Tom Mooney

Sunday, July 2, 2000

Finding the right name for a historical event can make all the difference in the world to a genealogist.

Mary Lou Logan of Austin, Texas, learned that recently when she was searching for information on her ancestor, George Kocher, a Revolutionary War soldier slain in a battle in Luzerne County.

``This was all I knew of him,'' she writes. According to an old military roster, `` `George Kocher died after the Battle of Nescopeck and before the birth of his son. Died 1780 in Pa.' ''

Working hard, Logan managed to find out a few more things about Kocher. He was a resident of the Lehigh Valley area in central-eastern Pennsylvania. His wife was named Magdalena, and his church was Reformed Congregational. His son George married Susannah Myers.

But what was the ``Battle of Nescopeck?'' All her efforts from faraway Texas to learn something about it were fruitless. There seemed to be no such event. Even the oldest Wyoming Valley history books made no mention of it.

Obviously some other approach was necessary.

A technique that often helps genealogists is ``reading around'' an event. By studying a time period or the history of a place, sometimes vital clues can turn up and a research logjam can be broken.

This is what happened in Logan's case.

On the Luzerne County Genweb, a Web site loaded with local genealogical data, Logan found an entry called the ``Sugarloaf Massacre.'' On Sept. 10, 1780, a force of colonial soldiers was ambushed by a group of tories and American Indians in present-day Sugarloaf Township, adjacent to present-day Nescopeck Township.

The soldiers, mainly from the Lehigh Valley, had been sent north to punish local settlers known to be giving aid and comfort to the British and their American Indian allies. But the wily locals turned the tables on the troops, killing half, taking captives and sending the survivors fleeing for their lives.

It became clear to Logan that this was the event she had been looking for under another name. The accounts she went to said plainly that the soldiers' goal had been a section called Scotch Valley, near present-day Nescopeck. An old letter about the battle speaks of it as having occurred ``near Nescopeck.''

Writings like this, plus the presence of Nescopeck Mountain and Nescopeck Creek nearby, probably led to someone designating the action as ``Battle of Nescopeck'' as alternative to the name ``Sugarloaf Massacre.''

Armed with the better-known name for the battle, Logan was able to achieve her goal of learning all about the circumstances of her ancestor's death.

``Just finding out the name of the battle put me on the track of what to look for,'' Logan writes.

This isn't the only instance of alternative names for a battle. During the Civil War, the North and South used different systems for naming battles. What the North called the Battle of Antietam, the South called the Battle of Sharpsburg. In our own time, the event known for generations as the Wyoming Massacre is now called the Battle of Wyoming.

The moral of the story is clear: Keep charging ahead with your research, and in time the day will be yours.

Searching: The Fort Durkee Hotel, torn down when Public Square was renovated in the late 1970s, has long been part of Wilkes-Barre folklore. Many people remember the ``Joe Palooka Room,'' a virtual shrine to the comic strip character created by Wilkes-Barre native Ham Fisher. Now Anna-Marie Shimer Bandish is looking for information on the hotel as well as two men she identified as former owners, Samuel H. Puterbaugh and A.H. Shimer. Anna-Marie, the Phillips collection at the Luzerne County Historical Society contains information on local hotels and other businesses and business people of the past. Wilkes-Barre City Directories would also list the hotel and identify its owners. In the meantime, I've sent you a couple of old Times Leader articles sketching out the hotel's history. Anyone who has good knowledge of the one-time landmark and its former owners may contact Shimer Bandish by e-mail at

Bob Green is trying to solve the mystery of why his great-grandparents, Andrew McVinnie and Alice Cunningham, traveled from their hometown of Little Meadows in Susquehanna County all the way to Wilkes-Barre to get married in 1866. The ceremony took place at St. Mary's Church, which he understands to be the church on South Washington Street. Bob, you might try to find out if the Father Fitzsimons who married them had ever been a pastor up in Susquehanna County, since couples sometimes look up their old pastor to marry them. You might also check the earliest available Wilkes-Barre City Directories (1870 on) to see if they had relatives in the area. Try St. Mary's for the actual marriage record. Unfortunately, the local paper of those days, the Luzerne Union, carried little if any mention of marriages. If the names of Green's ancestors ring a bell, contact him by e-mail at

Local History Moment: The smallest man in the state of Pennsylvania in the late 19th century might well have been Wyoming Valley's Rees Wittler. An immigrant from Wales, Wittler was exactly 3 feet tall and weighed 58 pounds, according to an 1886 account written when he was 34. He lived for a time on South Main Street in Wilkes-Barre and later lived in Plymouth.

News Notes: The Luzerne County Historical Society, along with its name change from Wyoming Historical and Geological Society, plans to broaden its geographical focus. Says incoming director Jesse Teitelbaum in his first issue of the society's bulletin, ``Wilkes-Barre may be important because it is the county seat and it is the city in which the Society is located, but all the towns and townships in the county should be treated equally when preparing exhibits in our Museum, producing publications, and providing educational programs.''

State money is on the way for improvements at the Pittston Memorial Library. The library was recently authorized $160,000 to purchase books and materials and to use for construction of its new facility. Also, the Pennsylvania Community Development program has authorized a grant of $5,000 to the Plymouth Historical Society to support historic preservation.

The Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society is holding no meetings during the summer. Meetings will resume in September. So get a jump on the group's 2000-2001 activities by joining now. Membership is $15 a year. Write to the society at P.O. Box 1776, Shavertown, PA 18708.

``Thanks to you, we know what genealogy is and how to trace our family tree,'' writes a very polite Blair Welter. Last month I visited Blair's class at the Lake-Lehman Middle School to talk about family research. Everyone doing genealogy should look for opportunities to help young people like Blair.

Remember, this column is now accessible through your computer at Then 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