Sunday, January 7, 2001

What was ``the ice pond''? Where was ``Swoyer's Hill''? Old place names from the Wyoming Valley of a century and more ago can puzzle us today when we encounter them in family lore or in microfilmed news stories.

Perhaps you have tried to visit a great-grandfather's old home or workplace, only to find that you can't even locate the street.

Our world is constantly changing. Locations, reference points - even communities - that were part and parcel of our ancestors' lives can well have vanished by our own era, remaining in print only as mysterious names.

But you don't have to remain puzzled forever. There are helps for us as we try to unlock the world of the past.

On a stand next to the floor-length bay window of the Luzerne County Historical Society can be found some of those keys. They are old map books of the area, our travel guides to a now-vanished world.

Open the Luzerne County Map Book of 1873 and find downtown Wilkes-Barre streets with names such as Cinderella and South Fell, streets that no longer exist. Notice coal mines where houses or sports fields now dominate.

You will see a canal running half the length of the city, cutting west toward the Susquehanna River near present-day Union Street. The old Irish and German Catholic cemeteries, often mentioned in 19th-century obituaries but gone these many years, are plain as day along Darling Street.

Check the Plymouth map. You will find family names listed next to homes. The mines, churches, brickyards - even stables - mentioned in old documents are all laid out in print. Whole neighborhoods arise before your eyes.

Or look at White Haven. Plotted out are the Lehigh Valley and Jersey Central rail lines that built this community into a busy little town.

The 1873 map book is not the only one at the society's South Franklin Street library, which was built as a private home in 1875.

Atlases of the city of Wilkes-Barre from 1882, 1894 and 1904 are even more detailed about Luzerne County's largest community. Arranged by wards, they list all property owners, show the shapes of the buildings and tell if they were made of stone, brick or wood.

In other words, using these maps you can find an ancestor's home, see where his job was located and figure out his route to and from work, church and the downtown. You should even be able to tell if a building is still there.

``The Ice Pond,'' incidentally, was a body of water in what is now residential South Wilkes-Barre. ``Swoyer's Hill'' was a section of northern Plains Township, built around the Enterprise Colliery. It was useful as an address because the streets there had no names listed.

Map study is a bore? Don't bet on it. With a few minutes of pleasant research, the town of your ancestors can come to life again before you.

Queries: ``Are obits older than one week available on the Net? If so, how do I access them?'' Barb Hughes DiMarco

Times Leader obituaries from 1992 on are available on the paper's Web site of There is a charge for copies. Go to the main page and look for ``News Library.'' You will find instructions when you open that area. Unfortunately, pre-1992 obituaries have never been catalogued or indexed.

``My hobby is studying the history of mining and railroading of the Valley, particularly Ashley. I never heard of the Jersey #8 accident but would like to find out more information. Are there any sources online?'' John Scupski, Dayton, Ohio.

The disaster occurred May 15, 1890, when a cave-in hit the Jersey #8 mine in Ashley, killing 26 workers. The basic facts (date, location, death toll) about Jersey #8 and other local mining disasters are available online on the Luzerne County Genweb under ``Mining Information.'' Address is For the complete story, you can go to back issues of the Wilkes-Barre Record for that date - available on microfilm in the Times Leader's newsroom library.

Update: David Dole of Minnesota could be forced to give up his project of getting newspapers across America to give each obituary notice a numerical code that would tell future genealogists the obituary's date of publication.

The 86-year-old Dole said he has spent $50,000 to further his cause but has not succeeded in getting many papers to sign up. He now says that unless he gets a financial sponsor he will have to end his quest, according to the December issue of Columns, Newsletter of the International Society of Family History Writers & Editors.

Local History Moment: For one glorious night 45 years ago, Wilkes-Barre had the best basketball team on Earth.

On Feb. 14, 1956, the National Basketball Association champions of the previous season, the mighty Syracuse Nationals, blew into town to play the local heroes - the semipro Wilkes-Barre Barons of the Eastern League. Before a packed house at the West Side Armory, the Barons of coach Eddie White pulled off one of the great upsets of pro sports history and stunned the Nationals 78-67.

Wilkes-Barre jumped out to a first-quarter lead, held off a furious Syracuse rally in the third quarter and pulled away in the fourth to hand the NBA champs an unexpected loss. In one key matchup, the Barons' Red Wallace put the clamps on the Nationals' great scoring star Dolph Schayes, holding him to just six points for the game.

The Barons would go on in later years to win many Eastern League titles before disbanding. The Nationals would eventually move to Philadelphia and become the NBA 76ers.

News Notes: Interested in an introduction to genealogy? Or maybe you just want to meet some other genealogists and toss out a few questions. I'll be offering two introductory presentations at Boscov's department store in Wilkes-Barre this winter. The two-hour sessions are free and will be held on Sunday afternoons. Watch your Times Leader for the two-page ad listing dates and times.

If you'd like a copy of my list of useful Web sites for people doing Wyoming Valley genealogy, just ask via postal mail or e-mail. But please include your own postal mail address.

Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web, is at it again, and genealogists should be glad. The next step in retrieving data will be search devices that read precise codes on information and pull up more of what the researcher is looking for, according to the Associated Press. Berners-Lee even has a name for it - the Semantic Web.

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