To find a farmer to talk about is about as easy as finding a coal miner in my family, I have many in my tree on both my paternal and maternal sides. With this week’s theme being about life “on the farm” I’ve opted to swing over to my mother’s side of the family and discuss my great-great-grandfather, Arthur James Dunbar.
Arthur James Dunbar was born on 4 August 1869 in Independence, Allegany, New York to Delos Dunbar and Harriett Williams. Delos was also a farmer, both in Independence and in Genesee, Potter County, Pennsylvania which is where the family moved between 1875 and 1880.
According to the official website of Potter County, it’s primary industry in the 1800’s was lumber. Known for it’s white pines, hemlock and other hardwoods, lumber mills were developed near streams where the water could power the saws. In time towns were formed when churches and schools were built in these areas.
While doing searches on Delos Dunbar, Arthur’s father and my 3rd-great-grandfather, there were various small articles on him where he is either cutting wood for someone, or building a home for someone. So I’m guessing though noted as a farmer as well, he may have been more of a lumberman, or had tree farms.
Marriage & Family
On 2 January 1894 Arthur Dunbar married Mazie Lorenia Warner in Wellsville, Allegany, New York. They settled in Hebron Township in Potter County, and began their family on 17 March 1896 when their oldest daughter, Myrtle Iona Dunbar was born. Their next child was Merle Winfield Dunbar, born 10 July 1899 but died on 18 January 1900 of bronchitis. Ina May Dunbar came next being born on 18 April 1901. Their youngest was Mildred Laura Dunbar, born 15 March 1908, my great-grandmother.
On the 1900 and 1910 Federal Census’ Arthur (A.J.) Dunbar had an occupation of “Farmer”. He owned his property, paying on a mortgage and it lists the agricultural schedule that he was listed on for both population census, Farm Schedule 63 in 1900 and Farm Schedule 18 in 1910. Below is the 1910 Census where it shows that his occupation was “general farm”.
Another clue that he was a farmer was the below newspaper clipping about a young cow he lost. The item below is more than likely is my great-great-grandfather as well as he was known as A.J. Dunbar in many documents.
Arthur James Dunbar passed away on 18 December 1912 of a combination of Heart Failure and Anterior Poliomyelitis.
According to the FreeDictionary.com poliomyelitis, commonly known as just polio, is a “disease marked by the inflammation of nerve cells and brain stem and spinal cord”. It was highly contagious and most who caught it were between 6 months and 4 years old but adults did contract the disease. Paralysis in children were 1 in every 1000 cases, paralysis in adults was 1 in every 75 cases.
When adults contracted the disease, it was often white, affluent men. Thankfully this has more or less been done away with by vaccine. I don’t have the tell-tale scar that my mom and sister have (I imagine my dad has it too) because by the time I needed my vaccines for school, it was no longer necessary.
My goal as I continue to do searches about my great-great-grandfather is to find out what kinds of things Arthur farmed, and if there is anything out there that could tell me what kind of person he was, as I am so fond of his wife, Mazie, I always just assume he must be pretty special, too.
Since I spoke of my many coal mining ancestors in Week 30 with the Health topic, I have decided to expand on it with this week’s theme of working. Three of my 4 great-grandfathers worked in the coal mines. Two in Pennsylvania, the third in Ohio.
Andrew Jackson Blair
Born 17 April 1881 in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, Andrew Jackson Blair was born to another Andrew Jackson Blair and Susan Jane Foster. According to the 1900 Census, when Andrew was just 19 years old he was already working in the coal mines (and so was his 13 year old brother, William). His father was also a miner, having it noted as his profession in the 1880 census, as well as his profession in the death register when he passed away in 1899.
I won’t go into details about Andrew too much as I have written about it before (see here). He died when the mine he was in had falling rock and it crushed his chest, killing him instantly. He was 45.
Charles Jackson Morgart
Born 2 August 1873 in East Providence, Bedford County, Pennsylvania, Charles Jackson Morgart was born the oldest child of George Washington Morgart and Mary Ann Ritchey. Charles was originally a farmer but then became a coal miner. It’s odd, I can find him and my great-grandmother, Margaret Dora Wise, twice in the 1910 Census. When they were living in Bedford County he was a farmer, when he was found in Huntingdon County he was a coal miner. His death certificate also listed him as a coal miner. He did not die in the mines, but he committed suicide. It was not the first in his family as his mother had too.
Born 8 July 1890 in Leigh, Lancashire, England, James Fairhurst was already working in the coal mines in England in the 1911 census when he was still living at home with his parents, Thomas Fairhurst and Rachel Topping. He came to the United States in 1913 leaving behind his wife, Phoebe Boone (pregnant with their son, Wilfred) and his daughter, Elsie, to work with his brothers at Wolf Run, Jefferson County, Ohio. Phoebe came over with Elsie and Wilfred in January 1915. By June 1917 he had filed his declaration of intention to become a citizen of the United States, and by 14 May 1920 he was a naturalized citizen.
James occupation took a turn for the better. He opted to move to the rubber capital of the world in Akron, Ohio and began working for the various rubber companies, a much safer occupation compared to the work one did working in the coal mines.
Life in the Coal Mines
Working in the coal mines was a dangerous occupation. Most began working at a young age of 10 to 12 years old where you started out sorting out the coal from other rocks (sometimes elderly coal miners would do this too).
As you got older, responsibility increased. The next position for a teen would be keeping the the tunnels lit at key spots in the mine. Miners did wear hats with lanterns attached to help them see what they were doing and where they were going, but there were still people sometimes positioned in key places so that danger could be avoided.
Other jobs within the mine would be pushing and pulling the carts throughout the very narrow tunnels and the actual mining of the coal. They spent 12 hours a day underground in the dark hunched over.
Those working in the coal mines were often paid in company money, renting company housing, and the stores you were able to shop in were also owned by the coal mining company as it was the only store that took the company money. It was very difficult to be able to move onto another company to make more because the coal companies more or less owned you.
Working in the coal mines was a difficult job but was just one of many sacrifices the coal miner made to provide for their families. It was a hard job that had many health risks, but it was taken with the hope that the next generation would do better.
Today is Labor Day for those of us living in the United States. Seeing as I am a self-proclaimed history geek, it occurred to me that I didn’t know how Labor Day came about, so I decided to do a little research on this, a holiday I am most grateful for as don’t we all need that extra day off?
Grover Cleveland signed off on Labor Day being an official holiday on 28 June 1894 and it is celebrated on the first Monday of September each year. Oregon was the first to recognize it as an official holiday in 1887 though New York was the first to introduce a bill (New York also celebrated first in 1882). By that first Monday in September 1887, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York also celebrated with the state of Oregon. By the time President Cleveland signed off in 1894, 23 states were recognizing the holiday.
However, it was originally a holiday for federal workers only. It wasn’t until the 1930’s that everyone was granted the day off. And even now stores and restaurants are still open on this day off for the labor force.
Another Point of View
While doing a bit more research, I stumbled upon a New York Times article where it went into detail stating that the parade that took place 5 September 1882 was really a 1-day strike where workers could have lost their jobs in participating. At the time the American worker spent 12 hours on the job each day, working 7 days a week. Did not matter your age, even children worked long hours. But on the first occurrence of Labor Day, workers marched from City Hall to a giant picnic at an uptown park. The workers were asking for an 8-hour workday and higher wages.
When President Grover Cleveland signed the Labor Day bill in 1894 he was hoping to end a Pullman Strike with the mid-west railway system. Pullman had lowered the pay to the workers but did not lower the rent of their homes, and so the workers went on strike.
(I found it interesting that this part was lacking from the Department of Labor website, and even Wikipedia).
No one knows who the initial credit goes to for founding Labor Day. Two men have been said to have started the day:
Peter J. McGuire
Peter J. McGuire was the General Secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and co-founder of the American Federation of Labor. Some say he was the person who initially suggested of setting aside a day as a “general holiday for the laboring classes”.
Matthew Maguire was a machinist and the Secretary of the Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, New Jersey and he proposed the holiday while serving as Secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York.
A New Jersey paper, the Paterson Morning Call, reported the pen that President Grover Cleveland used to sign the bill into law should go to Alderman Matthew Maguire.
Both McGuire and Maguire attended the first Labor Day parade in New York City that year.
Above information was found using the following websites:
This week’s topic is “school” for 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks and I am going to discuss my high school. Counting my own children, there have been 4 generations to attend Cuyahoga Falls High School beginning with my maternal grandmother, Alberta Lou Metzger. Her children attended, including my mother, my sister, myself and cousins, and now my kids.
Cuyahoga Falls High School
Cuyahoga Falls High School was built in 1922. The original building is still a part of the functioning school, often referred to as the old building (at least that’s what it was called when I was there). This part of the building is where your 100’s, 200’s, and 300’s are for classrooms. Back when I went it was foreign language, English Department and Math. Mix in the Old Gym and the Little Theater and this was the original building used for probably 30-plus years.
The Little Theater was often where multiple classes went to view movies and such when I attended in the late-80’s, early-90’s. It was also where the Fall Play took place each year.
The primary highlight I remember from my mother was that is where she was when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It was a moment she would never forget.
The Old Gym is where we would go when you were doing sports where 4-classes in the regular gym got to be too much (though it was common when I was in 10th grade to the mat room used for wrestling where my all girl gym class because of choir would play crab soccer – it’s amazing how that huge ball used for it would not mess up the big bangs that were essential for hairstyles during this time).
Recently I went on a tour of the high school for my 30th class reunion. The Little Gym was set up for batting practice for the baseball players. I found it a good use for this the space.
The New Building(s)
The new building was already a functioning part but still very new when my mom attended the high school in the 1960’s. It consists of the 400’s, 500’s, and 600’s. It included a bigger gymnasium (hence the “Old Gym”) and a state of the art auditorium, along with a music wing. It also houses a cafeteria, library, and the offices. Science classes are basically based in the 400’s, more history and classes like typing were held in the 500’s (I doubt they even have typing classes today). The 600’s is where the instrumental and vocal music programs are.
I believe at sometime between the above buildings and 1980 is when the vocational wing was built. This homes the cosmetology, auto tech, and marketing career programs for junior and seniors. Kids from other schools participate as well as part of a six district program.
Each graduating class from probably the 1980’s on leaves their mark by creating a piece of art that is displayed in the cafeteria. My sister’s class is below. I tried to find my class but after the horrible experience of Columbine in 1999 they covered my classes art up. The student who won the art contest wore a trench coat (that was his style) and had that as part of the tiger in our 1991 artwork, but that was considered a negative after Columbine. I found it sad when I found out after our tour that was why we couldn’t find it. I feel they could have asked said student to come in and try to fix it up a bit instead of painting over it.
So many memories at this school and soon it will be no more. The citizens of Cuyahoga Falls voted to build a new high school and middle school complex which means soon the school that I figured would stand forever will be torn down. I doubt my middle school will go, it was the newest of the buildings but would probably be turned into something else.
But the auditorium is what brings me so many tears. My choir concerts, my daughter’s choir concerts, my son’s band concerts. I know they need newer, and better to attract families with kids, but there is something to be said for the past.
I can say this much – I don’t know what all will be taken from the old building to the new building, but I do hope this cafeteria sign goes. It was hanging in the lunchroom when I went to school and we noticed it still hanging there on my 30th reunion tour. I just feel it should be moved to the next. And not a new copy, this same sign.
The Marching Band
Along with the school being 100 years old, the Marching Band is also celebrating it’s 100th anniversary this year as well. I am beyond proud that my son has become a part of this legacy. I never learned to play an instrument (though I’m teaching myself the piano presently). but he plays the trumpet.
So impressed with their talent and dedication through good times and bad (which would have been last year and coping with Covid challenges).
I’ve really had a hard time coming up with someone for this week’s theme for 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. I contemplated writing about my third great-grandfather who was a deeply religious man, but I haven’t done much with him yet, other than figure out all his kids (there were 16 – and thankfully someone wrote a book to assist with finding them all).
The person who kept popping in my head was a man who is not blood-related to me, but he was family, and the only man I can remember being a grandfather to me. My dad’s dad passed away when I was 2, so I didn’t really get to know him. My mom’s dad was just mean and I didn’t like him so there’s that. But my mom’s mom remarried (twice) and her third and final husband was James Edward Metzger, whom she married the month after I was born. He was a lively sort and for a very long time I thought he was just one of the greatest people ever.
So for this week’s post I’m going to write about my Grandpa Jim, and hopefully he will make you smile as he use to make me.
James Edward Metzger
James Edward Metzger was born on 12 May 1930 to Howard J. Metzger and Gertrude Mary Rule in Columbus, Ohio. In a few years time he was joined by a sister. I’ll admit I haven’t done a great deal of research on him just because I get so caught up in blood lines, but I believe Howard and Gertrude must have divorced and she remarried Marty Roush, but I’m not sure when.
On 2 September 1950 Jim married Mary Jo Williams, with whom he had two sons. He divorced Mary Jo in 1956 and remarried a woman named Florence and they had a daughter. Their marriage also ended in divorce in 1962. His third marriage would be his last, to my maternal grandmother, Alberta Lou Fleming. He always made sure that he told everyone that he paid for her second divorce (as it was final 16 March 1973 and James and Alberta got married on 24 March 1973 (1 month and 2 days after I was born).
He Was A Character
Not that my grandparents ever had much, but they would do what they could to help you. My Grandpa Jim was a drinker, but he wasn’t the type to get mean and violent, the more he drank, the louder he became, and the funnier he thought he was (it was hit or miss to those around him).
But my Grandpa Jim always took the time to be involved in what mattered to me, as well as my other cousins. When I was into swimming, he was my biggest supporter. I remember him taking the time to cheer me on when I visited with him and my Grandma in the summer of 1986, it was my sister’s graduation present but I ended up tagging along too. For the 6 weeks we spent in Florida with them, except for the days we went to Disney and to Busch Gardens Tampa, all my time was spent with me swimming in the pool. I’d get up and swim, take a lunch break between 12-1 to watch my favorite soap at the time, Loving on ABC, then I’d swim in the pool until 4 when it was adult swim time – at that point I’d head to the Gulf of Mexico for an hour and then I’d eat dinner, only to return to the pool again from 6-10, my Grandpa calling me in when he went to close the pool for the night, I went inside and be it a chair, recliner or sofa, that’s where I fell asleep and I’d get up in the morning and do it all again, which was easy as I was still in my bathing suit.
Grandpa Jim was different from anyone I knew. His passion was singing, and he sang so beautifully, so much so that he joined the local Barbershop Quartet (or choir as it was sometimes) in Florida. He would burst into song (not like a musical, but if a song fit the moment, he’d sing it).
Everything he did was a bit larger than life. And though I know life wasn’t a bowl of cherries, he always tried to make it seem that way when all of us younger grandchildren were around.
He was a die-hard Ohio State Buckeye fan and would brag at no end about how his step-dad, Marty, would caddie for Jack Nicklaus (this seems to be true).
At some point in his life I heard that Jim Metzger sold dental equipment before he began managing condominiums and apartments with my Grandmother. Alberta was the manager while Jim fixed things. It was a good set up.
A Funny Story
I consulted with my mom’s sister for this next story as it was one that always made my mom cry she would laugh so hard. So here is what my Aunt told me, the story includes my Grandpa Jim, my Uncle Jim, and an outhouse.
“A death occurred on Howard Fleming’s side of the family in Corsica, Pennsylvania. The house they were staying in belonged to an Aunt Margaret (possibly Martha). She was apparently a hoarder by frustration as she got tired of picking up after everyone, so she began stacking stuff and eventually everything became full except a little path from the bedrooms to the kitchen.When she got up in the morning the boys had gone outside to use the outhouse (there was no indoor bathroom). As they were standing there, taking a leak, the floor gave away. Somehow they were lucky enough to have both feet land on a pole that was ran underground under the outhouse, but they were still waist-high in poop.
My Aunt doesn’t remember what they did for clothing but they had no shoes for the funeral. My Aunt could only wonder what Jim Metzger was thinking.”
I don’t think he was married to my Grandmother yet.
I’ve been told by both sides of my family that I am as stubborn as the other side. My mom telling me I’m as stubborn as the Blair’s while my dad says I’m all Fairhurst. I have learned that deep down I’m probably a combination of them all.
One such time of my showing how stubborn I could be was when I’d hold a grudge against someone, and I had such a grudge towards my Grandpa Jim. He embarrassed me one day when he was drinking really heavy in front of my best friend. doing a really bad imitation of Jerry Lewis, it was never good, but this day had him doing it repetitively trying to get people to laugh, and it wasn’t working. Top it off with the fact that I was in 10th grade, so you know how that age can already be, but he was slurring his words and just going a little too much over the top. Even my mom would admit that was a bad day. He ended up getting in his car and driving to Columbus after an altercation with someone (that part escapes me now but I remember my mom being horribly worried something really bad would happen, to our knowledge nothing did).
After that day I never was the same around him, giving him the silent treatment and the like (well, he and my grandma forgetting my 18th birthday a year or so later didn’t help, but maybe I brought it on myself).
Where I ended up making my peace with my Grandma Metzger, I never had the chance to really do that with my Grandpa. I was young and stupid. And then I was in my twenties. They had moved back down to Columbus so I didn’t see them all the time. I’d like to think he would forgive me, he was the first person who drank a lot that I was around. I have/had all kinds of addictive personalities in my extended family, but he was the first person who I truly “saw”. And he was one of my heroes, they aren’t suppose to fall off their pedestals.
How Scanning Photos Changed My Mind
I also think my opinion really changed last year during Covid when I began scanning my Grandma Metzger’s pictures that my dad gave me and I found the one below of my Grandparents. Look at them looking at each other. And I can tell this was when they lived in Florida which was a good 13 years into their marriage. So much love. I can just hear him calling her “Dear Heart” (well, he called everyone that). He may have had his flaws, but you can tell he loved my Grandma.
James Edward Metzger died 21 July 2001 from lung cancer in Columbus, Ohio. He was far from perfect, but he was full of personality, and considered everyone he came in contact with a friend.
The theme for 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks is “tragedy”. I’ll admit I did a search in my genealogy software trying to find a relative who was a logger and died under tragic circumstances (I could not find them) or I contemplated about a distant cousin who died young under horrible circumstances (leaving that for another year?).
But then I decided to be different.
All week long when I began attempting to compose this post the Bee Gees song began going through my head. Why? Well “Tragedy” is the name of the song, it’s also quite catchy, as most songs by the Brothers Gibb are.
But for me the Bee Gees songs have a greater meaning, in the last 20 years of my mom’s life she loved the Bee Gees and would often ride her recumbent bike listening to them, or when taking a walk around the block or at the local gym. She would often comment that their music would allow her to bee bop through the house (she had a specific term for this bee bopping but I shall not say it, because though Cynthia Anne Fairhurst meant it as a HUGE compliment, it may not be seen that way in today’s climate).
The Bee Gees Greatest Hits were one of my mom’s favorite albums, and my sister often has moments that she feels my mom is with her when a Bee Gees song comes on. Sadly, I don’t listen to the correct radio stations to be blessed with this – but that’s okay. I get cardinals in my lilac bush on her birthday which is just as nice.
This week’s theme for 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks is “In the City”. I’ll admit this one was hard, because most of the relatives I have focused my research on were born and died in Pennsylvania, in one of the following counties: Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Fulton, Huntingdon, or Somerset. Granted on my mom’s side they either came from England and settled in Ohio or they were born in Massachusetts and moved to Potter County, Pennsylvania. But finding someone who was born in a small town and moved to a big city was not anything my ancestors did.
But then I remembered my 5th-great-grandfather, Ebenezer Oakman, who was born in Lynn, Essex, Massachusetts and moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Lynn, Essex, Massachusetts
With land purchased from the Indians, Lynn, was founded in 1629, specializing in the manufacture of leather shoes, eventually becoming the ladies shoe center of the world, even getting Congress to place a protective tariff on the shoes.
In 1850 Lynn officially became a city and they had another claim to fame as the General Electric Company was born in 1892 by the merging of Edison Electric and Thomson-Houston Electric.
Today, Lynn is the 9th largest city in the state of Massachusetts and is close to 4 miles north of Boston located on the Atlantic Ocean.
Ebenezer Oakman was born 8 August 1775 in Lynn, Essex, Massachusetts when it was still a part of British Colonial America, to Isaac Oakman and Elizabeth Lathe. He married Hannah Stocker on 13 October 1796 and they went on to have six children: Rebeca, Hannah, Elizabeth, Ebenezer Phillip, Sally, and Squires, all born between 1797 and 1805 (this was found using a document I found at AmericanAncestors).
In 1802 Ebenezer began a shoe factory in East Saugus with large expansions in 1807 and 1810, where he then had the largest shoe factory in the area. He would make the shoes in Massachusetts and then take them to be sold in Philadelphia, however in 1818 he moved the entire business to Philly.
One of the reasons for the move was that Ebenezer’s wife, Hannah, died on 27 March 1812. He then met and married Anna Bruce Ansley in approximately 1814 where they then had seven children between 1815 and 1832: Joseph, Robert, Agnes, Jane, Isaac, John, and William.
It appears around 1850 Ebenezer and Anna separated and he moved to and died in Lynn, Essex, Massachusetts at the age of 78 on 6 September 1854 (she moved to Illinois with Isaac).
I am related to Ebenezer Oakman through his oldest son, Ebenezer, through his daughter, Mary Elizabeth who was born in Philadelphia to his wife, Mary Catherine White. Mary married George Henry Fesler and their oldest daughter is my 2nd-great-grandmother, Sara Jane Fesler. She married Randall Childers and had Bertha Childers, who married the younger Andrew Jackson Blair and their son Leroy was my grandfather.
As a girl who was quite fond of trendy shoes back in my college days (well, we can just sum it up as the 1990’s in general) I was really excited when I learned of my ancestors owning a leather shoe store. I’ve not yet uncovered what happened with the shoe store (one of the online blurbs I read stated they traded the store for land in Bedford County but at this time I have nothing to back this up), but I would love to know if maybe this company turned into a brand that I myself wore.
I literally went through a list of my ancestors names to determine my “favorite name”. It was tough but like most everything else, she popped out and despite my looking at other names that caught my eye (one was a first cousin twice removed, Chester Charles Childers because who doesn’t like a good cha-cha-cha) I couldn’t stop thinking of a name I saw before his, and that is Thankful Chapin, my fifth-great-grandmother.
Or is she?
I think she is though many do not have her listed as my fourth-great-grandfather’s mother. He was born in 1809, she died in 1812, seems like he should fall into her realm. But who knows? But here is what I do know about Thankful Chapin Warner.
Who is Thankful Chapin?
Thankful Chapin was born 11 November 1774 in Bernardston, Franklin, Massachusetts to Lt. Joel Chapin (he fought in the French & Indian War and the Revolutionary War) and Sarah Burke, the sixth of seven children born to this couple. Her siblings names are Joel Chapin, Jr., Eddy Burke Chapin, Israel Chapin, Solomon Chapin, Sarah Chapin, and Oliver. Depending on the book you read it claims she had another sister, Gratia, who was also married to Joel, but this book seems to be the only book I can find that lists her.
On 27 April 1799 she married Joel Warner and in their almost 13 years of marriage, they had three children: Sarah Burke Warner born 8 February 1800; Anson Warner born 27 November 1805; and lastly Oliver Charles Warner who was born in 1809. She died on 3 April 1812 and is buried with many other Chapin’s in Old Cemetery, Bernardston, Franklin, Massachusetts.
I have never been able to find a whole lot of information on Thankful, and honestly nothing concrete if she is really Oliver’s mother (though since her younger brother was an Oliver, it really helps to think that she may be).
So over the course of the next few months, as I discuss research logs I plan on using Thankful as my example, to prove that she is the mother of Oliver Charles Warner.
Why Is Thankful a Favorite Name?
I chose Thankful Chapin as my favorite name as it always brings a smile to my face. We all have so much to be thankful for and to have a direct line ancestor named such, and you wonder why her parents, my sixth-great-grandparents, would name their daughter such a name. Did they have a reason to be extra grateful at that time? 1774 had the British Colonial America gearing up for a war with Great Britain, Massachusetts especially. Did they have a good crop that changed their world? So many things go through my mind.
Do you have an ancestor whose name is your favorite? Feel free to share!
This is my 100th post on my blog. I was surprised a few weeks ago when I saw I was at 95 posts and couldn’t believe I was reaching a milestone (or at least it is for tv shows).
The one thing I have not done is add more book reviews and actual history tidbits – I actually named my blog “becky history helper” for a reason – because I wanted to bring history to life. I was fortunate to have fun history teachers that made learning fun and I hope to do the same going forward with my blog.
In the meantime I will re-start posts on the important things you should do when completing your family history (if nothing else as a reminder to me) as well as continuing Amy Johnson Crow’s writing challenge of 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.
Thank you for reading and subscribing to my blog and I hope to share more knowledge and make it even more exciting in the future.
This week’s topic for Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks is Health. It was proving to be a struggle for me as I went through various people, illnesses, and how my mom was a nurse, but since I had discussed her not so long ago I wanted something that was different and not so obvious, and then it hit me – I have so many relatives who were coal miners, I decided to discuss the unhealthy conditions of working in a coal mine.
Coal Miners in My Family
I started making a list of all the men that were coal miners in my family and had not gotten too far on just my dad’s side and I already had over 20. My mom’s side could easily have just as many with her Fairhurst and Boone relatives as they all came over from England in the early 1900’s and settled in Jefferson County, Ohio where they were also miners (my great-grandmother, Phoebe Boone even ran a boarding house for miners).
My coal miners were not just limited to those who were here in the United States like my Blair’s, or the Fairhurst’s and Boone’s who immigrated from England, but my great-great-great-grandfather, James Boone was a coal miner in England. I do know that Isaiah Boone, mentioned later, moved to Utah and mined there and then returned to Ohio.
An Unhealthy Industry
Coal was one of the main resources that ran engines (stationary and locomotive) when the world began going through the Industrial Revolution. Though in the United States coal mining was done in smaller, rural towns, the mines were sometimes owned by railroads, which would obviously make sure the coal got where it needed to go.
Coal mining was not easy work. You were in the darkness all day, hunched over because most of the time the cavities within had low ceilings and you were constantly inhaling coal dust. Many illnesses were caused by lung issues.
Coal Workers Pneumoconiosis
Coal Workers Pneumoconiosis is a lung disease caused by the inhalation of dust and the lungs become inflamed or scarred which eventually made the person have a difficult time breathing. Another common name for this is black lung.
The stages of the disease often began with a cough, which leads to shortness of breath, then chest tightness. There is no cure, only prevention.
Though technology was not available hundreds of years ago, today’s miners can wear a personal dust monitor that measures the dust exposure, knowing at the end of each shift what the amount of dust was.
Another similar ailment is Silicosis.
Lung cancer in coal mining is primarily caused by exposure to the diesel exhaust daily for five-plus years. This is focused primarily on miners since the 1940’s and is normally combined with pneumoconiosis.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a common ailment among many people in today’s world, even outside of being a coal miner (your common habit of smoking is enough to contribute to COPD, my mother and maternal grandmother were both diagnosed). Like pneumoconiosis, COPD cannot be cured. Examples of COPD are bronchitis and emphysema, and along with coal worker pneumoconiosis, it has been classified as an occupational disease.
Though not deemed harmful, “coal tattoos” also were a sign of the coal miner as the miner would get cut and coal dust would get in it before it healed.
Along with suffocation, gas poisoning, another unhealthy part of coal mining are explosions and mine collapse. I know in my own lifetime I’ve witnessed on television in differing areas of the world tragic outcomes where a group of men were trapped underground due to an explosion or a cave-in and it was unknown if the area where the men were trapped had enough air to sustain the 22 miners in China (11 survived), or the 33 miners in Chile (all survived for a period of 69 days), or the 13 miners in West Virginia (only 1 miner survived this explosion).
Explosions in mines are nothing new. I have both direct and collateral ancestors in my tree who died from such mining accidents.
“Mine Explosion Kills Four Men At Wolf Run” – Carroll Journal, 12 December 1935
“Four men lost their lives and 31 had a narrow escape in an explosion early last Thursday night in the Warner Collieries Mine at Wolf Run near Bergholz. Those killed were Isaiah Boone, 50, his half brother, Joseph Boon, 47, and Robert Russell, 25, all of Amsterdam, and Albert James, 50, of Bergholz.”
Isaiah and Joseph Boone were the older and younger brother of my great-grandmother, Phoebe Boone, she was sandwiched between them in chronological order of children of Enoch Boone and Susannah Rigby’s children. Both came to the United States from Leigh, England – Isaiah in 1923 and Joseph in late 1920.
Using Newspapers.com to find articles of the paper, the blast was reported from as far East as Connecticut and as far west as Idaho, and I also found where it was reported in Canada.
Andrew Jackson Blair
“Blair, Andrew J. aged about 44, of B Court was instantly killed about one o’clock this afternoon when caught beneath a fall of rock while at work in the Forks Coal Mining Company mine. The victim was badly crushed. Mr. Blair’s brother-in-law, Abraham Childers, was injured in the same mine yesterday, having the ligaments torn in his leg”. – Johnstown Tribune, Wednesday, 17 November 1926, Page 26 (This article was found on Find A Grave where it was transcribed for his memorial, I was unable to find the original to include).
My great-grandfather was born in 1881 and on the 1900 census was already working in the coal mines. My dad told me that his dad, Leroy, Andrew’s oldest surviving son, also briefly worked in coal mining but had an accident in the same area his father died and that is when he found a different vocation.
I was able to find a newspaper article from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania newspaper, The Evening News, with a snippet of his death:
Other Interesting Facts
Coal mining was an institution unlike any other that I know of. Workers worked for a company who not only paid them in company cash or script, the housing was crude and also owned by the mines, the stores that took the script were owned by the company and priced everything high, but they could, because these stores were the only ones that would take the company cash. You were in a never-ending cycle and it really didn’t give you an “out”.
Young boys began working at the mines by the time they were 12 to 14 years old. They were not allowed to work in the mines but they would stay outside sorting the coal. To work within the mines they had to be 18 years old.
The social systems surrounding the mines were ethnicity based. Those with the highest prestige were the Welsh and English (this would have been where Isaiah and Joseph Boone fit in); then the Irish, Italians, Eastern Europeans and finally those that were from Appalachia. I am not quite sure where my great-grandfathers would have fit in being born in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, they weren’t foreign but also too far north for Appalachia.
It had to take a person of strong mind and spirit to work in the coal mines day in and day out. My other paternal great-grandfather, Charles Jackson Morgart worked in the coal mines the last handful of years before he took his own life. I’ve sat and contemplated his death numerous times trying to wrap my head around why he killed himself but I’m sure it’s a mystery I’ll never know for sure. Was it a bit of depression from working in the dark after being a farmer? I’ll never know.
I am sure there are hundreds of other illnesses that can coincide with working in a coal mine that I haven’t listed, but this is what I found in just a day or two researching for this blog of mine. Coal mining was a dangerous occupation that until I saw how many of my ancestors did this for a living, I never gave much thought too (well, until you hear about a grave situation on the news). I look at it so much differently these past few years, so many risks, both health and otherwise, that these men took to provide for their family.
* I found the information for the above article and provided links throughout leading to Wikipedia, American Lung Association, NCBI, NIOSH, and the Nursing Times