Shelley descendant seeks information

April 11, 1999

Times Leader Genealogy Writer

When English immigrant George Shelley arrived in Wilkes-Barre in the late 19th century, the community was a growing center of mining and railroading.

Shelley found work as a machinist, and he set up a home for himself and wife Elizabeth Chandler Shelley near the intersection of East Union Street and Canal Street, now North Pennsylvania Avenue. Later, they lived on Northampton Street.

In late June, a century or more after George Shelley's arrival, great-granddaughter Judy Shelley Russell will travel from her Missouri home to Wilkes-Barre. Here, she will do some family research and "walk where my ancestors walked."

Most of her own roots are distant from Wyoming Valley. William, one of George's sons, moved to Colorado, Texas and finally to California, where Judy Russell's father, John Harding Shelley, was born. It was in California that she was born, grew up and met and married Eldon Russell.

Today, Judy and Eldon live on a 400-acre farm near the small Ozark Mountains town of Dora, in south-central Missouri.

Judy Russell has traced the lives of great-grandfather George Shelley's eight children (all sons), including her grandfather William. For some time, she has been trying to locate children and grandchildren of her grandfather's brothers, Charles, Arthur, Frank, Ben, John, Bert and Ralph Shelley, a longtime resident of Wilkes-Barre. That is not an easy task, because the brothers ended up living in various states.

If anything, she has enjoyed greater success in tracing the more distant end of the Shelley line.

Thanks to materials obtained from a Family History Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, she has found that great-grandfather George emigrated from England to America in 1855, living in Easton before the move to Wilkes-Barre. Last year, she and husband Eldon visited England to see the family's old home in Derbyshire.

"Since then, I've been in touch with a genealogist from Derbyshire, and he has a lot of records," said Russell.

Much of her search in the Wilkes-Barre area is focusing on great-uncle Ralph Shelley. She knows that Ralph died June 24, 1961, and was buried in Oak Lawn Cemetery, in Hanover Township.

Russell also has studied U.S. Census records and has received some information from the Wyoming Historical and Geological Society. Pages from the Wilkes-Barre City Directory show a Ralph Shelley and wife living in the city until the early 1960s.

But her goal has proved elusive. "In all my search, I haven't found any living descendants," said Russell.

It won't be Russell's first trip to the area. She recalls her father bringing her here briefly when she was a child. But the June visit is likely to be a much more emotional one, because Russell has done two years of genealogy and will be able to look at old sites with the eyes of a descendant.

She and her husband also plan a side trip to Easton, her family's first home in America.

Russell would like anyone with information about Ralph Shelley to contact her by mail at Rt. 1, Box 3010, Dora, Mo. 65637; or by phone at (417) 261-2366.

Queries: "Can you tell me where I can find obituaries for time gone by?" asks local resident Fred J. Croop. They're not that far away, Mr. Croop.

The Osterhout Free Library, in Wilkes-Barre, has in its reference room microfilm copies of The Times Leader going back to the 1930s. The Times Leader's library has microfilms not only of The Times Leader since its inception in 1908 but also of the old Wilkes-Barre Record, which merged with the Leader in 1972, and all the many predecessors of The Times Leader going back to the late 1700s.

Several dailies and weeklies were being published in Wilkes-Barre in 1889, the year of the obituary you are looking for. Your best bet would be to look in the microfilms for the Wilkes-Barre Record, the largest paper in the area at that time.

The Osterhout, on South Franklin Street, is a nice place to do research. It has several reader/printers and a helpful staff.

The Times Leader, in a move unusual for newspapers, makes its library available to the public Wednesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to noon. However, the paper has just a single microfilm reader/printer.

For out-of-area readers, librarian Katherine Kier can find obits for you and mail copies to you if you send her the date of death (assuming an obit was published). Contact her by postal mail at The Times Leader, 15 N. Main St., Wilkes-Barre, Pa.; by e-mail at; by fax at 829-5537; or by telephone at 829-7220. She will bill you.

Incidentally, there is no central index of obituaries. You must find the date yourself. Churches, funeral homes and cemeteries can help, as can family sources. If the person's death involved an accident or disaster, it might be mentioned in the Wilkes-Barre Record Almanac, which was published from 1886 to 1962.

Remember that while modern-day obituaries contain a wealth of information about ancestors, employment and relatives, older obituaries were often sketchy -- when they were published at all. Also, up through the 1960s it was common to publish a brief obituary, followed a day or two later by a brief account of the funeral.

  • To Veronica Heston of Denver, Pa.: My national listing of newspaper genealogy columns does not list any columns other than this one being published in Northeast Pennsylvania.

    If there are no columns being published in the area in which you are doing your research, there is still a way to publicize your search. Go to the nearest library that has out-of-town telephone directories, get the addresses of the newspapers serving that area and write letters to the editor. Many papers are willing to publish letters from people searching for ancestors or relatives among the readers. A brief letter will probably have a better chance of being run.

    Searching: C.A. McDanell of California is looking for any local information about Irish immigrant Robert FOSTER and wife Elizabeth McCORD, who were Pennsylvania residents by the late 18th century, having married about 1788. McDanell understands they settled in western Pennsylvania, where children Thomas, John, Martha, Nancy and Alexander were born, and later moved to Ohio. But McDanell is still eager to learn if anyone here knows anything about them. Contact McDanell at 2328 Oleander, Delano, Calif. 93215.

  • Have you solved some tough genealogical problems in your research? Do you have some tips you'd like to share with others? Would you like to report a success story? Drop me a line here at the paper. I'll get in touch with you and help you bring the benefits of your experience to others.

    © 1999 The Times Leader