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
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!
The week 3 theme for Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks is “Namesake”. I know I have a lot of people in my tree (direct and not-so-direct) that are named after others. I started becoming overwhelmed as I wasn’t sure who to even begin writing about – but then it occurred to me… I can mention them all (well, most)!
The Anna Maria’s
The first namesake that popped in my head was my grandmother, Anna Maria Morgart (and as an FYI – that Maria is pronounced Mariah), who was named after her maternal grandmother, Anna Maria Leighty.
Just as I can spout off so many wonderful memories of my own grandmother, this was what my grandmother would do about her Granny Wise (Anna Maria Leighty was married to Jonas Wise), I just wish I had paid more attention and remembered them.
Below is Anna Maria Leighty (left) and Anna Maria Morgart (right).
The Andrew (Jackson) Blair’s
Andrew Jackson Blair is the name of my great-grandfather. His father was also Andrew Jackson Blair and his father was Andrew Blair (I’ve not confirmed his middle name was Jackson but no one hopes more than me it was as maybe it would eliminate that they were named after the president – I was not overly fond of him).
Last year I wrote about the Andrew Jackson’s in my Same Name post.
George Henry Fesler’s
George Henry Fesler is my great-great-grandfather who was born in 1824. He had a variety of occupations over his lifetime – laborer, farmer, stone mason and soldier as he fought for the Union in the Civil War.
Before fighting in the war, he had 6 children. Upon his return home he had 4 more, the fourth youngest of his children with Mary Elizabeth Oakman was George Henry Fesler, Jr. The elder George lived until 1911 with his cause of death being “old age”.
I don’t want to forget Abraham Childers. He was born in 1797 and passed away in 1874. Though Abraham had no children named for him, my great-great-grandparents named one of their children Abraham Childers.
Abraham was a chair maker and surprisingly enough – I’ve found a photo of him on Ancestry but not his grandson (though I suppose there is a chance whoever placed it there was incorrect but it’s so crackled I figured it was probably correctly identified).
The elder Abraham, my 3rd-great-grandfather also fought in the War of 1812 as a teenager.
The Delos Dunbar’s
We will now travel over to my maternal side and learn about Delos Henry Dunbar, my great-great-great-grandfather who was born in 1828 in Eaton, New York. He was a farmer who originally owned land in Independence, New York but eventually moved a few miles south to Potter County, Pennsylvania where he died in Coudersport in 1913 (a few months after his son, my 2nd-great-grandfather, Arthur Dunbar).
Delos, and his wife, Harriett Williams, oldest son was Delos Henry Dunbar, Jr. He was born in 1859 and died in 1936 in the state of New York. He was a Reverend in the United Brethren Church.
Both father and son are buried in Rathbone Cemetery in Oswayo, Pennsylvania (a city in Potter County).
My great-grandmother, Mildred Laura Dunbar (daughter of the above mentioned Arthur Dunbar) married Howard Fleming in 1933. Their eldest son was also named Howard after his dad. Though the elder Howard (born in 1908 in Corisca, Pennsylvania, passing away in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio in 1972) was a carpenter for B.F. Goodrich, one of the rubber companies in Akron, Ohio, his son, became an architect.
Howard and Mildred’s youngest son, James Rodney Fleming, who was born in 1943 and passed away in 2009, has his own namesake as well.
The Warner’s – my favorite family I never met a person from (is it weird to think I would have really liked my great-grandmother, Mazie (she was married to Arthur Dunbar – see how I am uniting everyone?).
I had to go pretty far up the family tree to find the namesake in the Warner family. Back in 1684 Ichabod Warner was born in Hadley, Massachusetts. In 1711 he married Mary Metcalf and they had Ichabod, Jr who then went on to marry Mary Mapes in 1737 and in 1738 Ichabod Mapes Warner was born.
Ichabod Mapes Warner fought in the French & Indian War.
Keeping Up With the Joneses
In the same area of my family (Oliver Charles Warner, Mazie’s grandfather, married Mary Jones) I have 3 generations of Anthony Joneses.
The eldest Anthony Jones was born in 1723 in Framingham, Massachusetts. In 1747 he married Margaret Elizabeth Alden and in 1753 they welcomed their fourth child, a son, who was Anthony Jones, Jr. Anthony Jr married Lydia Burnap in 1784 and in 1786 they welcomed their second son, Anthony Jones III.
Anthony Jr fought in the Revolutionary War.
Last But Not Least
I myself named my son after my dad, they are both Robert’s. Before my daughter was ever born, I had the name all figured out (well the middle name I negotiated with my husband so I could have a pink room). My dad didn’t mind as he apparently hasn’t been all that fond of his middle name.
We actually waited to be surprised when she was born, so until she popped out we didn’t know if she was going to be a Robert or not. When she decided to be a girl, that left Robert open for the next child. Lucky for me he was a boy.
For all intents and purposes my daughter has been named after my great-grandmother, Margaret Dora Wise. It was a fluke as my husband and I had disagreed on name after name for her and finally decided on Maggie… only to realize after the fact that Maggie was what my great-grandmother went by (Margaret Dora Wise was Anna Maria Leighty’s daughter, and my grandmother, Anna Maria Morgart’s mom – I’ve come full circle!). Her middle name goes along with the theme as well as it is a variation of my husband’s brother’s name (that part was on purpose).
I’m sure I have a bunch more on my family tree, for example my Uncle Eddie was named after my Great Uncle Edwin who died in World War 2 (you can read about that in last week’s post). But I tried to stick with just my direct line, even if my relative wasn’t always a result of the namesake (though my Andrew Blair’s and Ichabod Warner’s will always be special because I am a direct descendant).
If you are interested in writing about your ancestors you should take part in Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. Click here to check out the years worth of theme’s and I’m sure there is a spot to sign up as well!
Are many of you like me, where I sit down to begin researching a specific person in my family tree and before I know it I am on the opposite side looking up the exact opposite person?
These are the moments when I take a deep breath and remind myself to focus.
But then I decide to peruse a webinar (presently my only subscription – www.familytreewwebinars.com) on FAN’s (friends, family, associates and neighbors) and Elizabeth Shown Mills makes it look so easy with her arrows and people with common names and as soon as the webinar is over I rush to my own censuses for my Andrew and Susannah and no one has the same names, and they are in a different county in 1850 to 1860 to 1870 and…
And I tell myself to take a deep breath and focus.
I love learning but when you sit down to begin do you ever just become overwhelmed with what to begin working on first?
Sometimes I start with my grandparents and look at what I am missing. My Grandma Blair (Anna Maria Morgart) is pretty complete but I am missing the 1930 census of my grandfather, her husband, Leroy Blair.
Leroy passed away in 1975 when I was 2 years old. I’ve discussed with my dad if he knew where his dad may have been in 1930. In the late 1920’s Leroy was working in the mines, like his dad. His dad (my great-grandfather, Andrew Jackson Blair) died in 1926 when the mine he was working in collapsed, crushing his chest. Apparently Leroy had a close call in the same spot as his dad, and that’s when he left mining behind him.
My dad has also told me that Leroy moved to Akron, Ohio before he met my Grandma (Akron is where they ended up settling in the 1950’s). I’ve always wondered if it was around 1930. I’ve looked in both Ohio and Pennsylvania to see if I could find Leroy Blair in the 1930 census. I’ve even used his original name of Charley Wilmer Blair (before his mom decided she liked Leroy better) on the chance he decided to go by it instead. Still no luck.
I’ll admit I get a little closed minded when it comes to how to misspell my last name. Blair is just not a name that is misspelled. Blare, Belare, Belaire, Blain. I’ve tried just an “L” for the first name, sometimes I’ve just used the surname (shocker, when putting in the misspellings it always comes up with Blair as a result).
I’ll admit I haven’t tried going page by page through all the counties of Summit, OH; Blair, PA; Cambria, PA; Bedford, PA; Huntingdon, PA; Fulton, PA; or Somerset, PA because he has family in all of these areas so he could be anywhere.
Or maybe he had a rental (more like a boarding room) in any of these areas and was just missed (this is my dad’s thought). Or this was when he was in the process of moving to Akron to work in the cottage cheese plant (he could never eat cottage cheese again after this experience, according to my dad).
Would you believe I have the same issue with my great-grandfather, Charles Jackson Morgart (who would have been Leroy’s father-in-law) in the 1900 census?
And what is considered an “exhaustive search”? (Well, looking through all the pages through all those vicinities I am sure is a good start).
This is where research logs come in handy.
I have always been a very unorganized genealogist. That I had tables made in excel highlighting who I was looking for when I went to Bedford County 18 months ago was HUGE!
I am the girl who sits down and decides “I think I’ll do this today”. But in 2021 I am going to be more organized. I am going to begin logging what I’ve searched in and effort to keep myself on track.
And as I’ve read/watched/listened repeatedly by all kinds of professionals – it’s not always what you find that is important, but what you don’t find.
Research logs help you keep track of the sources you have already searched so you don’t duplicate your efforts.
And if you haven’t guessed, they should help you minimize your need to take a deep breath and focus – because that’s their main purpose!
So my primary goal of 2021 is to focus, focus, focus! I am determined to expand my horizons to books and other documentation that’s not just found by putting names in a search box.
So cheers to your 2021 genealogical resolutions! Feel free to share what you hope to accomplish in the comments below.
It was a sad day for my family 94 years ago today. My great-grandfather, Andrew Jackson Blair (also referred to as AJ) was killed when he was caught beneath falling rock within a coal mine owned by the Forks Coal Mining Company located in South Fork, Cambria County, Pennsylvania. Andrew was a pick miner and the tragedy happened between 12-1pm.
Andrew Jackson Blair left behind a widow, Bertha Childers Blair: two daughters, Vada (age 18) and Genevieve (age 16); and two sons, Leroy (my grandfather, age 14) and Donald (age 9).
When I was younger I knew my great-grandfather had died in the mines, but I never knew the detail involved. It makes me cry to think of what his last moments must have been like.
When I began my family history journey, I remember how I made sure in countless ways before I added someone to my tree that they belonged. I had to have censuses showing that they were in the family with my relative for me to truly believe that they deserved to be on my tree.
I’ve been working on my tree for 4 years now and for the most part I have stayed true to this theory. Occasionally I will forego and add people I see, for example, many online trees had a Wealthy Blair listed as a daughter for my great-great-grandparents. Even my late cousin Darlene had Wealthy listed on a family sheet for the same said 2nd-great-grandparents. I’ve never found any information on her, she was born and died before 1880. When I look at the 1900 and 1910 Federal Census which asks how many total children a woman had, there are always 3 children that had passed for my great-great-grandmother, and I always assumed one was Wealthy (one other was Margaret, born in October 1879 and lastly an unknown child I just have listed on my tree as I have no birth or death dates for them).
But since I began organizing my DNA matches I’ve found myself getting envious of tree size. I see people with 48,987 people on their tree and my eyes just widen and my jaw drops. What a glorious tree!
And then I find myself going new person after new person checking out the hints and adding (always logically, but still adding) them to my tree. One after another and I’m fairly certain most of my people are legitimate people with fairly good dates off said hints (I am rational enough to NOT add people who were born 100 years earlier coming on a boat from England when they were born in Bedford County, Pennsylvania), but still, it’s so easy to get wrapped up in hints on Ancestry and the one big tree on FamilySearch.
So I’ve started over from scratch in a way. One by one I’m going through my people in my personal family tree software that I keep on my computer. This is my main tree, the tree I don’t really share with the world and the one I find to be the most accurate. I’m going through one by one and making sure all the documents that I have in my online folders are included on the tree. Some items I have, like the beforementioned great-great-grandmother who my late cousin Darlene hand wrote her obituary and this is the only way I have it, I knew I had it in an envelope of documents Darlene had sent me, and now I have scanned it and added it to her profile.
I’m also comparing them to the Ancestry tree just in case there is a random document that I have on there that I hadn’t downloaded (that happens sometimes when I’m out and about and am not on my regular computer to save the documents as easily). By doing this I can clean up the Ancestry tree at the same time.
In the long run I must remember it’s not the size of my tree that matters, it truly is quality that counts. I’ve worked so hard and I want to be 100% positive that I’m putting the correct people in my tree.
This was all brought to my attention when I was working on my mother’s side of the family. I’ve haven’t delved into the Fairhurst branch often, but I have learned there are many William and Thomas Fairhurst’s out there, and trying to make sure I select the correct one was getting me quite confused.
So I took a deep breath and slowed down. It’s not a race. I’ll find each and every ancestor when they want me to find them.
From July 15-17 my husband and I traveled to Bedford County, Pennsylvania so I could research my family. It was such an honor to know I walked where they walked. It was a great trip that was full of adventure and I’ll be honest, spending one on one time with my husband was a nice treat.
As I recount my trip I just want to add that I suggested to my husband that maybe we should take my car as it would get better gas mileage. I’ll be honest with you, I have a 2013 Chrysler 200. I love my car (the first car I ever purchased was a 1993 Plymouth Sundance, and if my Sundance would have evolved, it would be in the realm of the Chrysler 200). Even my father thought we should take it for the same reason, better gas mileage. But believe me, my front-wheel-drive vehicle could never have conquered the hills of Cambria, Bedford, Huntingdon, Fulton and Somerset counties like my husband’s Ford F-150. As we headed from one cemetery to the next in Cambria county, we went up a hill so steep it was at a 15-degree incline (well, that hill we didn’t have to go up – hubby did it for fun). My car would never have survived either hill. I attempted to take a photo but my phone doesn’t do it justice.
First Stop: South Fork Cemetery
We left Ohio on Monday morning and traveled to Pennsylvania. It only took us about 3 hours and our first stop was South Fork Cemetery in South Fork, Cambria County. Here I found 2 out of 3 of my direct line relatives, and the grave of my Great-Aunt Vada. The person I couldn’t find was Susan Jane Foster Blair, my Great-Great-Grandmother. I was really bummed. I remember seeing her name as a teenager and you know how sometimes you have a relative that just pops out at you? That was Susan Jane Foster for me. We searched all around but were unable to locate her grave. South Fork was probably the largest cemetery we visited, but I am hoping to contact someone who could possibly have a map or layout of the cemetery, as it is one without an office, which explained the lack of information on the internet. (I’ll note here, none of the cemeteries we visited had an office).
Second Stop: Mount Hope Cemetery
Our next stop had us taking the above hills to arrive at Mount Hope Cemetery. This was a much smaller cemetery, and luckily because of websites like Find A Grave someone had already uploaded a photo of my Great-Grandmother’s gravestone so I had some idea what to look for shape-wise.
Below is the headstone belonging to Margaret Wise Custer, though I knew her as Gammy. She is the only one of the relatives I searched for on this day that I had met. I have vague memories of her playing the “mouth organ” in a nursing home. She passed away in 1987 at the age of 96. My Grandma, her daughter, lived to be 94. Good genes.
Third Stop: Hopewell Cemetery
When we looked up Hopewell Cemetery on Google Maps attempting to get something of an address for this location, it looked rather flat. We could see it had sections but never dreamed the slant that the cemetery was created on. It was the next largest cemetery we visited. I didn’t find my Great-Great-Grandparents that were buried here. Since I had no cell service I wasn’t able to consult Find A Grave to see if either of them were listed. Turns out that my Great-Great-Grandfather, Philip Wise did have a photo on the website, but his wife, Barbara Waite Wise, did not.
Hopewell is filled with old graves that are very worn. We tried to look all over in the older section of the cemetery, thinking that is where they may be (Philip passed in 1878 while Barbara passed in 1881).
I did find my Great-Great-Aunt Elizabeth Childers Whitfield’s grave in my search and took a photo of it (she was my Great-Grandmother Bertha Childers older sister). I figured it made the stop somewhat worth it. But looking at the photo – look at how angled the ground is! This was another spot I’m not sure my car could have survived.
Stop Four: Duvall’s Cemetery
Duvall’s Cemetery was built on land that belonged to my 5th-Great-Grandfather, Basil Foster. So this one had a little extra charm for me, I was going to walk on land that I knew belonged to my ancestors. I’m a geek and think that’s thrilling. I think everyone else thinks I’m nuts in these situations (you should see me at Yorktown and Mount Vernon knowing I’ve walked where George may have stepped, it gives me goosebumps).
But Duvall’s Cemetery is also where many of my direct line relatives are buried. I actually found out 2 days after this visit it held one more grave, that of Andrew Jackson Blair, my Great-Great-Grandfather, father of the aforementioned Andrew Jackson Blair, and husband of the aforementioned Susan Jane Foster (yes, as in Basil Foster). I actually looked for Susan here but was unsuccessful.
Here are my relatives buried in Duvall Cemetery: Andrew Jackson Blair (1851), Charles Jackson Morgart (my Great-Grandfather, first husband of Margaret Wise, aka Maggie Custer), Basil Foster, Richard Lewis Foster, Charity Johnstone Foster, Thomas Foster, Eliza Horton Foster – just to name a few. These are my direct line ancestors as on my first trip, I’d have to spend all day in each cemetery to find everyone.
I was unable to find Thomas Foster, my 3rd-Great-Grandfather, or his wife, Eliza Horton Foster, my 3rd-Great-Grandmother. There were many worn graves and some that had fallen apart off the screws where the tops were face down into the grass. It was so sad to see so many graves this way. These were someone’s people, and my husband told me straight off that no, he could not lift them alone. He knows me so well.
Stop Five: Wells Valley Methodist Cemetery
As we were driving, on our way to what ended up being our sixth stop, I saw a road and it turned out we were near Wells Valley Methodist Cemetery, where a majority of my Fesler and Childers family members are buried. I was not able to find everyone, but I did find 2 of the 5 that I was looking for – the first being my 3rd-Great-Grandfather, George Henry Fesler who fought in several smaller battles during the Civil War and his wife, Mary Elizabeth Oakman Fesler. My Great-Great-Grandmother, Sarah Jane Fesler Childers is reportedly buried there as well, but I was unable to find her. The area where the Fesler’s is an older portion of the cemetery in the back corner under a huge tree. Where George’s has been maintained – his wife and children’s are very worn.
Others we were unable to find were my 3rd-Great-Grandparents, Abraham Childers and his wife, Mary Ann Green. This was another spot where Find A Grave would have been helpful as it has one of theirs listed, but again, no service (I’ll know to save the photos ahead of time for future visits).
Stop Six: Mount Zion Lutheran Church Cemetery (aka Rays Hill Cemetery)
When we pulled alongside the road to Mount Zion Lutheran Church and Cemetery, the parking lot was blocked off with metal gates. As we sat in the car we saw huge gravestones saying “Ritchey” which was one of the names I was looking for. We searched for a while and then it hit me – I’d seen the headstones on Find a Grave and began looking for white. Here, if we had just started in the front (translated, not far from where we parked) my Great-Great-Grandparents were in the front row, and my 3rd Great-Grandparents were in the row directly behind them.
Stop Seven: It’s Not a Cemetery, it’s a Tavern
So as we drove along the Lincoln Highway I hoped we would drive by the Morgart Tavern, which was started by my 5th-Great-Grandfather, Peter Morgart, and then run by my 4th-Great-Grandfather, Baltzer Morgart. The building was constructed in the 1760’s and the walls are to be 2-feet deep. I was so excited when we found it. We knocked on the door before taking photos but no one was home. It’s when you find the places and even buildings where they lived that tickles me the most, a feeling of they were here.
Stop Eight: Providence Union Church Cemetery
This was our favorite cemetery, primarily because when we arrived we parked the truck, opened the door and there was my 5th-Great-Grandfather’s resting place front and center. He and his wife were our easiest finds of the day. We probably spent 5 minutes here. Captain Solomon Sparks fought in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. His daughter, Mary Sparks, was married to the before-mentioned Baltzer Morgart.
Stop Nine: The Morgart/Morgret Family Cemetery
This was a fun one as it’s literally in the middle of someone’s backyard. I don’t think the family is a Morgart, I would like to think they would have asked more questions about my being related to them (or not, being an uber-introvert my husband knocked on the door and asked if it was okay to go look at the cemetery, they were very nice and told us we could even pull up in the driveway next to the pole barn. I also want to add that seeing as it was mowed to the same height as the rest of the yard, this family took excellent care of the cemetery, you could easily read things, the gravestones we were weed-whacked, just really impressed).
So here I had many relatives buried, my 5th-Great-Grandfather, Peter Morgart, and his wife, Christiana Hess (my 5th-Great-Grandmother), my 4th-Great-Grandfather, Baltzer Morgart and his wife (and my 4th-Great-Grandmother), Mary Sparks, and lastly my 3rd-Great-Grandparents, Andrew Jackson Morgart and his wife, Rebecca O’Neal.
Last Stop: Dudley Methodist Cemetery
Our last stop was to find my Great-Great-Grandparents, Jonas and Anna Maria Leighty Wise. I was so excited to find them as 2 days later I was able to take a photo of a picture that my second cousin Hope had of them that was left after a Wise Family Reunion back in the 1990s. My Grandma Blair (her married last name) also talked so fondly of her “Granny Wise” that finding their graves had a lot of importance. But my husband and I must have looked at every single tombstone in the cemetery and we were unable to find them. I was so disappointed. I had no cell service so I was unable to look them up (it would have done me no good, there are no photos on Find A Grave). They were the parents of my Great-Grandmother, Margaret Wise.
Since returning home I did email the Dudley United Methodist Church on a hope they had a layout of the cemetery but I’ve not heard back from them. I could kick myself as it didn’t occur to me when I was there, but my husband found 9 graves of Wise’s but I didn’t recognize the names. Only later did it register that my Great-Great-Grandmother had a total of 15 children, but only 5 survived. Nine graves he found – I wonder if they are 9 of the 10 she lost.
Wrapping It Up
Since this post is ever-so-long I’ll stop here and do another post for the next 2 days. Cemetery hopping is fun. It gave me an opportunity to be near my ancestors. Without them, I wouldn’t be here. It’s just so fascinating to learn their names and to do my best to learn about them and who they were. Just trying my best for them not to be forgotten.
Have you ever gone on a research trip for your family history? Next week I am going on my first trip. I am so excited. I knew my children wouldn’t be so my dad has been nice enough to care for them and the dog while my husband and I head to Bedford County, Pennsylvania (about 4 hours from our home) so I can do a cemetery search and hopefully find original land and probate records from my relatives who passed away over a hundred years ago.
Having never gone on a trip like this before, I am sure there are lots of mistakes that I am making, so I decided to watch a very informative webinar by Family Tree Webinars that was given by Nicka Smith entitled “Get Set, GO! Planning and Executing a Successful Research Trip”. I was amazed at how many things I hadn’t really thought of doing, so that’s when I started getting my ducks in a row.
I then turned to the book I purchased about a month ago, “Organize Your Genealogy: Strategies and Solutions for Every Researcher” by Drew Smith (after listening to the Genealogy Guys Podcast I realized how knowledgeable he is, AND he sat next to me at the Meet and Greet at the Ohio Genealogical Society Conference in early May). In his book, Drew has an entire chapter dedicated to getting organized for a research trip.
Both Nicka and Drew have various details in common: stay focused on what you are going there to research, have a plan, call ahead – make sure the places you are going to research are open the day that you are planning on going, AND find out if what you want to research is on site for you to look through, space can be limited for historical documents and it’s entirely possible that the land records from 1873 are off-property but if you call a few days in advance, they could have them waiting there for you when you plan on being there.
“Focus” was the word. Bright, shiny objects are always a threat when you are researching but can especially happen when you are on a research trip. This is where apps like Evernote or OneNote can come in handy – note your find, mark down the book you found your information in and either come back to it if you found everything you were looking for – or look for it on another trip.
I know I am presently still figuring out all that I need to look at. I have so many empty holes for specific people at various points in my tree that I am a bit overwhelmed at what exactly I am going to be looking for. Besides visiting the Bedford County Courthouse (which is my second visit) it has been highly recommended to me to visit the Bedford County Historical Society. I have a feeling that I may end up finding a bunch of information at the Historical Society, but I am not 100% certain what all they have (I keep getting snippets of information in my Facebook Group that they have a lot. The Historical Society also acts as the Genealogical Society as well).
Questions to Ask
What hours are they open (you can’t always go by what their website states)?
Am I able to take photos of what I find with my phone?
If I can’t, how much does it cost to make copies?
Is everything I may want to research available, or are there items I need to request in advance?
You want to be as prepared as you can possibly be for your trip, as you don’t want to have driven a long way and be disappointed.
Another tip that I read in a Genealogy Gems blog by Lisa Louise Cooke is to be patient. Things may not go as smoothly as you envisioned in your head (things seldom do) but if you keep a good mindset and roll with the punches, it will allow you to have a wonderful trip.
Below is a very simplistic page I created (reminiscent of one in the webinar by Nicka Smith) as a way to keep me focused on my cemetery search that is going to take place on Monday. I’ve listed the cemeteries, who is buried there, and then I can come up with a few others who I am not sure where they are buried (for example, my great-great-grandmother Susan Jane Foster is buried at South Fork Cemetery, but I’m uncertain if her husband is buried there too. He died before death certificates were mandatory (in 1899) so I don’t have a slip of paper telling me where he is buried (yet – can you say that’s part of why I’m visiting the Bedford County Historical Society) but I’m hoping that maybe I will find him buried with her (or possibly with his children as Susan Jane didn’t pass until 1943). The purpose is to keep myself focused and I think this will do the job (like the little checkboxes?). The blank space to the right is for notes.
Most of those I have listed are direct line relatives. I’m sure if I see others I’ll photograph them. Those with an asterisk have special importance to me, so they are the exception to the direct line rule (I have essentially 3 days, I’m trying to acquire as much as I can but distant aunts, uncles, and cousins can wait).
I’ll update you on my progress next week. My husband thought I’d be able to visit everything in just a few days. I have relatives from Bedford, Fulton, Somerset, Cambria and Huntingdon counties in Pennsylvania, unless I am the world’s fastest and most efficient researcher, I don’t see conquering 4 counties in 2 days, not with both sides on my paternal side of my family to seek information on.
Do you have any tips or suggestions – I feel like in all I’ve read and watched I’m missing something critical to share with you. I’m sure I’ll think of it as soon as I hit “send”. I’d love to hear about anyone’s experience on their own visits to their families homeland. I am super excited to see mine and I’m meeting with a distant cousin and will get copies of photos of family members I’ve not seen.