Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Visiting the O'Malley Homeland in the Scranton Area

In June of 2012, I combined a couple projects to travel back East.  I had won a Mother's Day writing contest conducted by "Mocavo" and the prize was a consultation in Boston with Michael Leclerc, former chief genealogist at the New England Historic Genealogical Society and currently the same position with the genealogy web site, Mocavo.  I was also taking my grandson back to the Naval Academy for their summer Water Polo Camp.  Since the camp was five days I dropped Ryan off at Annapolis and headed for the Scranton, Pennsylvania area. My gggrandparents, Peter and Julia O'Malley/Malia/Mally, settled in Wayne County, immediately West of Scranton around 1848, remained there until about 1867 and then moved from Pennsylvania to Mason County, Illinois in 1880.  

I had never been to Scranton; but had performed a lot of research, both on-line and via correspondence with various sources in the area.  My primary goals were to visit the Wayne County Genealogical Society Library and to meet with two Catholic Church archivists in Scranton.    I was about 50% successful.  After dropping Ryan off around 9 a.m. in Annapolis, I drove as fast as safety permitted to try and get to Honesdale, PA prior to the closing of the Wayne County Genealogical Society's library.  It was on a Sunday and I had checked their hours on the internet.  I arrived about 3 p.m., which left me about 1.5 hours for research--I thought!  I hadn't read the fine print and on Sunday's the library isn't open--only the museum.  However, the trip wasn't a total loss as I got to see the Honesdale area and, enroute back to Scranton, passed through Salem Township, which was listed as Peter and Julia's residence during the 1860 census.  

Above is the main intersection of Salem Township.  It wasn't much more than a wide spot in the road as I traversed several miles of  heavily wooded area such as depicted in the photo below, I tried to imagine Peter and his family traveling these same roads, albeit dirt--not paved, over 160 years ago in a horse drawn wagon.  Gazing upon the heavily forested area, I speculated that their move to Scranton in 1867 might have been heavily influenced by the difficulty of trying to farm this hilly, heavily forested land.  Scranton was a booming mining and railroad area about that time, and I am sure Peter heard from his friends in Scranton about job opportunities in the mines.  The 1860 census listed Peter's occupation as "Farmer" and the 1870 census as "miner".  

The following day I had an appointment in Scranton with the archivist at St. Peter's Cathedral, which was the headquarters for the diocese.  I had been corresponding with Barbara, the archivist, for several months.  
St. Peter's Cathedral

Barbara had found a record of the baptism of Peter and Julia's oldest child, John.  According to the records, he was born in Scranton in March 1855 and baptized in May.  In correspondence a few weeks earlier, Barbara suggested I contact Holy Mary Mother of God (also known as Holy Rosery) Parish, because it was know as the "Irish Catholic Church" in the 1800s when Peter and Julia had lived in the area.  This proved to be a good tip because, just days prior to my trip, I received work back from their archivist, Carrie, that she had found baptismal records for Sara, Ellen and Michael.

When I met with Barbara she thought it very unusual that there was not a baptismal record for Walter, who was born between Sara and Ellen.  She told me I should tell Carrie to go back through the records again to find Walter's record.  Barbara was convinced that Carrie had missed it.  

Mary Mother of God Parish, Scranton, Pennsylvania

I went directly over to visit with Carrie after my meeting with Barbara.  Carrie was a relatively new archivist and, possibly because of a heavy workload, not nearly as friendly and accommodating as Barbara.  I decided that I was lucky to have gotten what I had, so didn't push her to look again to find Walter's records.  

 Above is the neighborhood area near Mary Mother of God Parish, showing housing typical of what might have been experienced by Peter and his family.

Steamtown Museum Scranton, Pennsylvania

Not only was Scranton a major mining area, it was also the headquarters for some of the more prominent railroads in the area.  The 1879-80 City Directory for Scranton listed Peter's occupation as "Railroad", so I decided a tour of the museum might be informative and helpful.  It is a wonderful museum and, transitioning from the mines to working for the railroad, was probably a very logical progression for Peter.  Since, Peter and his family moved to Illinois in 1880, where his occupation was also listed as "railroad", I surmise that the railroad might have been the means of transportation for the family from Scranton to Illinois.  Peter went back to farming when he got to Illinois, so his plan might have been to work for the railroad just long enough to make the move.

That evening as I checked my e-mails prior to departing for Boston the next morning, I noted that Barbara had sent an e-mail to Carrie suggesting that she look again at her records to see if she could find Walter.  She was convinced Carrie had missed the record and was like a bulldog in pursuing it!  

After spending most of the day driving from Scranton to Boston, I checked into my hotel near my meeting place with Michael the next day.  Having some time prior to dinner, I checked my laptop for e-mails.  It immediately caught my eye that there was a response from Carrie to Barbara.  She had looked again for Walter's baptismal record and found it!  Barbara and her intuition were correct.  

I think there are a couple lessons to be learned from this experience.  Whenever, we or others, conduct a record search and don't find anything, it doesn't necessarily mean the record wasn't there.  When you consider the millions of searches conducted almost every day throughout the genealogical community, it should be easy to recognize that they aren't all perfect and errors can be made.  

Secondly, don't underestimate the value of "the personal touch".  I had developed a great relationship with Barbara, both through e-mail/snail-mail correspondence and my visit with her.  Even thought she was a very dedicated archivist, I don't think she would have gotten as involved helping me with my search if it hadn't been for that good rapport.  I had been careful to include a check with any of my requests for assistance.  I also gave her a check for the diocese the day I met with her and always went out of my way to thank her for all her assistance.  

Having been in Scranton and Wayne County and traversed through the areas where Peter and his family lived; I definitely have a much better appreciation for the social, terrain, distance and other physical challenges they faced.  The trip was well worth the time!