By Tom Mooney

May 07, 2000

Church office worker Theresa Schubel loves her work.

And that's why genealogists love dealing with people like Theresa Schubel.

The secretary for St. John the Evangelist Church in Pittston has made it her mission to locate, organize and master the parish's old records, many going back well into the 19th century, so that information is close at hand when phone calls and letters come in.

``I just happen to find it very interesting,'' she said. ``And that's why I do it.''

Schubel started her job at the parish office about two years ago. Quickly she sensed the frustration people experienced when they would call or write for information about ancestors and she was not able to find it.

So she plunged into all the old books and papers, familiarizing herself with the records of births, baptisms, confirmations, first communion, marriages and burials - the great mass of written material a church accumulates over the centuries as it brings the sacraments to parishioners.

The task wasn't easy. Records were faded, or written in old-time script that is difficult for modern eyes to decipher. Sometimes a family's name would be spelled two different ways, or a woman's maiden name would go unrecorded.

But Schubel plunged on. No old book escaped her eyes. Long forgotten burial records were placed in plastic sleeves for easier reference. A part-time employee, Schubel even began taking her work home with her, communicating by e-mail with people seeking information from the parish.

``That way, I can put it on the computer and tell them how long I have to take,'' she said. ``They tell me how far they're going with the information they've got. It's really fascinating.''

If anyone is a fan of Theresa Schubel, it's Kevin Hunter, from New York City. Two years ago he called St. John's, trying to find the death date of grandfather James Hunter. On the job only a short time, Schubel was able to find the ancestor's birth and baptism records, but nothing that would indicate when he died.

Recently, Hunter thought he'd give St. John's another try. This time, Schubel's hard-won mastery of the records paid off for him.

``Well, she came upon several books that had been put away for some unknown reason,'' said Hunter. ``So she searched those books and found that they were requests for plots in the parish cemetery. And my grandfather's information was in there.''

To Schubel, finding the key fact is all in a day's work. ``I am more adapted to it now,'' she said. ``I just know better where to go.''

Hunter considers himself blessed to find that genealogist's dream - the go-to person in a records office.

``She's such an asset to that church. They're lucky to have her.''

Genweb updated

Tips: More local cemetery records are being put on Luzerne County Genweb, thanks to the industry of webmaster Tammy Lamb.

Recently she added records from Cedar Crest Cemetery, of Kingston Township, to the site. That is one of the larger cemeteries in the area. When you go into Genweb, look for the section on cemetery information.

Lamb would like any cemetery association or individual holding records not already on Genweb to lend them to her for inclusion on the site. She may be reached at (570) 779-4643.

She's also hoping that genealogists who dip into the online records will be moved to help the caretakers, often part-time workers, at the area's smaller cemeteries by sending Lamb monetary contributions that will be channeled to the cemetery of the donor's choice.

``You might have an elderly couple that goes in to cut the grass, but they don't have much money. The extra cash would enable them to buy a weed cutter or whatever,'' says Lamb.

Readers ask

Queries: ``Could you tell me where I could find out when these photographers list included) were here in Wilkes-Barre?'' Alice Krommes, Plains Township

You can get information on the founding (and sometimes the closing) of many local businesses in the Phillips collection at the Bishop Library of the Luzerne County Historical Society (formerly Wyoming Historical and Geological Society), 49 S. Franklin St., Wilkes-Barre. Here's another source: Older Wilkes-Barre City Directories often contain alphabetized lists of businesses, grouped by type of business (with addresses), in the front. The society has directories from 1871 on. You won't get the complete histories of these businesses, just a few dates. But if you're trying to place a business in time, that could be some help.

Chief apparel

Local History Moment: Police chiefs of years past sure weren't afraid to look spiffy. When the Wilkes-Barre Police Department adopted special summer uniforms in the 1920s, the chief was given his own unique design. It was pure white, like a Navy officer's uniform, with blue epaulettes and gold braid. While most of the rest of the force wore standard blue, traffic officers were outfitted in khaki.

Restoration celebration

News Notes: The restoration of Plymouth's Shawnee Cemetery will be celebrated big-time on Memorial Day, with rededication services at the cemetery beginning at 11 a.m. and a picnic from noon to 3 p.m. The cleanup project, spearheaded by Janice Williams and the General Federation of Women's Clubs, has been ongoing for several years and is continuing every other Saturday morning. The Memorial Day event will have a strong 19th-century aura, befitting the 130-year-old cemetery, with Civil War re-enactors and a rededication of the 1860s-era artillery pieces on a Civil War veterans' burial site, organizers say. Cemetery records will be available for people who want to find ancestors' burial places. Local author Peter Tomasak will be on hand to autograph copies of his new book ``The Civil War Journal of Avery Harris.'' Family-style entertainment will be offered as well. Earlier, at 9:30 a.m., the borough is scheduled to hold its first Memorial Day parade in many years, along Main Street. Keep an eye on the paper for more details.

Miscellaneous notes

The list of Northeastern Pennsylvania coal mining accidents recently placed on Luzerne County Genweb has proved to be a big hit with researchers. One genealogist used it and sent an e-mail to me barely two hours after the list appeared. Have any suggestions for other bodies of material you'd like to see on Genweb? Contact me (postal mail and e-mail addresses below). I'll find out if such material exists and if compiling it is practical.

Remember ``Roots,'' the book and TV miniseries that is credited with sparking a modern boom in genealogy? The researcher who helped author Alex Haley find evidence of his ancestor Kunta Kinte landing in America has died. Phebe Robinson Jacobsen was 78. Researching at the Maryland State Archives, Jacobsen found in a 1767 newspaper an ad containing a mention of Kinte, ``the inspiration for Haley's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1976 historical novel, which traced 10 generations of his family from Gambia to the United States,'' the Associated Press reported.

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