I have a soft spot in my heart for Morristown, New Jersey. It’s the hometown of my DAR Patriot, Jeremiah Gard. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting this little town several times, but I distinctly remember my first time there.
I had just begun to work at the Big Airline, and one of my very first layovers was in Morristown. I loved it. I simply walked around slack-jawed, amazed at the town green surrounded by lovely stone churches with ivy-covered bell towers. I walked into a little diner, and it was just like the set of “Cheers,” where everybody knows your name. (Well, not mine.) Every time the door opened, it was “Hey, Bud! How’s the wife?” Or, “‘Morning, Joe. The usual?” It was like nothing this West Coast gal had ever seen.
I called my husband to tell him that I wanted to move to Morristown.
I just felt a kinship with the place. I had more layovers there over the years, enjoying each one, until the Big Airline closed its Newark hub, and the layovers petered out.
In 2016, I made a resolution to fulfill my Nanna’s wish and join the DAR. I remember the day when researching my Gard ancestors that I discovered that Jeremiah Gard (my DAR patriot) and his family had not only lived in Morristown, but they were some of the first settlers there. I got goosebumps, and all plans for making dinner went out the window as I dug deeper.
Those churches with the tall bell towers? The Gards worshiped in one of them.
The cemetery behind the church? There are ancestors buried there.
The town green? My family walked there.
There’s a theory in genealogy called genetic memory. It’s the idea that memories become part of a person’s genome (DNA) and can be passed on just like eye color or height. It’s one explanation for savants, i.e. people who have the sudden ability to speak a foreign language or the immediate mastery of calculus or a musical instrument.
I’m not saying that I believe this theory; it’s just interesting to ponder. I do know that there are many, many stories of serendipity and amazing coincidences in genealogy. Enough that at least three books have been written about them: Psychic Roots and More Psychic Roots, by Henry Z. Jones, Jr., and In search of Our Ancestors, by Megan Smolenyak.
I’m not claiming that my immediate connection with Morristown was genetic memory, but there was a definite, deep attraction.
Last June, I finally had another layover in Morristown, the first since I made this discovery about my roots there. After a delicious gluten-free breakfast of waffles to power up, I wandered the town a bit, eventually ending up at the local public library. I was delighted to discover that there is an entire genealogy section on the bottom floor. I was in heaven.
I spoke with the librarian on duty, and she quickly disappeared, only to reappear with huge map plats of the town and an entire vertical file on the Gard family. I quickly dug into the pile.
I only had about two hours until I had to get ready to go work, and those hours flew by too fast. I quickly snapped photos of letters and notes to read more thoroughly once I got home.
I think I might have even found some proof of the identity of Jeremiah’s father. It will need further study, but, now I know where to look.
Until next time!