Genealogist counting on more surprises
By TOM MOONEY
Times Leader Staff Writer
For Richard Meredith, the path to success in American genealogy has been strewn with surprises.
Meredith recently moved from Wales to America. And although he is a professional genealogist, some adjustment has proved necessary for him when dealing with American genealogical practices and sources.
"I find it a whole different ballgame here," he said, citing different kinds of information contained in everything from the U.S. Census to American death certificates. Some of the surprises have been pleasant ones. Many American records, he says, go a lot farther back than the corresponding ones in the United Kingdom.
Meredith lives now in West Palm Beach, Fla., and his immediate concern is tracking down descendants of relatives who once lived in Wilkes-Barre.
He is looking for descendants of Evan and Charlotte Meredith Jeffreys, whose last-known address was 120 Kent Lane, in the Heights section of the city. Charlotte was Meredith's great-great-grandfather's niece.
Charlotte, he believes, was born about 1855 in the town of Rhosybeddau, parish of Llanwrthwl, in Wales, though she gave various birth dates. Evan, a coal miner, was born about 1862. Like many other Welsh people with mining backgrounds, they moved to the Pennsylvania coal region, arriving about 1888.
The last mention of Charlotte and Evan was a letter they wrote to Meredith's family in 1923. "If they lived to a great old age, maybe someone will remember them," he said
Meredith also hopes the unusual names of their children -- Arabella (1889), Blodwen (about 1894) and Gildas (about 1895) -- have stuck in the mind of some local person who can help him track the Jeffreys family. The family was Baptist, but he does not know what local church they might have attended.
Charlotte is Meredith's last chance to locate descendants of a major branch of his family. Others in her line moved to California, and the families died out. "It would be lovely if I could find some living relatives somewhere," he said.
Meredith has other personal connections with Wyoming Valley. He met his wife, Cheryl Ann Bennett, formerly of Wilkes-Barre, after being employed to do the family's genealogical research and serving as a guest speaker at a family reunion.
Meredith took a degree in social history in college. But then he got "the bug" for genealogy. He's been in the business about 10 years.
Although Meredith says he is now in America to stay, he maintains his genealogy business in the United Kingdom, employing researchers in England, Scotland and Ireland. Most of his clients, he says, are Americans searching for their roots in the United Kingdom.
Readers with information may contact Meredith as follows:
Tips: A little annual volume that hasn't been published in 36 years might well hold a vital piece of information for you. It's the Wilkes-Barre Record Almanac, a paper-covered book that was distributed to subscribers of the old morning paper The Wilkes-Barre Record from the mid-1880s through 1962.
Typical almanac fare made up much of its contents. There was always a list of municipal and Luzerne County officeholders, returns from the most recent elections, municipal populations and summaries of major events and political issues for Luzerne County and the city of Wilkes-Barre.
But other types of information, some of which varied over the years, might help a genealogist trying to trace Wyoming Valley ancestors. Until well into the 20th century, the almanac lists the name and circumstances of death for everyone killed in an accident in Luzerne County the previous year; pastors of area churches; heads of local clubs and societies; and all newly certified doctors, dentists and lawyers.
If your ancestor worked in the coal mines or on the railroads, as so many local people did years ago, you might find some information in the separate lists of people killed in the mines or on the railroads the previous year.
Special sections were sometimes included, often with lists of names. Volumes immediately following World War I, World War II and the Korean War provide lists of local dead and prisoners of war.
The type of information carried in the almanacs was not always the same. In some years nearly every death in the Wilkes-Barre area was listed. For other years, only statistics are given. From the '20s on, local athletes get heavy play in the summaries of high school sports and minor league baseball.
Each issue contains also a day-by-day summary of the major local news events of the previous year. Once you pin down the date of an event you want to research, you can find articles about it in local newspaper back files.
Complete bound volumes of the almanacs are available in the reference room of the Osterhout Free Library and at the Wyoming Historical and Geological Society library, both on South Franklin Street in Wilkes-Barre.
Contact DeCirce at 819 Grove Road, Westvale, N.Y. 13219-2223.
Contact Hailstone at 909 Sampson St., Taylor, Pa. 18517-2120.