Researcher hits jackpot traveling Net

May 31, 1998

Times Leader Correspondent

To Patricia Stanko, the information age is the best of times to be alive and searching for ancestors.

In her first experience doing genealogy, the Rochester, N.Y., woman with local roots hit paydirt big-time when she turned to her computer for help in finding her grandfather's origins in Croatia.

The search wasn't easy, and it would have taxed the patience of many a genealogist. But Stanko's experience shows that making a plan and sticking to it can bring great benefits. She's a devoted fan of computer-assisted genealogy.

"I think the whole Internet system has improved genealogy tremendously," she said.

Curious about the old-world origins of her deceased grandfather, Joseph Stanko, Patricia Stanko set to work on her computer, doing search after search all over the Internet for sources that could help her.

Finally she found a Croatian homepage. So she posted a message, listing her grandfather's name, marriage and 1901 arrival from Bremen, Germany, at the port of Baltimore.

Beyond that scanty data, and the fact that he had settled in Swoyersville, she had nothing to identify Joseph Stanko or his 19th-century relatives in what was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

"We knew they were farmers," said Patricia Stanko. "That's all."

There were no replies.

But Stanko was undaunted. For four months she kept patiently reposting the message and checking for replies.

Then, from far-off Croatia itself, "Doc" stepped in. Communicating under a pseudonym, the Croatian man found Stanko's message and realized that she was apparently trying to reach the family of his old friend and army buddy Stepan Mihalic, of Podbreze.

"Doc" then notified Mihalic, who after verification turned out to be the grandson of Joseph Stanko's brother Ivan. With the help of the man whom Stanko pronounces "a godsend," two branches of the family separated by time, distance and culture were reunited.

The story doesn't end there. Stanko doesn't know Croatian, and "Doc" and cousin Stepan don't know English. So the families must communicate through translators.

But Stanko still has big plans. She is working on a letter to Stepan, while "Doc" has prepared a family tree.

Her advice to other genealogists is simple. Get on your computer, search and keep updating your messages.

"I figure you're going to find something."

The files of old local beneficial organizations could hold real gems of information -- if those files still exist.

Many organizations arose in the 19th century to help newly arrived immigrants of various ethnic groups adjust to life in America. Often they provided insurance in those days when work was perilous. Disability and death were common on the job, and there were no government social programs. Some offered help to immigrants whose English was poor.

Take, for instance, the "Emeralds," or "Emerald Beneficial Society." According to old copies of the Wilkes-Barre City Directory, the apparently numerous Emeralds had three lodges in the city during the 1880s and 1890s and another in Kingston. Their twice-monthly meeting schedule suggests that they played significant roles in the lives of their members, the area's Irish.

They certainly generated paperwork -- perhaps applications with biographical information, notes from meetings, letters. But no mention of the group turns up after 1900 in the sources I have consulted. So what happened to the Emeralds? Did they merge with a larger Irish group, such as the Ancient Order of Hibernians? Did they just close up shop?

This mystery points to the need of all social, community and beneficial associations to protect their records and deposit them with libraries and historical societies when they no longer want them or when the groups dissolve.

Can anyone who knows whatever happened to the records of now-defunct groups like the Emeralds contact me on their whereabouts? I'm sure many people would find them very useful.

Looking for a way to get all your relatives involved in your search for ancestors? Gahrad Harvey of Talcott Hill Farm in the Shickshinny area has an idea for you.

Harvey recently sent me a copy of the family genealogy newsletter he has mailed to fellow descendants of Samuel David and Wisteria Clarissa Talcott.

It's a three-page summary of his recent genealogical work, and it includes a request for the relatives to send him information about themselves and their families. The periodic sharing of information with family members is the best way to get your whole family, far and near, involved in the information collecting process and the discovery of their roots.

"This is a start which has already generated support and information from a few aunts and cousins," Harvey writes.

Now that's the way to go.

News Notes:

People doing research into the history of Pittsburgh-area railroading in search of their ancestors will soon have a treasure trove at their disposal. Surviving files of the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad have been turned over to the University of Pittsburgh, where researchers will be able to look at them once they are catalogued.

"The boxes are crammed with employee job applications, labor union agreements, maps, blueprints, accident reports and other documents -- some as old as 1870," said an Associated Press article. "They give a hint of the men whose sweat helped keep the region's economy moving."

Wyoming Valley had several railroads in the 19th and early 20th centuries -- the Lehigh Valley, the Jersey Central, the Delaware and Hudson, the Lackawanna. What ever happened to their materials?

  • Remember, this column is now accessible through your computer at Then click on "Arts and Entertainment."

  • 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.

    © 1998 The Times Leader