Sunday, October 14, 2001
OUT ON A LIMB
OPENING A CYBERPATH TO THE PAST
So you know that grandpa was proud of helping produce ``blue coal'' for his employer, the Glen Alden company, but you're not sure what blue coal was. Isn't all coal black?
And, in a nostalgic mood, you wonder what the ``Hotel Redington,'' where your great-great-aunt worked as a chambermaid nearly a century ago, looked like.
It's been said many times that the computer might as well have been invented for genealogists because we use it so much. Unraveling the secrets of our ancestors' employment at companies that have shut down,
moved or changed their names - no less than other topics - can become a lot easier when we log on, search, and point and click.
Railroads, now pretty much vanished, were a major employer in Northeast Pennsylvania from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries. Go to one of the popular search engines, such as Google or Yahoo, put in
``Lehigh Valley Railroad'' and up will pop more than 2,000 Web sites for you to check out.
The ``Semi-Official Lehigh Valley Web Site'' by James Mack, for instance, offers a history of the line, photos, description of its rolling stock and a list of books for additional information. Go to ``Lehigh Valley Railroad'' by John W. Campbell and you will find maps, track diagrams and a link to the Railroad Retirement Board, a limited but useful source of records.
Along the way you'll learn the difference between a ``Mountain'' and a ``Wyoming'' (they're types of steam engines) and see pictures of many of the long-gone stations.
Search ``Stegmaier Brewery,'' another big employer here for decades, and you will encounter a history by J. Anthony Pompa as well as numerous sites offering collectibles. Even if you're not into buying memorabilia, the photos will give you an idea of the culture in which your ancestor worked every day at the big brick complex at East Market and Baltimore streets in Wilkes-Barre.
Of course, you won't find every employer, or even every large employer, mentioned in your search. Lots of times you'll come up empty, or nearly so.
On the other hand, there's a treasure trove of data on the Glen Alden Coal Co. A site maintained by the Lackawanna and Wyoming Valley Rail Historical Society tells how the company dyed its coal blue as a
promotional gimmick. (Other producers dyed their coal red, gold or other colors.) A site known as ``Capt'n Clint's Place,'' by Clint Chamberlain, offers photos of Glen Alden's and other companies' breakers.
And what about the Hotel Redington, which is now part of the Genetti complex in downtown Wilkes-Barre? Capt'n Clint offers a 1907 photo of the building when it was the crown jewel of Wilkes-Barre's hotel row on East Market Street.
As you've certainly gathered, the World Wide Web can't tell us everything about our ancestors' jobs or other topics we're researching.
Web sites contain only the information that someone has taken the trouble to put there. Other sources - historical societies, libraries, newspapers and government offices - remain as vital to the genealogist
But don't neglect cyberspace. If you're not quite sure how to handle a computer, find out if a nearby library or adult education program is offering training sessions. Computer prices, incidentally, are only a
fraction of what they were 15 years ago.
Ironic, isn't it, that our newest great invention can sometimes be a window into the world of the past?
Tips Check out the collection of family files at the Luzerne County Historical Society's Bishop Memorial Library. It could be that someone has already traced some of your ancestors. The society welcomes
additions anytime. Write up your family history and submit it to Genealogy Family Files, c/o Luzerne County Historical Society, 49 S. Franklin St., Wilkes-Barre, PA 18701. Who knows - maybe a relative out
there with valuable information of his or her own will be able to connect with you because of the material you've sent in.
Local History Moment
The next time you attend a high school football game, notice how many reserves each team has on its bench. Probably plenty, right? And probably a lot of them get in the game. It wasn't that way years ago. In
1929, Larksville High School racked up a 9-0 record and captured the championship of the Wyoming Valley Conference with an iron-man squad - 11 players who played the whole season and never left the field. Coach Arnold Kraft's team scored 193 points, a hefty total in those days, and drew 11,000 fans for the game in which it clinched the title, a 30-7 thrashing of Coughlin, a much bigger Wilkes-Barre school. One member of Larksville's '29 team, Joe ``Muggsy'' Skladany, would go on to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers of the NFL.
The Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society will hold its October meeting at 7 p.m. on Oct. 23. Speaker Henry Janoski, who has written his family history and compiled information in Poland, will discuss his research. Meetings are held in the second-floor meeting room of the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Plains Township, near Wyoming Valley Mall. You don't have to be a member to attend.
The Genealogical Research Society of Northeastern Pennsylvania will offer a celebration of Family History Month from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, with guest ``Phoebe Snow.'' The event, including ethnic food tasting and ancestor stories, is scheduled for the community room of the Lackawanna Heritage Apartments, 211 Susquehanna Ave., Olyphant. You don't have to be a member to attend.
The Lycoming County Genealogical Society will host its third annual Family History Day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 27. The activities will be at the Lycoming County Historical Museum, 858 W. Fourth St.,
Williamsport. There is no charge.
Present to explain their services will be representatives of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania; the historical societies of Muncy, East Lycoming, Sullivan County, Clinton County, Northumberland County
and Montour County; and the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution. Creative Memories will offer tips on preserving and arranging family photos. Civil War historian Robert Ulrich will show how
to locate your Civil War veteran ancestor. And the James V. Brown Library staff will explain the library's services. Contact Kathy Heiman at (570) 546-2126.
Wilkes-Barre's historic Hollenback Cemetery will be the site of 90-minute, guided tours at 1:30 and 4 p.m. Oct. 21 and 6:30 p.m. Oct. 24 (candlelight tour, small flashlights permitted). The tours are sponsored
by the Luzerne County Historical Society and the Hollenback Cemetery Association. A $5 donation is requested. There will be no parking in the cemetery. To register, contact the society at (570) 823-6244 or stop by at 49 S. Franklin St., Wilkes-Barre. For more information, go to the society's Web site at www.luzernecountyhistory.com.
More than 50 people attended my two ``Getting Started in Genealogy'' sessions in Boscov's Campus of Courses earlier this month. Don't worry if you missed them. I expect to be offering two more free sessions early next year. Watch your Times Leader for Boscov's two-page ad in December and January.
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
Tom Mooney, Times Leader, 15 N. Main St., Wilkes-Barre, PA 18711.
E-mail is mailto:email@example.com