Sunday, December 2, 2001



True, we live in an age of increasingly sophisticated cyber-research.

But frequently it's a good old-fashioned book, dog-eared and yellowed though it might be, that answers a question we're working on.

Here are a few that I've run across over the years and have read with profit. ``A Century of History: The Diocese of Scranton, 1868-1968,'' by the Rev. John Gallagher. This is the story of Northeastern Pennsylvania's largest religious denomination - the Roman Catholic Church.

So if you're wondering what church(es) or school(s) your Catholic ancestor in Nanticoke might have attended in 1900, this is your book. If you're wondering about the difference between a territorial and an ethnic parish (a distinction that still exists), you will find the answer here.

Remember, though, that a lot of parish and school closures and consolidations have taken place in the last 33 years. So you might have to go beyond the book to learn if the old house of worship is still there.

Various public libraries have the volume. ``The Wyoming Valley in the 19th Century,'' by S.R. Smith (1893). This wrapup of the period when the community evolved from farm

territory to an important coal, railroad and manufacturing center contains a lot of valuable and otherwise unavailable material.

Early on, Smith gives a virtual walking tour of Wilkes-Barre and surrounding towns in the early 1800s, listing property owners house by house and store by store.

He also sketches the era of mass immigration as a series of ethnic waves and devotes many pages to biographies of leading citizens. The photos, unfortunately, are postage-stamp size. A copy of this rare volume is found in the reading room at the Luzerne County Historical Society.

``Bridging Change: A Wyoming Valley Sketchbook,'' by Sally Teller Lottick (1992).

This book consists of a series of chapters on major themes and topics in the history of the Wilkes-Barre area. Wondering about the canal system your ancestor worked on? Here is the succinct story of those boats and the men who piloted them.

Other sections deal with the fondly remembered girls' school St. Ann's Academy, the development of Wilkes-Barre's Public Square and the construction of the monument to the patriots who fell at the Battle of Wyoming.

It is available at most libraries and for purchase at the Luzerne County Historical Society.

``Early Times on the Susquehanna,'' by Mrs. George A. Perkins (1870).

An old volume, back in print after many decades, it is a series of sketches and recollections by early residents of Northeastern Pennsylvania. To most of us today, the areas outside the population centers 150 to 225 years ago are a mystery. But there was actually a great deal going on there. Settlers in increasing number were tilling farms, starting businesses and erecting churches. Perkins' stories tell us who they were and where their land was.

They were also developing a complex relationship with the Native American tribes that already lived here, one of the saddest stories in our history.

This limited-run paperback is available from Heritage Books, of Maryland. Call (800) 398-7709 for a free catalogue.

``Harveys Lake,'' by F. Charles Petrillo (1991). If your family has ever had any connection to Harveys Lake, this is a must-own. It gives you the complete historical story of the lakeside community, famed years ago as a resort area and respite from pre-air conditioned urban summers.

And the photos - fabulous. You will see the steamboats that once plied the lake, the elaborate hotel at which guests arrived by train from Wilkes-Barre and the picnic grounds and amusement parks that made Harveys Lake a magnet down through the generations.

Many libraries have it, and you can buy it at the Luzerne County Historical Society.

Searching: ``Do you know if there are any poorhouse records, such as (the one in) Ransom? And how can I access them?'' Anita Heston-Duvall.

Anita, years ago counties took the lead in trying to assist the needy. Luzerne County had an office called the Central Poor Board to oversee services, and other counties had agencies with similar-sounding names. Some had actual institutions called poorhouses. So I think the individual county courthouse would be the place to start your records search. Contact the offices or divisions that handle social services today. As usual, you will be taking your chances. Not all Pennsylvania counties maintain good older records. Be persistent.

Here's another possibility. The U.S. Census for a given county typically listed public institutions and their long-term residents. In Luzerne County, census records are available at the Osterhout Free Library and the Luzerne County Historical Society.

2) ``I am having trouble getting birth certificates from 1845 through 1880. Can you tell me where to write for these records?'' Catherine H. Scheff.

Catherine, it wasn't until 1906 that Pennsylvania began officially recording birth and death certificates at the state level. Before that, birth and other vital records were haphazard. For instance, from 1893 to 1906 the birth certificates were supposed to be maintained by Orphans Court at the county level. But, the Pennsylvania State Archives Web site tells us, compliance was spotty.

If you are dealing with other states, you will find out about availability of their records in the book ``Where to Write for Vital Records,'' available from the U.S. Government Printing Office.

Free catalogues for the Printing Office are available in most libraries. You can go also to the various states' official Web sites, all of which are accessible through the Luzerne County Genweb, and search for records availability.

Local History Moment: It was truly a ``ballet at the bridge,'' as a 1972 Times Leader article declared. Officer Edgar Griffith of the Wilkes-Barre police was more than just the man who directed traffic at the eastern entrance of the Market Street Bridge. With his acrobatic style and all-around showmanship, he made a holiday-time shopping visit to the downtown a real treat. Of course he worked his post at other times of the year, but it was in the Christmas season of heavy traffic that he really came into his own.

Dipping low, bowing, waving, smiling as he kept the avalanche of often-harried motorists in line, he was famous even to non-drivers who saw him in the film the local TV stations showed every December.

Griffith died in 1998, beloved by all as Wilkes-Barre's ``dancing cop.''

News Notes: Suffering the typical genealogist's holiday-time blues as a busy whirl of activities begins to take its toll? Recharge your batteries by visiting one or more of the many historical-cultural events held annually in the Wilkes-Barre area. The Guide, published Fridays in the Times Leader, keeps you up-to-date on the Denison House and the Swetland Home, where you can step back into earlier times, and on ethnic festivals keyed to the holiday period.

Remember, this column is now accessible through your computer at and on the Luzerne County Genweb.

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, Times Leader, 15 N. Main St., Wilkes-Barre, PA 18711.

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