Sunday, October 8, 2000

Two resources, crafted more than a century apart, make an interesting pair. Both offer help to the genealogist, though in radically different ways.

The more modern of the two is the U.S. government's new consolidated Web site. Said the Associated Press as it was unveiled recently, ``The one-stop Internet site consolidates 20,000 government Web sites - some 27 million Web pages - into one.''

Does it ever.

Key in and you will get a homepage that offers you access to sites for the major government departments and - more important to genealogists - a keyword search. This means you can type in a category of information you are looking for and get a listing of federal sites dealing with that information.

Of course you have to pare down your topic search and look for something as particular as possible. Type in ``Civil War'' and you get 48,716 places where it turns up.

But type in ``Civil War Pensions'' and you get a page telling you how to request your ancestor's pension records from the National Archives, the exact form you must file and information on how to identify his regiment. Experiment with topics until you find what you are looking for. Optional pages of instructions and tips along the way make the going easier.

Incidentally, the U.S. government site also gets you into state and municipal sites galore. The Pennsylvania site offers you, among other things, the forms for requesting birth and death records.

The older resource, published back in the 1890s, is a pair of books by S.R. Smith offering biographical and genealogical data on scores of prominent Luzerne County residents of that era.

``The Wyoming Valley in 1892.'' Local historian Smith put nearly 200 short biographies of businessmen, clergy and other professional men into this volume. They range from the well-known (Gov. Henry M. Hoyt) to the locally significant (Christian Walter, the German immigrant who founded a Wilkes-Barre shoe store that stood on South Main Street for more than a century).

Smith includes background on prominent churches and other institutions, a survey of Wyoming Valley history and a special section on prominent men of Kingston. He concludes with a selection of poetry by local writers of his day.

The book has a generous selection of photographs of the people Smith writes about, and of many major buildings. But most of them are about the size of postage stamps, with identifications best read under a magnifying glass.

``The Wyoming Valley in the Nineteenth Century.'' Smith's next book, published in 1894, offers many more biographies of the prominent, the rich and the famous.

Ever wonder who Frederic Corss was - that man whose name still graces a school building abandoned by Kingston more than 50 years ago? He's in there. So is Isaac Long, founder of the department store that stood on Wilkes-Barre's Public Square until the 1970s.

Smith gives us a summary of the community's 19th-century history, including sometimes-quirky evaluations of the incoming immigrant groups. (``The Poles and Lithuanians ... are a progressive people and look down on the Hungarians''). As unpredictable as before, he also tosses in biographies of everyone buried in the Hanover Green Cemetery.

Antiquarians take notice. He offers a house-by-house listing of the local population a century earlier.

Photos - lots of them, but they make the pictures in his earlier volume look like billboards.

Unlike the government's Web site, Smith's books are a bit difficult to get hold of. The Hoyt Library in Kingston has a copy of ``The Wyoming Valley in the 19th Century,'' while the Luzerne County Historical Society has a copy of ``The Wyoming Valley in 1892.'' The copies are reference works and do not circulate.

The huge Web site and the Smith books demonstrate a great truth of genealogy. You can't limit yourself to a single range of materials as you pursue your family history. If you keep up to date on technological developments while simultaneously exploring the libraries and historical societies, you will have a far greater chance of finding that breakthrough piece of information.

Local History Moment: Did great-granddaddy check out a line of dancing girls when he took the trolley to downtown Wilkes-Barre on ``business''? The sparkling new Luzerne Theatre opened in the third block of South Main Street in 1908 and immediately began bringing to town acts with names like ``Pat White's Gaiety Girls'' and ``The Cherry Blossoms.'' The shows drew good crowds, but not everyone was pleased. In 1912 the house and company managers and a dancer were hauled before the mayor, where they were fined and forced to change their program. Within a few months the Luzerne converted to a movie and vaudeville theater and changed its name to the Majestic. Still, the city closed it briefly after a performance of ``Laffin Through 1923.'' Soon under new ownership it became the Irving and offered a more staid mix of movies, vaudeville, music and plays until it closed in 1942. The long-dark theater was torn down in 1957.

News Notes: There is a slight change in finding this column online. Now, when you go into the Times Leader's Web site of, scroll down and look for ``Generations'' under ``Special Sections'' on the left. As usual, ``Generations'' will get you into the column as well as the Luzerne County Genweb and other valuable sites.

I'll be offering an introduction to genealogy next Sunday from 1 to 3 p.m. in the fourth-floor auditorium of Boscov's Department Store, in Wilkes-Barre. It's free. Stop in and visit with your fellow local genealogists. Remember to bring a lot of questions. At 7 p.m. on Tuesday, the 17th, I'll offer a program at the Kirby Library, on Kirby Avenue in Fairview Township.

The Census Bureau is celebrating success. ``Of 120 million forms mailed, 67 percent were returned, the Census Bureau has said, beating an expected 61 percent response rate,'' the Associated Press reports. ``That meant fewer non-responding households for census-takers to track down - the most expensive part of the operation.''

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