TIME TRAVEL WITH A LITTLE BIT OF EFFORT
Published: Sunday, February 24, 2002
Pictures of the past~! What wouldn't we give to see the long-gone buildings where our ancestors lived and raised their families? Wouldn't it be thrilling to visit those neighborhoods that have faded from living memory?
Of course, we can't time travel. But sometimes there are ways to get a glimpse - however brief and partial - into just such a long-vanished world.
Mountaintop-area resident Joseph Gregory is on this kind of quest.
``I'm looking for a photo of the Welsh Congregational Church on Hillside Street in the Heights section of Wilkes-Barre, across Hillside Street from the Griffith Park swimming pool,'' he writes. ``It was torn down, perhaps in the 1960s, and is now a parking lot. What I really want is a photo which shows the area behind the church at the corners of Worth and Grove lanes. My great-grandfather, John Evans, owned or rented a small building at the intersection of those lanes and used it as the office and storage facility for his plumbing business in the 1880s.''
Joseph, I don't know of any photographs of the church, and the older Times Leader files contain no mention of its demise.
But don't give up hope. You have done excellent research already in visiting the area and talking to neighbors, one of whom was able to describe John Evans' building to you, telling you that it looked more like a garage than the place where your Welsh immigrant ancestor conducted a business and gave his family their start in America.
Now, take a look at two local research sources and perhaps you will be better able to envision the building.
First, check out the 1904 Wilkes-Barre street map book at the Luzerne County Historical Society. On pages arranged by ward, the outline of every building in town is drawn with nearly all identified by name or owner. The Welsh church you've mentioned is clearly labeled, and in back can be seen an unidentified smaller building, right where yours should be, according to your description of the site.
Also, for a modest price you can buy at the society a remarkable document - an 1889 ``bird's eye'' drawing of Wilkes-Barre, street by street and house by house. It's highly detailed and meticulously accurate, as a comparison of any building on the drawing to a surviving photo of that same building will attest.
With a good magnifying glass and a pencil, follow East Market Street to the top of the hill, as if you're taking a stroll on a day 113 years ago. There you will spot the old Welsh church, and you will see the other buildings in the neighborhood as well. It was a crowded section of town back then. But perhaps with your knowledge you will be able
to glimpse in the shadow of the church your great-grandfather's building, as it would have looked when he was living and working there.
No, we cannot literally travel back in time. But with the kind of hard work Joseph Gregory is doing, we can reconstruct a surprising amount of the world of our ancestors. And in the ramshackle buildings and crowded streets we will gain new insight into the work and sacrifices they underwent to help make us what we are today.
Q. ``Can you tell me where I can find out about the death of my great-grandfather Julius Blascynki ... from a (mine) roof cave-in?'' Marc J. Stilson, Palm Bay, Fla.
A. Marc, the Wilkes-Barre Record for Aug. 8, 1917, carries a story about your ancestor's death from a fractured skull suffered at the Wanamie (Newport Township) Colliery ``a few days ago.'' It was not easy to find. As was often the case years ago, the death of one miner in an accident did not merit much space in the local papers. In fact, this short
story was carried in the Nanticoke-Newport community news section, indicating that it was not even considered to be a matter of general interest.
If you are thinking about starting a family history newsletter, Jeanne Rundquist Nelson's 1999 book, ``Absolutely Family,'' will offer you some tips.
I emphasize the ``some'' because it is more about writing and distributing the type of newsletter that announces births, reunions, new jobs and the like than about the family genealogy newsletter, which I am constantly urging family historians to write.
But it's still well worth a read. The section on the physical process of creating the newsletter - design, illustration, use of sidebars and shaded areas - is concise and informative. Even if you don't want to do all this right off the bat, the book gives you examples of attractive mini-magazines and tells you how to aim for that standard without being a pro.
The book also demystifies the technical procedure by explaining what computer programs are available and what your alternatives are for including photos, maps, diagrams and other illustrations.
Useful as well are the parts on developing a mailing list and getting family members to supply information. The more copies of your publication you can get into the hands of relatives, the more feedback you will get. There's a bibliography of other books on family and genealogy publishing.
Less useful to the genealogist, naturally, are the parts dealing with how to present family news (birthdays, reunions, marriages, jokes) and how to price subscriptions. A genealogist's newsletter would probably be shorter than the scores of pages Nelson recommends, would be free and would come out a lot less than the four times a year she suggests.
Overall, though, as you're casting about for advice on doing a genealogy newsletter that's informative and fun to read, Nelson's book is more than worth a look. She is a writer who brings a somewhat-forbidding process down to earth, takes you through the nuts and bolts of writing and self-publication and serves up ideas you can tailor to your own needs.
``Absolutely Family,'' by Jeanne Rundquist Nelson, 98 pages, Family Times Publishing, P.O. Box 901653, Kansas City, Mo. 64190-1653. $12, plus $3 shipping and handling.
Local history moment
Some odd things have been done around here in the name of order. In 1917 the city of Hazleton cracked down on - of all things - organ grinders. Town fathers declared that you couldn't play a hurdy-gurdy on the streets after 6 p.m. Frank Oritzko, from Wilkes-Barre, found that out the hard way when police hauled him before the mayor, who fined
him $2, probably a hefty sum in those days.
PETER Osborne, executive director of the Minisink Valley Historical Society, will speak at the meeting of the Genealogical Research Society of Northeastern Pennsylvania at 7 p.m. on March 20. He will offer a slide program on styles of graveyard art, with examples drawn from the region's cemeteries. The society's meetings are at the
Community Room of the Lackawanna Heritage Apartments, 211 Susquehanna Ave., Olyphant. Admission is free. To inquire about membership, call (570) 383-7661.
SOMETIMES a little exhibit can tell us a lot about the ways our ancestors lived. Take the current display at the Hoyt Library, Kingston. It offers two cases of artifacts that say a lot about how far we've come. The miners' metal lunch pails were designed to protect their food from the dampness and dirt of their work environment. The wooden carpet
beater would be used by a housewife to pound rugs, which were pulled out of the house and draped over a clothesline, to get the dust and dirt out.
PEOPLE using the Wilkes-Barre City Directory files at the Luzerne County Historical Society now have a much easier time of it. The society has nearly completed its project of transferring the scores of volumes to black binders with plastic-enclosed pages, a big improvement over the deteriorating old hardcover books whose pages kept coming
ABOUT 60 people attended my two introduction to genealogy sessions at Boscov's Department Store earlier this month. We had a great time exchanging tips and discussing our successes and frustrations. I'll be repeating the classes in the fall. In the meantime, take advantage of any classes you find at libraries or senior citizen centers and stop by the
meetings of your local genealogy clubs.
``Out on a Limb,'' the Times Leader's award-winning local genealogy column, appears every other Sunday. It is also accessible at www.timesleader.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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