.
There are also over 1000 photographs and postcards, recorded oral histories, letters, microfilmed local newspapers and all types of maps. One valuable source of information to genealogy buffs are the cemetery records that the museum has for both the Old Presbyterian Cemetery and the Union Cemetery. The society’s website has a database of more than 500 headstone images which can be searched for by name or just viewed by the search word “headstone”. That way anyone can take a virtual walk through the graveyards and gain a valuable glimpse into the past.
In addition to helping people find out about their ancestors, Chaar says, “A big goal is to get the kids involved. We are trying to have a person talk to our schools.”
Reaching out to students through the schools would help get children interested in their own local history. The society holds meetings once a month at the American Legion on the first Tuesday of the month, and is open to anyone interested.
The society also runs ongoing and changing exhibits at the Hackettstown Museum. Three of the exhibits this year highlight books written by local authors. The museums curator, Ray Lemasters wrote, A History of the Carriage Industry in Hackettstown and has proved very popular. Ken O’Brien recently had published The War Effort in Hackettstown 1940-1945. This book clearly shows how much local citizens contributed to help make victory possible.
Maryann McFadden’s book The Cemetery Keeper’s Wife gives a different view of history, as seen through the eyes of a woman. All three books can be purchased at the museum which is located at 106 Church Street next to the library. The museum is usually open on Wednesday and Friday from 2-4 p.m.
However, people can find out so much information and have access to many of the resources at www.hackettstownhistory.com. There is a link on the website to send an email in order request help with genealogy research as well as help with other historical questions.