Tom Mooney

Sunday, May 21, 2000

Margaret Monk could kick herself for not having had more copies of her local bestseller printed.

The volume, titled ``We Were Here,'' was the official history book for Hughestown's observation of the nation's bicentennial in 1976. It contained historic photos, a roundup of town history and names - lots and lots of names. At the time, a press run of about 300 copies looked more than sufficient for the small borough.

But to genealogists with ancestors in the Hughestown area, ``We Were Here'' has been pure gold. As soon as they hear about the long-out-of-print book, they want it.

``We had quite a number of them, and they went very fast,'' Monk said. ``You could sell them over and over to people looking for families.''

To her surprise, it was largely out-of-area people who heard about the book and asked for copies.

``That's where the book went - not locally. We got requests from California and all over.''

The hot-selling Hughestown book isn't the only local anniversary volume genealogists have turned to.

The Wilkes-Barre area went through a period of explosive growth in the late 19th century, with population skyrocketing and many new communities being formed. So from the 1970s through the 1990s the area has seen one centennial celebration after another, along with the accompanying community history books. The United States 1976 bicentennial spawned still more.

The books can be quite valuable. Take the Hanover Township tricentennial book from 1994. Yes, that's right ``tricentennial,'' although the reason is not entirely clear. Written by C. Charles Ciesla, this jumbo-size volume contains old photos, maps, discussions of sectional names and treatments of the coal industry, highways, recreation and weather.

The book is a treasure trove of information about one of Luzerne County's oldest communities. Wondering about an ancestor's reference to ``the iron steps''? That's explained. What about somebody who lived in ``Hard Scrabble''? There's even a glossary of mine-related terms.

It's comprehensive, too, including information on the boroughs of Ashley, Sugar Notch and Warrior Run, which sit like islands amid the township. Whether you live inside or outside Luzerne County, it's a solid introduction to your ancestors' hometown.

Many other centennial and community history books are smaller but no less filled with data to please a genealogist. They vary greatly in content. Forty Fort's has plenty of town history, while Edwardsville's is mainly photos.

Where can you find them? The Osterhout Free Library has a batch of them, kept prudently under lock and key in the reference room. The Luzerne County Historical Society (formerly the Wyoming Historical and Geological Society) has a good many also.

Many of the smaller towns in the area have their own libraries, and they often have copies of their towns' centennial and history books.

But how do you access them if you don't live here and they are non-circulating volumes?

That's the tough part. You really have to sit down with these books and pore over them, savoring the photo of your ancestor's old school or the story about the amusement park where he probably took his family on a holiday. Because you won't know exactly what's in a book until you see it, you probably won't be able to request anything specific from a librarian.

As for getting your own copy, you will have to get the name of the writer/editor from the library and then get in touch with that person. Of course, you will have to take your chances with finding one available.

Margaret Monk says she's going to someday see if the printer might have squirreled away a few copies of her Hughestown book. She also wishes it were possible to go back in time and increase the press run.

But, she said, at the time ``We didn't know we were going to get rid of them.''

Searching: Marge German of Rockville, Md., is looking for information on three cousins who served in the armed forces during the Second World War. Michael, Joseph and Leo Duke were sons of German's father's sister, Mary Duke, who lived on Bennett Street, either Kingston or Luzerne. Michael was listed as missing in action, and the other two, German believes, died in the war. A list of Luzerne County war casualties published by the Wilkes-Barre Record and based on 1945 figures lists a Michael Duke of Kingston as missing. But the list does not mention the other two men. A list published by the War Department six months later does not include any of the three men. Contact Marge German by e-mail at mgerman107@aol.com.

Howard Loel Brown would like to get in touch with anyone who has information about two Pittston-area ancestors. The first is Eli Brown, b. 1838 Scott Township, buried West Pittston Cemetery, 1907. The second is George Washington Brown, b. 1844 Scott Township, d. 1899, formerly Pittston chief of police. Contact Brown by e-mail at mbrown@muskingum.edu.

Tips: Television viewers will soon be able to see the second set of programs in the popular Public Broadcasting Service genealogy-oriented ``Ancestors'' series.

The 13 new episodes will address the use of many types of records to trace family history. They have been filmed in many sites around the world.

But while some PBS stations will show it in June, the local outlet, WVIA, Channel 44, will be airing it in July. Exact dates and times will be announced within the next few weeks.

The original set of ``Ancestors'' programs ran two years ago. ``We had some support for it, and so we decided to run this one,'' said Mark Thomas, WVIA's director of programming.

Wherever you live, keep an eye on your newspaper's TV listings.

News Notes: About 300,000 students nationwide recently enjoyed a satellite TV broadcast showing Pennsylvania's Gettysburg National Military Park.

For those in faraway states who had ancestors in the 1863 battle, it was a chance to see close-up what must have been the greatest experience in those ancestors' lives. The event featured live action by Civil War re-enactors and narration by park rangers.

Said the Associated Press, ``The hourlong program was created as growing interest in the park forced officials to turn away increasing numbers of pupils every year.''

Museums are recognizing the powerful impact of exhibits showing how our ancestors lived and are developing innovative displays.

The new Heritage Museum in Providence, R.I., expects to include a triple-decker house of the sort many immigrants to New England lived in years ago. Said the Associated Press, ``one option would be to peel off one side in the same fashion as a doll house, so visitors could peek in.''

Remember, this column is now accessible through your computer at www.timesleader.net. 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, Times Leader, 15 N. Main St., Wilkes-Barre, PA 18711. E-mail is tmooney@leader.net