Times Leader Arts & Entertainment

Old County Records Endangered

October 5, 1997

Times Leader Staff Writer

A local resource vital to genealogists is in danger of vaishing, and the Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society wants to prevent that from happening.

Old Luzerne County records such as those of births, deaths, and wills are stored in the sub-basement of the courthouse under what society President Tammy Lamb calls far from ideal conditions. Others are stored in the former Klein Auto Parts building a block up from the courthouse on North Main St. she wants to devote the society's resources to microfilming all these paper documents, many dating from far back in the 19th century. The county could retain custody.

"If they stay down there much longer they won't be of use anybody." she said recently.

Frank DeSanto, the county's chief administrative support services, says that, yes, indeed there are a lot of old records down here and in some other storage areas as well. But there are two layers of administration involved in their care: the county's row officers,who decide where to store their overflow; and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, which sets the rules about storage and preservation. DeSanto's advice to the society is to send a letter to Chief Clerk/Administrator Eugene Klein making the pitch for microfilming. Klein can take the proposal before the county commissioners for a decision.

Lamb, like a lot of other local people, believes the loss of old records would make it nearly impossible for genealogist to find data such as marriage dates, death dates and property bequests from earlier in the county's history.
"All my family's been here since the 1700's and up," she says.

If the Society is willing to devote the time and money to microfilming, it should write that letter quickly. "After the flood last year there was a lot of disposal of records we weren't required to hold onto," said DeSanto.

  • .............STOP......... She can't talk about her search for ancestors and their descendants without bubbling over. "I love it. I'm very addicted to it," she says, her voice racing.

    Her discovery of genealogy as a pastime happened accidentally about four years ago while she was surfing the Net.

    "Just for the heck of it one day I put in 'Roots.' I said 'Cool, let's see if I can find anything.' "

    That day of exploring the mysteries of America Online led Miller to a broad-based exploration of her past. While most genealogists work on one family line at a time, Miller plunged into all four of hers simultaneously: Altavilla, Leonard, Sweeney and Giordano.

    Miller, a strong proponent of computer-assisted genealogy, says she spends four to five hours a week online. She also visits the Family History Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, in Clarks Summit, and reads as much as she can find about Luzerne County history. "Once you start it you're hooked on it," she says.

    Her results have been impressive. She has traced three of her four family lines back seven generations. Barely a week ago her dogged pursuit of leads turned up a great-great-uncle's obituary with a long-sought reference to the town of the Leonard family's origin in Ireland. And an online phone search led her to find Giordano relatives in New Jersey, people whom the local branch had not had any contact with in 90 years.

    The results of her research are mounting. She has tracked more than 2,000 people on her family tree and continues to store material in computer-accessible format. "Disc after disc after disc," she says. "I swear I've got 400 discs here."

    Of course progress hasn't been entirely smooth. "Sometimes you go through a dry spell and can't find anything," she says. But then there is a discovery such as that of a relationship through the Giordanos with the 1928-1930 Notre Dame quarterback Frank Carideo, and "It kind of makes you feel so proud."

    Miller is a strong believer in genealogy as a family affair. Husband Eric helps her with research, and she enjoys attending the Altavilla reunion every year. Using her computer, she is putting all her findings about the Altavillas into a book which she will copy and distribute. "The whole family has been cooperative," she says. "I drive them nuts."

    What's next for Agnes Miller and her four-front campaign? With leads to the old country now in hand, she is determined to unearth all her ancestors' roots in Italy and Ireland. How many generations she will find there is anybody's guess.

    "It's never-ending," she says. "It really is."

  • Tina Pastusic is looking for descendants of her great-uncle, Joseph Saj, who lived on Coal Street in Wilkes-Barre in the early part of the 20th century.

    Saj, who died in March 1946, had four children: Florence, Josephine, Stella and Joseph. Pastusic would like to find them or their offspring. She does not know if the daughters ever married.

    "I'm looking into church records but haven't come up with anything," she writes.

    A quick look through The Times Leader library failed to turn up anyone named Saj from the Wyoming Valley area.

    If you can help Tina, write to her at P.O. Box 134, Mildred, Pa. 18632.

    My suggestion, Tina, is that since you have a good fix on your great-uncle's address and you know his death date, visit the Wyoming Historical and Geological Society library, on South Franklin Street here in Wilkes-Barre. The Historical Society has a marvelous collection of Wilkes-Barre city directories going back to 1871. Quite possibly you will turn up Joseph Saj and his descendants in those old volumes.

    The society charges just a nominal daily reading fee for a non-member. Located across from Boscov's Department Store, it is open noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

    The society and the nearby Osterhout Free Library also have microfilm copies of the U.S. Census for Luzerne County. The Osterhout has microfilms of Wilkes-Barre newspapers going back to the 1930s, excellent for finding obituaries. Copies of materials are inexpensive.

    I can't say enough good about these two marvelous local resources. Both places are a joy to visit and do research in.

  • News Notes:

  • The National Archives' bulletin for March lists three genealogy workshops. The archives will offer sessions on federal land records, Irish genealogy and passenger records this month.

    For most of us, travel to Washington, D.C., for these three-hour morning sessions would be difficult. But it's possible to gain much of the same information, sometimes by speakers from the National Archives, by attending the workshops given locally by the Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society.

    The society meets at 7 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of the month at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Wilkes-Barre. You don't have to be a member to attend. To join, send $15 to Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society, Inc., P.O. Box 1776, Shavertown, Pa. 18708-0776.

  • Did you have an ancestor among the victims of the Avondale mine disaster of Sept. 6, 1869? This Plymouth Township tragedy took the lives of 108 men and boys, and it left behind 72 widows and 153 orphaned children.

    The Plymouth Historical Society has reprinted four pages of the original newspaper articles on the disaster, covering it from the terrible day itself through the burial of the victims. Send $5 to the Plymouth Historical Society, 115 Gaylord Ave., Plymouth, Pa. 18651. Specify that you would like a copy of the Scranton Weekly Republican.

  • Remember, this column is now accessible through your computer at www.leader.net. 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.

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