Persistence, questions can pay off
By TOM MOONEY
Times Leader Staff Writer
Ever feel like throwing up your hands and conceding that your pursuit of information is hopeless ?
Well dont do it just yet. Listen to the tail of Patricia Krivack, of Dupont, who has been doing genealogy for only about two years but who quickly ran
into the difficulties of overseas research.
" By way of advice," said Krivak "don't give up. Think a way around the problem. Don't be afraid to ask questions."
But Krivak's job is far from finnished. She continues to expand her research along many fronts. One branch of her family she is studying is the Johnson family, one of whose members, Dr. Frederick C. Johnson, became a part owner of the Wilkes Barre Record newspaper in the 1880's.
She would also love to get her hands on the old Bulford family Bible, crucial to her study of her grandmothers family. This Bible, she says contains family information unavailable in Luzerne County sources of the 19th century, but no relative she's contacted knows who has it today.
Krivak's interest in genealogy was sparked by happy memories of family reunions and a conversation with a sister at Christmas a few years ago. "From there I decided I didnt want another day to go by without writing something down for my children," she said. "If you had told me two years ago I would be going through cemeteries I would have said you were crazy."
City directories, those compendiums of who lived or did business where, can be like a trip back in time for someone doing genealogical research. Their main purpose, though is more scientific.
Since way back in the 19th century, these big volumes have been published for American communities large and small. They list residents alphabetically, just as a telephone book does. But unlike the phone book, they forgo the phone numbers and instead list spouces, occupations and, frequently, older children. Businesspeople, journalists and vote casters all find them indispensable.
To the genealogist, a city directory of years past is a treasure trove of information about ancestors and a basic tool of research. It was through old copies of the Wilkes Barre City Directory that I found my great-grandparents living on South Hancock St. in Wilkes Barre Heights section in the 1800's and figured out which yearsof the U.S. census to check. It was through pages of the Ogdensburg, N.Y., City directory mailed to me by a librarian that I was able to trace the life of my long lost great-great-uncle, William Kirk, and get a line on his death date.
Where do you find these marvelous books? The Osterhout Free Library in Wilkes Barre, has some of them for the Wilkes Barre area. those from 1884 to 1901 are on microfilm. The library has scattered bound copies stretching from 1908-09 to the present. They're in the reference room available to all.
An even larger collection is kept at the Wyoming Historical and Geological Society's library, just two doors up from the Osterhout. The Historical Society has directories from 1871 to the present, with just a few small gaps. You must become a member or pay a daily reading fee to use the society's resources. Both libraries will help you to copy the fragile old books.
I've found that out of town research librarians will help you by photocoping pages from their for a fee and mailing them to you. Some librarians have all their directories on microfilm and give me the information over the phone. But generally you will call the appropriate library, talk to the librarian, let him/her know what you want and get a price. Then send in your request by mail. You might have to wait some weeks for a reply.
City directories have some limitations. They tend to be strong on urban population centers, often ignoring suburban and rural areas. Publishers sometimes skip years; there has been no new Wilkes Barre City Directory since 1993. Back in the 19th century these male oriented publications generally did not list wives. They are expensive volumes for libraries to purchase. The latest Wilkes Barre directory carries a listed price tag of $150.00.
But they can be very very helpful-- sometimes substituting for a trip to another state.
They are also enlighting to read, giving insight into daily life of a long vanished society. The 1878-79 Wilkes Barre directory carried
a notice that John Mahoney's emporium also sold "baled hay." If you had an ancestor in the Wilkes Barre Maennerchor singing group, you'll learn that ancestor would likely have spent his Tuesday and Friday evenings rehearsing at Landmesser's Hall, on South Main Street. Among the educational institutions of the day were the "South Street Colored School" and the "Wilkes Barre Female Institute."
For better or worse the old city directories are our own history.
Eileen E. Matthews, of Frackville, is trying to get in touch with anyone who can help her research her great-uncle, George Oakum, who moved to Wilkes Barre from Schuykill County in the late 1880s. Contact her at: 342 S. Lehigh Ave. Frackville Pa. 17931-2210.
Tom Mooney, The Times Leader, 15 N. Main St., Wilkes Barre Pa. 18711