Terri Rinyu has always had a fondness for genealogy. Just ask the 16,000 members of her family tree.
“I’ve always been drawn to anything historical,” she said. “It’s really interesting when you start to figure out where you come from.”
And when she realized a Robbinsville staple was turning 100 this year, she decided to put her skills to the test.
Last winter, Rinyu learned that the Doughboy monument located at Route 33 and Main Street in Robbinsville would celebrate its centennial in 2020. The monument lists local World War I veterans, and Rinyu wanted to honor them by compiling any information she could find into mini biographies for each man.
The stone memorial was erected Oct. 16, 1920 in honor of 15 then-Washington Township residents who fought in World War I: E. Drew Silver, David Scheidler, Wallard V. Applegate, James Reading, Fred Meeker, Grover Field, Irving Bastedo, Edward Gundlach, Richard Danser, Steven Marvel, William Lambert, Daniel Lyons, Herbert Pullen, Max Levine and Harry Nixon. The names of two men who died in World War II—J. Steven Scheidler and Chester S. Erbe—were added at a later date.
Rinyu, who is Robbinsville’s public works administrator, reached out to the township about her plan and was given the go-ahead. Robbinsville put out a call to residents asking for any information they had about any of the men listed on the monument—old newspaper articles, family photo albums, distant relations, letters.
“I just felt that we should maybe recognize the men who are on it,” she said. “Would America be what it is today if it wasn’t for the men of the past that fought?”
Unfortunately, Rinyu said, it didn’t lead to much. But her skills came in handy.
Rinyu was able to access township and state archives in-person before the COVID-19 pandemic. She obtained military records and birth certificates and used those documents to start forming family trees for some of the men. When the Windsor Methodist Church closed, she learned through an old trunk of church records that some of the men belonged there.
Her research came to a halt once buildings started closing, so she took to other resources, like ancestry.com and newspaper archives. Through her sources, she deduced that the men lived not just in Washington Township, but in other nearby towns like Allentown and Hightstown.
Rinyu also found a number of Trenton Evening Times articles—the oldest dating back to 1919—that helped her come up with a basic timeline of the monument’s construction.
John B. Yard, a Civil War veteran, owned the land and donated it back to the township to be used as the site of a veterans memorial, wrote a Times reporter in November 1919. All of the names that still appear on the monument were listed in that article.
The monument was officially unveiled Oct. 16, 2020. The day featured speeches by Yard, local clergy and municipal officials. Students and members of the Red Cross participated in a parade. A firing squad presented military honors, and a Cranbury-based band performed through the evening’s chicken and oyster dinner and block dance. Over 1,000 people from Trenton, Hamilton, Allentown, Windsor and Robbinsville attended.
The statue is still in good shape after a century, though Rinyu said the top part of the structure, a hat, had been smashed in the past. It was recently repaired by the township. Other than that, everything is still intact.
Rinyu learned that many of the servicemen belonged to Grange Hall in Hamilton, though she hasn’t been able to figure out what exactly the organization did. Grange Hall also played a part in the construction of the monument.
She’s been left with other questions, too.
Rinyu was able to find the most information on E. Drew Silver, a doctor. He was featured in other publications, so she was able to get a little more in-depth with his biography than the others, beyond birth and death certificates, obituaries and service records.
She has also come across other local servicemen who saw action during World War I through records and archives.
“There are a lot more people than what’s on that statue with draft cards,” she said. “It’s hard to believe that there were only 15 men in the whole area who went. That is a puzzling question. Why only these men? That’s a question I don’t think will ever be answered.”
Rinyu grew up in Trenton and then lived in Hamilton. She’s lived in Robbinsville twice: once in Andover Glen and now in Sharon Arms, where she’s been for about a decade. She’s been doing genealogy work for her family and others for at least 20 years, she said. Her interest in ancestry stems back to her parents.
“My parents, we always went to historic places,” she said. “We loved Williamsburg and Jamestown and all of that. We took a lot of vacations to those places. My parents were really able to instill that in me.”
Since then, she’s learned that she and her daughter have ties, though distant, to common names in town, like the Robbins family. She has helped an adopted friend find her birth parents, a distant cousin find her birth father and countless others. Some have yielded interesting connections.
“People come up to me and ask for help, and I love to do it,” she said. “It’s funny when you start doing it and find names of people who you’re related to, even distantly. My great grandfather came over from Hungary. He lived on a family farm in Upper Freehold, and I discovered that an old coworker’s family bought that same farm from him.”
Each time she discovers a new relative, no matter how far down the line their connection is, she adds the person to her own family tree once she is able to confirm the relationship. Her tree now boasts 16,000 family members.
Rinyu’s skills certainly came in handy with this task, and it was a labor of love, she said. Ultimately, she hopes to put together a book for the township compiling her biographies of each man on the Doughboy monument. She still hopes to come up with some more information, and residents are encouraged to reach out if they have any details or documents, or if they recognize the same.
For more information, contact Terri Rinyu at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (609) 259-0422.