Tag Archives: maps

Of Balkan Ghosts and Cold New Years

Robert D. Kaplan’s Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History stands out to me as a book of surprising intensity and grand scope. That said, the author pulls it off. The part travel saga, part historical analysis works well, and Kaplan generally illustrates a kind of balance in his discussion. Where he really seems to fall from that, is any time the concept of collectivization arises. For Kaplan, it would seem, there is an a priori bias there. When discussing a region that had gotten the rotten end of the big-state socialist experiment for so long, one can see why he might approach it that way; however, it does tend to slant his overall discussion.

That reality aside, Kaplan’s book is an amazing feat. He was traveling and writing in a region that was virtually unknown outside of itself. At the time he was traveling through these places, he was experiencing the end of one social experiment and the beginning of another. As a piece of history, it is a great find.

map of the balkin states, balkin states maps

The image above is from worldatlas.com and is a good representation of the Region Kaplan discusses. His book includes Moldova in the northeast and even bits of Hungry and Austria. One of the amazing things about the book is the changing nature of the region.

This book has been in my bag being read in snippets for about a month. That’s my fault. Kaplan’s text is engaging and thought-provoking. Maybe for this new year I should take my wife’s advice and only read one book at a time, rather than 4 or 5. That way I can finish something in a reasonable amount of time. We’ll see. Maybe, as the cold wind of a new year blows into Pittsburgh, it’s a good time to look at our history, and plan for the best year we can make to come.

-Eric (who is trying to stay warm, and blast through some books, look at maps, and maybe even keeping track of what he’s read this year)

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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 padept@carnegielibrary.org, or call us at 412-622-3154.

–Marilyn

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