Nurturing genealogists

October 10, 1999

Ever wonder where the genealogists of the future will come from?

Larksville resident Tammy Lamb is doing her best to produce them.

Lamb, former president of the Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society, has spent several years visiting Larksville's State Street Elementary School to encourage children to study local history and learn about their families' roles in it.

"They get a real kick out of it," says Lamb. "They think it's the greatest thing in the world."

She might show them an old photo of Kingston's Nesbitt Memorial Hospital, when it was just a big house, and then tell them that it is now the modern hospital where most of them were born.

Or, she might tell them about Larksville's old football field, and then note that some of them live in the modern-day Birchwood Estates that occupies that site.

"When you show them pictures of even 20 years ago, they go 'Oh, my God,' " she says. "People think kids are too young to understand. You just have to talk to them at their level. You show them things they can associate with."

The photos that really surprise them, she says, are those of children their own age, dirty and dressed for work in the coal mines of Wyoming Valley in the 19th century.

"It really wakes them up to reality," she says. "They can't believe it."

Lamb's hope is the children will begin to see the world was not always as it is now, people fought and sacrificed to provide for their descendants and it is exciting to recapture some of that past.

So she encourages them to ask questions at home and find out the names of their ancestors and where and how they lived. Hopefully, that will be the starting point of genealogy.

"If I can turn just one kid into a history buff, I've done my job," she says. "Oh, it's a blast. I love it."


Update: Genealogists who deal with the Osterhout Free Library these days are finding a change. Gone are the old Reference Department and Information Desk that used to be in separate rooms, and in their place is a combined desk known as the Information Services Department.

If you stop in the newly remodeled library on Wilkes-Barre's South Franklin Street, the first thing you will notice is a radically different layout. The new Information Services is in the middle of the main floor, just beyond the computerized catalogue terminals and another set of terminals for searching the Internet. The former reference area in the back of the building is now the main reading room.

Service remains the same -- just more centralized.

The library has a good collection of local newspapers. It has microfilms of the Wilkes-Barre Record from 1891 on and The Times Leader since 1950. It also has microfilms of the Luzerne County Census since the very first one in 1790 and Wilkes-Barre City Directories from 1885 to 1935 on microfilm. Later directories are spotty.

Other valuable research sources are the news clipping file (useful for prominent people and local institutions) and the big glass cabinet full of local history books.

The library will help out-of-town genealogists by looking up and photocopying obituaries, but you must have the date of death. Research is impossible, says Elaine Stefanko, coordinator of information services, because "We just don't have staff."

Stefanko advises people living out of the area to write rather than call. The address is Information Services Dept., Osterhout Free Library, 71 S. Franklin St., Wilkes-Barre, Pa. 18701. The obituary will be sent to you, with a very modest bill for $1.

Workers look up obituaries once a week. "Since we do get a fair number of them, they have to be patient," says Stefanko.

For visitors, the library's regular hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. It is closed Sundays and holidays. The hours change in summer.

Even if you don't borrow a book or look up an ancestor, a visit to the Osterhout is a treat. The main part of the building was built in the 1840s as Wilkes-Barre's First Presbyterian Church. Sections added over the years are in keeping with the original Victorian-era architecture. The vaulted ceiling, the stained-glass windows and the grassy setting are breathtaking.


Searching: Mary Ruth Judd of New York is looking for information on the ancestry of William Henry McGARRAH Sr., b. about 1814 in New York, d. 1885, buried Forest Hills Cemetery, Scranton, and his wife Sarah Ann, d. 1884. Contact Mary Ruth Judd at 1026 Farnes Road, Canton, N.Y. 13617-3728.


News Notes: The Luzerne County Genweb computer site continues to expand its list of Luzerne County place names. The list, compiled by New Jersey resident Graham Van Slyke, now has two parts. In the first part, all locales (neighborhoods, sections of towns, nicknames, historical names) are listed alphabetically and are then pegged to a specific municipality. In the second part, the municipalities are listed alphabetically and all the place names associated with them are given. Genweb has also added a lot of material on the history of the Lackawanna Valley. Access it at

  • I met a lot of nice people at my introduction to genealogy presentation at Boscov's Department Store last Sunday. Nearly 50 people ranging from beginners to experienced family genealogists showed up for the session. I try to answer as many questions as I can, but it always turns out that there are so many experienced genealogists in the group that everybody seems to be learning from everybody else. There will likely be another session in the spring. Watch The Times Leader after the first of the year for the schedule.

  • The Genealogical Research Society of Northeastern Pennsylvania will meet at 7 p.m. Oct. 20 at 201 Grant St., Olyphant. The meeting will include an annual event in celebration of ethnic heritage. "Some members will wear their grandma's hand-made shawl or apron while relating stories heard at her knee many years ago," says the society in a press release. For information, call hostess Christine Pagoda at (570) 779-3805. For directions, call (570) 383-7661.

  • 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