Monthly Archives: May 2012

Obstacles to Genealogy Research

A genealogical friend from Eastern Pennsylvania asked me recently what I might consider to be obstacles to research in Western Pennsylvania. I think that the number of minor civil divisions, neighborhood names, unincorporated villages, and railroad names that researchers encounter in Pittsburgh and Western PA is the biggest headache that many of my patrons deal with.

Unlike Philadelphia, Allegheny County still has 130 active minor civil divisions (cities, boroughs, townships). The City of Pittsburgh itself grew by annexation, so researchers are always finding references to long-gone places like Birmingham, East Birmingham, Temperanceville, McClure Township, Ormsby, Monongahela Borough, South Pittsburgh, West Pittsburgh, Allegheny City, etc. in their research. There were even two locations called Duquesne!

Pittsburgh in 1902, from the Library of Congress American Memory Collection.

The Pittsburgh city wards were re-numbered several times, most notably when Pittsburgh absorbed Allegheny City in 1907, which resulted in a major shift between the 1900 and 1910 census enumerations. Many duplicating street names in the two cities were changed at that time as well. Also, Pittsburgh has 89 (more or less!) neighborhood names still used within the city. Then we have the old unincorporated places in Pittsburgh such as Bayardstown, Cowansville, Minersville, Riceville, Sidneyville, Sligo, etc.

There are many similar place names in Allegheny County as well: post office names, railroad station names, clusters of houses with names which pop up on documents to confuse the researcher, such as Bakerstown, Barking, Ferguson, Library, Linhart, Option, Semple, Wildwood, and many, many more. The best thing researchers can do for themselves is make friends with maps – both current maps and maps of the time periods they are researching! Then, if they have a question, they should just call us; we can usually steer them in the right direction, right away.

Sometimes it’s as simple as interpreting old handwriting. I had a patron looking for “Millersville Cemetery” the other day, but I knew that wasn’t right. I looked at the document in his hand and saw that it was “Minersville Cemetery” instead. So just ask us – it saves wear and tear on everyone! Our sister organization, the Western PA Genealogical Society, also has several publications which can help: their reprint of the 1911 street atlas (which shows the street names and ward changes) and the Allegheny County Cemetery Directory, which they compiled.

There are very few older Pittsburgh records online as of yet; however, WPGS coordinated a project with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (aka, the Mormons) to index the Pittsburgh City death records for 1870 to 1905, and they are online via FamilySearch. The Allegheny County Courthouse only has indexes for marriages after 1995 online on their website thus far. The Carnegie Library’s Pennsylvania Department now has the vital records which the county used to have – they passed them on to us in 2006. We also do research in our collection for patrons for a fee–click here for details.

Perhaps the best advice I can give is to e-mail us at, or call us at 412-622-3154.



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Getting Outside in the ‘Burgh

As the newest member of CLP’s newest location, I’m keenly aware of summer’s approach as I plan our presence at neighborhood festivals, farmers’ markets, and other quintessential summer happenings. And while the writers of this blog have a welldocumented love of the out-of-doors, I haven’t seen anyone mention what I consider to be our region’s best outdoors asset: Pittsburgh offers tons of natural beauty and strenuous outdoor activity right in the city limits. So for the countryside-averse, the car-less, and the time-pressed urban outdoorspeople out there, here are some of my favorite sources for info on how to get your hike/bike/boat on in the city of Pittsburgh.

Bob Regan’s The Steps of Pittsburgh: A Portrait of a City (Local History Company, 2004)

Recent research out of McMaster University in Ontario suggests that brief, extremely strenuous bursts of activity (known as intervals) yield health benefits comparable to longer, lighter workouts. Following that logic you may be able to get a year’s worth of cardio workouts done in an afternoon by traversing Pittsburgh’s quirky city steps. Follow Regan’s exhaustive survey of city streets that no car or bike can use to take your urban hikes to new heights.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Navigation Charts for the Mon, the Al, and the O

So you’ve gone on a moonlight kayak tour, maybe paddled around the Point a little bit, and now you feel ready to explore Pittsburgh’s three beloved rivers on your own. Great! If you don’t want to bump into a bridge pile or run aground at Brunot’s Island, make a note to stop by the Main Library in Oakland and check out the navigational charts for the Allegheny, Mon, and Ohio rivers.

Louis Fineberg’s 3 Rivers on 2 Wheels (Mon Quixote Press, 2002)

The spandex-clad diehards will likely always consider Oscar Swan‘s Bike Rides Out of Pittsburgh to be the ultimate statement on rides in the area. But as the title implies, Swan’s routes all take the most direct path out of town. For those of us who prefer to stay within a quarter mile of a good restaurant, cafe, or library branch, Lou Fineberg (scroll down a bit after the click) keeps you in the neighborhoods with his excellent 3 Rivers on 2 Wheels. Just be sure to cross-reference your ride with a current map at Bike Pittsburgh’s website. The Pittsburgh cycling infrastructure was nowhere near where it is now when Fineberg penned the guide ten years ago.

Toker1Franklin Toker’s Pittsburgh: A New Portrait and Buildings of Pittsburgh (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009) and Buildings of Pittsburgh (University of Virginia Press, 2007)

When you’re hiking out in the wilderness you might take along a field guide to help you identify birds, plants, and whatever else you might encounter out there in nature. When you’re hiking in Pittsburgh, give yourself a little cultural context by bringing along these guides to architecture and the history of the built environment of Pittsburgh. Toker, a popular professor at Pitt and architecture historian of national renown, uses buildings as a jumping-off point for an examination of the cultural, economic, and political history of Pittsburgh. And just as you might hope to spot a yellow-bellied sapsucker on a hike in the Allegheny Forest, you can get a similar thrill by spotting a Scheibler, a Burnham, or a Kahn where you’d least expect them to be.

Part of the joy of getting outside in the city is discovering new favorite places right in your neighborhood. You can’t always plan these discoveries–I found one of my favorite secret running route connectors when my street was blocked by a festival and I needed to get my groceries into the fridge before the ice cream melted–so the most important thing is to just get out there.

Do you have a favorite outdoor spot in the city? If you do, please mention it in a comment for others to discover!


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Birthday Week Staycation

Every year I always take an entire week off for my birthday. I’m one of those people who love birthdays and a week’s vacation is the perfect way to celebrate. It helps that my birthday falls in May, a very nice time of year weather-wise! I am also a big fan of staycations, partly because of the expense of traveling (I’m very frugal) and because I have an elderly cat that I don’t like to leave alone for long. And, since I’m also a newcomer to Pittsburgh (and I live in the city), I spent the week doing a variety of fun touristy things:

Morning from Mount Washington (author’s photo)

  • Scoped out the May Market
  • Spent a few nights in a rustic state park cabin on the river hiking and relaxing

Clarion River (author’s photo)

The Duchess approaches (author’s photo)

As you can see, I didn’t have to leave the state (or spend a lot of money) to have a nice vacation. How about you? Have you ever taken a staycation? Try it sometime and be a tourist in your hometown.

~Maria, who is extremely well-rested


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Fantastic Voyage India

Like my colleague Melissa, I too recently purchased a house and have been spending my current vacation packing, mending, gardening, painting, and fist-shaking. I need a vacation from my vacation. Luckily, before leaving the library last Sunday I had the foresight to check out a few DVDs to watch during needed packing breaks. In anticipation of the new Wes Anderson movie coming out soon, I decided to re-watch his 2007 film The Darjeeling Limited. Then after reading the short essay accompanying the disc I decided to check out Mr. Anderson’s inspirations for the film: The River by Jean Renoir, Kanchanjangha by Satyajit Ray, and the documentaries Phantom India & Calcutta by Louis Malle.

The Darjeeling Limited was not one Anderson’s best reviewed films, but along with the short film Hotel Chevalier that precedes it (side note: it’s probably the only film in which I’ve ever liked Natalie Portman), it is full of charming sets and lovely music. Like his other films, delight can be found in the details, such as a carefully laminated trip itinerary, a can of pepper spray, a matching set of animal print suitcases, an escaped tiger, and Owen Wilson’s face covered in bandages for the entire film. It is definitely worth a viewing–or re-viewing, if you’re like me.

The River is also worth checking out, if for no other reason than the striking Technicolor visuals. Filmed entirely in India in the late 1940s and released in America in 1951, it was a highly unusual movie for its time. Not only was it shot entirely on location using a mostly nonprofessional cast and crew, but it also had a nontraditional plot for its time. The India in this film is not full of action & adventure, or tigers & elephants. Instead it tells an almost mystical tale of love, death, and rebirth, and meanders from here to there in much the same way as the river of its title. The acting from the nonprofessional actors is a little odd and stilted, but there are some lovely scenes in the film, my favorite being a fantasy sequence that tells the story of Krishna:

I still have four days of vacation left, and plan to continue my travels through India with the films of Satyajit Ray and Louis Malle, and one of my favorite radio programs, Music From India.  How about you? What foreign countries do you like to visit through film?

Packing and unpacking,


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Career Resource Workshops

Do you have a hard time traveling to Oakland, or do you just prefer to avoid it whenever possible?  If so, you’ll be glad to know that the services of the Job & Career Education Center are coming to a branch near you!  We’ll be visiting the following locations to present our Career Resource Workshops

Your local branch probably offers its own workshops, too. For example…

East Liberty just hosted a “Resume and Cover Letter Boot Camp” class, put together by a partnership between CLP, the Bloomfield Garfield Corp. and Wireless Neighborhoods.  If you missed this class, you can contact East Liberty or the JCEC to find out about similar opportunities.

Karen Litzinger, a frequent guest of the library, just presented a workshop at the Squirrel Hill branch called “Retire, Rewire, Renew: Explore and Plan For Your Future.”   If you missed this event, Joseph P. D’Anna, a counselor at the Career Development Center, will be presenting “Learn Interviewing Techniques, How to Negotiate Offers and How to Transition Into a New Position” at Squirrel Hill on June 20.  Call Squirrel Hill if you have any questions or would like to register.

There are also several sessions left in the eight-week Job Seeking Basics series at Woods Run.  Contact them for more information.

And of course we’re planning more events and workshops all the time.  Check with your local branch or the JCEC to see what’s currently being offered.


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Weekend Getaways

Like several other of my library colleagues, I just bought a house. While this is a fabulous new adventure I am embarking upon, full of packing and moving, painting, ripping up carpets and sanding hardwood floors, mowing lawns and planting flowers, it has one big drawback for me. I won’t be going on a vacation this year like I did last year.

Now, I know that sounds a lot like whining over a first-world problem and I apologize for that. I realize that there are many people who can’t afford vacations or houses.  I understand that I have invested in something big and wonderful, therefore I need to be most careful with my finances and it’s only right that I should stay home this year. But I can’t, I just can’t. I like to travel too much.

So instead I will be embarking upon a few shorter weekend getaways. They will be as frugal as possible.  Visiting family and staying with them, as opposed to a hotel. Using Groupons for hotel deals when I am going somewhere where family doesn’t live. Researching free or low-cost things to do in the areas I am visiting. Contacting the visitors and tourism bureaus where I will be going to see if they offer coupon books or any other discount packages.

If you’re thinking about trying to go away for a short or long weekend or plan a budget-friendly vacation, these materials from the library may be just the thing to get you on your way…

Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel (magazine) – Every other month this magazine arrives with articles about budget vacations, exclusive deals, and tips from other readers. You’ll get lots of ideas for the typical travel spots as well as those off the beaten path, which tend to be less expensive.

Backroads & Byways of Pennsylvania: Drives, Day Trips & Weekend Excursions by David Langlieb – This guide organizes your excursions by the roads traveled. You get to decide which part of Pennsylvania you’d like to visit and then it guides you to the seldom-seen sights along the way. This one might become your travel “bible” for the summer. It’s addictive!

The Everything Family Guide to Budget Travel: Hundreds of Fun Family Vacations to Fit Any Budget! by Kelly Merritt – This book leads with “Top Ten Tips for Successful Family Budget Travel” and then moves on to providing advice for planning, booking, and budgeting your less expensive family vacation. The last few chapters let you choose to focus geographically on a Mountain, Water, City, Historic or National Park destination.

Insiders’ Guide to Pittsburgh – Maybe you don’t want to go anywhere. Maybe you really want to save money by staying and eating at home. You could always vacation in your home town. All of those places you’ve always meant to get to but haven’t yet. All of those things you’ve meant to do but just never found the time. Here’s your opportunity.

Let’s Go Budget…guides – If you have a little bit more to spend. Try these thrifty guides to some of the major cities in Europe. Sure, you still have to buy your ticket there, but once you get there you can have a good time without spending like a drunken sailor.

The 100 Best Affordable Vacations by Jane Wooldridge – This guide will lead you to “soul-satisfying vacations,” something that allows you to relax and recharge along with adventures that will expand your horizons. Most of the trips are very budget-friendly. But also included are splurges that, if you’re able to accommodate the added expense, will allow you to feel luxurious too.

10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget by the writers of Wise Bread – Along with the pages and pages of frugal living tips and tricks, there is a whole chapter on travel. I found lots of sage advice here, some well-known and some not so much. But the best things are the questions that it asks, so that you can make sure what you are doing is the right choice. (Meaning the one that costs the least, of course!)

Pennsylvania Camping: The Complete Guide to Tent and RV Camping – Camping is one of the least expensive ways to vacation, so long as you already have the tent, sleeping bags, and other essential equipment. This guide presents all of the state parks and waterways that allow camping, along with tips and helpful advice.

Quick Escapes Pittsburgh: 25 Weekend Getaways from the Steel City by Michelle Pilecki – This book may be a little dated, but rest assured the towns listed in this getaway guide still exist. You just may need to hop online to verify hours, prices, directions, etc. Most of the journeys in this book are within 1-6 hours of Pittsburgh and it offers suggestions for four-season travel. So if you already have plans for the summer, maybe you could try one of these trips in the fall or winter.

Samantha Brown’s Passport to Great Weekends (DVD) – Samantha may not always travel on the cheap, but Philadelphia is included in collection 2, so it could be a realistic weekend excursion for someone from Pittsburgh. Even if you decide you can’t afford any of these trips, you can armchair travel with her from the comfort of your own couch.

Volunteer Vacations: Short Term Adventures That Will Benefit You and Others by Bill McMillon – These vacations will fit not only your budget, but also your altruistic soul. You’ll have to pay for your transportation to these, often exotic, locales, but once you get there meals and accommodations for a month can be a little as $350! Just bear in mind that you will be expected to work for your keep.

With a little work and help from the library, maybe you too can find a way to squeeze a short getaway into your budget and schedule this summer.

-Melissa M.


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My Wacky Family

No doubt you’ve all been waiting with bated breath for an update about my writing project.



My first step was to sign up for a website called 750 Words. The idea is that every day you write 750 words about anything. As the creator of the website says:

I’ve used the exercise as a great way to think out loud without having to worry about half-formed ideas, random tangents, private stuff, and all the other things in our heads that we often filter out before ever voicing them or writing about them.

Okay, cool. Except I’m terrible at that kind of stream of consciousness writing. I need a subject.

I’m writing my 750 words about the adventures of my family. Because it’s easy. I come from a family of goofy people. Here is my Dad. My Step-Dad. And now me. Plus I married THIS dude. (The women in my family are obviously smart enough to stay off camera; clearly I should learn from them.)

See what I’m saying here?

Before I was born, my Dad had a “beautiful” 1964 Chevy with no floor on the passenger side. His favorite thing? Picking up hitchhikers, “to see the look on their face.” This is the same man that drove on the Parkway talking on a gigantic rotary phone, out of pure mischievousness. For random holidays, I get an Easter card from my uncle. When my mom needs to solve a problem, she takes a bath. I was in a wedding where the maid of honor was carted off by the police. Just yesterday, I had to resist an overwhelming desire to steal a golf cart. And despite what my husband says, no one  in my family ever, ever lies. We tell “stories.”

Here are some of my favorite family stories:

Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs. (I have no doubt my parents would have loved to put me up for adoption many times, but thankfully they didn’t.) I am also looking forward to reading his new self-help book This Is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More. For Young and Old Alike.  One reviewer called it “the most pragmatic self-help book in the world.” Whoa.

Anything by David or Amy Sedaris.

Anything by Jen Lancaster, blogger of Jennsylvania.  Her subtitles alone make her books worth reading.

Too Close to the Falls and After the Falls: Coming of Age in the 60s by Catherine Gildiner

  • Diagnosed as “high-strung,” Gildiner was put to work at age 4 in her father’s pharmacy. Her stories about growing up in Niagra Falls is sometimes unbelievable with an amazing cast of characters, including a sleepy Marilyn Monroe and an Indian chief.

I’m Down: A Memoir by Mishna Wolff

  • When your white father truly believes he’s a black man, you are going to have an interesting childhood.

Pig Boy’s Wicked Bird: A Memoir by Doug Crandell

  • Growing up on a farm in Indiana.

A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana by Haven Kimmel

  • What’s with Indiana? Really anything by Kimmel is going to be fantastic.

On tap:

Let’s pretend this never happened : (a mostly true memoir) by Jenny Lawson, the Bloggess

And by the way, I wouldn’t trade my goofy family for anything.


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Quick Avengers Primer

Marvel’s The Avengers continues to pack them in at the theaters, so I thought it might be a good idea to provide folks new to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes a quick, three title reading list of some key (and by “key” I mean my favorite) stories in the team’s long existence.

Avengers. Legion Of The Unliving

This sweet collection offers stories from the late Silver Age (1970’s) to the post Iron Age (early 2000’s) and features creative giants like Steve Englehart and George Perez.  The stories focus on ex-Avengers and Avenger foes returning from the dead to plague the current team. Before it was fashionable to make superheroes into zombies, these stories blazed the trail!

The Avengers. Kree/Skrull War

Nothing embodies the essence of the 1970’s era Avengers tales like this magical pairing of writer Roy Thomas and artist Neal Adams.  The Avengers find themselves embroiled in an interstellar war between two alien races who both see the Earth as little more than a pawn in some grand cosmic game.  Adams’ layouts and colors on these issues will blow you away.

Avengers Forever

This one ranks as one of the greatest epics in Avengers history!  Writer Kurt Busiek and artist Carlos Pacheco take seven time-crossed Avengers from different eras of the book’s long run and throw them into a war for time itself!  Classic foes, plenty of plot twists, and gorgeous artwork made this one  an instant classic when it was released as a twelve issue limited series from December 1998 to November 1999.

Picking only three Avengers collections was not easy, but that assures a return engagement for this topic sometime in the not too distant future!



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Match Game

Some of the feedback we’ve received so far from the strategic planning process is news that warms the cockles of our hearts: Pittsburghers want us to keep them informed on how they can donate to the library. It’s really encouraging for all of us to know that you want to support our civic work, so we’re resolved to make it as easy as possible for you.

Created by Amy, from an original photo by Frank E. Bingaman

All through the merry month of May, for example, you can maximize your support of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh by making a donation to the Perfect Match campaign. Although this promotion does not, alas, feature the wit and whimsy of the late Charles Nelson Reilly, it does give you the opportunity to help the library in a way that’s double the fun: all gifts made by May 31, 2012 will be MATCHED by the library’s Board of Trustees and a committed group of leadership supporters, making this opportunity the best game in town if you want to make your contribution go as far as possible.

Ready to play?  You have options!

  • To make a gift by mail, print out the gift form and send it back to:

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

4400 Forbes Avenue

Pittsburgh, PA 15213

Visit the official Perfect Match campaign page to read the fine print, and thank you in advance for your support–past, present, and future–of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Because helping us engage our community in literacy and learning is like playing a game where everybody wins.

–Leigh Anne

*While tickets last! These events tend to sell out, so why are you still reading this?


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How Green is Your Thumb?

…and may we borrow it?

This summer, nine of the CLP branches (Carrick, Homewood, Knoxville, Lawrenceville, Mt. Washington, Sheraden, Squirrel Hill, West End, and Woods Run) are planting herb gardens – plus Lawrenceville is operating a seed library – all thanks to a generous grant from the Mary Jane Berger Foundation.

So far, each of the participating branches have been subject to soil testing to determine the best plants for that location and have consulted with the fine folks at Phipps on where to start digging. Quite soon, we’ll break out the roto-tillers and get our hands dirty. Sound like a good time? Get in contact with a branch near you to volunteer. We’ll be happy to have you. If you don’t have time to dedicate to the gardens on a regular basis, you can jump in on the many gardening programs that are being planned. My branch has plant swaps, terrarium building and seed bomb-making on the calendar!

In the meantime, check out a few herb gardening books from the catalog:

 Community Gardening: A PHS Handbook – editor, Jane Caroll

Herb Gardening From the Ground Up : Everything You Need to Know About Growing Your Favorite Herbs -Sal Gilbertie and Larry Sheehan

 Jekka’s Herb Cookbook – Jekka McVicar

The Complete Illustrated Book of Herbs: Growing, Health & Beauty, Cooking, Crafts


– Jess


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