The brick wall is a seriously frustrating piece of architecture. I have a few that I’m presently trying to chisel away. But there’s one that got tumbled by an awesome researcher a few years ago. I would like to thank Laten Bechtel for the magnificent lead she gave us.
A branch of my family tree from Augusta, Va., seemed to vanish after the 1880 census. I wasn’t able to locate my great-great-grandmother Alice’s siblings. I couldn’t track her sisters definitively (since I didn’t know if they had married), and her brothers didn’t show up anywhere…or that’s what I thought.
After getting Laten’s help, we discovered that one of those siblings, Cassius (aka Cass/Cassie), relocated to Fayette County, Pa., in the late 1890s and worked in the coal mining industry. Many blacks came to work in the coal mines due to the labor shortage or to break strikes. Cassius had a wife, Mary, and two children, Hobart and Sarah Virginia. We were able to acquire Cassius’ Pennsylvania marriage record from 1899 to Mary, which confirmed his identity. We also discovered that his nephew William Henry left Virginia for the Pennsylvania coal mines, too, working as a fireman*. William got married to a Frances. The men worked for the Eberly Coke and Coal Co., and the Frick Coal Co.
But it gets better! Thanks to Ruth Sprowls, a researcher from Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness, she found Cassius’ 1938 obituary in the Daily Courier newspaper from Connellsville, Pa.
That whet my appetite for more old articles. When I saw that newspaperarchive.com had issues for the Daily Courier and other Connellsville-area newspapers, I had to subscribe.
I hit the information mother lode on this coal mining family! I found obits for Mary, William and Frances, and their relatives. In addition, I learned that Cassius and his wife were active members of Mount Zion Baptist Church, based on articles mentioning church activities. There are even mentions of their children, like the 1918 listing below of males who registered during the WWI draft. Hobart shows up in the third column (and I made sure to check out his draft registration card on Ancestry.com).
Sarah’s name appears in a 1918 listing of all the eighth graders who passed their high school entrance exam, and in articles on the reunions of Dunbar Township High School’s Class of 1922, where she is listed among the memorialized classmates. So far, I haven’t been able to track down a yearbook.
As luck would have it, in turning up all this great information, I hit a new brick wall. My next mystery to crack in this specific branch is: WHO IS THE GRANDSON OF CASSIUS AND MARY? He is named in Mary’s 1963 obituary, living in Chicago. I don’t know if Sarah is his mother — or if he’s Hobart’s son. I also don’t know when or where this grandson was born. I’m hoping that he turns up in the 1940 census. It would be amazing if I could find him living today.
*Here is some fascinating background information that I got from Pamela Seighman, former curator at the Coal and Coke Heritage Center in Uniontown, Pa. I provided her with details about William Henry’s job and employer that I got from his WWI draft card.
A few interesting websites to check out are the Coal and Coke Heritage Center (CCHC), the African American Coal Mining Information Center, and this Fayette County, Pennsylvania coal mine index.