52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, Maternal Side, My Family Tree, Paternal Side

Week 36: Working

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.

Andrew Jackson Blair

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.

Charles Jackson Morgart

James Fairhurst

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).

Underwood & Underwood. (ca. 1913) Boys picking slate in a great coal breaker, anthracite mines, Pa. Pennsylvania, ca. 1913. New York: Underwood & Underwood, publishers. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2007681337/.

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.

Collier, J., photographer. (1942) Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania vicinity. Westland coal mine.
“Mantrip” going into a “drift mine”. Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Allegheny County United States, 1942. Nov. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2017841040/.

Company Towns

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.

Wolcott, M. P., photographer. (1938) Company houses, coal mining town, Caples, West Virginia
. United States Caples West Virginia, 1938. Sept. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2017752393/.

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.

Wolcott, M. P., photographer. (1938) Coal miner waiting to go home, Caples, West Virginia. United States Caples West Virginia, 1938. Sept. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2017752675/.
Genealogy, My Family Tree

Preparing for a Research Trip

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.

Stay Focused

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.

PA Research Trip

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.

Wish me luck!