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.
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.
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
Free is the prompt for this weeks 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, and who better than to write about than my 5th-great-grandfather, Solomon Sparks, who fought in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.
Solomon Sparks was born 13 June 1758 to Joseph Sparks and the former Mary McDaniel in Frederick, Maryland. Overall he was the fifth of at least nine children, and the third boy. (As a side note, Solomon’s younger sister Sarah is also my 5th-great-grandmother, making Joseph and Mary my 6th-great-grandparents two times over).
Solomon’s family moved from Maryland to Bedford County, Pennsylvania in 1778 and in 1782 Solomon joined the militia as a private, mustering out when the war was over in 1783. He was a part of Captain Boyd’s Company of Rangers, their job was “to scout the forests and guard the settlements against surprise attacks from hostile Indians” (Taken from the History of Bedford, Fulton, & Somerset Counties).
Upon the war ending Solomon returned to Frederick, Maryland to live for a short time. This is where Rachel Weimer also lived, and they very well could have known each other or met at this point in time. They married in Pennsylvania in 1786 and had 11 children, settling in Providence Township in Bedford County, where he became a successful farmer.
When the War of 1812 began Captain Solomon Sparks and his Regiment of Rifleman “marched through the wilderness to the Canadian frontier and there performed efficient service” (Taken from the History of Bedford, Fulton & Somerset Counties).
Solomon passed away on 8 April 1838 but I wonder if he had been ill for a while. His will is dated 10 January 1821 with the beginning wording as “being for time very unwell but sound in mind, memory and understanding” (will was found in records not yet transcribed on FamilySearch). He gave $200 to each of his daughters, and money and homes to each of his sons. His wife, Rachel, was Executrix and his oldest son, Abraham, Executor.
When it came to finding conflict in my tree, as that is the theme for this week’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, one of my biggest puzzles is how George Mullen is related to my to my 2nd-great-grandmother, Anna Maria Leighty.
Supposedly George is Anna Maria’s son, but I don’t have any concrete proof that he is her son. I will confess I do have him listed in my family tree software as her son, only because of the below note on the picture of Anna Maria Leighty and her husband, Jonas Wise that my first cousin once removed, Hope, found left behind at a Wise Family Reunion in the 1990’s.
The note states:
Jonas Wise 1856-1913 Passed away at age 57 and was stone deaf
Anna Maria Leighty Wise 1849-1933 84 years of age, 15 children only 5 lived
George, Henry, Riley, Mary Ann, Maggie
Even the note is incorrect, Anna Maria first shows up on a census in 1860 because she was born in 1851. Most documents support Jonas being born in 1855. Their death years are both correct.
When you put all the pieces of the puzzle together, the only other piece of information that helps me think for a moment that he was her son is that she was living with him and is listed as his mother in the 1920 census (though i know you can’t always go by what the census says).
George Mullen was also supposedly born in 1874 but he is not living with Anna Maria Leighty in the 1880 census. He is listed with his grandmother (Anna Maria’s mother) Mary Ellen (Adams) Mullen and her 2 sons (who are younger than Anna Maria), William and Michael Mullen in Carbon, Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. George is also listed at this time with the last name of McCre. I do realize he may have been visiting, but I don’t have any record of his living with his mother.
In the 1880 Census, Anna Maria Leighty is married to Jonas Wise and they were living in Coaldale in 1880 with their oldest son, Henry (next door to my 2nd-great-granduncle, George Washington Blair – one of my infamous brick walls). Henry was born in 1876.
Now I did know one of George Mullen’s children, his daughter, Anna Mary, who my grandmother did consider a cousin, but I was little and didn’t think to ask questions. I know Anna Mary died in the early 1980’s and I always thought it a bit peculiar that she carried a doll with her everywhere. I now know she probably had dementia or Alzheimer’s but I didn’t understand as a child of 6, why I couldn’t carry a doll everywhere too. The other thing I think of when I think of Anna Mary is that she was a huge supporter of Nixon, I had a bunch of jewelry supporting Nixon that I was given to play dress up with when at my Grandma’s, I’m sure it was thrown away when my Grandmother passed away, but it would have been an interesting keepsake.
I never would have known until examining the 1920 census that George was Anna Maria’s son if it weren’t for Anna Maria Leighty’s page on Find a Grave. There are so many inconsistencies for whomever it was that wrote out the information that it makes my head hurt.
The person who wrote it was the grandchild (or possibly a great-grandchild) of William Mullen, who was the son of Mary Ellen Adams, half sibling of Anna Maria Leighty. They proceed to list all of George Mullen’s children, and as an after thought lists Anna Maria’s children with Jonas Wise (Henry, Riley, Mary Ann and Margaret). They list Margaret “Maggie” Wise as marrying a Blair, it was her daughter, Anna Maria Morgart who married a Blair. Anna Maria was also never a Mullen herself, her mother was, and I have a feeling since she more than likely raised George, he eventually took on her last name (which at that time was Mullen). Regardless, he was raised by the family and is one of us, I am just trying to figure out if he belongs where others have placed him.
So I’m sure you can understand my conflict.
Lastly, I share no DNA matches with anyone named Mullen. I find this interesting that George and his wife had 9 children and not one of their offspring has taken a DNA test. Or they have and they don’t match. I have even used the Thrulines tool on Ancestry and I have matches with descendants of Henry, Riley, Mary Ann and another for my own great-grandmother, Margaret Dora Wise. But not 1 match for George Mullen. After looking at my other DNA matches though, none of them have George listed as a child of Anna Maria Leighty, either.
Which once again leads to my conflict.
Working on this article I’ve learned that I have a lot to do on my Leighty family. I am missing many censuses for my great-great-grandmother (Anna Maria) and several of her siblings (Mary E., John Quincy, Joseph, George, Uriah, and Sidney). Joseph married an Ellen McCray, could this be a relation to the McCray that is supposedly the father of George?
I also think I am going to try to reach out to anyone who may appear to be a descendant, or at least someone who has researched George Mullen and his family to see if any of them have tested their DNA to see if there is a match. I know it may just be grasping at straws but this may give me insight on who George’s parents are, and confirm if it is my great-great-grandmother.
When finding the obituary of my great-great-grandfather, George Washington Morgart, there was always a part of it that interested me:
” The Knights of the Golden Eagle, of which he was a member, turned out in a body at his funeral”
Who are the Knights of the Golden Eagle? That is what I set out to learn this week.
The Knights of the Golden Eagle
The Knights of the Golden Eagle is a fraternal organization that began in 1873 in Baltimore, Maryland (I say is as via a Google Search there are claims it is still handing out scholarships in areas of Pennsylvania). The group was set up in Philadelphia by 1876 (with the help of the Odd Fellows).
The KGE local chapters were “castles”, state castles were “grand castles” and the national headquarters were “supreme castles”.
The castles were set up like the Crusades and had 3 degrees:
The first degree had you as a pilgrim where you “were taught fidelity to God and man”.
The second degree had you as a medieval knight where you “revered religion, fidelity, valor, charity, courtesy, and hospitality”
The third degree was based on a crusader where the member was “equipped against the evil of his enemies”.
To become a member the following qualifications are to be met:
Over the age of 18
Have no physical or mental handicaps
Ability to write
Able to support themselves
Sound moral character
Of the Christian faith
Meetings were held in an orderly fashion with songs mixed in.
The group tried to do good things for their community and help members widows and orphans when they need protection.
* The above information was found on Wikipedia and The National Heritage Museum
My dad has always been a low-key kind of guy who prefers books to most people (this is not that he doesn’t like people, he just loves to read!). So with this week’s theme being Father’s Day and me not knowing a whole lot about my Pappy (aka Leroy Blair, my dad’s dad) I took a moment before the day began today to ask my dad some questions about his dad.
A little background on him. Charley Wilmer Blair was born 13 February 1912 in Todd Township, Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania to Andrew Jackson Blair and Bertha Childers. He was their oldest living son. I’m not sure how long he had the name of Charley Wilmer before his mother decided she liked Leroy better, but this was the name he went by the rest of his life (I always think it’s funny she just decided she liked something better).
My dad didn’t really have one particular favorite memory of his dad, but was always amazed how quickly he could make up a meal. They would often go for a drive in nature and his dad would stop the car and pull out the Coleman stove and a pressure cooker and could have a meal made up in moments.
So funny that he had this memory because when I was scanning my grandmother’s photos, she had noted on the back of a photo of how they had stopped and Leroy had made a wonderful beef stew in the pressure cooker.
My favorite memory my dad had told me was how Pappy went to my dad’s school one day and excused him from class and decided to drive across the country to Arizona with him. What a trip that had to have been for the two (his older sister Vada lived in Arizona with her husband Charles and daughter, Darlene).
What Leroy Was Like
My dad has always described his dad as being a fairly simple man. They would go fishing but it was more of it being a quiet hobby because he (Leroy) never caught any fish. This is something that my dad must have inherited as he doesn’t catch fish very often either (luckily I am able to catch a fish but just about always throw them back).
My dad told me in the past that Leroy was also an excellent hunter. I had actually asked him about this because I know his (Leroy’s) brother Donald did. It surprised me to hear this as my grandparents house was never filled with the heads and other trophy animals that his younger brother’s house had. My dad then went on to tell me that once my grandfather was able to provide for his family and buy meat at the grocery store, he no longer went out and hunted for food.
I do know that he liked farming. My grandfather had a farm in southern Ohio and oddly enough where his potato fields were was the same spot that I always wanted to build an A-frame home. The field is surrounded by apple trees and the smell is so wonderful when they are in bloom. And it’s nice and quiet. My dad was always the buzz kill because he always made sure to tell me it would cost a million dollars just to build the driveway.
How I Wish I Had Gotten to Know Him
Of all my relatives I wish I had gotten a chance to speak to, my Pappy is at the top of the list. I wish I could have known him, as my Grandma Blair always said I was just as stubborn as he was, and that I had inherited his odd shaped feet.
I know he (Leroy) wasn’t always fond of my mom but even she was always upset that I never had a chance to know him. He always wanted to go in and see me when he visited, it didn’t matter that my mom had just put me down, I was always miraculously awake when he came out to the kitchen asking if he could hold me. “The baby’s awake” he would say.
I often wonder if he would have been the strong, silent type with me as he was with my dad. Or would have been a little more forthcoming with his granddaughter? I’ll never know. He died of a heart attack on 14 May 1975.
Luckily I have always had a good relationship with my dad. He is the best buddy a girl could ask for as we always did stuff together when I was growing up such as fishing, going to the movies, playing catch with a baseball in the backyard (despite my never trying out for little league or anything) and I’m sure a ton of other things that were just so commonplace they aren’t standing out. But he was always this strong presence. Still is today.
So as I write this on Father’s Day, I know my dad had a good dinner (we had cheesy brats and hamburgers with some calico beans and potato chips with cherry cupcakes and vanilla marshmallow frosting) and it was a good day with family.
Wishing all of the dad’s out there a very Happy Father’s Day!
Bridge. Such an ominous theme for this week’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. I didn’t know what I could possibly write about. A bridge – I don’t know enough of the specifics of my ancestors to see if a bridge made any sort of impact in their lives.
So I kept thinking – and it finally occurred to me that I am the bridge, I am the link between my family’s past and present. So this week I am not going to write about an ancestor, I am going to talk about me.
I was born in the early 70’s in Akron, Ohio, the exact same city as I live right now. Though I was raised in the Akron suburb of Cuyahoga Falls (it means “crooked river” in Indian). I am the youngest in my family – my only other sibling is my older sister, who was 5 when I was born (read between the lines here that she wasn’t happy with the attention I took away). I don’t think my sister ever realized how envious I was of her – she got dance lessons and I had…. nothing.
Not that I was upset, but I what I wanted to learn more than anything was to play the piano. I use to pretend that the end of my bed was a piano and I would “play” music for hours (it was me, humming the music). My mom always told me she wanted to get me lessons, and it’s not that they couldn’t afford them, they couldn’t afford the piano. Oddly enough, as I am typing this “from the hip” I ordered up a 36-lesson course to teach myself to play, and it just arrived, so maybe my inner child’s dream will come true.
My childhood was nothing extraordinary – if anything it was extra ordinary. My sister and I had our spats – she pulled me by my feet around and around the two entrances into our living room giving me a horrible patch of rugburn on my chin (yes, the chin was what was on the ground) while I ended up pushing her off the top bunk of her bunk beds when she finally gave me a minute to get up there (she went to push me but I pushed first – don’t worry, Grandma Blair took care of the situation – which means I didn’t get in trouble at all).
I remember learning a bit of math early on because I saw my sister doing it so I wanted to do it too. When I started to learn how to read in elementary school I went at it with everything in my being because my dad and sister were big readers, so I wanted to read too.
But there came a point when I saw where my sister didn’t always get the best of grades and I saw how upset it made my mom and so the “watch and learn” period began. I did my best to get good grades as that made my mom happy. Maybe not ecstatic but at least it gave her less to be upset about.
It’s funny, my sister pointed out how I tried to be better than her on a road trip to me within the past year. She thought I was doing it to be better than her, and I guess after a certain point it was, but it really started out trying to keep up with her. I didn’t think about not being as old as her, I only wanted to be on the same level as her, and being 5 years younger I had a lot of catching up to do.
In fifth grade I began my love of history. For some reason Ms. Roberson made history entertaining. None of my other teachers really had, and my history geek self was born.
In sixth grade I gave a complete answer to a substitute teacher in Social Studies and so the nickname of “Becky the Brain” was born. And instead of trying to put it out of my mind, I attempted to live up to it every year. Though I wasn’t very good in math so I couldn’t understand how anyone would think of me as a “brain” but I tried to keep the moniker alive. All the way through high school.
The College Years
College was my troubling time. I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up (and face it, time was running out, what am I talking about, I am still trying to figure that out). I opted to get a Bachelors of Science in Business Administration/Marketing in Management, not sales. But everyone assumes you want to do sales. I enjoyed marketing research. I find it thrilling to analyze information and detect trends. But you needed an MBA to even get your foot in the door and I was sick of school.
My goal was to move to New York City. I was born in Ohio but I was meant to be a New Yorker. The city brings a confidence in me that I have never experienced anywhere else. The energy makes me feel more alive and that’s why I tried to find a job there. But every job I was offered didn’t pay enough money, and though my mom didn’t tell me I shouldn’t go, she just offered one bit of advice: Do you really want to live somewhere that you have to work 3 jobs to get by? The answer was no, because then I’d never be able to enjoy living in the city I’d so wanted to be a part of.
In 1999 I returned to school and earned my Bachelor of Arts in History with my focus being American History. I don’t think I ever read so much in 1 year (well, except for the year I chose to read a certain number of books – and though I started off with a goal of 100 books, I condensed it down to 60 in June realizing I did need more of a life than just working and reading). While going back for my history degree, one of the classes had us getting internships at the local historic house, Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens. This class changed my life, as one internship turned into a second, which turned into a job. Best place to work to this day and it was all because of my co-workers. Many I am friends with on social media, but they were all genuinely good people. I just wish I could have continued working in the history field as I know I’d probably be a bit happier. What is that saying – if you do what you love you never work a day in your life?
I met my husband while working at Stan Hywet. Anyone who is willing to try burnt hot chocolate to impress you must not be so bad, right? We got married in 2003 (the photo to the right below is of the English Garden at Stan Hywet, where hubby proposed) and have had two wonderful children (isn’t that what you are suppose to say???). Actually I can’t complain, I nag about grades (for some reason the more I nag the less interested they are – and they weren’t like this in elementary school, and they are both so smart which makes it that much more infuriating).
We do the simple things – eat dinner together, go on camping trips as a family (well, the heat of Myrtle Beach did me in so now I prefer hotels), or go to places like Washington, D.C. (that was our last vacation – last year we were contemplating things but Covid-19 nipped those plans).
Our house isn’t fancy but it is home. We have a dog as well. Max, a Jack-Russell who is now finally almost 13 and starting to mellow for our standards.
My Love of Family History
My love of family history began when I was in 6th grade and had to do a genealogy project. It was simple, you had to either get to a different state or a different country. I had it lucky – my dad’s parents had both been born in Pennsylvania and my mom’s grandparents were either Pennsylvania or England, so score me extra points for getting out of the country.
I then began gathering information and doing stuff when I first began college. I really wish I would have stuck with it in the early-to-mid-nineties because I could have asked both grandmothers so much information. But I am not always so smart. My cousin, Darlene, who also worked on genealogy, sent me family group sheets and such to help me get started. Of course working and going to school ended up taking up a bunch of my time and it once again got put on hold.
Fast forward to 10 August 2016, the day I decided to Google family history or genealogy, who knows, but it was the day that I signed up for FamilySearch.org and I have never looked back. It started because on this particular day, I missed my Grandma, and I figured a way to get close to her was to learn all I could about her family.
I have learned so much about so many members of my family. And the more I learn the more mesmerized I am. These people were so strong and lived through so much. Life today would seem like a cake-walk (well unless family history became their hobby and they had some of the brick walls I do about them).
I’ve had DNA lead me to a branch of my tree that no one even knew about (well, unless I’m totally wrong). It’s amazing what a powerful tool a simple spit test can be.
Between attending conferences, family history days at the Family History Centers, and webinars and other online/in-person presentations, and Facebook groups, I have learned so much about this hobby of mine, and just how generous people in the genealogy community are, always willing to jump in and research from a different angle.
I Am the Bridge
I am the bridge because I then tell my family about what I have found. I deal with the eye rolls and whatever else may come my way for that person who says “wow, that’s interesting” and it makes it all worth it. I know my dad enjoys hearing what I find, often telling me he would never have the patience himself to do it, but he loves to hear about it.
I firmly believe in the Russian proverb I posted a while back, “You live as long as you are remembered” and I try to keep each and every one of my ancestors alive.
So I will do my best to work on my tree, break down walls, and do my best to fill in the dash between the years, attempting to bridge the present with the past. All along, hoping to make my ancestors proud.
This weeks post for Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks is all about military and who better to write about than my 3rd-great-grandfather, George Henry Fesler who fought in the Civil War.
His Early Years
Born on 18 October 1824 in Brush Creek, Bedford County, Pennsylvania, George Henry Fesler was the oldest child of William Frederick Fesler and Mary Polly Evans. George was the oldest in their family of at least 7 children: John, Mary, Matilda, Sarah, Alexander, and Samuel followed.
By the 1840 Census it appears that George, all the way to 15 years old, is no longer living with his parents. In 1844 he is selected as a private in John B. Alexander’s Wells Valley Riflemen (also referred to as Wells Valley Union Rifle Company), a group commissioned by Pennsylvania Governor Porter. Their first muster was 4 July 1844.
On 10 February 1847 he married Mary Elizabeth Oakman, the sister of one of his fellow Rifleman, Squires Oakman. He and Mary had a total of 11-children: Sara Jane (my 2nd-great-grandmother), John Oliver, Mary Isabelle, James Squires, Rebecca May, Margaret Elizabeth, Frances, Harry Franklin, George Henry, Jr., William Gilmore, and Lilly Mae. The last 2 were born upon his return after the Civil War.
In some documents George is listed as a farmer, in others a stone mason like his dad.
The Civil War
The first war where Congress passed an act for the first wartime draft was the Civil War. All men between the ages of 20 and 45 were to register. The difference between then and now was that you could buy your way out of the draft. For $300 you could avoid it all together (which is what wealthier men did) or you could hire someone to take your place.
It appears George was a draft dodger, and they caught up to him in September 1864 where he was arrested and forced to serve in the Union Army.
George mustered in as a Private on 19 September 1864 becoming a part of Company G of the 61st Regiment of the Pennsylvania Infantry on 2 November 1864. From December through the end of the war in June he served by defending Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C. was defended by 68 enclosed forts that surrounded the capitol city.
After his return to “normal” life, George and Mary had their last 2 children only for her to pass away in 1872.
At some point in time, George became acquainted with his neighbor, Fayetta Ann Childers, who was also the sister of his son-in-law, Randall Childers (Randall is my 2nd-great-grandfather and was married go George’s oldest daughter, Sara Jane). In 1883 George and Fayetta had the final piece of the Fesler family, Edgar Sheridan “Sherd” Fesler.
George and Fayetta never married legally, but theirs would be considered a common law marriage.
He filed to receive a pension in 1889 where medical reports have him as having chronic diarrhea and other rectum diseases which declared him an invalid (or at least made it difficult to work as one never knew when one of these bouts were going to hit. This was a common ailment among Civil War veterans).
George passed away on 14 October 1911 with Old Age being listed as his cause of death, he was 4 days shy of being 86 years old. He is buried with most of his family (as well as many of my Childers relatives) in Wells Valley Methodist Church Cemetery.
The Pension File
I purchased George’s pension file 2-years ago after I came home home from the Ohio Genealogical Society’s Conference. A gentleman I met there, Brian, has based a good portion of his business travelling to the Archives in Washington, DC to help genealogists such as myself get the military records for their ancestors. (If you are interested you may want to check out his website at www.civilwarrecords.com).
I will admit, I paid for everything (he had a discount for those attending the conference, and afraid I’d miss some detail if I didn’t get it all). I had glanced at everything a few times but will confess truly began dissecting the file when doing this post.
Take my advice, however you get your hands on your pension file (as you can order through NARA yourself), find the portion that tells you when they enlisted. The pension file for George included the entire war for Company G for the 61st Regiment of the Pennsylvania Infantry. As I read through their start in 1862 I am tracking their movements through Virginia in Newport News, how they fought at the battle of Fair Oaks and then Gettysburg, and I was so enamored that I started mapping a vacation to follow in his steps.
Then I clicked on another folder that had his enlistment papers and it was then I discovered he didn’t begin to serve until late 1864 and all the “cool” battles his regiment had been in were done.
My trip will just be visiting our nations capitol and visiting a barricade that still exists on the outside of the city.
I learned quite a bit about George while writing this post. He was the last surviving member of the Wells Valley Union Rifle Company, and a great hunter (various newspaper articles about this).
Growing up my parents never took me to cemeteries to view the headstones of our dearly departed. My grandfather, Leroy Blair, who passed away when I was 2 years old, was cremated, so we didn’t have any gravesite to visit.
The first death that affected me was that of my great-grandmother, Mildred Laura Dunbar. She passed away 8 January 1982 which was my cousin Jaclyn’s birthday, who turned 4 that day. My mother always remembered Jaclyn sitting on her lap, telling her that she bet “Great Grandma probably already has her wings”. It was the perfect sentiment for my mom about one of her most favorite people in the world. Mildred did have a gravesite but I only ever remember visiting a couple of times. There was extremely frigid weather taking place around her death, so it took a bit before she was able to be buried, if my memory serves. There was no cemetery portion of her funeral, it all took place at McGowan-Reid & Santos Funeral Home in Cuyahoga Falls (I don’t think it’s called that anymore).
Then I remember hearing issues about Mildred’s gravestone. They kept setting it incorrectly and water kept accumulating all around it. No matter what they did it just never seemed right. Both times we went, there were puddles.
My next gravesite I found was that of my grandma, Anna Maria Morgart. She had everything all arranged prior to her passing so my parents had little to do but the finalized ceremony. I don’t think my parents ever went to my Grandma’s gravesite after the ceremony at the cemetery. We didn’t have the one at the gravesite, but my brother-in-law stood by while the men buried her. Apparently he did that as one of his past jobs. I’m often glad my parents skipped that portion, I don’t think I could have handled watching my Grandma be put into the ground.
It has been a few years (not sure exactly how many) when I decided one day to go find my Grandma where she was buried at Rose Hill Burial Park in Akron. My husband pulled in and all I could remember was that she was under a tree, and I knew she had chosen a good spot because she would have liked the shade. But as we tiptoed trying to find her from a memory at least seven years prior, I was so happy when I finally found her headstone. It was a flat one in the ground. And though I had stepped so lightly and was so cautious to not step on anyone, lo and behold I was standing right on top of Grandma. But I laughed, if anyone would have forgiven me it would have been her.
Once I began getting involved in my genealogy seriously, I became extremely focused on finding my Great-Great-Grandmother, Mazie Lorenia Warner, and found her I did. It took a while as she is not listed on any of the cemetery sites, and the cemetery she is buried in, Mount Peace Cemetery, also in Akron, Ohio, doesn’t have her listed. But I contacted the office and they were able to send me over the invoice copies of when she purchased both plots back in 1938 when her second husband, Samuel Randol, unexpectedly passed away. I was so excited when I went on a whim with my husband to find her, I did it so I could show my mom more easily on a lunch hour one day.
But that lunch hour excursion never happened. I found Mazie and Samuel in September 2017 and my mom wasn’t feeling up to ever meeting me at the cemetery. I figured I would the next year, but just 8 months later, she had passed away too.
Like my Grandfather Blair, my Mom opted to be cremated. I understand, there is a great deal of expense when burying a loved one. But I will admit, I wish I had a cemetery plot to visit so I could hash out the worldly problems with my her. Especially on days like today, the 3rd anniversary of her death.
Two years ago I went back to Pennsylvania and spent an entire day visiting the graves of my direct line ancestors on my paternal side (with some bonus extras I found in the same spots). There was something so wonderful to be so close to where they had their final resting place, to be so close to them. But in that one day I was able to visit with at least 22 direct-line grandparents (probably more as I know some where buried in the vicinity where I was standing, but probably didn’t know for certain where they were buried due to their headstones being gone).