Sunday, July 1, 2001

Sometimes a small newspaper can pay big dividends to a genealogist.

Take the Wilkes-Barre Telephone. Never heard of it? That's probably because this eight-page local weekly, publishing on Saturdays, went out of business back around the turn of the 20th century.

But in its time it carried a smattering of local news, a weekly list of deaths and even gossip under the heading ``Telephone Whisperings.''

So if you can't find that key article about grandfather Mike's house burning down in one of the larger-circulation local dailies publishing in the late 19th century, perhaps it's time to put in a call to the Telephone. You might get lucky.

The Wilkes-Barre area has had an abundance of newspapers over the years. Most were quite small, or they flourished for only a couple of decades. But that doesn't mean they can't contain vital data for the genealogist trying to track his or her Wyoming Valley ancestors.

Where do you find them? The Luzerne County Historical Society has microfilm files of 73 newspapers, listed alphabetically in a notebook from the Advertiser (1813-1815) to the Wyoming Republican (1832-1839). The Times Leader's newsroom library, open to the public three days a week, has backfiles of 32 area papers, many with charmingly antique names such as the Luzerne County Federalist and Susquehanna Intelligencer (1801-1810).

There are other potential sources of smaller or forgotten papers. Public libraries and municipal historical societies sometimes hold backfiles of their town journals. If a weekly is still active, the editor might maintain files in binders or on microfilm.

These smaller papers are a mixed bag.

Some of them served only highly localized areas, but they offered intensive coverage of their towns. Doing research in Shickshinny? Check out the Mountain Echo. How about Pittston? The Gazette was a popular paper there for more than a century. The Weekly Star served Plymouth from 1875 to 1896.

Here and there you'll find oddities. A few had unusual publication schedules, such as the Wilkes-Barre Semi-Weekly Record, while others such as the Democratischer Wachter of Wilkes-Barre (1844-1894) served non-English-speaking readers.

When Wilkes-Barre dailies the Times Leader and the Record went on strike in 1954, union members published the tabloid Valley News for six months. It's on microfilm.

Expect frustration, though, when you deal with the smaller papers. You might be sure that great-aunt Hannah got married in 1907, but then find that an entire decade of microfilm is missing. Often the older issues consist of only a few pages, with more space devoted to partisan politics than to news and obituaries.

A few of the smaller newspapers of the past, unfortunately, have never been collected for posterity, and unless something is done they will be lost forever.

Typical is the Wyoming Valley Observer, a Sunday paper published from the 1960s through the late 1970s. Former publisher Paul Warnagiris says he would like to put his back issues not only on microfilm but also online as an aid to researchers. However, he admits the cost and the difficulty of collecting copies from scattered sources are obstacles.

So when a resource exists, take a look at it. A little David of a newspaper might be just the thing to slay your Goliath of a research question.

SUBHED: Searching for mine accident info

``I was wondering if you have any info on mine fatalities in Pittston in 1905. My grandfather was killed in one. His name was George Haas. My father was just 2 then and never told us any more than that.'' W.F. Haas.

Since you had the exact date, the incident was not hard to find. Your grandfather and six other miners died March 9 at the Clear Spring Colliery in West Pittston when the rope hauling their cage to the surface broke and they plunged 200 feet to the bottom. I'm sending the articles to you.

Many, many people all over America know of ancestors who died in the notoriously dangerous coal mines of Northeastern Pennsylvania. Only weeks after the West Pittston disaster, 10 more men in another mine died when the rope on their hoisting cage broke. Both incidents sparked coroners' juries, which researchers would certainly want to track.

Most of these stories, though, are more difficult to find than the one about George Haas, particularly those that involved the deaths of just one or two miners and stories that did not generate big headlines.

Perhaps some day a research project will retrieve all the newspaper accounts of miners' deaths and put them online so that everyone can locate them readily.

SUBHED: Queries

Ronalee Schall is trying to determine the father of great-great-grandfather Peter Bert Hopfer (1828-1904). She believes the father might have been War of 1812 veteran Jacob Hopfer, born about 1792-1795 in the area of Lycoming, Sullivan and Northumberland counties. Contact Schall at

Scott Boris is looking for information about Nicholas Telep, who lived on Cleveland Street in Plains Township, dying in 1931. He also lived in Mayfield. Contact Boris at

SUB: Local History Moment

When the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic booms out the ``1812 Overture'' as its lead-in to the annual fireworks display in Kirby Park on Wednesday night, the huge audience gathered on the green to celebrate Independence Day will thrill - in a delightful irony - to a musical commemoration of not American but Russian military heroics.

Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) composed the rousing orchestral showpiece in 1880 in memory of the fierce resistance his Russian compatriots had put up 68 years earlier in turning back an invasion by the French army, led by Napoleon Bonaparte.

While the work was frequently recorded in the 20th century, it seldom found its way onto concert programs. But in recent decades it has become a ``patriotic'' feature at July 4 celebrations all across the country. Probably its opening sense of anticipation followed by a clash of nationalistic melodies and conclusion with a triumphant march tune and church bells make Americans recall their own war of independence.

And to think old Pete never saw a U.S. penny in royalties.

SUB: News Notes

Congratulations to Karen Brannigan Walizer, the new program chairman for the Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society. Over the past year, Walizer has spoken to the society on the Molly Maguires, and at the July 24 meeting she will speak on getting started with Internet genealogy. That meeting will be at 7 p.m. at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, just behind Wyoming Valley Mall.

Genealogists will enjoy online access to some American newspapers going as far back as the 1600s when a joint project planned by the National Newspaper Association and a Massachusetts archiver becomes reality. The two organizations plan a search engine to offer the four centuries of access, according to Editor & Publisher magazine. More information is expected in September.

Remember, this column is 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