Sunday, June 6, 1999
LONG-FORGOTTEN PLACE NAMES FOUND ON SITE ARE YOU HAVING TROUBLE COLLARING THE OLD LUZERNE COUNTY COMMUNITY OF DOGTOWN?
IS YOUR SEARCH FOR PLEASANT VALLEY ANYTHING BUT ENJOYABLE?
YOU WON'T FIND DOGTOWN OR PLEASANT VALLEY ON A MODERN COUNTY MAP. SO WHEN THESE NAMES, OR MANY OTHERS EQUALLY PUZZLING, SUDDENLY TURN UP ON YOUR ANCESTORS' VITAL RECORDS, WHAT ARE YOU TO DO?
NEW JERSEY RESIDENT GRAHAM VAN SLYKE JR. TURNED HIS FRUSTRATION TO
Long-forgotten place names found on site
Are you having trouble collaring the old Luzerne County community of Dogtown?
Is your search for Pleasant Valley anything but enjoyable?
You won't find Dogtown or Pleasant Valley on a modern county map. So when these names, or many others equally puzzling, suddenly turn up on your ancestors' vital records, what are you to do?
New Jersey resident Graham Van Slyke Jr. turned his frustration to productivity recently when he faced that problem. Over the last few months he's built up a computerized data base of forgotten or historical Luzerne County place names, along with a map showing where they are or were. It's accessible on the Luzerne County Genweb site, a Web site maintained by members of the Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society.
It all started when Van Slyke found a reference to Mill Hollow on an 1884 birth certificate. Unable to locate Mill Hollow on Luzerne County maps or on the U.S. Geological Survey's Geological Names Information System, he posted a query on Genweb. Soon he received a reply telling him that Mill Hollow was the original name of the borough of Luzerne.
The mystery was solved. But Van Slyke realized that there were still a lot of remaining old-time names that would confuse genealogists, especially people who live outside Luzerne County and would not have access to local libraries or historical societies.
So he got in touch with Genweb. "My main focus is to make it useful for someone who comes up with a name and doesn't know where to go," he says of his project.
To access Van Slyke's information, call up Luzerne County Genweb at http://www.pagenweb.org/~luzerne/luzerne.htm. On the menu you will find "Luzerne County Place Names." Open it up and you'll see scores of old names, with coordinates so you can place them on an accompanying map.
So where is (or was) Dogtown? The coordinates put it in present-day Salem Township. Pleasant Valley is the old name for Avoca. Intriguing, colorful and just plain discarded names abound on the list. Bug Hollow was once in Swoyersville, while Kingtown was an early name for Kingston. The sources of the information about the names are also listed.
So far, Van Slyke has relied on the Geological Survey for many of the names. But he adds more as fast as he can find them in historical sources.
"It's a challenge," he says. "I've seen it done in various degrees for other counties."
He has taken on a big job. Luzerne County has about 70 separate, self-governing municipalities, nearly all of them containing sections or neighborhoods with their own names. Ask somebody from Hanover Township where he lives and you might be told "Lee Park" or "Askam."
A few towns have consolidated with their neighbors over the years, leaving their names only in memory or on the lintels of old school buildings. Many more have been created by secession, the most recent being Bear Creek Village in 1991.
In some cases, once-thriving settlements of mining or lumbering families have vanished entirely. Other communities are still there but, like Duryea (formerly Marcy), have adopted new names since the 19th century.
Van Slyke's interest in the county stems from his wife, the former Viola Domain, a Nanticoke native whose ancestors owned a farm in Dorrance Township. He has visited the area several times and plans to return soon to collect more information about place names.
He believes the computer age is a wonderful time for people studying family history.
"The Internet has done it as far as genealogical information is concerned. Somebody could be out in California doing research, and now they can do so much."
There are some good sources here in Luzerne County for old-time community names. Stop by the Wyoming Historical and Geological Society's library on South Franklin Street in Wilkes-Barre and take a look at the Phillips compendium of local history- that immense shelf of notebooks.
The books on Wilkes-Barre and the chapters on the county's other cities, townships and boroughs all have sections listing former names for communities, neighborhoods and settlements.
The old Wilkes-Barre Record almanacs contain lists of the county's many rural post offices of times past, often indicating what larger communities they were part of.
The society also has numerous local histories containing information on the county's various towns. Smaller local historical groups can offer town histories, sometimes compiled for their communities' centennials.
The almanacs and some of these books are also available at the Osterhout Free Library in Wilkes-Barre. Sheldon Spear's book "Wyoming Valley History Revisited" has a lengthy
chapter titled "The Origin of Northeastern Pennsylvania Place Names."
News Notes: People researching Irish ancestors are invited to check out the Irish Ancestral Research Association's Web site at http://world.std.com/(tilde)ahern/TIARA.html. The group describes itself as "a nonprofit organization established to develop and promote the growth, study, and exchange of ideas among people interested in Irish genealogical and historical research." Its mail address is P.O. Box 619, Sudbury, Mass. 01776-0619.
If you have family biographical and genealogical material about ancestors buried in Plymouth's Shawnee Cemetery, the group that is restoring the old burial ground would like to hear from you. You can send your material to Janice Williams, Shawnee Cemetery, 388 W. Main St., Plymouth, Pa. 18651. All material will be turned over to the Plymouth Historical Society. Incidentally, if you would like to help the group financially, you can order a $1 iron-on decal commemorating the cemetery project. Contact Williams at the above address. The group can always use help with its ongoing cemetery cleanup too.
Remember, this column is now accessible through your computer at www.leader.net. Then click on "Genealogy." All back columns are available there as well.
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.
Tom Mooney, The Times Leader, 15 N. Main St., Wilkes-Barre, Pa. 18711