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
The Week 1 theme of Amy Johnson Crow’s series “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” is “Beginnings” and all my beginnings lead to one place, Akron, Ohio.
Actually, if I wanted to be precise my beginnings would be linked to Falls Rec, the bowling alley where my parents first met. My dad was bowling one night on a league I believe for Ohio Edison and my mother tended bar. According to her, some guys wanted to introduce her to their friend, Bob, and she was excited as Bob was really good looking, but they brought my dad over instead (your laugh here to her funny tale).
I like to think it was a good thing, but then I’m a little biased.
But this meeting would never have happened had my grandparents, Leroy Blair and Anna Maria Morgart, not moved to Akron in the 1950s. The same can be said of my immigrant great-grandparents James Fairhurst and Phoebe Boone, who came to the United States from Leigh, England in 1913 (James) and 1915 (Phoebe). They originally resided in Amsterdam, Ohio but then moved to Akron by 1930. Lastly, if my great-great-grandmother, Mazie Lorenia Warner, hadn’t moved here in 1916 with her second husband, Samuel Randol with her 2 daughters, all of the pieces to my DNA make-up would not have come together.
Akron, Ohio was the happening place to be in the early 1900’s. “Between 1910 and 1920 the city’s population tripled to more than 200,000” (britannica.com). This was the time when Akron became known as the Rubber Capital of the World because all three big rubber companies had their headquarters here: Firestone, General Tire, and Goodyear (Goodyear still does).
Many of my Fairhurst relatives (my great-grandfather James, and 2 of his sons, Wilfred and Edwin) all worked for the rubber companies at various times. My grandfather, Harold, worked partly in construction and partly as a golf pro.
When Samuel Randol located to Akron with his family, he worked at the Swinehart Tire & Rubber Company. Here he met the last part of my family, my great-great-grandfather, Clyde Geer (and the Geers have been settled in Akron since Summit County was formed on March 3, 1840, with Clyde’s dad, William Harrison Geer being born on April 2, 1840, just 1 month later).
Leroy Blair originally moved from Pennsylvania to Indiana as he had an apprenticeship to learn the sheet metal trade. He moved from Gary, Indiana to Akron, Ohio in the early 1950s.
When I look at how all the pieces of the puzzle at one point lived all over the world, it’s amazing that my parents even met. The son of 2 English immigrants somehow met up with the daughter of an administrative professional/stenographer and a dad who we thought was one person, only to be another (the wonders of DNA) to have 5 kids, with the oldest meeting the only son of a sheet metal worker and his housekeeper wife.
Wow. Just wow. And in a bowling alley of all places.
Falls Rec was torn down in the mid-1990s and where it stood is now the parking lot of a Sheraton Hotel in downtown Cuyahoga Falls (the suburb of Akron where I was raised). I remember bowling there once when I was little. I believe my sister did join a kids league (I wasn’t much of a bowler).
My grandparents bowled there, my mom worked there, I believe most of her siblings bowled or worked there as well. It held quite the memories for my family.
More About Akron
I’m lucky that Akron had it’s hey day when it did because without it, I most likely wouldn’t be here. Akron isn’t just known for the rubber companies, it has been voted an All-American City four times (1980, 1981, 1995, and 2008) and has a nationally recognized library (the Akron-Summit County Library – which has lots of great genealogy information in their Special Collections department), it’s home to the Akron Art Museum, the Akron Rubberducks (the AA minor league baseball team to the still presently called Cleveland Indians), and the home of Purell (which has been super important during this Covid-19 filled year).
The University of Akron, which is widely known for its polymer research (which goes hand in hand with the rubber companies), and an outstanding Law School. On a related note, for years their football team played in the “Rubber Bowl” which was built as a Works Progress Administration project to put people to work in the late 1930s. The football team moved to their new stadium in Downtown Akron, in the heart of the University at Infocision Stadium in 2008. It was home to more than just football games, as countless concerts took place there as well. Demolition began in 2018, but only part of it has been razed as the other parts could cause structural issues with the roadways surrounding it and Derby Downs.
Which brings me to one of the most famous events in Akron is the annual Soap Box Derby , with motorless go-carts that of specific requirements and has been held yearly since 1933. Youths compete in their hometowns and move along until they come to Akron for the national championship. Competitors and their families come from all over to participate. I remember one year when I took summer courses for my degree while attending the University of Akron, as the dorms were used for their overnight accommodations, and it blew me away when I saw just how many children and teens participated in this event in my hometown.
I remember my mom telling me when she was a teenager going to a Soap Box Derby parade and in 1963 Rock Hudson was a celebrity attending, and she was able to touch his hand as he drove by in a car and that was one of the highlights of her life, as he was one of the few actors my mother thought to be dreamy.
Going hand in hand with Akron and Goodyear, I would be remissed if I didn’t discuss the Goodyear Blimp. The blimps were originally created at the blimp hangar in the middle of Akron. I remember my mom telling me that the hanger was so big it actually would rain inside.
Well, it’s been a while since they’ve built blimps at the original hangar, as they now are built at the Wingfoot Lake hangar in Suffield. In 2006, my parents, sister and brother-in-law attended the launch of the Spirit of Innovation in 2006.
Goodyear has always been a huge supporter of a variety of hobbies in our area, the Lighter Than Air Society being one of them. And it’s funny, I’ve grown up with blimps roaming the skies all my life and to this day when I hear that engine I run to see it. Though the new blimps, Wingfoot 1, 2, and 3 are all very quiet so you don’t hear them from within my house anymore.
Other Popular Places
I’m sure there is a lot of Akron I have missed, but before I forget here are 2 of my favorite places: the Akron Zoo and where I use to work, Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, which is the 65-room Tudor Revival home that F.A. Seiberling (co-founder of Goodyear with his brother, C.W.) and his wife Gertrude began building in 1912 and moved into in 1915. I think my favorite part of the house is how they had an architect (Charles Schneider) that designed the house and a landscape architect (Warren Manning) that made the gardens be extensions of the rooms. For example the Breakfast Room is designed in the colors of blue and yellow (Goodyear’s colors) and the garden that was around it was made up of blue and yellow flowers. It is now a historic estate that people can tour the house and grounds, along with various special events they have throughout the year.
As for the Akron Zoo, my daughter can not get enough of it, even as a teenager and more often than not we have a membership.
I can’t believe I almost forgot one of my favorite features of where I live – the Summit Metroparks. I’ve been told by many fellow classmates that this is the one feature of our area that is so often overlooked and the most missed once people move onto other areas of the country.
The Summit MetroParks is a non-profit organization that cares for a 16 parks compiled of 14,000 acres with a variety of things to do in them like hiking, ice skating, soccer, baseball, archery, biking, paddling, kayaking, fishing, swimming and more.
For 57 years the MetroParks has hosted the Fall Hiking Spree. It’s funny as I originally tried to complete this when I was in 10th grade. I was in Enriched Biology and the main thing that separated us from the regular class were projects that were due each grading period. The first was easy, participate in the Fall Hiking Spree. 6 Hikes was an A, 5 a B, and so on. I did 6 with my dad. We found group hikes that were led by Naturalists and advertised each week in the Akron Beacon Journal and that’s where we went, so we not only learned about the natural surroundings but any history tidbits that were involved as well. To earn your hiking stick and shield, you complete 8 hikes, and my dad and I had every intention to do them, but it’s Ohio, and the weather turned cold and wet and we never did. Fast forward 24 years and I’m 39 years old and I put earning said shield and stick on my bucket list of things to do before turning 40. I was so happy the day I earned it with my friend, Pam. I’ve continued to do the hiking spree each year since having earned 9 total shields (but there are people who have hiked every year).
The below photo is the 2020 Shield on the left and a photo of my stick from 2019. Normally they have volunteers who will put the shield on for you but with Covid this year, they did not have this service. Bets on how long it takes my husband to get the shield on? It’s already January and it’s not done.
Writing this has been very therapeutic since being a girl who has wanted to move to New York City for over half her life, I realize just how lucky I am to be born and more or less raised in this wonderful area. It is the place where I have to begin my genealogical journey as it’s where I was born, my husband and children were born here, my mom, and her mom (my dad was born in Indiana). From there I spread to Pennsylvania on every front but the Fairhurst’s, which is England.
If you are interested in taking part in Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge please click here for more information. Come back next week as I tackle week #2!
I often watch webinars and videos, read blogs, or attend lectures and Linkpendium is always brought up as being a great resource for genealogists. But I have never used it, so today I am going to change that as we both can learn about Linkpendium together.
When you go to www.linkpendium.com you are greeted with the above homepage, and I like how it begins by telling you what it is and how to use it.
Linkpendium is a directory of over 10-million resources to help you find surnames within the United States (but it does say “worldwide” as well). There are 3-ways for you to research your family:
Using the “Family Discoverer” boxes at the top of the page
You can select if you want to search “worldwide” or by a specific state.
Using the “Jump to a City” box in the yellow section at the right of the page
Using the “Jump to a County” box below the City in the yellow section
Using the “Jump to a Surname” box in the yellow section
So I decided to do a search. I am missing the 1930 Census for my grandfather, Leroy Blair, so I put his first and last name in the Family Discoverer at the top of the page and selected “Pennsylvania” for my area (he lived in 3 different states – Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana). Below are my results for Pennsylvania.
For 85 milliseconds I was impressed. None of the hits initially are of my Leroy Blair but I will take a peek at the MyHeritage link at the top of the page.
I repeated the same search using Indiana and Ohio.
Okay, so I didn’t find out what I was looking for in my quest for information about my grandfather but let’s see what else I am able to find using the various search bars on Linkpendium.
Jump to City
My maternal great-grandmother was born in Coudersport, Pennsylvania so put it into the “Jump to City” search, and received 525 links to pages and subpages for Potter County (Coudersport is the county seat) so all in all I’m pleased (and plan on perusing the pages to get a better idea of the area. I’m especially curious of a biography page that came up, maybe one of my ancestors will be listed).
Jump to Surname
Next I did a surname search using my grandmother’s maiden name “Morgart”. The first half of the page was focused entirely on what I typed, but the second half of the page went into other options of the name. This isn’t so bad as there are a couple of different ways my Morgart’s spelled their last name. The family cemetery is actually known as the Morgart Morgret Cemetery so I could see how alternative spellings could be handy, and give you another option to look for when doing other searches for your family name in Censuses, etc.
I’m definitely going to utilize Linkpendium for future searches. I was impressed with the amount of hits I was able to get on learning about the specific areas of where my ancestors lived, and one of my favorite aspects of doing my family tree is finding out how my relatives spent their time and actually lived their lives. I could see myself being able to find so much more information using this valuable directory.
Has Linkpendium helped you solve any family history mysteries? Let me know in the comments below!
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.
Death certificates are one of my favorite tools to find when working on my family tree. Granted it’s always sad that your ancestor passed away, but death certificates offer so much information that when you find them it’s like hitting the family history jackpot.
Different States, Different Availability
The downside of death certificates when searching in the United States is that each state differs when they began keeping vital statistic records, and their availability for each is different as well. I am fortunate that I live in the state of Ohio and we can go and get a birth certificate from anywhere, at any time. There are limitations, like you have to be in the county where the person died (my grandfathers are both eluding me as one died in Jefferson County and the other in Monroe), or if the person passed away between 1908-1953 you can find them on FamilySearch but if they died between 1954-1963 you have to contact the Ohio History Center in Columbus to obtain those. The cost is $7 plus tax but I can honestly say when I mailed in my check for the two I needed, I sent away on a Thursday and my death certificates were emailed to me the following Monday (my check hadn’t even cleared yet).
Most of my relatives are from Pennsylvania which has a much stricter policy for the release of their vital statistics. Birth certificates are available 106 years after birth. Death certificates are available 50 years after they die. Next year I will finally be able to get my grandmother’s birth certificate as she was born in 1914. I will be ordering my grandfather’s at the same time as he was born in 1912.
Make sure you check with the state you are researching to find out when you are able to obtain these valuable vital statistics records and find out how much it will cost to obtain these records. In Pennsylvania, it is presently $5 each.
Birth Certificates vs. Death Certificates
Though birth certificates are very important (when recently coming across my great-aunt’s birth certificate on Ancestry, I discovered that her father was not my great-grandfather). Death certificates give you birth dates, death dates, spouse, parent’s names, where they are buried, if they are buried, when they were buried, how they died, where they lived, where they were born. Granted, the information is only as reliable as the informant, but it gives you something to go with as far as your person is concerned, especially if you know little about the person.
My Most Memorable Death Certificate
My most surprising death certificate I found using Ancestry Library Edition. I am fortunate for my local library to have this, and so I would often go to my local branch and spend an hour or more at least once a week utilizing the records they had. This is when I came across my second cousin twice removed’s death certificate.
Discovering that one of your relatives was executed by the state of Ohio is always a little alarming. I am sure if I ever find another (I truly hope I don’t) that I will be just as amazed. (And I know I’ve shown this before, but some surprises you just never get over).
However, look at all the information that you can discover on the above death certificate.
Name: Ralph Reed
Birth Date: 1 Jun 1921
Place of Birth: Johnstown, Cambria, Pennsylvania
Father: Thomas Reed
Mother: Margaret Phillips
Date of Death: 4 May 1949
Place of Death: Columbus, Franklin, Ohio
Cause of Death: Electrocution by Legal Execution
Informant: Mrs. Margaret Reed (his mother)
Burial: Headrick Cemetery
Date of Burial: 7 May 1949
All this information is from one piece of paper. Now in Ralph’s case, we are fortunate that the informant was his mother so it was a person who had a great deal of knowledge of his life. Many times we aren’t as lucky. So often I find “I don’t know” or “Unknown” for a parent’s name because the children of a person aren’t always aware of their grandparent’s names, especially if they passed away before they were born.
It is highly recommended that you gather all the vital statistics that you can for each member of your family. These include birth certificates, marriage licenses, and death certificates.
New England States
Most states began keeping death records between 1900-1930. If you are lucky enough to have relatives in the New England states where religion was the backbone of the community, you will be fortunate to have ledgers with birth and death dates. When I was finally able to leave Potter County, Pennsylvania and go to Franklin/Hampshire County, Massachusetts, I was amazed at how many vital statistic records I was able to obtain for my family where they were absent in PA.
As settlers moved west towards the new frontier, keeping records wasn’t at the top priority. As far as religion went, most of these areas had itinerant ministers. These circuit riders went from community to community, performing weddings, baptisms, and possibly funerals, but the documents weren’t always filed. This is why records throughout the mid-west are more challenging to find.
In Bedford County, Pennsylvania, where a majority of my father’s family came from, records are available in a handwritten book from 1890 to 1905. But anything before that is a mystery, often relying on gravestones for the answers for vital records, along with census records for birth dates.
Sources for Family History
Though there are many important documents to find in genealogy, I find that death certificates are one of the more important ones. Death certificates don’t always have the answers you are seeking for your people, but they are still valuable documents to have in your possession to obtain needed information about your ancestors. I know I presently have a death certificate for my second great-great-uncle and it is the only hint I have of what my third great-grandmother’s name is (I’m still hoping to hunt down her fourth living child in a hope of his death certificate giving me the same name). Both Ancestry and FamilySearch provide online images of death certificates so utilize these valuable sources, you never know what kind of interesting facts you will discover about your ancestors.