Sunday, January 27, 2002



For more than 75 years the old Wilkes-Barre Record, a predecessor of today's Times Leader,gave its subscribers an annual almanac, full of information about the community.

Most people tossed the glue-bound books away after a time.

What a waste.

The copies that have survived are treasures for genealogists. In their lists of public officials, daily news summaries, political and election roundups, sports results, death lists and anniversaries of important events, they can unlock many a mystery.

Here are some family historians who have recently benefited from the information hidden away in the books, and will benefit still more as they follow up on initial facts.

1: ``My great-grandfather was Joseph P. Newcomb. I believe he was co-founder of Newcomb Bros. Coal in Pittston. I have not been able to find out anything about his parents or him.'' Carlene Price, Dallas.

Carlene, your ancestor was a prominent businessman, and so his death was noted in the Wilkes-Barre Record Almanac. I'm sending you a copy of his obituary, with information on his birthplace, his parents and the company he and his brother founded. I suspect this information-packed 1952 obit will point you in several directions.

First, I suggest you visit the Pittston Library and the Luzerne County Historical Society to check whatever Pittston City Directories you can find for his parents and - hopefully - get their address and occupations and maybe even their approximate period of death.

Then, since brother and company co-founder William A. Newcomb died before Joseph, you should also try to find his death date, perhaps from the family's church of St. John's in Pittston (mentioned in the obituary). Good luck.

2: ``My husband's grandfather, John C. Ruhf, was an engineer on the Jersey Central Railroad. He was badly injured when a runaway train coming down the Ashley Mountain hit his engine. (My husband) thinks it was in 1923-25.'' Jane A. Ruhf, Mountaintop.

Jane, you are correct in all the details but one - the runaway happened on Jan. 25, 1900. John C. Ruhf was sitting in his engine in the Ashley Yards that day when a runaway train plowed into it and several other engines. Four people died and seven, including your husband's ancestor, were seriously injured. John was burned by steam, evidently from a ruptured boiler. The explosion of a freight car full of dynamite spread damage throughout the town.

How do you trace such an incident? For years after they happened, the spectacular and deadly Ashley runaway trains of 1900 and 1918 were mentioned in the Wilkes-Barre Record Almanacs' annual lists of memorable local events of the past. I'm sending you printouts from the microfilmed 1900 newspaper.

If you go to the microfilms yourself, available at the Luzerne County Historical Society, you will find still more articles. Unfortunately, the local papers were not printing photos at that time.

* * *

If there's a moral to these stories it's probably this: Be careful of what kind of things you toss in the trash. The little gift from your local paper will start gathering dust after a while, but when future generations scrape off that dust they might well find some vital data on your life and times.

Update: The Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society is microfilming 50 years worth of the Pittston Dispatch, an area Sunday newspaper. The microfilms will be just one of the research materials available at the society's new headquarters on North Main Street in the Shavertown section of Kingston Township when it opens later this year.

``It's carpeted and we've got all the utilities and some furniture in,'' said Dean Sawyer, the society's former president and the director of the headquarters project. The building will house the society's growing collection of local research materials.

Genealogy Classes: Looking to get started in genealogy? How about brushing up your skills or just meeting some other local genealogists? My two winter ``Getting Started in Genealogy'' classes are coming up next month at Boscov's Department Store in Wilkes-Barre.

The first, on Monday, Feb. 4, will run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The second, on Sunday, Feb. 10, will run from 1 to 3 p.m. Each session is complete in itself. They're free, but Boscov's asks you to register by calling (570) 823-4141.

I'll go over ways of beginning a family history study and move on to a discussion of the many resources the Wilkes-Barre area has to offer.

As always, there will be plenty of time for questions and discussion. Just bring a notepad and pen. I'll have some handouts. If your plans aren't firmed up until the last minute, don't worry about showing up without registration. We always manage to fit everyone

in. The classes are held in the South Main Street store's fourth-floor auditorium. You can park in the parkade above the Franklin Street entrance and head right into the store without even braving the weather.

Local History Moment: Parts of many area communities have acquired colorful nicknames over the years. An ethnic group, for instance, gave rise to the Irishtown section of Plains Township. And Wilkes-Barre's East End section got that moniker when a priest said the area reminded him of a part of London he knew well. But for sheer insulting audacity it would be hard to beat the names somebody tacked onto a couple of sections of Plymouth back in the 1800s. Imagine inviting your friends over to visit the family home in ``Bedbug Row.'' Worse still, imagine trying to find an agent to insure your building in the ``Block of Blazes.'' People have sued over less today.

News Notes: The Genealogical Research Society of Northeastern Pennsylvania will sponsor Part Two of the beginners' workshop titled ``Genealogy A B C: How Do I Find Out All About Me?'' It is set for 7 to 9 p.m., Feb. 20, at the Community Room, Lackawanna Heritage Apartments, 211 Susquehanna Ave., Olyphant. The workshop is free and open to the public. For additional information, call (570) 383-7661.

The Luzerne County Historical Society is scheduled to reopen Tuesday.

``Out on a Limb,'' the Times Leader's award-winning local genealogy column, appears every other Sunday. It is also accessible at and on the Luzerne County Genweb. Back columns are archived on the Genweb. Contact Tom Mooney, Times Leader, 15 N. Main St., Wilkes-Barre, PA 18711. E-mail is