Treasure Trove: Carbondale Public Library helps people find their roots

Carbondale Public Library employees Joe Klapatch and Jessica Pratt help people research their ancestors using materials at the library.

Carbondale Public Library has the materials to help people connect the dots for generations to come.

The Alice Ahern Lynady Room, located on the library’s second floor, holds hundreds of items that help trace Carbondale’s history back to the early 1800s, from local high school yearbooks, newspapers, history books and obituaries to birth and marriage records. The collection houses plenty of materials about residents, businesses, government and organizations.

More recently, Jessica Pratt, a general services librarian, is working on indexing three rolls of microfilm containing birth, marriage and death records from 1890 to 1912.

“I didn’t realize how many records are in there,” she said. “I have nearly a thousand done right now and I’ve barely scratched the surface.”

As Pratt began working with these older sources, she noticed they were missing something: photos. Pratt got the idea to start what she calls “The Yearbook Project” to increase the size of the library’s resources.

“We are trying to collect yearbooks from local schools because I noticed that a lot of older obituaries don’t have photographs,” she said. “A lot of people are disappointed in that because there’s a huge connection people can make when they see a photograph of an ancestor.”

She and colleague Joe Klapatch also wonder what other materials are laying forgotten in storage or attics. Families might not know the value of these items, or what to do with them.

“We’re always looking for a diamond in the rough from back in the 1800s,” Klapatch said.

Donations can be brought to the library. For more information on what they’re looking for, call 570-282-4281.

In an effort to promote accessibility, the library also launched an online catalog last year which can be found on their website, carbondalepubliclibrary.org/. There, people interested in learning more about their ancestors can search newspapers on microfilm for specific dates, birth, marriage and death records. The library also offers local history books and even some genealogy websites which can be accessed at home or in the building on 5 N. Main St.

“Genealogy, to put it simply, is researching family history. It doesn’t have to be biological, either. Even people who were adopted or fostered, if you consider them family, you can still research them,” Pratt said.

Pratt started at the Carbondale Public Library in 2006. With a bachelor’s degree in biology and a minor in museum studies from Juniata College as well as a master’s degree in library science from the University of Pittsburgh, she joined the genealogy department after a one-year vacancy in the position.

“There was over a year’s worth of genealogy questions I had to start answering,” Pratt said. “A lot of my emails began with, ‘I’m sorry it took us so long to get back to you.’”

Klapatch graduated from King’s College with a degree in mass communication and spent many years working in newsrooms and radio stations before starting a job in emergency services. In 2007, Klapatch took time off due to health issues. He used this time to find new projects and took an interest in researching local fire department history.

He spent the majority of his free time at the library, and upon retiring, accepted a part-time position at the Albright Memorial Library in Scranton working in reference, local history and genealogy. He took a full-time position at the Carbondale Public Library about four years ago.

Klapatch has always been interested in genealogy and even researched his own family history many years ago. However, most of his time led to research for the local history books he now writes.

“In general, I always merge genealogy with local history because they go hand in hand,” Klapatch said.

The pair even help people who did not grow up in the area. Pratt notes that in her free time, with the use of Ancestry.com, she has been able to research her own family history, even if they aren’t from around here.

While the library’s North Main Street location was built in the late 1990s, the genealogy department has sources dating back to the early 1870s. The Carbondale Public Library also collaborates with other libraries in the area to ensure users have many sources to choose from when researching lineage.

“We’re working a lot on conservation and preservation,” Pratt says regarding the future of the department.

Due to COVID-19, the second floor of the library, including the genealogy room, is closed. The staff hopes to reopen the floor sometime this month.