A TREASURE OF HISTORY IN PLYMOUTH
Published: Sunday, December 30, 2001
Katherine McEvoy wasn't sure exactly what the cardboard boxes brought over from the borough building would contain as she dug into them at the Plymouth Historical Society.
They were supposed to be old records from the Plymouth schools. But the genealogical treasure trove the assistant director saw took her breath away.
``We were looking through those boxes and I saw them and said, `Oh my, oh my, oh my'.''
Inside were thousands of birth certificates, baptismal certificates, vaccination records, age affidavits and other documents from children who had attended the community's schools from the 1890s up through the mid-20th century.
They were the papers the kids had to present to show they were entitled to enroll in the schools of Old Shawnee, as the borough nicknamed itself.
Before her eyes danced hosts of immigrant names from Plymouth's past - child after child with parents from Russia, Poland, Austria-Hungary, Lithuania. Everybody meticulously identified with birth date, address, occupation, church, number of brothers and sisters, mom's maiden name and even the family's doctor or midwife.
The genealogical mother lode was put into action almost immediately.
``I found a couple of people we had been looking for,'' said McEvoy. ``The families had written months ago, inquiring.
It's especially good for the eastern Europeans because we had very little to go on.''
Plymouth, which had about 18,000 residents in its heyday of the early 20th century, maintained its own school system until the district merged into the new Wyoming Valley West district in the late 1960s. Cataloguing the contents of old filing cabinets were not high priority as the new jointure got busy with the task of educating thousands of students
from nine West Side communities.
``They were up at the borough building and nobody knew what to do with them,'' said McEvoy. ``It's frightening to think they could have been thrown out. They were just in boxes.''
Now, thanks to a lot of work by McEvoy and other volunteers, the papers are enclosed in plastic sleeves, alphabetized and bound in big notebooks. They are shelved in the combination work room and office at the former church on Gaylord Avenue where the society makes its headquarters.
There's just one glitch.
The society recently closed indefinitely as McEvoy, who has worked there three years under the senior volunteer program, prepares to leave and a new assistant with lots of time and good historical expertise is located. So researchers will have to wait for news that the Plymouth Historical Society is again open and functioning.
``Hopefully they'll find somebody new to keep the place open. It's a frustrating job, but I really enjoy it,'' she said.
McEvoy leaves with pride in her years of work helping to bring Plymouth's artifacts together - especially the old papers that the children of immigrants once carried to their teachers and that will someday unlock many a family mystery for descendants all over America.
``They have a home now.''
(Plymouth Historical Society: 115 Gaylord Ave., Plymouth, Pa. 18651. Phone (570) 779-5840.)
Queries: Shirley Collier is researching the name Berman/Bearman, from the United Kingdom. The family's original destination was New York City. The only local address for the family is a post office box in Wilkes-Barre in 1921.
First names are Sarah, sons Barnett and Henry, and daughters Miriam and Cissie.
Shirley, the name Bearman does not turn up in Times Leader files or in any of the Wilkes-Barre City Directories I have looked at. There are many Bermans, with the first appearing in the directory in 1915. But the first names do not match the ones you have listed. Anyone who can help may contact Shirley Collier at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tips: You don't have to make the rounds of Luzerne County's 10 libraries to find out if the book you're looking for is in one of them. Remember - we live in the age of cyber-research. Log on to the Osterhout Free Library's Web site at www.osterhout.lib.pa.us and you can access the holdings of all the libraries through their combined online catalogue.
A search can be done by title, author or key word. It will even tell you if the book is available or checked out.
New Year's Resolution: Libraries remain one of our best sources for family history material, no less than for their computers and their volumes of information on how to do genealogy. In recent weeks libraries all over the area have been reporting a falloff in their usual contributions. All of us who use the libraries - and not just those in the
Wilkes-Barre area - should pitch in and help. You can donate money for a gift book or magazine subscription, offer time as a volunteer or just drop off a check at the circulation desk. Perhaps there is a research project you can help with. Whatever you do, your contribution will come back to you and your family many times over.
News Notes: Looking to get into computer-assisted genealogy? Mark your calendars for the Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society's March meeting. It will consist of a computer workshop by Michael Strauss, district director of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. on March 26 at the Gates Computer
Lab in the Osterhout Free Library, 71 S. Franklin St., Wilkes-Barre. There will be no meetings in January or February.
Looking to join? Contact the society at P.O. Box 1776, Shavertown, Pa. 18708-0776. You don't have to be a member to attend the meetings.
Two more sessions of the Family History Workshop entitled ``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.
The Luzerne County Historical Society will reopen Wednesday after its holiday break. It will close again Jan. 13 through Jan. 26. The regular hours are noon-4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday.
The Times Leader library no longer offers public walk-in hours. Researchers can find microfilms of many back issues of local newspapers at the Osterhout Free Library, the Luzerne County Historical Society and Luzerne County Community College. However, a researcher who cannot find an older item at one of those sites may make an
individual appointment with Times Leader Librarian Renee Burns at 829-7220. Times Leader articles since 1992 are accessible on the paper's Web site www.timesleader.com.
I will offer two separate sessions in introduction to genealogy at Boscov's Department Store in February. Watch your Times Leader for the Boscov's ad giving dates and times.
Remember, this column is now 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, The Times Leader, 15 N. Main St., Wilkes-Barre, Pa. 18711. Email is email@example.com.
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