Sunday, August 27, 2000

Is there a political branch to your family tree?

Was great-granddad the mayor of a town in the Wilkes-Barre area? Did grandmother serve on a school board?

For some of us, genealogy is bound up with public as well as private business, and we want some information on how our ancestors served their communities.

Typical is Maureen Robinson of Towson, Md., who writes, ``I am researching the activities of the Larksville Borough Council during the time my grandfather, Daniel Blaine Sr., was a councilman: 1910s-1930s, approximately.''

Ms. Robinson, here's how to do it.

By all means, contact the relevant town hall or school district and inquire about records. But be prepared: Their availability is likely to vary. And complicating research is the fact that in the 1960s the many school districts throughout Luzerne County merged into 11 larger districts.

Larksville does have minutes of borough council meetings from 1926 on, and borough secretary Patty Cresho says Daniel Blaine Sr.'s name appears in them.

But the only copies of these records are ``old and crumbly,'' says Cresho, and they would have to be examined in the borough building.

While minutes of board meetings will certainly yield good information, a broad-fronted, historical approach taking advantage of a variety of local sources, will add much to the picture.

First of all, an obituary for the ancestor would help. Mr. Blaine died Nov. 6, 1945, according to an annual booklet of photo news highlights published many years ago by the Times Leader.

Going from there to the Times Leader microfilms, we find a lengthy obituary for him, giving his biography and telling that he was an early member of the Larksville Borough Council and that he served until the late 1930s. The paper's files on Larksville say that borough was created in 1909, so very quickly we verify the time parameters.

What should Robinson, or any other researcher, do next?

Even apart from obituaries, newspaper backfiles are indispensible. A trip to Wilkes-Barre would bring the chance to stop in at the Times Leader's own library (open Wednesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to noon). A reading of some sample microfilms would show what day of the month the town council or school board met back in those years, and the researcher could then zero in on editions of the paper published a day after each meeting to get the news stories.

Don't want to do quite that much reading? To limit the research to specific major achievements or controversies, the genealogist could visit the Osterhout Free Library or the Luzerne County Historical Society, both located within walking distance of the newspaper, to find old copies of the Wilkes-Barre Record Almanac.

These books, published annually from 1886 to 1962, contain day-by-day summaries of major news and point you to specific daily editions of the local papers. They also list public officials in all the communities of Luzerne County over the years, so you can find out the names of the people with whom your ancestor served.

Don't overlook the extensive local history collections of the library and historical society, which include historical booklets published by many Luzerne County communities over the years. In these volumes you might well find photos of or stories mentioning your political ancestor. Smaller municipal libraries will also likely have local histories.

Incidentally, the Osterhout Free Library has nearly complete backfiles, on microfilm, of a now-defunct local weekly called the Sunday Independent, which carried a lot of political news until its demise in 1993. Conveniently for today's researchers, the Independent packaged a lot of news under town headings.

Of course, not all public officials are elected and not all serve on boards. The work of an appointee, such as a health inspector or tax collector, would likely be mentioned in meeting minutes as well as in political and governmental news stories.

A county judge? Look in the old almanacs for the annual two-page summaries of Luzerne County news and the listings of county governmental officials - including their salaries. The day-by-day news summaries will point you to specific high-profile cases the judges handled. Since judges are elected, stories on politics and elections will mention them also, and the almanacs will even tell you how many votes they got.

Searching: Debbie Harrison of Oregon is looking for information on Irish immigrants Owen and Ann Kehoe Dooner, who were residents of Luzerne County in the 19th century, and their descendants. In particular she is interested in their son, Edward Dooner, who married Margaret Wilson in Pittston in 1881; son Thomas Dooner, who married Mary Ann Wilson; and granddaughter Anna Cecelia Dooner, born 1883 to Edward and Margaret.

Contact Harrison by postal mail at 9339 NE 5th St., Terrebonne, OR 97760; or by e-mail at

Gloria Gosdin, a former Hazleton resident, is researching the following Hazleton-area names: Weaver (worked at a mine in Sandy Run), Herbener (lived at the Brickyard) and Learn (lived in Sandy Valley). Contact Gosdin at

Local History Moment: Wild animals in Kirby Park? Today you'll find nothing more exotic than squirrels, ducks and geese. But in the 1920s and 1930s the city of Wilkes-Barre maintained a zoo in its beautiful park. The zoo, typical of its day, was a series of cages containing animals (there was even a monkey house) and was arranged on an arc beginning near the river. It was eventually given up because of maintenance costs and the loss of so much park land when the dikes were built. The ruins of the cages were uncovered in 1990 when a local group began to reclaim the long-forgotten area between the dike and the river and turn it into a nature preserve.

News Notes: Thousands of photos published in the now-defunct Philadelphia Evening Bulletin newspaper over the 20th century will come out of Temple University's archives and go onto the school's Web site, where they will be accessible to researchers, the Associated Press reported recently.

Many newspapers have extensive photographic holdings that could be equally useful online. The Bulletin-Temple project was financed by a donation from the family of the Bulletin's former librarian. The Bulletin ceased publication in 1982.

I will be giving a talk on genealogy at 7 p.m. on Oct. 17 at the Kirby Library, Fairview Township.

Remember, this column is now accessible through your computer at Click on ``Generations.''

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