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Last updated: April 27. 2014 11:26PM - 1717 Views
Tom Mooney Out on a Limb



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I’ve said often that we genealogists are fortunate to live in a time when more and more valuable information is accessible in our homes via the Internet.


If you’re doing research into ancestors in Plymouth you’re especially fortunate, because a pair of vital old books is now no farther away than your computer.


They are “Historical Sketches of Plymouth” (1873), by Hendrick B. Wright, and “Reminiscences of Plymouth” (1914) by Samuel L. French. They’re full of historical material, including names, dates and facts of all kinds about the borough on the west side of the Susquehanna River as well as the families who’ve lived there.


Following the style of the times in which they were written, neither book has an index included. But each of them opens with a list of chapters and their subjects in detail, making it possible to zero in on a, event, institution or person.


The books are available at the Luzerne County Historical Society as well, and that’s where you’ll have to read them if you want to see their illustrations, which are not reproduced online. The French book has a companion genealogical index in a separate volume, also available at the society. Don’t neglect the society’s family name file.


There’s more good genealogy-related stuff online for the researcher into Plymouth. The Penn State University Library’s website offers Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps for nearly every city and borough in Pennsylvania. Sanborn made these maps in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and sold them to insurance companies trying to assess fire risk. A typical map shows, street by street, all the buildings drawn to scale, with details of construction and their nearness to water lines.


Search for “Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps” and look for the Penn State Library page.


The website has six of these maps for Plymouth, dating from 1884 to 1912. To find an ancestor’s house or place of business, consult the historical society’s magnificent collection of city directories, which cover Plymouth from 1889 to 1990.


While you’re there, you might want to look at James Ellsworth’s two Plymouth miscellanies: “My Hometown, Plymouth, Pa.,” and “A Walk Down Main Street.” If you want to get to know the old Plymouth High School’s fabled sports history (the “Shawnee Indians”), go over to the Osterhout Free Library, also in Wilkes-Barre, whose local history collection has several scrapbooks full of information about high school sports of the past.


It goes without saying that if you’re looking for your ancestors in Plymouth you really have to touch base with the Plymouth Historical Society. The group operates out of a magnificent old Welsh church on Gaylord Avenue. I never cease to be amazed by the material they’ve collected over the years.


The quickest way to their website is a search for “Plymouth Pa. Historical Society.” The site will tell you all about operating hours, events and holdings and will give you contact information.


Few recall them today, but many years ago there were newspapers published in Plymouth. Access the microfilms at the Luzerne County Historical Society. Perhaps the best known Plymouth paper of the 1800s, The Star, is in the society’s newspaper index not under “Plymouth” but under its publisher, a fellow named Barthe.


Looking in the Wilkes-Barre papers? A caution: In microfilm backfiles of the Wilkes-Barre newspapers a good deal of Plymouth news tended to be collected in a section labeled “Plymouth” rather than presented as general-interest news.


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