Sunday, March 4, 2001

If your genealogical trail has led you to Nanticoke, rejoice. Some very good people are waiting there to help you.

The city just a few miles south of Wilkes-Barre has been an important starting point - and destination - for many immigrant families since the 19th century. Now Nanticoke has its own Web site, complete with built-in access to genealogical assistance.

Open up the site at (themed in the old high school colors of royal blue and white) and you will find a wealth of information about the community.

Then click on ``History.'' There you will see historic photos and cemetery information, as well as a link to Julianna Zarzycki, the president of the Nanticoke Historical Society and a tireless worker in preserving the past of her town.

Zarzycki and her group, which was founded in 1996, have a lot of projects going. One is building up its photo collection of buildings that used to be everyday sites around town.

``We'd like to collect as many old pictures as possible because the buildings are torn down,'' she said. On the top of her priority list are photos of the theaters the town used to have - the State and the Rex.

An immediate need, though, is a permanent site for the group's growing collection of materials, most of which are now stored in the Nanticoke Municipal Building.

The problem is cost. The society holds fund-raisers and has obtained some grants, but real estate is not cheap.

``We have one or two places in mind,'' Zarzycki said. ``But it's tough.''

For out-of-area genealogists the society could prove a life-saver. Contact Zarzycki by e-mail through the Web site ( and she will do look-ups. Charges are listed on the site.

That research will likely become more extensive as the society expands its collection of material. Zarzycki would like to get her hands on some of the old city directories once published for Nanticoke, high school yearbooks, records of Nanticoke-area cemeteries and ever-more photos.

Additional projects are in the works. The Historical Society also plans to resume its cleanup of the Lithuanian Independent Cemetery, publish a Nanticoke history book and begin an oral history project, taking tape recorders into local nursing homes and talking with residents about their lives and times.

All this by a group that's still looking for a headquarters. ``It's just fun, really,'' Zarzycki said.

Update: Millions of African-Americans have a new resource to help trace their ancestors. Last week the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints published records from the Freedmen's Bank, an institution established after the Civil War to help former slaves in many states.

What is available is ``a searchable database on compact disk which includes information such as family names, birth locations and names of former slave owners,'' reported the Associated Press.

The disk is part of the church's ongoing project of making even more of its voluminous genealogical records available to the public.

For information on purchase of the records, log on to or call church distribution centers at (800) 527-5971 and ask for item 50120.

Local History Moment: You won't find this guy's words in any travel brochure about eastern Pennsylvania.

A letter dated in January 1778 by a Hessian officer fighting alongside the British in the American Revolution gave a decidedly unflattering picture of our region.

As quoted in the Historical Record, the officer pronounced Pennsylvania full of ``unhealthy air and bad water,'' with fevers striking every year. ``Nowhere have I seen so many mad people,'' he added, attributing their derangement to a poor diet. But he reserved his greatest scorn for the animal world, reporting that ``there is no shortage of snakes.''

Concluded the officer, ``If the honorable Count Penn should surrender to me the whole country, on condition that I should live here during my life, I should scarcely accept it.''

News Notes: About 20 people turned out for my introduction to genealogy last Sunday at Boscov's department store. The presentation was the last one of the winter season, but I will offer several more at Boscov's in the fall.

My next appearance will be from 6 to 8 p.m. on April 2 at Crestwood High School, Wright Township, through the Crestwood Area Community Education Program. The program charges a $10 registration fee. To register, contact Crestwood Area Community Education, P.O. Box 353, Mountaintop, PA 18707.

The library of the Luzerne County Historical Society will be closed for renovations this week through March 14. When it reopens, the library area will have a new paint job, new carpeting and perhaps some new lighting as well.

Historic preservation organizations continue to seek support for saving America's Civil War battlefields, which are rapidly disappearing as population and suburbs grow. ``According to preservationists, an acre of Civil War battleground land is lost to development every 10 minutes,'' Knight Ridder news reports.

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