Sunday, December 16, 2001
DIRECTORIES' RESTORATION MOVES FORWARD
Two outstanding genealogical resources - one local and one international - are getting big boosts.
For many years the area's genealogists have found the collection of Wilkes-Barre City Directories at the Luzerne County Historical Society invaluable for tracing their ancestors. Recently the society received a $750 grant from the Luzerne Foundation to further its project of preserving and expanding the collection of old volumes.
These books list all city residences and businesses, and many of the older ones include surrounding towns as well. The problem the society has faced over the years is deterioration of the old directories from heavy use, no less than the occasional gaps in the collection - which starts with the 1870 volume.
``What our plans are, are to photocopy all the bound copies and put them into protective sleeves in binders,'' said society Executive Director Jessie Teitelbaum. ``The old ones will go into storage. This way our directories will withstand more use.''
So no longer will researchers have to fear damaging the fragile books, or accidentally spilling pages on the floor. When the project is complete, the photocopied, plastic-enclosed pages will all be in sturdy similar-sized notebooks on the shelves.
Actually, the program was already under way when the grant was announced in early December, thanks to a lot of hard work by society employees and a host of student after-school volunteers. But now it will move faster.
The grant will also give Teitelbaum the resources to move the project in another direction - filling in the numerous gaps. So he will contact area libraries and newspapers for permission to copy their directories and get in touch with the publisher, the Polk company, to see if any missing years are available. The society will also try to obtain directories for other area towns, such as Pittston, Nanticoke and Hazleton.
There is more good news.
Anyone who does online genealogy can attest to the value of the popular search engines. Properly used, they can provide worlds of information about an ancestor.
Just last week Google Inc. announced a major improvement in its service. The search engine now offers access to more than 3 billion documents on the World Wide Web, up from 2.5 billion, and gives access to newsgroups (bulletin boards and similar sites) going back 20 years, up from six years. Its access to images and other items of information has also increased.
Unfortunately, many genealogists overlook search engines. But the advanced search engine Google offers can be of great help, and you need nothing more than minimal computer expertise.
Looking for the history of your ancestor's Civil War regiment? Put in the unit designation and up will pop (very often) its complete story, including battles. The railroads that once served the coal regions are also the subject of informative sites - including query boards - put together by hobbyists and former employees.
Sometimes direct references to an ancestor can be found through a search engine, particularly if the ancestor owned a business, served in the military, or made a product. At the very least you can sometimes find that other people are researching the same family or organization.
Technology has become the family historian's best friend. Old, crumbling books may now be quickly photocopied and their information preserved, while more and more documents are being put into the great universal library of cyberspace. The 2000s will truly be the century of the genealogist.
Q. ``My great-grandfather had his picture taken at Wildermuth photographers at 104-106 Public Square, Wilkes-Barre. Do you know where to look as to when this photographer was in business? The photo I have I'm guessing to be from the 1890s.'' Guy B. DePasquale.
A. Guy, a 1925 article from the Times Leader's files gives a biography of Martin S. Wildermuth, whose career as a portrait photographer spanned the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Your guess is a good one: He was active in the 1890s as M.S. Wildermuth. Later he merged his business with the photo company of Joseph Stearns, and after retiring he did work for the Ace Hoffman company. Wilkes-Barre City Directories will give you Wildermuth's business and home addresses over the years.
Ever wish you could use a college or university library in your area? You might just be able to. Many academic libraries allow the general public to enjoy the same reading, research and borrowing privileges the students have. These programs usually have names like ``Friends of the Library.'' Ask at the circulation desk. You might well find resources unavailable elsewhere.
Local History Moment
You've heard it before: ``If only I could travel back in time and buy some of those wonderful, low-priced goods.'' Well, the holiday season in Wilkes-Barre in 1901 would have been perfect for that trip. A wife could have stopped in at Jonas Long's Sons and picked up a nice silk tie for her husband for 50 cents. Meanwhile, the man of the house could have visited Isaac Long's and bought a $2.49 pearl necklace for his beloved.
Something for the little tykes? How about a fully dressed doll from Reese's Bazaar for 59 cents, and a fire engine from the Boston Store for $2.25. A holder for the Christmas tree cost 25 cents at Perry Brothers, and if you wanted to spiff up the house for visitors you could have found a nice Morris chair at Benesch's for $8.75. Of course, it all sounds too good to be true. But, remember, the mayor of Wilkes-Barre made $2,000 a year in 1901, and most other citizens brought home $25 a week or less. So maybe they'd have enjoyed coming to our time, earning our salaries and paying our prices.
Two more sessions of the Family History Workshop titled ``Beginning Your Family Research'' are scheduled for the Scranton Children's Library meeting room early next year. They will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on Jan. 17 and Feb. 21. Preregistration is required. Call (570) 963-9561 or e-mail FamilySearch123@aol.com.
I will offer two sessions on an introduction to genealogy early next year at Boscov's Department Store in Wilkes-Barre. The classes are two hours long and are free. The days and times are not yet set, but I always offer them on Saturday afternoon, Sunday afternoon or Monday evening, or some combination of those times. Watch your Times Leader this month and in January for the schedule of Boscov's Campus of Courses. Then call and sign up.
The Luzerne County Historical Society will be closed from Dec. 23 through Jan. 1 for the holiday season.
This column is accessible through your computer at www.timesleader.com 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. E-mail is email@example.com