Sunday, August 12, 2001

Heat? What heat?

Nothing stops dedicated genealogists from pursuing their family histories. Let's take a look at the mail.

1) ``I ... was curious to see if you have any records on the Woodward Colliery.'' Nancy Cook, Pasadena, Calif.

Nancy, the Times Leader's old clippings file has two articles on the Woodward, which was located in Edwardsville and was a large employer for many years. A 1931 item is an account of a talk by a company official, giving the history of the colliery. The other is a 1963 article and photo about the structure's demolition. I'm sending them to you.

Although you are operating at a great distance, the Luzerne County Historical Society would be the place to go for further information on this part of the Glen Alden Coal Co., which was a nationally known mining and coal-selling organization in its day.

2) ``I would like to know what coal mines were operational in 1900 for Black Creek Township. Most probably near Weston.'' Kenneth R. Lucier, Middletown, R.I.

Kenneth, by the late 19th century there were mines in the Fern Glen, Derringer and Gowen sections of the township, all fairly close to the Weston section, according to information at the Luzerne County Historical Society.

Incidentally, Luzerne County is full of little, unincorporated communities like these. They tended to grow up around coal mines or railroads a century or more ago. Weston was populous enough by the turn of the last century that it had its own post office.

Tips: Suppose you could take down a yellowed book from a library shelf, open it up and read your family's genealogy all laid out from about 1900 back through many generations?

Some lucky people with ties to Wyoming Valley can do this, thanks to the efforts of a local journalist and historian. For about 20 years in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Dr. Frederic C. Johnson, part-owner of the Wilkes-Barre Record newspaper, indulged his passion for local history and genealogy in a series of books called The Historical Record.

The books contain everything from a profile of the man who rang the bells at Wilkes-Barre's first church to summaries of scientific papers on the area's rock formations.

But if you open up Vol. 3, published in 1890, you will find that the death of Julia Blackman Plumb at 82 offered the occasion for publication of the Blackman family's history back to New England in the Puritan era.

Look a little further into the book and you will see in the story of the Hakes family reunion information that the family's genealogy has been published and that copies are available in the Library of Congress and other prominent places.

Now of course not everybody got into Johnson's books. His family histories, which you find in the table of contents for each separate volume, are mainly those of early settlers of the area, primarily of New England and British descent.

Even if you don't find your ancestors in The Historical Record, though, the books make fascinating reading. Where else could you find, between one set of covers, a history of the Ashley Presbyterian Church and a wildly emotional poem on the 143rd Infantry Regiment?

A complete set is available at the Luzerne County Historical Society.

Local History Moment: When Plains Township teenager Tommie Wallace climbed down from a tree in a Maffett Street yard on a Sunday afternoon in 1930, he was a news item and a local hero. Young Wallace had been in the tree for 558 hours, or just over 23 days. Tree perching, as the activity was called, was a national mania in the late 1920s and early 1930s, with young people all over America competing to see who could sit on a branch the longest. In fact, when Wallace came back to earth local attention shifted to 16-year-old Chester Sharon, of Pringle, who was closing in on the 22-day mark in his tree, his only companion being a radio loaned to him by a local dealer eager for publicity. Though parents did not seem to mind the high jinks of their sons, Wilkes-Barre's Mayor Dan Hart did. He tried to get the City Council to ban the competitions as foolish and dangerous. Wallace, though, didn't seem harmed by his experience. After hitting the ground, he took off for Bear Creek and spent the rest of the day swimming.

News Notes: The Historical Society of Pennsylvania has opened to researchers the papers of the Coxe Mining Co., which owned 30,000 acres of area mine land in the late-19th and early-20th centuries and was one of the region's largest employers. Check out the state Historical Society's Web site at

It won't be long until Boscov's Department Store offers its fall Campus of Courses, which will include my Getting Started in Genealogy program. The sessions are free. Watch your Times Leader later this month and early in September for Boscov's two-page ad about the classes.

Remember, this column is now accessible through your computer at

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