Sunday, June 17, 2001

When Greg Levitzki saw the old postcards of men in uniform on eBay, he had to have them.

``I'm a postcard collector and one of my interests is World War I,'' he said. ``The person who auctioned them off thought they were World War I-era.''

But then the Dumont, N.J., man began to puzzle over some of their details. Along with the Wilkes-Barre inscriptions, they all bore the name ``C.T.A.U. Regiment.'' What, he wondered, did that mean?

Some reading in local history finally solved the puzzle. Levitzki's six-card collection portrays a now-forgotten but once-vibrant aspect of Wyoming Valley's life of a century ago - the Roman Catholic Church's crusade to control alcohol drinking among the newest generations of Americans.

The C.T.A.U., or Catholic Total Abstinence Union, was a powerful force in the Wilkes-Barre area in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Growing out of individual parishes' anti-drinking youth groups and drawing inspiration from Ireland's Father Matthew Society, it encouraged young men to ``take the pledge'' to keep away from alcohol.

Then, led by Monsignor John J. Curran of Wilkes-Barre, around the turn of the century hundreds of C.T.A.U. members took the further step of launching a military-style campaign against alcohol. They formed the C.T.A.U. Regiment, dressing in smart uniforms, appointing officers to command the companies from towns throughout Luzerne County and organizing at least one band.

By 1905 Curran was able to write, ``To-day we are able to count two thousand young men, fully uniformed, drilled and equipped in the total abstinence regiment.''

That same year the C.T.A.U.'s national convention was held in Wilkes-Barre, with President Theodore Roosevelt giving the opening speech. Though Levitzki's postcards bear no date, it is certainly possible that they were issued to commemorate the event.

Some picture rows of officers. Others show an outdoor Mass, attended by a huge crowd. One shows C.T.A.U. boys tossing one of their number in a blanket during the annual ``encampment,'' which was frequently held at Harveys Lake.

Levitzki pretty much fell into postcard collecting.

``When I was a boy I started collecting stamps. And I came across some old postcards because of the stamps. But as I got older, I got interested in the cards themselves.''

He's not alone in his hobby, either. He estimates that about 5,000 old postcards are available on eBay.

Levitzki has never been to Wilkes-Barre. But his hobby and curiosity are helping to preserve relics of an exciting era for our Wyoming Valley ancestors - a day when young men donned uniforms, saluted their elders and made mighty efforts to live their faith.

Queries: ``Researching Civil War unit 81st Pa. Looking for any type of information on 81st vets.'' Ted Dombroski,

Ted, some of the names you provided in your initial list are the subjects of biographies in History of Luzerne County, by H.C. Bradsby (1893) and The Wyoming Valley in 1892, by S.R. Smith. I've sent you a few. You might also check the Smith-Harvey History of Wilkes-Barre, with biographical volumes published in the 1920s.

Consider this as well. From 1895 to 1920, the Wilkes-Barre Record Almanac published an annual list of Luzerne County deaths, apart from the Hazleton area. It is more than likely that some of your soldiers would be mentioned in these annual lists, and you would then be able to go to microfilms of local newspapers - available at the Times Leader - and find their obituaries.

Also, from the 1920s on, the almanac kept close track of Wyoming Valley's few remaining Civil War veterans and often noted their deaths in each year's listing of major news events, right up to the death of the Valley's last Civil War veteran, Charles Rhenard, in March 1939. So there's another source for dates of newspaper obituaries.

2) Chris Barnes is wondering where to find the records of Wilkes-Barre's Hollenback Cemetery.

Chris, Hollenback is one of the oldest cemeteries in the area and is still active. People who have researched there tell me it maintains excellent records. Write to the caretaker at 540 N. River St., Wilkes-Barre, PA 18702. Or call at (570) 823-1618.

3) ``I have been searching for an obituary in the W-B Times Leader, but I cannot research back copies.'' Josie Dennis.

Josie, since the obituary you are interested in is a recent one, it is readily available. Simply go into the paper's Web site of and look for ``Obituaries.'' There you will find instructions for searching out an obituary and printing out a copy of it for a small fee. The obituary you have inquired about is in there.

4) Sue Rood of Florida is researching early Jackson Township settler Jesse Brown of Brown's Corners.

Sue, besides the U.S. Census and other standard records, H.C. Bradsby's 1893 History of Luzerne County has several mentions of your ancestor. I would recommend you take a look at additional older local histories at the Luzerne County Historical Society here in Wilkes-Barre. Incidentally, Brown's Corners is now the Chase section of the township, home to a state prison.

5) ``I understand that the (Times Leader) Morgue is open Wednesdays, Thursdays and Friday's from 10 to 12. Is an appointment necessary?'' Jerry Gillis.

Yes, Jerry. To avoid finding that someone else has the library's lone microfilm reader tied up, make an appointment. You may call the librarian at (570) 829-7220 during the day. But remember, the Osterhout Free Library and the Luzerne County Historical Society have microfilms of local papers covering most of the 20th century.

Searching: Judy Bennett is looking for descendants of Lena Miller and George Mines, who lived in Ashley in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Descendants include family name of Heyburn. Contact Judy Bennett by postal mail at RR 2, Box 195, Mehoopany, PA 18629; by e-mail at

4) ``My family is trying to find Sgt. Merle Davies, a World War II veteran from Wilkes-Barre.'' Betty Ison Hardage, Jacksonville, Fla. Contact Hardage by e-mail at

Local History Moment: Law-enforcement personnel have used many methods to make the errant follow the rules. But a 1920s-era incident in Wilkes-Barre's old ``Mayor's Court'' was certainly one of the most creative. When a city man was taken before Mayor Lewis Kniffen on a citation of vagrancy, the arresting officer played on the vagrant's naivete and told him that, should he ever appear in court again, the mayor (who was also a well-known funeral director) would embalm him. According to the Times Leader, the vagrant vowed immediately to move to neighboring Wilkes-Barre Township, far enough away to escape the undertaker mayor's wrath.

News Notes: The Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society will meet at 7 p.m. June 26 at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, near Wyoming Valley Mall. As an experiment, meetings will continue through the summer this year, with no meetings scheduled for December through February. You don't have to be a member to attend.

The society is looking for volunteers to help prepare its new Kingston Township headquarters building for use. To reach the society, write to P.O. Box 1776, Shavertown, PA 18708-0776.

The Genealogical Research Society of Northeastern Pennsylvania will sponsor a panel discussion titled ``Everything You Want to Know About Genealogy but were Afraid to Ask'' at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The event is scheduled for 201 W. Grant St., Olyphant.

To reach the Genealogical Research Society, call (570) 383-7661; write Box 1, Olyphant, PA 18447-0001; e-mail;or fax (570) 383-7466.

The next scheduled cleanup day at the Shawnee Cemetery in Plymouth is Saturday. The restoration project for the burial ground on Davenport Street began years ago under the direction of Janice Williams and has grown to communitywide proportions. Additional cleanups are planned for July 7 and 21; Aug. 4, 18 and 25; Sept. 8, 22 and 29; Oct. 6 and 20; and Nov. 3. Volunteers are welcome.

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