After attending the FGS Conference in Philadelphia last month, I took a trip to Luzerne County, Pennsylvania for research. I was working on the James J. Brown family of Pittston and my plan was to retrieve several deeds from the courthouse, check archived local newspapers at the public library, and visit the Luzerne County Historical Society Library.
I did my homework before leaving Colorado, so I knew the hours and addresses of the facilities and had browsed the public library's online catalog. This made the courthouse and public library research go very smoothly.
The Luzerne County Historical Society Library did not have a catalog online or even have a list of resources on their Web site. The library was only open a few hours a day and was closed on Mondays. Because of the limited hours and not knowing what resources it had, I almost skipped my visit there to spend more time at the public library working on newspapers. But, as fate would have it, I decided to check it out. And thank goodness, I did. I found the solution to one of my brick walls there.
The historical society was in an old house, with the library placed in two small rooms with books and cabinets from floor to ceiling. There were two microfilm readers squeezed into a room the size of my hall closet. The library permitted only a pencil, paper, and computers to be brought into the research room. Coats and all bags had to be stored in lockers. As I was signing in, I informed the librarian I was new to the facility and asked if she could give me an orientation. She went over the policies regarding copying, etc., and pointed out the various records available in the library's collection. In ten minutes I was ready to begin my research.
Although small, I found the library was packed with resources, many not available anywhere else. The following are some of the records that I found there: -Local city directories which helped me to pin down and estimate dates.
-Local newspapers on microfilm, some of which the public library did not have. Because of time constraints, I was only able to copy a few obituaries. Next time I'll spend more time looking for other news.
-Local histories, which provided valuable background information about local events and the community in general.
-Indexes of local records, many one of a kind. These indexes were compiled locally by historical society members and were never published. The society is the only repository with copies.
-Index cards for local cemeteries. Although a useful resource, these cards did not include names from all the cemeteries in the county, and the society does not have a list of the cemeteries that are included. One of my goals for the visit was to find burial places. I checked the index, but did not find any of the family members listed.
-Vertical files arranged by topic and surname. Most surnames for the county are represented in these files. I started by just browsing through the files to get a feel for what was included. I observed that the files contained newspaper clippings, genealogy papers from local researchers, copies of research requests, and inquiry letters.
There is no index to the local newspapers, making the vertical files invaluable. It was in these vertical files that I shattered the brick wall by discovering that John Brown was the father of James. All previous research had said that James father was James.
The information was found in a newspaper article written 55 years after the death of James J. Brown. I would have never found it if it had not been placed in the vertical file. The article named his parents and the cemetery where the family was buried. The Brown monument was even described. I used a map at the library to locate the cemetery and drove there later that day. Now that I have the correct name, I will be able to move forward with the research.
Because of limited time in Luzerne County, I was only able to use a fraction of the resources at the society. There were many books, microfilm, maps and photos in the collections that I didn't have time to examine.
As researchers, we often visit large historical society libraries for research while dismissing or overlooking the smaller local libraries, as I almost did in Pennsylvania. There are hundreds of historical society libraries and they contain a wealth of information. Plan to visit one and discover all the treasures that are hidden there.