Sunday, February 8, 1998





`Legends' often useful when searching for kin


   If your genealogical path has been anything like mine, you've probably heard detailed stories about your ancestors, handed down from long ago, that no one has ever questionedThese tales are called "family legends," and they can be misleading or useful in your search for the truth about your forebears.

   Some are easy to discount. We all know enough to nod politely at the person who swears he's a direct descendant of a medieval Irish king because his family had told and retold that story through the years.

   But what do you do about the old tale that sounds highly possible?

Don't accept it unexamined, of course. But also don't be too quick to discount it because you're afraid of bruising the family's ego. There might be something to it.

   I had known since I was a child that James Kirk, a great-great uncle in my mother's family, had had a distinguished Civil War record in a New York infantry regiment. Direct descendants have solid proof of that.

   The legend centered upon uncle James' relatives, who had either remained in the old upstate New York hometown of Ogdensburg or moved to someplace other than Wyoming Valley. Family legend held that at least one more of these people also served in the Army during that war. From my mother I heard the names "Peter" and "Thomas," but particulars were lacking.

   That story sounded exciting. Imagine: All the menfolk who are old enough enlist in the Army and go away to fight the rebels. I would have been proud enough with one Civil War ancestor. But two or three?

   Well, over the next couple of years I bugged the town historian of Ogdensburg for enlistment documents and regimental histories. Then I read book after book about battles involving the regiments my ancestors had belonged to. I also learned some of the mysteries of the National Archives and obtained service records.    What I found gave real life to the family legend. The misty old tale unfolded into a true and documented story of courage and sacrifice in a time of national crisis.

   The bottom line was that brothers James and Thomas Kirk had enlisted in the Army at just 16 and had fought in some of the biggest and bloodiest battles of the war, from Bull Run through the occupation of North Carolina. Their father, Peter, had joined too, ending up in the Invalid Corps, where he once marched through the Wyoming Valley area northward to Scranton for peacekeeping duties.

   Even at a distance of 133 years, I can sense the joy my great-grandfather, just 6 years old in 1865, must have felt when his dad and big brothers came home in their battle-worn blue uniforms.

   Famed genealogy writer Myra Vanderpool Gormley constantly urges researchers to look critically at a family's "sacred cows." But, she also notes, "Often the real stories are better than the legends."

   Eight people met with me at Boscov's Department Store in Wilkes-Barre last Sunday for my second minicourse in writing the family genealogy newsletter.

   The first thing I said to them was that I'm still mystified as to why everybody doing genealogy doesn't send out an annual update to relatives. It's not at all difficult to do.

   One of the benefits of the newsletter is that you often jog the memories of relatives, who will then send you valuable information they hadn't known anyone was interested in.

   But perhaps the chief benefit is that the newsletters become a repository of family data that will continue down through the ages with your descendants and might inspire them to continue your genealogical work.

   Can anyone help Marion Kundratic Malinski find relatives in Wyoming Valley?

   The Shrewsbury, Pa., woman is looking for children and grandchildren of her uncle, Joseph Broda (1897-1976), and his wife, Eleanor (Nora) Broda (d. 1996). They lived most of their lives in Dupont and had six children: Edward, William, Edmond, Theodore, Carmella and Rita. She believes that Rita might have lived in the Pittston area.    You may contact Marion Malinski at 49 West Clearview Drive,

Shrewsbury, Pa. 17361. Phone: (717) 227-0305.

   Got a call the other day from Pamela Bunn, of San Diego, who is researching some Wyoming Valley ancestors. She said a local man wrote to her with some very promising information after reading of her quest in this column.

   As any genealogist will tell you, queries bring help.

   News notes:

   Help might be on the way for our state's low-funded libraries. Late in January, Gov. Tom Ridge announced an ambitious plan to increase state funding for Pennsylvania's libraries by $11 million. Most of the money, about $7 million, would go for technological improvements that would connect every library to the Internet by 1999.

   Last summer the Philadelphia Inquirer reported in a series on libraries that Pennsylvania lags behind many other states, spending just $14 a year per person on libraries. That's $6 less than the national average, and far less than the $35 per capita spent by New York, which ranks number one.

   Ridge's proposal, however, must still win approval from the state legislature.

   Here's the sort of project we could use more of. The Vermont Department of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War is helping to build a computerized database of burial sites of Civil War veterans throughout that state.

   Tracing one's Civil War ancestors' lives through National Archives paperwork can be time consuming, and there is no single listing of the soldiers' burial sites. Many of the soldiers moved far from their hometowns after the war. It would be a blessing for genealogists if all states would start such a project and centralize their findings.

   The next meeting of the Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society will be a workshop session. "It's a beginner thing for people who want to get started or who have questions," said Tammy Lamb, society president.

   It's scheduled for 7 p.m. on Feb. 24 at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Plains Township. Nonmembers are invited. For membership, write to the society at P.O. Box 1776, Shavertown, Pa.  18708-0776.

   Remember, this column is now accessible through your computer at Then click on "Arts and Entertainment."

   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