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Top 10 public records websites for Pittsburghers to know

Written by Mila Sanina on .

Is your daughter’s boyfriend a felon? Has that house you’ve been thinking of buying been reassessed? Are your parents paying property taxes? Is your neighbor a sex offender?

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You can easily find answers to these questions online and PG reporter Rich Lord knows where and how. This week he held a workshop on researching public records as part of Post-Gazette University (PGU), an ongoing speakers' series that connects the PG's experts with the public on topics such as social media, gardening and others.

 

Rich's public records session  has been by far the most popular among civic-minded folks; more than 80 people attended the workshop on Wednesday. This year, Rich had a guest speaker, Terri Mutchler, Pennsylvania’s top open records officer, who shared her insights on the state’s right-to-know law.

 

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Rich is our expert on how to access and make use of public records online, including criminal background checks, real estate transactions, marital records and more. For the Post-Gazette, Rich covers federal court, correctional facilities, public housing and other important issues. He has been part of the Post-Gazette team that led the investigation of the Pittsburgh police department, which led to former Chief Nate Harper’s indictment.

 

Each attendee of Rich’s workshop received a handout with a list of 30 public records websites.

 

Here's a sampling of the sites Rich recommends:

 

1. “I want to know the reassessment history of the property I’d like to buy.”

 

Use Allegheny County assessment multi-list: http://www2.county.allegheny.pa.us/RealEstate/Default.aspx


2. “Is that Pittsburgh guy you met at a bar last month single for real?”

 

Use Allegheny County marriage records: https://dcr.alleghenycounty.us/Marriage/Search/MarriageLicenseSearch.aspx?Welcome=true


3. Federal PACER, (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) allows you to conduct nationwide searches to determine whether or not a party is involved in federal litigation: http://www.pacer.gov/


4. “Are any of my neighbors sex offenders?”

 

Use State Megan's Law: http://www.pameganslaw.state.pa.us/


5. “I’d like to send a letter to Jane Orie (in jail)”

 

Use state inmate locator: http://inmatelocator.cor.state.pa.us/inmatelocatorweb/


6. “I’d like to see Mayor-elect Bill Peduto’s finance report”

 

Use Allegheny County campaign finance lookup: http://documents.alleghenycounty.us/elections/DatasourceTemplate.aspx


7. “I want to know who is leading that non-profit?”

 

Use Guidestar: http://www.guidestar.org/


8: “I’d like to know ethnic composition of my neighborhood”

 

Use SNAP: http://www.pittsburghpa.gov/dcp/snap/


9. “I want to know more about lobbying efforts and campaign contributions in Pa.”

 

Use OpenSecrets: http://www.opensecrets.org/

 

10. “I’d like to track that Delta flight”

 

Use Flight Aware: http://flightaware.com/

If you'd like to learn more about researching public records online, be on the lookout for a new series of PGU workshops next year.

 

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#Gobblegeddon in Pittsburgh

Written by Heather Schmelzlen on .

The National Weather Service is predicting 5-9 inches (or is it 5-9 FEET?!?) of snow for the Pittsburgh region, just in time for Thanksgiving. People started FREAKING OUT, and the storm even spawned a new trending topic.
 

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A British Pens fan visits Pittsburgh

Written by James Bird, Special to Pittsblogh on .

Earlier this year, Pittsblogher Kim Lyons wrote about the British Pens Fan Club, aka "Brinzers," a devoted group of hockey fans who cheer for the Pittsburgh Penguins from across the pond. One of their members, James Bird, visited the states last week and took in three Penguins games, two at Consol and one in New Jersey. We asked James to write us a little dispatch about his visit (and left in his British spelling for the sake of authenticity). 

November 19th started like most days, I woke up at around 9 a.m. GMT, got out of bed and took a look out the window. The difference being instead of gazing out at a residential street in Bedfordshire in the east of England, I was looking out over Point State Park from the 19th floor of my hotel at about 4 a.m..

And it was a hockey night in Pittsburgh! 

I should probably start with why on earth a 23-year-old Englishman from the old mill town of Burnley in Lancashire is a Pittsburgh Penguins fan. Well it all started with a PlayStation and with my favourite animal being the penguin, there was only one team that was ever going to catch my eye. I fell in love with the computer games and gradually the game it was based on. In the late 1990s and early 2000s watching hockey in the UK wasn’t always easy, especially not when you weren’t allowed up beyond 10p.m.! I would print out and stick pictures of my favourite players into a scrapbook every week, hoping that one day I’d get to watch my heroes Jaromir Jagr and Alexei Morozov in the flesh. I didn’t even get to listen to a game until I stumbled on Pens Radio in May 2001 when, as a 10-year-old, I sat at the family computer captivated as I listened to an early face off between the Penguins and Sabres. Fast forward seven years and I was watching every game of the 2008 playoffs in the middle of the night, and it’s been that way ever since. 
 
Now on to my trip. I should mention this isn’t my first visit to Pittsburgh, as I came over in mid-March earlier this year for three games. But this one was a bit more special, as the British Penguins Fan Club had built up a much larger following, with many living in the city itself. One of our Twitter friends, Angela, had arranged to meet up with me for lunch and as we ate in Il Pizzaiolo, she pointed out that several Pens had just come in to eat. So once we and they had finished eating I approached Robert Bortuzzo, explained I had come over from England and asked if they’d mind having a picture with me. Obviously, they were more than happy to and I ended up with a fantastic picture of me, in a British Penguins t-shirt, with several members of the roster! 
britpensone
 
On to the evening and the game against the Flyers. I had the best seats I had ever had at Consol and was two rows from the glass in the corner. The big difference you notice as someone who rarely sees a game other than on TV is how much quicker the game looks up close, in particular the big stars like Sidney Crosby, who make what they are doing look so effortless. Another big difference to UK sports is how friendly everyone else in the crowd is. This only became more evident when they heard a British accent, and it was amazing to see how pleased people were that someone had travelled across the Atlantic to see the Pens. The result wasn’t what I hoped for and it was disappointing to see my first Penguins loss, but the experience was still worth the long journey because of all the people I met during the intermissions and the fantastic Bob Grove of Pens Radio. 
 
Thursday was a rest day from hockey and I took in the Carnegie Museums, a big difference here for someone from Britain is that you have to pay?! Most of our museums are free but the Carnegie was well worth the $20, as it has an impressive collection and takes several hours to explore properly. A few drinks in the bars of the South Side that night polished off the only hockey- free night of my trip, and then it was game day for the Nashville Predators game. 
 
I took my seat in the upper bowl to watch the 4-1 win, which was a big improvement on Wednesday night. It was also interesting to see my first live fight when Tanner Glass dealt with his opponent after receiving the challenge. The only downside to the game was hearing the woos for the fourth time at Consol. 
 
That was all for the Pittsburgh portion of my trip and I had an amazing time, ate several fantastic Primanti’s sandwiches and met a lot of fantastic people in the friendliest city I have ever spent time in. I was sad to be leaving a city that has been so welcoming to me not once but twice, but the game at New Jersey and the Kings @ Rangers game were ahead of me as well as seeing the sights of New York.
 
One thing is for sure, I’ll be back, Pittsburgh! 
 
Follow James on Twitter at @burnley_penguin, and the rest of the British Pens Fan Club at @BritPensFanClub

 consoljames

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Twitter games: What if...

Written by Mila Sanina on .

Journalists on Twitter and other denizens of the twittersphere played many 'What-if' games this week. It's been a week of anniversaries: Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, the 50th anniversary since JFK's assassination, the arrival of Mason and Dixon to Philadelphia.

Owners of rich imagination thought, "What is a better way to relive those moments than to commemorate them with tweets... describing those moments as if they were happening today?"

Imagine, if Twitter existed when President Lincoln was addressing the nation on November 19, 2013 rather than 1863.

So a Twitter version of the long-deceased president -- with a twitter handle @Mr_Lincoln -- live-tweeted, so to speak, the 200+ words, 10 sentences, in 140-character chunks...

 

And off... he went... I mean, tweeted, the @Mr_Lincoln, that is...

And today, NPR launched a Twitter account with a handle @todayin1963 to live-tweet last moments of John F. Kennedy's life. 

It's hard to imagine what the day of November 22nd, 1963, would have looked like had Twitter existed back then. It surely would not have been limited to tweets from a few accounts.

By definition, however, there is no such thing as alternative history, as David Shribman says. It is what it is. Human nature is such that we will continue to explore, but never agree upon, what-if scenarios.

Today, social media is a place where people are not only reliving that day but sharing and preserving common memories of the man who was larger than life, a role model, a profile in courage, even for people who never lived through that haunting day...

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250 years ago Mason and Dixon arrived in Philadelphia and began their survey work

Written by Pete Zapadka on .

 

What a fascinating period in U.S. history we're commemorating this week. We're pausing to look back, often with awe, on significant events that shaped the nation we know today.
 
Of course, the appropriate focus is today's 150th anniversary of the famous Gettysburg Address. The address was delivered by President Abraham Lincoln on the heels of the battle on Pennsylvania soil in which tens of thousands of Americans, in armies of the North and South, died.
 
The Battle of Gettysburg widely is believed to have been the turning point of the Civil War, a bloody dispute in which the Union claimed victory over the Confederacy.
 
But as a local historian and a long-time amateur astronomer, I'm also aware of another historic milestone with significant roots at this time -- the 250th anniversary of Mason and Dixon arriving in Philadelphia to begin their famous survey work.
 
Both men were well-versed in astronomy and, in fact, used astronomical observations to draw with astonishing precision their famous border, essentially the boundary between Maryland and Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland, and later, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
 
The actual anniversary of Mason and Dixon's arrival in Philadelphia was Nov. 15, and the two men began their planning work almost immediately.
 
In "The Journal of Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, 1763-1768," they reported that on Nov. 16 they had "attended a meeting of the Commissioners appointed by the Proprietors of Pennsylvania to settle the boundaries of the Province." On Nov. 17, they reported they "Wrote to his Excellency Horatio Sharpe, Esquire, Governor of Maryland, signifying our arrival at Philadelphia."
 
20131119pzmasondixon 01Charles Mason's handwriting in "The Journal of Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, 1763-1768."
 
During the rest of November, Mason and Dixon spent time inspecting their instruments that, like the survey team leaders, had made a long sea voyage from England. On Nov. 30, the men met "the Commissioners appointed by Lord Baltimore to settle the Boundaries of Maryland came to Philadelphia." 
 
By Dec 14-15, Mason and Dixon were ready, but unable, to begin their actual survey work because of rain and snow. It was cloudy Dec. 17 and 18, but on Dec. 19, they made astronomical observations of the stars Delta Persei, Chi Ursae Majoris (below the bowl of the Big Dipper) and Capella (the brightest star in the constellation Auriga).
 
Mason and Dixon first had to determine the southernmost point of the city of Philadelphia -- colonial officials had agreed the boundary line would be drawn 15 miles south of there. Once that point was found, the team moved 31 miles west to a location near Embreeville, Pa., to start the next leg of their work (had they first gone 15 miles due south of Philadelphia, Mason and Dixon would have had to cross the Delaware River and ended up in New Jersey).
 
From their now-celebrated Star Gazer's Stone near Embreeville, the team surveyed the required 15 miles due south to the latitude of the Mason-Dixon Line.
 
20131119pzstargazersstone 03Star Gazer's Stone near Embreeville, Chester County, Pa., marking the site where Mason and Dixon did work related to their survey (Pete Zapadka/Post-Gazette)
 
20131119pzaboutstargazersstone 04 1Historical marker describing the significane of Star Gazer's Stone near Embreeville, Chester County, Pa. (Pete Zapadka/Post-Gazette)
 
For much of the next four years, Mason and Dixon conducted their survey work, finally halting in October, 1767, atop lofty Brown's Hill, about three miles southwest of Mount Morris, Pa. They were about 22 miles short of their goal -- the present-day southwest corner of Pennsylvania. Unrest among local Native American tribes prompted the survey team to stop.
 
20131119pzsouthphilly 02A state historical marker unveiled over Labor Day weekend in Philadelphia to mark the city's southernmost point in Mason and Dixon's day (Pete Zapadka/Post-Gazette)
 
So for the next four years, we'll be celebrating 250th anniversaries of Mason and Dixon milestones. By 2017, there will be events near the Pittsburgh and Morgantown, W.Va., areas, to mark the 250th anniversary of activities on "The Line" in our region. 
 
Even as history buffs turn their eyes today to the powerful Gettysburg Address, it is important to remember the Mason-Dixon Line actually was drawn about a century before the Civil War. It is a common inaccuracy that the two are related. Find out more about "The Line" beyond the popular misconceptions.
 
In addition to almost four decades at the Post-Gazette, Pete Zapadka spends time beneath the stars and exploring the western end of the Mason-Dixon Line -- the Pennsylvania-West Virginia border some 50 miles south of Pittsburgh. He operates the website exploretheline.com.
 

 

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