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.
Thirteen years ago on this very day I lost one of the greatest human beings I ever knew. My paternal grandmother, Anna Maria Morgart died at the age of 93 years and a part of me has been lost ever since. On this anniversary of her death I will honor her.
Anna Maria Morgart was born on 2 April 1914 in Broad Top Township, Pennsylvania at 11:55am to Charles Jackson Morgart and Margaret Dora Wise. She was named after her maternal grandmother, Anna Maria Leighty Wise. By the time she was 5 years old, her father would commit suicide and her mother would re-marry. From the many stories I heard, my grandma thought the world of Irie Earl Custer, so much so my dad’s middle name was his middle name, and the name he (Mr. Custer) used, Earl.
She always told me about how much she loved school, and though she didn’t get the best of grades, she did love English and handwriting. She loved to write. Her handwriting was so distinctive, you can see it below in the “Blondie” on the photo on the right.
Anna Maria Morgart, about 1925 or 1926 or earlier
Below red school house. Looking at Geo Wise
One of her first jobs, she told me, was how she cleaned a bank. She claimed she got down and cleaned the floor with a little brush. She may or may not have said tooth brush but as a little girl that’s always what I pictured so that might be where I got that idea in my head. When I visited Pennsylvania last Summer my cousin, Hope, was so nice to show me where the bank was – and here it is – it’s where you pay your utilities in Saint Michael now.
The photo below was taken of her in 1933 – she was just 19 years old. It’s odd how much my dad looks like her in these photos.
I never quite knew when my grandparents met, I’m still not certain how they met either. I think I asked my dad but he isn’t entirely sure either. However I did come across this article from the Everett Press from 7 July 1933 where it shows they attended a Fourth of July picnic together at my Grandmother’s aunt’s home (Mrs. Bartley Noggle was Anna Rebekah Morgart, sister of Charles Jackson Morgart).
My grandparents got married on 24 April 1937 in Elkhart, Indiana. I’ve not found any wedding photos or even a marriage announcement, but I have found a copy of their marriage license on FamilySearch.
My grandparents moved to Indiana because my grandfather, Leroy Blair, was offered an apprenticeship in sheet metal. This was a much-preferred occupation as his father had passed away in the coal mines when he (Leroy) was just 14 years old, and according to my dad, Leroy also had an accident in the same “room” where his dad had died.
My Grandfather’s older sister Vada also lived in Gary, Indiana and she and my Grandma were best friends. I often talked to Darlene, Vada’s daughter, and she always remembered how close they were.
Despite living in Indiana, my Grandma still found a way to go back to Pennsylvania and visit her family. She was very close to her family. Her mom, Margaret Wise and brother, Charles Edward “Eddie” Morgart lived in Pennsylvania, but she would also head up to Detroit Michigan to visit with her older sister, Virginia. (Below are photos from 1940 of my Grandma, her with her brother-in-law, Joe Dipko, and lastly one of her and her sister, Virginia).
My Daddy Makes 3
On 11 January 1943 my dad was born. My Grandma was so happy to have a little one, and my dad was her only child. They were still living in Gary, Indiana when he came along, and since World War 2 was taking place, amongst the photographs was the ration book that was used for my dad.
In the 1950’s my grandparents moved from Gary, Indiana to Akron, Ohio. Initially they lived in a trailer but by 1955 they had money to move into a house. My Grandma had never been so proud of a house as the one she made her home. I couldn’t tell you how many photos she had of her house on Roslyn Avenue. That’s her standing in the door below. (She lived here the rest of her life).
My favorite was the photo she had of how there was nothing in the yard so my Grandfather, aka Pappy, decided to grow ears of corn in front of the living room window (however I am not finding that photo at the moment).
Another story of how they found their house was that as long as my Grandma could walk to a store she was going to be happy (she didn’t drive, apparently when she was younger a suitor attempted to teach her but she ran off the road and never got in the driver seat again). Pappy did well, he found a home for her and my parents got her a shopping cart that she could push her groceries home. She was also a master of coupons, and this was before couponing was a thing (or at least before I knew couponing was a thing).
As She Grew Older
My Grandma always had a smile and a kind word for everyone. She loved birds and family. The below photo I shared before. My Grandma and Pappy (right side) are playing with their bird, Skippy #1, while my Grandma’s mom, Margaret “Maggie” Wise, is laughing along with them, and Bertha Childers, Leroy’s mom, is just as grumpy as can be.
My Grandma was one of the most generous people I knew. During the summer months she would get up super early in the morning and go to a lady’s home, Mrs. Juhas was her name, she was the mom of one of my dad’s best friends growing up, and she would help her in her garden. She shared green beans and tomatoes with my grandma as payment (though we use to go over weekly for my dad to help my Grandma with a very small garden she had in her backyard). Until my Grandma got macular degeneration and could no longer can green beans, which was around 1997, I’d never had green beans in an aluminum can until about the year 2000.
Leroy/Pappy died on 14 May 1975 so I don’t really have any recollection of him (I was born in 1973). But Grandma went everywhere with us. She spent the night before Christmas so she was there to watch us open our presents. She was always invited over to functions on my mom’s side of the family (she was 1 of 5 kids so there was always something going on). My husband for the longest time didn’t believe this, especially when I began having trouble going places after my Grandma passed. I realized Grandma was who I sat with at these functions so I could entertain her, and frankly so she could entertain me (I’m quite the introvert at times). But after my maternal grandma passed, my aunt gave us a bunch of photos that we were in that she had, in every photo was my Grandma Blair beside me. I laughed so hard to prove my husband wrong.
When She Turned 93
The last six weeks of my Grandma’s life were not the best. She had gotten a case of shingles on her legs and didn’t tell anyone. It got into her bloodstream and made her pretty sick and she ended up in the hospital. This is where she was on her 93rd birthday. I remember my dad and I going to visit her on her big day, 2 April 2007.
From there she was moved into a nursing home not far from my house to go through therapy so she could walk and move around again. I would go and visit her often and slowly her appetite was decreasing. My husband made her sweet potatoes and it was the last solid food she ate. About a week later, I did what I didn’t want to do, which was tell her it was okay if she wanted to go “home”.
I’ve hated myself for 13 years for doing that. I know it’s what she needed, I know it was probably the right thing to do, but a selfish part of me hates myself for doing it because my kids never got to know her. My son was 7 months old and my daughter just 3 years. She has vague recollections, but that’s it.
But the thing is my kids have gotten to know her. I’ve shared with them all the wonderful stories I have of my Grandma Blair. Just today I told my daughter of the time when my Grandma was watching my sister and I in 1976 after my cousin Tracy was born. My mom helped drive my Aunt Barb to Texas to be with my Uncle who was in the Air Force. Aunt Barb had been in my room so I was staying in Kellie’s room on bunk beds. My sister had finally let me up on the top bunk and very quickly she decided I had overstayed my welcome. She went to take me off the top bunk by force but I quickly pushed her off the top bunk and on to the floor. My Grandma came back to see what was wrong, there was me on the top bunk and there was Kellie on the floor. My Grandma reached up for me and told me it was time to leave Kellie alone. As Kellie cried Grandma just told her that she would be okay and to get up off the floor. I really dodged a bullet that day. Don’t worry, some day I’m sure you’ll hear part 1 of this story when Kellie dragged me around the walls of the living room by my feet giving me rug burn (there is no love loss between my sister and I, even to this day).
A little over 2 years ago as I sat at a band concert with my mom, I can’t even remember what we were talking about but my mom looked at me and said that every day I reminded her of more and more of my Grandma Blair. It was the greatest compliment she could have ever given me. And sadly she (my mom) passed away a few weeks later, so I’m glad she said it when she did.
My favorite photo from my family history journey? I have to pick just one? I have so many that seeing an ancestor seems to have changed my life that picking just one seems so difficult. Until I realize it isn’t.
The photo I chose is actually (at the present anyhow) a part of my header here on my blog.
I’ve included it just as it was scanned off my dad’s flatbed scanner that he is allowing me to use. This photo includes 2-great-grandmothers and my paternal grandparents. It was taken at my grandparent’s house in Akron, Ohio in 1961. From left to right is Bertha Childers, Margaret “Maggie” Wise, Anna Maria Morgart, and Leroy Blair. This photo just seems to exemplify the personalities of them all and just looking at it brings a smile to my face.
I’ve heard from more than one person that Bertha (aka Mrs. Chappell, the last name of her second husband) was always mad at someone. So seeing her cross on the end of the sofa makes me wonder which of my other relatives was she upset with? Bertha is the mother of my grandfather, Leroy Blair. I never had the chance to meet Bertha, she passed away in 1963.
Margaret “Maggie” Wise
Next up is Maggie Wise, my Grandma’s mom. I actually have very fuzzy memories of visiting Gammy (that’s what her grandkids called her) in the nursing home when we went back to Pennsylvania to visit. I only recall meeting her a few times, and she passed away at the age of 96 in 1987 (I was 14 at the time). She always seemed happy and I remember her playing the “mouth organ” or harmonica.
My Paternal Grandparents
I love seeing my grandparents (Anna Maria Morgart and Leroy Blair) so happy in this picture. Now it’s hard to make out, even with the original photo in your hand, but from the note on the back of it, they are playing with a bird (not just any bird mind you, Skippy #1. My Grandma Blair went on to name every bird she had Skippy over the years, so it’s rather cool to see the original). Not having ever met my grandfather, I never knew that much about him, and stories seemed to fall all over the place. Seeing him having a good time with my Grandma makes me happy.
Anna Maria Morgart
My Grandma Blair was probably the best friend I will ever have. I could talk to her about anything and she never judged, just listened, and gave me the best advice she thought I needed. Gosh, I miss her. She passed away almost 13 years ago but sometimes the pain seems like it was yesterday.
My grandfather, affectionately called Pappy, died when I was 2-years-old so I really don’t have any recollections of him. My mom’s favorite story of him was how every time he came over to our house, I’d be asleep and he would say “I just want to go in a look at her” and somehow I always woke up. I have heard from other relatives how he just loved little girls and he would have probably spoiled me rotten (not that he wasn’t fond of my dad). I wish I could have had him in my life. He seems like he was just a good man, and in the end, isn’t that what you want from your relatives?
52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks
If you are interested in doing your own writing journey, 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks is where you can sign up and see the listing of all the prompts for this year’s challenge.
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.