Chasing Pancho Villa

The Genealogy Sisters started to do family research in New Jersey in the late 1990s. At the time, online resources were not as prevalent as they are now, so we spent a good deal of time rummaging around libraries, historical centers, archives, and the local Family History Centers of the Latter Day Saints. Online research has become so easy that we sometimes forget how much fun it can be to schlep over to the New Jersey State Archives on West State Street in Trenton to research in person. The NJ State Library is right next door so we always had to leave enough time to visit both buildings.

So what can you get at the State Archives and State Library that you can’t get online? Vital records (the Archives holds microfilm copies of births from 1901-1923, marriages from 1901-1940 and deaths from 1901-1940), estate records (wills & probate), military records, naturalization records, genealogical and historical collections and books, court records, Federal and State census records, city directories, and newspapers (great for finding obits, articles, and name mentions). We have found a remarkable amount of information there that we would not have been able to get online.

Early on my sister and I decided to find out if the story was true that Barney Doran chased Pancho Villa across the Southwest in 1916.  We discovered that the NJ State Archives holds the actual records for the New Jersey National Guard from that time period. Taking a day off from work we drove to Trenton and first searched the microfilm index cards. Once we had the information we needed (service dates, etc), we asked the State Archivist if she could show us the documents for Company M, the unit that Barney served in. She disappeared into a room off-limits to the public and reappeared with a thick book in her gloved hands, and a stern look on her face.

My sister and I were quite delighted when upon handing us the book she gravely intoned, “I’m sorry to say your ancestor was thrown in the brig for going AWOL”. We laughed and replied, “yup, that sounds like Barney”.  We had been raised on glorious tales of Barney chasing Pancho Villa across the Southwest under General John J. ” Black Jack” Pershing during the Mexican Border Troubles (the official beginning and ending dates of the Mexican Expedition are March 14, 1916 and February 7, 1917).  We were always quite sure Barney thought chasing Villa was a lark and that he thoroughly enjoyed recounting his adventures over many a beer in the neighborhood pubs.  In June of 1917 Barney wanted to follow Black Jack Pershing into Europe as the American forces joined up with the British. Just having been married in January, Barney listened to his pregnant wife Mamie when she asked him not to sign up again. According to his World War I Registration card, dated June 5, 1917, Barney had already served in the National Guard for 4 years,  was still a British subject, and was working as a laborer in the Spurr Stone Yard, Harrison, NJ. Their first son, Bernard J. Doran was born in November that year.

For the two of us sisters, who had never met Barney, what a joy it was for us to actually hold the official military document that verified the story was indeed true! It was like being on TV’s History Detectives, only we did the research ourselves! Online research is great.  We would not have quite as much genealogical information as we do now without it. But we still make time to visit the archives, libraries, and history centers whenever we can, because they offer research opportunities you won’t find online. I’m so lucky that my sister loves to research families histories as much as I do. And that we love to share this pursuit together.  We highly recommend it to other Genealogy Sisters (or Brothers).

Uncle Sam leaps across the border fence with Mexico to chase Pancho Villa.

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