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Last updated: March 01. 2013 8:04PM - 2489 Views

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One of the most common questions on local genealogy query boards is an apparently simple one: “How did (blank) Street get its name.”

Some answers are pretty obvious: “Main Street” is almost inescapable as the name for the central street of a town; “Railroad Street” would have led to and from a rail station or maybe paralleled a set of tracks. “Lincoln Street?” Well, I’ll give you three guesses.

What most genealogists are trying to figure out when they ask that question, though, is whether a street is named for one of their ancestors. Streets get their names through formal acts by municipal governments. Unfortunately, routine governmental records like that are buried away and for the most part have never been indexed.

Still, there are some resources available for the genealogist who wants to know if XYZ Street was really named for great-great-grandfather Hiram XYZ who owned farmland there in the early 1800s, or for some interloper with that name.

One good resource is the set of notebooks compiled by Edward Phillips, available at the Luzerne County Historical Society. The volumes on Luzerne County cities, townships and boroughs are subdivided by municipality, and in most of those subsections there is some information on street names.

Booklets published for the centennials of local communities (mostly from the 1950s through the 1990s) sometimes reference street names, as do the standard local histories – too many to name here, but available in local libraries.

What if you can’t find the street today? Perhaps the name changed. I got lucky when I found this item. In the early 1930s Wilkes-Barre announced a massive street renaming program, necessitated by a large number of duplicate street names when the city absorbed the boroughs of Parsons and Miners Mills. Then too, some streets disappear, victims of urban redevelopment. Historic maps will help.

It would be nice if there could be a single source called “How the Streets of Our Area Got Their Names.” That, I think, could be a good (though time-consuming) school history project. That’s a hint, teachers. Perhaps the project could narrow down to street names in a community or section of the county, such as Pittston or the West Side.

Genealogy Conference: Don’t forget to register for “Finding Our Ancestors at Home and Abroad,” the genealogy conference sponsored by the Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society and the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania. It will be held April 20 in the Educational Conference Center on the campus of Luzerne County Community College.

For a full discussion of the individual speakers’ topics, a schedule of the day’s events as well as the registration form, go to www.genpa.org. Registration is $55 until April 11. I’ll be spending much of the day there, visiting with local genealogists.

Genealogy Class: I will offer the first of my “Getting Started in Genealogy” classes for the year in April. The session will be held 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on April 13, a Saturday, at the West Pittston Library. It’s free, but seating is limited. The library is at 200 Exeter Avenue. Call (570) 654-9847 to reserve a seat. This will be my first appearance at West Pittston since the library was refurbished after it suffered extensive damage in the 2011 flood.

News & Notes: The Luzerne County Historical Society’s research facility, the Bishop Memorial Library, will reopen after its annual February break on Tuesday, March 5. The library’s hours are noon-4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday.


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