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  • Writer's pictureElyse Ross

Lessons from a Wild Car Ride

Updated: Oct 14, 2019

Marrying me six years ago meant that Jim’s parenting responsibilities quadrupled – from two kids to eight! In those first couple months, Jim kept trying to find ways for the kids to feel comfortable around him. One night while driving home from a shopping trip, in a car with two very shy young boys, Jim saw a chance to mix things up. There were two ways to get home, both quiet, dark country roads. One was a pretty straight shot down to the highway, but the other one turned left next to a spooky cemetery then down a long dark road over some railroad tracks and a marker for the now nonexistent Morris Canal.

Old cemetery and a long dark road (at least at night)

The tracks and canal meant that there was a pretty big bump in the road. With me, Jim took this bump at a cautious, careful speed. But that night, with two boys hanging out for the first time alone with their stepdad, and without a word of warning, he rocketed over that bump and actually caught some pretty good air. The following whooping and hollering loosened things up for the rest of the ride home.

The Morris Canal Greenway Trail marker and a bump so big it hides cars behind it

Almost every time we drive down that road now, I think about that story. But there’s something else I think about too. Because that quiet road lined by farmland and that old spooky cemetery, and even the defunct Morris Canal crossing have unexpectedly turned out to be intimately connected to my husband’s family history.

My usual, casual family tree research (which I am still pretty proud of!) had helped me to find a branch of Jim’s family that hadn’t been researched before – the Snyders. I soon announced to Jim that his great-great-great grandparents, John and Rebecca Snyder, were buried in the cemetery behind the Dairy Queen, only a half mile from our house! We’d been to that cemetery! We’d eaten at that Dairy Queen! It was pretty exciting.

Although I was able to get some good research done on Rebecca’s family, John Snyder’s parentage remained a mystery. It was going to take more than casual Ancestry searches to make the connections I needed.

Because he was shown as John H. Snyder Jr. in the 1860 census, it might have been a clue that his father shared the same name. But this wasn’t necessarily true! At that time period, men could be known as Jr. or Sr. just because they were the younger or older man with that name in the area. Or, they could have been named after an uncle or some other relative. Another problem was the confusing number of men with similar names in Warren County. There was a lot to consider.

Through an intensive search of censuses and finally making the trek to Trenton to get John Jr.’s death certificate, I concluded that John H. Snyder Sr. from Greenwich was his father. Through deeds and a will, I then confirmed that John Sr.’s father was Henry Snyder, a revolutionary war veteran! Henry had deeded land to several of his children, and even directly to his grandson, John Jr.

Land deed from Henry Snyder Sr. to John H. Snyder Jr., 15 Oct 1847

Although I’d connected these three generations, I wasn’t done. To round out my research for John Sr., I tried and failed to find his death certificate, or any death record at all. What I did find, though, was a grave for a John H. Snyder in Greenwich. But one of the worst things a genealogist can do is assume, and I needed a lot more evidence before I was going to grab information from that headstone and say it belonged to my guy. I first needed to know how close John Sr.’s land in Greenwich was to that cemetery.

Reviewing an 1852 and 1860 map of Warren County, I identified a few of Henry’s descendants living near each other, which matched the censuses from that time. I went back to the deeds and started plotting the land that belonged to Henry’s sons. When I matched my plot to the map, it was identical.

Rough land plotting from one of the family deeds

The next step was layering the old maps onto a present day Google map. The old maps didn't label the roads, the 1852 lines were out of proportion and slightly misplaced, enough to make them extremely difficult to compare. But something that didn’t move over the last 160 years was the Delaware River. I scaled all the maps until the twists of the river were about the same. I had it aligned. I now knew where the Snyder land was on both the two old and the modern day maps.

1852, 1860, and current maps of the area

The final (and easiest) step was locating the cemetery on the Google map, and then see how close it was to the Snyder land.

It was literally right down the street.

I was amazed and excited and also confident that the Snyders in that cemetery were MY Snyders – names, places, and relationships all matched. I grabbed the information and felt relieved to have at least one source for John Sr.’s death.

With a sigh of both relief and draining adrenaline, I looked back at my maps. This area had to be close – Warren County is my county after all. Where was this Snyder land and the cemetery? After studying it for a minute, I recognized one little crossroads in Stewartsville – the old houses are still there lining the street. I tilted and turned that crossroads in my mind until I figured out which direction I usually drove through it. In my mind’s eye and on Google maps I followed it to the cemetery where John and his family are buried, then left down a long road with a railroad and canal that crossed right through the Snyder land.

And of course I knew that road.

It was the road that Jim Ross, the 5th great-grandson of Henry Snyder, raced down to catch some air and impress his new stepsons. Without knowing it, he had been driving right past the “spooky” cemetery where his 4th great-grandparents were buried, and right alongside farmland that had once been theirs.

I eventually found that several people, including John Sr.’s brother, Henry Jr., deeded land to the Lutheran Church for “a burying ground” in 1856. This brand new cemetery didn’t make it onto the 1860 map. Henry Jr. also deeded land to the Morris Canal & Banking Company and the Morris and Essex Railroad Company. They are fascinating documents.

I’ll continue to search through maps and deeds for more Snyder land and history. They’re nearly forgotten in this part of Warren County, and they shouldn’t be. They left a story that we’ll pass down to our grandchildren, and it’s a story that helped join two families into a brand new one.

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