Friday, April 29, 2011

One moving result of my western Pennsylvania research has been the notes I've received from friends and acquaintances who also have family links to the region or to coal mining. My friend Jean has kindly allowed me to share what she has learned about her own ancestry.

The two places we can trace my grandmother's family to in southeastern Pennsylvania are Homer City and Lucernemines. By the time my grandmother was there (in the mid-1910s), her mother had left her father back in the Wilkes-Barre area and was living with the man she would marry next.

My grandmother came to the U.S. on a boat through Ellis Island with her parents when she was 6 months old. I think it was January 1906. They settled in the Sugar Notch/Warrior Run area, and her father became a coal miner. Seems he became an alcoholic as well. Apparently he would recite and sometimes sing poetry. It's unclear how much of the poetry was original (or lucid). She knows that much of it was Dante since both her parents were from the region of Italy where Dante had achieved virtual sainthood.

My grandmother was young when her mother took her and the two younger children (both boys) and left the father. It appears they left with the future step-father, but I know that more from census records than from family stories. Her dad died in 1926, three weeks after my grandmother gave birth to her second child. She was in Cleveland and didn't travel at that time to the funeral. Her mother had a child with the stepfather, but didn't formally marry him until her first husband died. Clearly, they never divorced.

At some time in the 1950s, my grandmother, her brother, and her sister-in-law (who designed tombstones) traveled to Pennsylvania to put a stone on the father's grave. It had been about 30 years since his death. By the time I was 19, all of these people were dead. I'd taken enough interest in family history to be able to piece together some of their locations. I wanted to find my grandfather's grave, but still didn't know where in the great state of Pennsylvania he was buried. I did as much as I could in the early 1990s by letters and phone but found no record of his burial anywhere. Finally got in a car and drove to Wilkes-Barre and started looking around. Went 3-4 times in the next couple years and walked up and down rows and rows of cemeteries without finding him at all.

Took my mother with me in the late 1990s. We walked a few of the same cemeteries--including one that I always considered the most likely location. When I was with my mom, I discovered that the cemetery extended well beyond a wrought-iron fence that seemed to cut it off from a wooded area. Just beyond, we found many more graves. Mom and I split up and began walking and reading names. We met in the middle having found nothing--only to discover that his grave was right between us. Compared to the graves of the same age around him, his gravestone was in remarkable condition because of its relative youth.

Picked up some coal (anthracite) from the hill just a few yards from where he was buried. The largest piece is in my herb garden. Only after finding his grave did we discover his death certificate, which listed the cause of death as "black lung." Always knew he died at 42. My grandmother cited his young age often.

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