Sunday, December 14, 1997
PAIR ON QUEST FOR CEMETERY DOCUMENTS
A TRIP THROUGH THE SHAWNEE CEMETERY IS LIKE A TOUR OF PLYMOUTH'S
Pair on quest for cemetery documents
A trip through the Shawnee Cemetery is like a tour of Plymouth's History Thousands of immigrants who made their way to the borough and labored in the mines- the English, the Welsh and their successors- now lie here. Some areas of the cemetery memorialize historic Plymouth
events, such as the plot containing the bodies of 10 young women, victims of the explosion and fire that ripped through the Powell Squib Factory one February day in 1889.
As of the last count, in 1935, some 12,000 people were buried there. The pace of burials has been slower since.
Tammy Lamb and Janice Williams believe it is important that genealogists and the community at large gain easy access to the names and dates of the people buried in the cemetery. The association that used to operate the Shawnee Cemetery dissolved decades ago, and the old
paper records are now in private hands. The two women want to microfilm those records and open them up to genealogical and historical researchers.
"We're trying to get the most comprehensive list of people buried there," said Lamb, president of the Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society. "It's so hard to get anything on this cemetery, because nothing is indexed."
Williams is chairwoman of the Community Improvement Project of the General Federation of Women's Clubs/Plymouth, the group conducting a cleanup project at the old graveyard along Mountain Road. She envisions a day when people checking for ancestors can look up names in microfilms and then visit a fully restored cemetery.
"It would be great to have these records," she said.
Holding the records is William Borland, who lives nearby. Borland said his father and grandfather maintained the cemetery, and he grew up helping with the work. "It's a hobby for me, basically," he said.
Borland said they retrieved many records from an old shed on the cemetery grounds and obtained others from the secretary.
He said he respects the old records and fears that they will be damaged or put to private, profit-making uses. "I'm trying my best to keep these records intact," he said.
Williams concedes there has been a communication problem with Borland, but says she probably will try again to work out some arrangement after the upcoming holidays. "I do believe they're public records," she said.
Sometimes an unexpected road opens up before a genealogist, and it leads to a paradise of discoveries and new relatives.
Florence Williams of Ashley was researching her late mother, whom she had known as Elizabeth Albicker, and was having no success with U.S. Census records. "We couldn't find my mother worth a darn," she said.
But then, in 1900 census records for West Nanticoke, where her mother said she had once lived, Williams found a young Elizabeth Rosman living with the Albicker family. That discovery was the start of a long search that in the end completely upset Williams' notions of who her
ancestors were and her understanding that she was of German descent.
With daughters Linda and Lori working alongside her, Williams gradually learned that her biological grandfather, Danish immigrant John Rosman, had been one of four men killed in an explosion at the Wapwallopen-area powder mill, Hollenback Township, on Feb. 10, 1888,
just a month after the birth of daughter Elizabeth.
While Williams was able to find few traces of John's widow, the former Martha McFee, it became clear that the child Elizabeth had been taken in by the Albicker family and raised as their daughter. Williams suspects that her bereaved grandmother had simply been put out of the
company's housing after her husband's death.
Then began the search for any possible brothers and sisters of Williams' late mother, probably also sent to live with other families.
It turned into a crusade as the Willliamses strove to reconstruct their view of their ancestors. Years of plowing through census, cemetery and other records eventually turned up word of siblings whom Williams had never known her mother had had.
In time they learned of Jesse, Clarence, Herbert, Caroline and Mary. Having used Rosman and other last names, all were deceased by the 1990s. But Williams happily recalls meeting Jesse's widow, a resident of Harveys Lake, reuniting long-separated parts of the family. "It took us
years to do all this, really," she said.
At long last, the Williamses knew their origins. The family's search is not yet over. Daughter Linda is pursuing the Rosmans' family line in Denmark, and Florence Williams is trying to fill out her knowledge of aunt Mary, whom she understands married into a Garrison family of Wilkes-Barre. She asks anyone who knew of the late Mary Garrison to contact her.
So the quest goes on- the endless searching of records, the treks through cemeteries. "We get in the car and off we go," said Williams.
She doesn't plan on giving up. "The stuff you can find out- wow," she said.
When you don't know what else to do as you're proceeding in your genealogy, just keep reading. You won't hurt yourself, and you might get lucky.
Frustrated in my search for information about my maternal great-great-grandfather, Civil War veteran Peter Kirk, I kept reading guidebooks on genealogy. I got lucky.
In one volume I learned that an 1879 law provided for a free tombstone for every veteran upon his death and that applications and authorizations for the markers were on file at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. The news was especially welcome, because Peter Kirk's
church in Ogdensburg, N.Y., had not been able to supply me with any record of his death, and the cemetery record contained his name and Army regiment but no death date.
So I called the Archives research department and explained what I wanted. A few weeks later, I received two documents. One was an authorization for the stone, listing Peter Kirk's name and death date, just months before the law was passed. The other was a list of all St. Lawrence County, N.Y., veterans who had qualified for tombstones that year, including great-great-grandfather Peter.
Armed with that information, I was able to get the reference librarian at the Ogdensburg public library to find and photocopy Peter Kirk's brief obituary.
Luck, yes. But it was the kind of luck you make for yourself by keeping active and never giving up.
Don't forget the next meeting of the Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society, set for 7 p.m. on Jan. 27 at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Wilkes-Barre. Local writer and Times Leader columnist Dianne Deming will speak on Frances Slocum. There's no
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