Sunday, March 18, 2001

With the warmer months on the way, it might be tempting to think about getting away from your genealogical pursuits for a while.

But why not put that ``down time'' to good use this year - and prepare a nice autumn surprise for your relatives in the process?

Give a try to writing a family genealogy letter. It's not that difficult to do. And imagine how pleased your far-flung relatives will be to hear about your progress in researching your family's history. Here's how to do it. Start by making a list of things you've learned in the past year or two about the branch of the family you're working on. Perhaps you've found out where in Austria-Hungary great-granddad emigrated from in the late 19th century. Or maybe you've finally located those second cousins on the West Coast.

True, nothing earthshaking here. But it's stuff your relatives certainly don't know and would be intrigued to learn, even if they're not as much into genealogy as you are.

Compile a mailing list. Many names already will be on your holiday card list, and close relatives can probably supply you with a few more names.

Then write a simple, friendly letter to all your relatives collectively. Tell them who you are and how you fit into the family tree, and tell them as much as you know about the exciting story of your family here and abroad.

Are you in the habit of writing an annual holiday letter about yourself, your spouse and your children? If so, you already know the drill. Put nerves aside. You're not competing for the Nobel Prize in literature. You're talking with your own relatives about earlier family members.

Don't worry about not having all the answers either. Genealogy is an ongoing process. People who have traced their ancestry back to the Middle Ages still don't know everything about their families.

Highly important! Don't forget to tell your relatives what kind of information you're still seeking: the birth dates, the place of arrival in America, the children who moved far away, the other gaps in your research. Who knows - maybe they have useful data to send back to you.

If you use a computer, send your letter by e-mail to everyone with an electronic address. Otherwise, run off photocopies and mail them. In time, you will find your mailing list growing.

Want more ideas? Contact me at either the e-mail or postal mail address below, including your own postal mail address, and I will send you my tip sheet for the family genealogy letter.

Remember, family genealogy is a team sport. Let's get everyone into the game.

Queries: Joe Callahan of North Dakota needs the death date of former Swoyersville police officer Patrick Callahan, who died in November 1949 and was buried in St. Ignatius Cemetery, Pringle. He wants to get in touch with descendants.

Joe, I've sent you the phone number of St. Ignatius Church rectory in Kingston, which utilizes the St. Ignatius Cemetery you mentioned in your e-mail. Ask the church about burial records. In the meantime, anyone who can help may get in touch with Joe Callahan at

``I am interested in ... a Wilkes-Barre family, the Lenahans and Kittricks, the other my own family relatives in Scranton by the same name Lorsong.'' Albert J. Lorsong, Jr.

Albert, both Wilkes-Barre names you mentioned are common in this area. The Times Leader has some genealogical material on turn-of-the-century Congressman Charles Lenahan and his many local descendants. I've also come across an article about 1920s-1930s store clerks union leader Edward Kittrick. Does either of these names ring a bell? In any case, anyone who can help Mr. Lorsong may contact him at 1516 Harding Ave., Williamsport, PA 17701.

``(I've) wondered what the process is to locate an obituary for an individual.'' Ronni, e-mail.

Ronni, local indexed obituaries exist in two limited batches. From the 1890s up to the time of World War I, the Wilkes-Barre Record almanac published an annual list of Wilkes-Barre area deaths. Copies are at the Luzerne County Historical Society and the Osterhout Free Library. The Times Leader has all its published obituaries since 1992 online at its Web site of Other than these two collections, you would have to narrow your search down so that it is practical to read through microfilm editions of the Times Leader and its predecessors.

``I need to find out if the Times Leader published court hearing notices in 1957/1958. If so, were they published on a particular day?'' Chris Dettrey, e-mail.

Chris, a look through sample microfilms of the Times Leader and its sister paper of those days, the Wilkes-Barre Record, did not turn up any rigid schedule for publication of court news, except for marriage licenses and other routine paperwork. In other words, notices that the papers considered important tended to be published as individual articles right after the court rulings happened.

Tips: Looking to brush up your computer skills, or maybe get started in developing them? Stop by the Osterhout Free Library and check their list of upcoming computer classes. They include ``Introduction to Computers,'' ``Welcome to the Internet,'' ``Windows 98 Basics,'' ``Microsoft Word Basics'' and ``Luzerne County Library System Automated Card Catalog.'' They're taught right at the library on various days and times. Registration is required. You can call the library at (570) 823-0156, ext. 16.

Local History Moment: Talk about people having careers they didn't expect to have. In May 1939 the Luzerne County Commissioners were astonished to learn that an employee, Helen Yauk, had accidentally worked for 14 years in the wrong courthouse office. They found out about the mixup only when she left the post and some state paperwork pertaining to her successor showed that the job was meant to be in the mercantile appraiser's office rather than the treasurer's office. News stories gave no indication that anyone knew how the mistake was made.

News Notes: If you are researching Slovak ancestors, the next meeting of the Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society should be just the ticket for you. The speaker will be Michael Kopanic, assistant professor of history at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He will discuss Slovak history.

The meeting will be at 7 p.m. on March 27 in the second-floor meeting room of the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, just behind Wyoming Valley Mall. You don't have to be a member to attend, and there are always lots of fellow genealogists around to talk with about your own research.

The society has completed its indexing of burials at St. Mary's Cemetery, Hanover Township, the largest cemetery in Luzerne County, and has published the listings in a four-volume set of spiral-bound books. For ordering information, contact the society at P.O. Box 1776, Shavertown, PA 18708-0776.

The Luzerne County Historical Society's library on South Franklin Street in Wilkes-Barre has reopened. It had been closed for a week for renovations.

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