Sunday, November 18, 2001




   As always around the holiday season, thoughts turn to family. We write out cards and letters and wrap gifts to send to far-flung relatives, and we eagerly await their updates about births, marriages and new homes or jobs.

   So what better time of year to let our extended families know about

our genealogical researches?

   It doesn't take long to write up a brief summary of what you've learned about your family over the past year. Perhaps you've finally discovered when great-great-grandfather came to the Wilkes-Barre area.

Or maybe you've found out at long last where great-aunt Mary moved to after she got married. Your summary doesn't have to be a finished product, or even very lengthy. No genealogy is ever fully completed.

   If you don't want to write out separate accounts for all your relatives, write up a single one and photocopy it yourself at a local business supply store at 5 or 10 cents a page. That's far less than you pay for the card and stamp you're sending it with. If you use a computer, it's a simple matter of hitting the ``print'' button.

   It doesn't matter if you've concentrated on just one line of your family. Write to those relatives. You can pick up the other lines for later years.

   Not sure what to say? There's an almost endless amount of material you can write about or include. Have you finally established the Austro-Hungarian province that your first American ancestors came from?

What about the Civil War paperwork from the National Archives? Relatives who have done little or no genealogy themselves could be quite excited to see an actual page from an old census showing their family as it existed a century ago.

   Besides brightening your relatives' holidays, there is a hidden purpose. Genealogy is a family activity. Nearly everyone you can contact knows something about your family that you don't know. You will be setting up a dialogue and not only passing on information but eventually collecting information as well.

   The relative you write to this year could be the very one who next spring sends you a packet of old photos, birth certificates and newspaper clippings that fill in gaps and give you whole new research avenues to follow.

   Many people today have their own family Web sites to which relatives all over America contribute. E-mail has become a basic way of staying in touch. But computers are not yet universal, and so a network of people using simple, inexpensive postal mail to communicate family information is still highly valuable. That's what you will be creating.

   As this holiday season approaches, consider doing something truly memorable for your scattered relatives. Give them the best gift of all - the gift of their family's history. It is a gift that will come back to you as a genealogist many-fold.

Genweb update

   The Luzerne County Genweb list of area place names has been expanded, thanks to New Jersey researcher Graham Van Slyke Jr., and Tammy Lamb. The list now includes 716 historic names, forgotten names and current names for the communities, neighborhoods and sections of the area - which, as any local genealogist will tell you, can be confusing.

   The list is important because many old town and sectional names that genealogists find in documents have faded into history, and because people in Luzerne County have long had a habit of identifying  themselves by neighborhood or other names which often do not appear on maps.

   ``As for the additions to the list, I'm sure here are more names in the county to add,'' writes Van Slyke. ``But it will take the community of genealogical researchers at large to uncover them. I just hope that they will bring new finds to our attention for the benefit of others.''

   Each of the place names on the page contains coordinates for plotting the name on the Luzerne County map that accompanies the list.

   Additions or corrections may be forwarded to this column.


   Q. Joan Flanagan Quinnan is looking for information on the explosion at the Eagle Shaft of Pittston in 1866. Her great-grandfather Thomas F. Flanagan was one of the six men killed there.

   A. Joan, you are right in saying that little attention has been paid to that incident in comparison to the larger 1871 disaster at the same shaft. Books and online sources alike neglect it. So you might want to look through newspapers from that time for articles. Fortunately there are some old weeklies readily available on microfilm. The Times Leader Library has one paper that was publishing in 1866 - the Luzerne Union.

The Luzerne County Historical Society has the Pittston Gazette for that year. If you can narrow your search down to at least the right month, you will save a lot of time at the microfilm reader. Also, take a look at any histories of Pittston you can find. Anyone who can help may contact Quinnan at .

   Q. ``I'm looking for cemetery records for Dennison Cemetery, Forty Fort and Pittston Cemetery.''   Ray MacDonald

   A. Ray, the Luzerne County Genweb has a Luzerne County Cemetery Contact List that offers addresses and phone numbers for all three of those facilities. Just look in the Genweb's menu board. The list is far from exhaustive, but it contains many of the area's larger cemeteries.

Local history moment.

   The volunteers who do everything from coaching youth sports to serving on ambulance crews deserve far more commendation than they get.

But did you ever wonder who got the local volunteerism ball rolling by becoming the first person to help his Wyoming Valley community? A good nominee would be Swiss immigrant John Michael Keinzle, who arrived in Wilkes-Barre in 1802 and immediately decided to pitch in for the public good. So Keinzle appointed himself peace officer and weighmaster. He also took over the job of sexton and helper at the city's sole church, on Public Square, and rang the curfew bell in the evening. His reward?

He never took any money, but he made such an impression on the young community that several generations spoke of him simply and reverently as ``Old Michael.''

News notes

    The Genealogical Research Society of Northeastern Pa. will meet from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday. Meetings are held in the Community Room of Lackawanna Heritage Apartments (the former Olyphant High School), 211 Susquehanna Ave., Olyphant. John Buberniak will speak about the  Delaware and Hudson gravity railroad. Admission is free. Call (570) 383-7661.

    The Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society will not meet this month.

    One of our area's great resources - the Luzerne County Historical Society's collection of Wilkes-Barre City Directories - is getting some attention. The Luzerne Foundation, a charitable organization, has given the society a grant to preserve and improve its collection, according to a recent news story. The directories, which go back to 1870, are highly useful for locating and tracking area families. But age and heavy use are taking a toll on the old volumes. The grant, whose size was not announced, was part of $30,000 given to various worthy area institutions.

    Remember, this column is now accessible through your computer at and on the Luzerne County Genweb.

    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.