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July 20, 2017

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Targeted biographies add layers of knowledge

Stefani Evans

Stefani Evans

Research plans keep us focused.

Genealogists usually incorporate a thorough review of local histories and available record groups in our research plans, but our plans become more useful when we add targeted bibliographies.

One of my ancestors, Abraham (Abram) Van Vleet, demonstrates.

Van Vleet was born around 1783, probably in Hunterdon or Somerset County, New Jersey. I have no idea to which of the area's several Van Vleet (Van Vliet, Van Fleet) families he belongs.

Van Vleet was a newspaper printer, editor, and publisher who turned to weaving after he transferred his newspaper to one of his sons.

Weaving was a skilled craft for which practitioners apprenticed, but so was printing. Which skill did Abraham learn first?

The answer might point me to Abraham's father.

Van Vleet was born at the end of the American Revolution, which was fought in and devastated the probable counties of his birth.

Van Vleet and wife, Catharine Vanderbeek (of New York City and Rockland County, N.Y.), baptized three children in the Reformed Dutch Church in Neshanic, Somerset County, before they removed to Lebanon, Ohio, in 1812. Van Vleet became an elder in the Lebanon Presbyterian Church and used his press to incite local animosity toward the nearby Shaker community.

After Catharine died in 1823, Van Vleet and his children removed to Connersville, Ind., where he again established a newspaper and helped form the Presbyterian Church.

Van Vleet advertised as a weaver in Connersville after he quit his newspaper; he died in 1832 in New York City while on a prolonged visit with another son. Van Vleet's three sons and his oldest daughter also became newspaper printers, editors, and publishers.

My research plan to find the parents of Abraham Van Vleet includes searching for Van Vleets in extant New Jersey land, church, and court records.

New Jersey had 18th-century Van Vleets a-plenty, especially in Hunterdon and Somerset Counties, and I have collected information on most of them. But I don't know which, if any, might be the parents of my Abraham.

I can eliminate only the families who had a son Abraham that lived past 1783 or a son Abraham born after 1783.

I must narrow my choices. I will find the best evidence to identify his parents by studying Abraham. Hence the bibliographies.

Van Vleet's life offers clues and inspires questions: Why, how, and when did Abraham learn weaving? Why, how, and when did he become a printer? Did he learn weaving or printing first? How, where, and when did he meet and marry his wife, the daughter and sister of licensed New York City cartmen? Why did he give his nine children the names he did (especially his three sons, who bore middle names)? What pushed him from Somerset County, N.J., and pulled him to Lebanon, Ohio, in 1812? Why did he loathe the Shakers so intensely? Answers to these questions may provide hints to Van Vleet's origins.

Therefore, as part of my research plan I will compile bibliographies of published and unpublished works that target features of Van Vleet's life and may provide answers to the above questions—studies of colonial and early American weavers, printers, cartmen, and skilled craftsmen; early American social hierarchies; histories of Somerset and Hunterdon Counties, N.J.; histories of Lebanon, Warren County, and the settlement of the Ohio frontier; the American Revolution in New Jersey, the War of 1812 in New Jersey and Ohio; the Shaker movement, and theological links between the Presbyterian and the Reformed Dutch churches.

Each work will likely provide a bibliography that may guide me to further sources.

The ancestors who give us the most trouble are usually the ones who teach us the most. Abraham Van Vleet is a troublesome fellow, but he offers me a powerful opportunity to learn. Bibliographies can help.

Stefani Evans is a Board-certified genealogist and a volunteer at the Regional Family History Center. She can be reached c/o the Home News 2275 Corporate Circle, Suite 300, Henderson, NV 89074, or [email protected].

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