Central Jersey Genealogical Club Helps Members Dig Up Family History

HAMILTON - Frances Goeke heard the story of her great-grandfather getting his head run over by a Trenton trolley, but she didn't know it was true until she researched her family history.Encouraged by her friends at the Central Jersey Genealogical Club, she spent day after day in the library combing through newspaper archives until - bam!"'Man's brains dashed beneath trolley wheels,'" Goeke said, remembering the headline. "It sounds strange, but my dad got the biggest kick out of it. He couldn't wait to tell his brothers and sisters, 'Look what Fran found!' It proved a family story."Goeke nurtures her interest in genealogy monthly with the Central Jersey Genealogical Club, a group of about 80 people who share a passion for discovering their family histories.The group meets at the Hamilton Township Library off Whitehouse-Mercerville Road every month from March to December, hosting guest speakers and holding field trips."In July, we organized a research trip to the Burlington County Historical Society Library," club president Carol Sheaffer said. "We've had trips to Washington, to the National Archives, to the Library of Congress and the (Daughters of the American Revolution) Library and to Harrisburg."On one such research trip, Goeke confirmed another family story: She found the copyrights for songs her maternal great-grandfather Charles Smith said he had composed."Now, I have three different songs that he wrote and the original sheet music for them," Goeke said. "He supposedly also had racing pigeons, but I haven't been able to prove that one."Sheaffer said she enjoys watching members like Goeke make breakthroughs, as genealogical research is sometimes a thankless task."If you make a breakthrough like that, it makes you all the more willing to put in the hours when you're not making breakthroughs, to try to push yourself toward one," Sheaffer said.Sheaffer herself uncovered the history of a family Bible through archival research. Digging up the Bible's history sparked her interest in genealogy, she said."It was a huge Bible that was printed in Trenton in the 1790s, and there were a bunch of blank pages in it that the owner wrote in every year on his birthday - about the Revolutionary War and the fever and the crops in South Jersey," Sheaffer said. "It intrigued my mother a whole lot, so around 1980 we began looking into it. Once you start, it's really an addiction."Goeke agrees. She said she's fascinated by her family history - as tragic as it could be at times - and was eager to share the story of her great-grandfather."He was an Irishman supposedly taking medicinal spirits home to his wife, who was ill," Goeke said. "When the trolley slowed down, he eventually tried to jump off and the trolley ran over him."The Central Jersey Genealogical Club is open to new members. Memberships cost $25 for individuals and $40 for families. They run from January until December.Refreshments are usually served at monthly meetings, which feature speakers on genealogy-related topics, Goeke said.More information is available on the club's website, cjgcnj.com.Contact Emily Brill at (609) 989-5731 or ow @TimesofTrenton

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