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 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
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.