Joan Mayer's visit to Wilkes-Barre was almost time travel.
In the lobby of the Ramada Plaza Hotel, the Michigan woman spotted a big, framed photo of Public Square in the 19th century with her great-grandfather's business clearly shown.
The ancestor was Henry Huether, who ran a boot and shoe store, and what Mayer was looking at was the Ramada's striking gallery of local historical photos.
``Do you know where those pictures came from and how I can get copies?'' she writes. ``My sister and I are interested in getting more information on Henry Huether.''
Joan, to get your own copy of any of those pictures, contact the company whose archives supplied them. That is Ace Hoffman Studios, 222 W. Main St., Plymouth, PA 18651. Phone is (570) 779-5327.
The Hoffman company is open daily Monday through Saturday, with evening hours Tuesday through Thursday. It is best if you visit the studio, a spokeswoman said, because then you will be able to look through the archives and pick out the photo or photos you want. If you cannot visit, but you know exactly the photo you want, the staff might be able to look it up for you.
Once you get the photo, of course, you will have to take it to a framing shop. Part of the period charm of the Ramada's pictures is the dark wood frame and metallic nameplate, so don't skimp with these fine photos.
For information on Henry Huether, Wilkes-Barre City Directories from long ago will indicate the years in which he operated his shop. If you can get the date of his death, there are microfilmed local newspaper files that you can tap into. The Luzerne County Historical Society has the directories, while the Times Leader has the biggest newspaper collection.
Other out-of-town readers have written in recently.
``My grandfather was naturalized in Luzerne County in 1914. Is it possible to obtain data about this from the courthouse?'' E-mail address only.
Yes, naturalization records from 1820-1906 and 1912-1943 are held in the Prothonotary's Office of the Luzerne County Courthouse. The rest are at the U.S. District Court in Scranton. Write to the office at: Luzerne County Courthouse, 200 N. River St., Wilkes-Barre, PA, 18711. Phone is (570) 825-1745. Fax is (570) 825-1757. Hours of operation are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. There is a fee of $15.75 for a search, whether or not it turns up anything.
Incidentally, lots more information about material available in the various offices of the courthouse may be found by going through the Luzerne County Genweb (maintained by Tammy Lamb and several volunteers) to the county's official Web site, Luzerne County Online. Whether you're a local or out-of-area genealogist, Luzerne County Online is a site worth looking at. Access the Genweb through the Times Leader's own site, timesleader.com.
``We're looking for historical material, photos etc., regarding Wright Street (that section at South and Ross streets in particular) in Wilkes-Barre from 1900 until its demolition by Wilkes College for a project we're developing.'' Contact Michael Downend and Karen Blomain by postal mail at 26 Rice Ave., Kittery, ME 03904; by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Wright Street is one of the many redevelopment projects undertaken in Wilkes-Barre during the 1960s and 1970s. Overall, hundreds of old buildings were torn down and entire streets were reconfigured.
Michael and Karen, I'd recommend that you contact the University Relations Office at Wilkes University at (570) 408-4770 to see if their people can put you in touch with university archives. Also, Wilkes publishes an annual calendar that includes extensive street maps of downtown Wilkes-Barre in which the college has had buildings over the years. The maps identify owners of buildings as far back as the 1890s and show how the neighborhoods have changed over the 20th century as buildings have been demolished and replaced. Try to get your hands on one.
Sharon Lantzy Wygant, e-mail address only, wants information on James Bird, a Luzerne County native and War of 1812 sailor wrongly charged with desertion and executed. She believes he is on her husband's family tree. ``I was told that you wrote an article on him some time ago and was wondering if you have a searchable archive for past publications.''
Yes, Sharon, the Times Leader did an article on James Bird recently. It's in the newspaper's electronic library, which contains articles back to 1992. To access that library, go to timesleader.com. When the page comes up, scroll down until you see ``News Library'' on the left. When you open that up you will find instructions for searching, establishing an account and then printing out articles at just $1.95 per copy.
Incidentally, the archive contains obituaries, one of the most important resources for a genealogist.
Do you have a question about genealogy and local history resources here in Luzerne County? Drop me a line by postal mail or e-mail (addresses below) and I'll do my best to answer it for you in the column.
Local History Moment: Anyone digging into 19th-century national documents and maps will find the name of Luzerne County's largest city spelled as ``Wilkesbarre.'' In 1906 this erroneous federal spelling was finally synchronized with the correct local spelling of ``Wilkes-Barre'' when President Theodore Roosevelt, after a visit to the area, announced that he would order the change on all government printing. The city is named for John Wilkes and Isaac Barre, two courageous members of the British Parliament who supported the American colonies' quest for independence in the Revolutionary War.
News Notes: I will offer my ``Get Started in Genealogy'' presentation at Boscov's Department Store in Wilkes-Barre again this fall. The two-hour session will be held on a Sunday afternoon and should be repeated a few weeks later.
It opens with a discussion of how to begin your family research, with several handouts, and then becomes a question-and-answer session. It's free, and you also get a chance to meet other local genealogists. For dates and times, watch for the two-page Boscov's ad for the Campus of Courses in the Times Leader next month.
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 email@example.com