Saturday, October 29, 2011

Surname Saturday - The "Lost" Cary Family of Horton, NS

This is Part III in a series of posts demonstrating evidence that my 3rd great grandfather, David Fuller married Mary Cary. Up until now, It has been widely accepted that his wife was Mary Curry.

Please read the first two posts to see all the evidence.
Part 1: Can a published genealogy be wrong?
Part 2: Mary Curry's TRUE husband

In the previous posts, I have demonstrated how David Fuller removed his family to Portland, Maine from Horton, Nova Scotia, the fact that he had 6 previously unknown sons and the fact that the woman that was believed to be his wife, Mary Curry, actually married Silas Hatch.

The one missing piece is "Who was Mary Cary"? If David Fuller did marry Mary Cary, how did he meet her, since according to the Horton Township books, there was no Cary family living the settlement. What information do we have about her family? Where was she from?

The answer is that we know very little about her.  

According to the 1850 US Census records, Mary was born in Massachusetts and according to her son, David Bishop Fuller's death record she was from Plymouth, Mass.  Although, later census records indicated that she was born in   Nova Scotia.  Her Maine death record does not include her parents names or places of birth.  Her death notice from Sept 16, 1873 is short.

I was unable to find any specific records which pertain to Mary Cary coming to Horton, Nova Scotia from Massachusetts. I will keep digging...

But, Yes, Virginia, there was evidence of a Cary family living in Horton, NS.  

Even though, there is no record of a Carey family in the Horton Township Books, there are land transaction records pertaining to Cary families.  And to sell land you must have at least purchased the land and more than likely lived there.  Looks like the Cary's probably arrived in late 1700's.  I have found records for John, Joshua and Samuel Cary.  They may have been Mary Cary's brothers or one was her father.

Here is a record of them selling land.  
Not to mention, the 1838 Horton census records.

During the 1920's and 1930's there were a series of articles published in Nova Scotia which was intended to track the genealogies of many of the families of Nova Scotia.  The series was called "New Englanders in Nova Scotia".  In one addition, it references a woman named Lydia Cary and identifies her as a descendant of the pilgrim, John Cary.  I have included an excerpt.  While this isn't proof of Mary Cary being descended from John Cary or the descendants from his family that arrived in Nova Scotia, it does say in the article that "John Cary has many descendants living in Nova Scotia."

One last thing, the marriage record which is recorded between David and Mary on the website indicates that David Fuller married Mary Cary.  

Phew!  That is it.  That is my case.

Have I convinced you, yet?

Also, if you have any clues or information on the Cary family of Horton, Nova Scotia.....please contact me at . Thanks!!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thriller Thursday - Mary Curry's TRUE Husband!

In my last post, Can a Published Genealogy Be Wrong? I presented a compelling case for why the established belief that my 3rd great grandfather, David Fuller, married Mary Curry was incorrect.  

Sadly, no matter how strong my evidence that David Fuller married Mary Cary and NOT Mary Curry, it has been met with disbelief. The fact that he had married Mary Curry was in several published books and genealogy reports.  

Please review my evidence in my last post for the details.

I had to take it one step further. I had to prove that not only did Mary Curry not marry David Fuller, I had to show that she had, in fact, married someone else.

Initially, I had no idea how to do that. But I found a clue.  There are several editions of the Horton Nova Scotia Township Books, which were used to record the births, marriage and deaths of the town residents. I looked at original copies of the township books, not transcriptions, so I could see for myself what was recorded.  In one of the records, it doesn't provide any clues, but in another township book I could find it clearly said "Hatch". This seems to be pretty common practice that they record the married names of women (when it is known) next to their names.  

See below the two versions of the Horton Township records:

But, of course, just having a random name next to Mary Curry's in those records doesn't PROVE anything.  

So I had to dig deeper.

I was able to find a family tree which showed that a Silas Hatch married a Mary Curry. It looked like this could be what I was looking for, but if I couldn't find any 3rd party verification of this union, then it didn't prove anything.

In the absence of a marriage record, I was able to find the next best thing.  A marriage announcement in the Bangor Weekly Register on December 28, 1819.  Not only had Mary Curry not married David Fuller, she had married once prior to marrying Silas Hatch!!

Just in case there are any doubters that wonder if this announcement refers to someone other than Marry Curry, it does clearly state that Mary's father is Richard Curry.  There was only one Richard Curry in Horton, NS and he had only one daughter named Mary.

It appears that Silas and Mary Curry had at least 6 children:  Abigail(1817), Isaac(1819), Silas C.(1821), Charlotte(1825), Richard(1826), Louisa (1827)

The only troubling thing is that it appears that the couple had some of these children in Horton, NS and some in Maine.  Their youngest child was born in 1827, but that is at odds with the belief that Marry Currry died in 1822.  It is possible that either the record that appears to state that she died in 1822 is incorrect or Silas may have remarried.  Hard to say.

Which leads to my final post on this subject:  The "Lost" Cary Family of Horton, Nova Scotia

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wisdom Wednesday - Can a Published Genealogy Be Wrong?

The short answer is "of course".

Genealogies are written by people and people make mistakes. I have made more than a few, myself. But, I will say that once information is published in a book or genealogical research paper, they become part of the "conventional wisdom" and are treated as established fact in the genealogy of those individuals.  

My personal experience is that the quantity and quality of evidence needed to alter what is accepted fact after a genealogy is published becomes quite a challenge. In some cases, the amount of evidence needed to overcome the current accepted belief greatly exceeds the original evidence used to create the initial assumptions.  

The case that impacts me is about my ancestors David Fuller (Born:  1781, Horton, Nova Scotia) and his wife Mary. David Fuller was the son of Noah Fuller Jr (Born: 1750, Salem, MA). and grandson of Noah Fuller (Born: 1712, Salem, MA).  Noah Fuller Sr. was one of the original settlers to Horton, Nova Scotia. These settlers are known as New England Planters. More about them in future posts.

David Fuller, wife and sons removed from Horton, Nova Scotia and moved to Portland, Maine between 1840-1850.

There is not a lot of expert genealogical interest in David Fuller. He was not a famous figure nor was he a person of historical least not that I have uncovered. But according to my research he is my 3rd great grandfather, which makes him important to me.  However, if I believed what has been written in public genealogy records, then it is unlikely that he could be my ancestor.

The Conventional Wisdom

It has been asserted that David Fuller  married a woman named Mary Curry (Born:  July 11, 1795) daughter of Richard Curry and Rachel Bacon. Both David Fuller and Mary Curry were born in Horton, Nova Scotia. They were married in Grand Pre, NS on Sept 10, 1812. They had 5 daughters all born in Horton:  Lavinia, Rebecca, Sephrona, Matilda and Martha.  No sons.

It has been published that Mary Curry died in 1822, but there is no record of when or where David Fuller died or if he had any further children.

My Disagreement

My fundamental disagreement with this information is that I don't believe that David Fuller married Mary Curry. I believe he married a different woman all together. A woman named Mary Cary.  There is a good reason for this. When I review the original Horton Township Record book for Horton, Nova Scotia (which contains the birth, marriage and death information recorded for the town), it records that David Fuller married Mary Cary.  

My other challenge is that I believe I am descended from David and Mary's son, James Henry Fuller. But there is no record of him in the Horton Township Record book.

How the Conventional Wisdom became the Conventional Wisdom

Horton, Nova Scotia was a very small settlement. Only 100 or so families settled there in the early 1760s. It was typical that the families intermarried. So it is reasonable to believe that David's wife would be to one of the families already living in Horton at the time.

The Horton Township Book record indicates he married Mary Cary, but there wasn't a "Cary" family recorded as living in Horton, Nova Scotia at the time. The only name that was close was Mary Curry. She would have been about the right age. While it clearly does not say "Curry" in the Horton Township Book, this is explained by the general poor spelling and variations of how names were spelled at that time.  

In addition, Mary Curry was said to have died in 1822. All of the children recorded in the Horton Township Book are all born prior to 1822.

Anyone who has spent anytime working on family research knows that sometimes you have to make some assumptions to connect the dots between certain ancestors. In the absence of specific proof you have to make assumptions and make a leap of faith that they are correct.  

So as assumptions go, I can see why these were made and they do make an awful lot of sense.

However, the preponderance of the evidence I have uncovered indicate that David Fuller never married Mary Curry and that he did, in fact, marry Mary Cary.

The Supporting Evidence

The biggest leap of faith I had to take was that the David and Mary Fuller of Portland, Maine where the same David and Mary Fuller of Horton, Nova Scotia. There is no border crossing records that I have uncovered which show the immigration of the David and Mary Fuller or any of their sons.  

The second leap of faith I had to make was that even with no record of any sons in the Horton Township Book, that they did in fact have 6 sons named, David B., Benjamin W., James H., Theodore, Andrew H., and Colllingwood.

These do sound like pretty major assumptions, but don't judge too quickly. I do have overwhelming evidence to support them.

David. Mary and Sons of Portland Maine were from Horton, Nova Scotia

The US Census from 1850 shows that David, Mary, James, Theodore, Andrew and Collingwood all living together in Portland, Maine. In addition, it indicates that David and his sons were all born in Nova Scotia. It states that Mary was born in Massachusetts....which works, because this might help explain why her family wasn't included in the Horton Township Book.

The US Census from 1860 for Portland, Maine shows Mary Fuller living with Benjamin W Fuller and his family including Benjamin's brother James H.  Fuller.  David Fuller died somewhere between 1857-1860. I have not found his death record.

Mary Fuller died in Portland, Maine on Sept 16, 1873. I found both her death record and death notice in the paper which indicates that she was the Mary Fuller married to David Fuller.

Ok, So David and Mary and these sons were from Nova Scotia, but how do I prove that they are from Horton, NS?

My records show that 4 of the 6 sons became naturalized citizens. Two of the son's records show that they were born in "Norton, NS" and two show "Windsor, NS". Since there wasn't a "Norton, NS", we can discount this as an error. I am confident about this as Andrew H Fuller's naturalization says he is from "Norton, NS", but his obituary states he was born in "Horton, NS". In addition, David B. Fuller's death record states he was from Horton, Kings Co, NS

This is particularly important as Horton, NS was a small settlement. There were several Fuller families, but only one David Fuller who was the son of Noah Fuller Jr. and Elizabeth Bishop.  

David and Mary had Additional Children In Addition to Those Captured in the Township Book

Proving that David B. Fuller and the other men were born in Horton and Windsor, Nova Scotia doesn't prove that their parents, David and Mary Fuller are THE David and Mary Fuller from Horton, NS which are descended from Noah Fuller the original New England Planter.  

Which is why I needed to find some records which showed their mother's maiden name. I think you will agree that there COULDN'T have been two separate Fuller families living in Horton, NS which included a David Fuller and a Mary Cary, right?

I found death records for each of the Fuller sons (which was quite a feat in and of itself). Only 3 of the records included the names of each man's parents. ALL of those records listed the father as David Fuller and the mother as Mary Cary!

In addition, the 1838 Kings County Census records for Horton Township shows that David Fuller had a household of 13 people . The breakdown of ages of males and females lines up well to the fact that David and Mary had a total of 11 children that I have uncovered.  

At the time of the census, David and Mary's children would have been the following ages:

Lavinia - 25
Rebecca - 23
Sephrona - 21
Matilda - 19
Martha - 17
David B - 15
Benjamin W -13
James H - 11
Theodore - 9
Andrew H - 7
Collingwood - 2

This doesn't translates perfectly to the census, but very closely and would depend on when in the year the census was conducted. Also, I can't confirm, but it seems likely that either Lavinia or Rebecca would have been married by 1838 and judging from the time that lapsed between Andrew H and Collingwood's birth it is likely that there may have been another son who was born, but died young.

Connecting David and Mary's Daughters from Horton, NS to David and Mary Cary of Portland, Maine

By now, I hope that you can see that I have made a strong case that David and Mary Fuller moved to Portland, Maine and they did have 6 sons which were not recorded in the Horton Township Books.  

The last missing piece is trying to connect any of David and Mary's known daughters to my David and Mary Fuller or any of their brothers. This has proved to be very challenging!!  Matilda Fuller married Thomas Marine/Morine.  They lived in Kings County, NS, until they moved to Standish, Maine somewhere between 1880-1900. I have found a death record for Matilda Marine which records her father and mother as David Fuller and Mary Cary!!  

One more fact: I recently found out that David B. Fuller's middle name was "Bishop". This is significant because David Fuller Sr's father Noah Fuller was married to Elizabeth Bishop. The fact that David was given the middle name of the family name "Bishop" would be another compelling fact.

For me that was the final piece.  

Through a preponderance of the evidence, I think I have very convincingly proven that David and Mary Fuller of Portland, ME and David and Mary Fuller of Horton, Nova Scotia are one and the same, and they had a total of at least 11 children, 5 daughters recorded in the Horton Township book and had 6 sons who were not recorded.


When presenting this overwhelmingly strong argument, I am ALWAYS told, "but David Fuller married Mary Curry...I read it in the History of Kings, Co or other published genealogy.  Maybe David Fuller remarried after Mary Curry died....these could be the children of his second wife"!!


It has been very difficult to get anyone to take my evidence seriously,  because they feel like that the fact that Mary Curry married David Fuller is an established fact.   

Which leads to my next post:  Mary Curry's TRUE husband!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sentimental Sunday - The Untimely Death of Clarence W. Armstrong

One of the reasons I have really dived into my genealogy research is a idea of remembering those that came before me.  Because, really, we owe each of our ancestors a debt to remember them and make their memories live on.

But what about those relatives who never married or never had kids.  In many ways, their memories die with them as there is no direct descendants to keep their memories alive.  

Those of you, who like me, do a lot of your genealogy research on have probably noticed that relatives who die young or childless are often omitted from family research like they never existed.

This seems to me like a special kind of tragedy.

I will be devoting many future blog posts to those relatives who have few to remember them.  I have already posted about my great uncle, James Kurtz, who died during WWII.  My grandfather named his son, James in memory of his brother.

Clarence W Armstrong was my great grand uncle.  He was son to my paternal great great grandfather, John B. Armstrong.    I don't know very much about Clarence Armstrong except the circumstances of his untimely death.  He was born March 5, 1870 in Cape Elizabeth, Maine and died at the age of 39, September 8, 1909.   He was unmarried.

On the day he died, he had been doing some work at Fort Williams, he was driving a team of horses or mules with supplies for the fort.  He was driving along Commercial street when his horses became frightened by at Grand Truck engine (Grand Trunk was a commercial railroad company) that was passing nearby and started to run.  Clarence leapt from the carriage, probably to escape the runaway horses, but as he leapt his feet became entangled in the reins and he struck the side of the wheel which probably knocked him unconscious.  He was dragged quite a distance and when help reached him he was already dead from a broken neck.
Source: Public Documents of the State of Maine Being the Annual Reports of the Various Departments and Institutions
for the year 1909, Vol III, pg. 248

Clarence W. Armstrong, gone but not forgotten.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Maritime Monday - The Death of a Sailor - James Henry Fuller

One of my first blog posts was about the "Loves of a Sailor - James Henry Fuller".   James H. Fuller was my great-great grandfather and I have tried to uncover as much as I can about him.

I know he was born in Windsor, Nova Scotia on Sept 12, 1827, but I really struggled to find out when he died.  I know he didn't live forever, so where did he die?  It wasn't in Maine, Maine has very extensive birth, marriage and death records online and I should have found it rather easily if he died there.  But if he died outside of Maine, where could it be?

Fuller is a fairly common name.  Howa was I going to prove that any James Fuller death records I found outside of Maine is MY James Fuller?

My breakthough came while researching his daughter, Elizabeth Fuller.  In my research, I found her marriage record to Robert Armstrong from Oct 22, 1910.  It indicated that Elizabeth's father lived in NY.

That was new.

When I did a census search for the 1910 US census, I found a James Fuller listed as an "inmate" at Sailor's Snug Harbor.  Now this concerned me that my great great grandfather might have ended up in debtors prison before he died.

This was my best lead, so I tried to find out more about Sailor's Snug Harbor.  It turns out that it was an old age home for sailors.  Since this was before social security, people didn't really retire, they just became too old to work and either lived with family members or relied on charitable organizations to care for them.

When doing my research of Sailor's Snug Harbor, I uncovered that it didn't exist anymore.  It has been turned into a museum and botantical garden.  However, all their records had been donated to the SUNY Maritime College.  Sailor's Snug Harbor had an application process for acceptance to live there.  I contacted SUNY to see if I could obtain any of those records.

Sailor's Snug Harbor has an interesting history.  Captain Robert Richard Randall established Sailor's Snug Harbor in 1801 through a bequest in his will.  He was a wealthy merchant who had inherited much of his wealth from his father, Thomas Randall.  Thomas Randall was a privateer, which was a state sanctioned pirate.  During the many wars between England and France in the 1700's, he preyed on French shipping and was extremely effective capturing French ships to amass a substantial fortune.  His son recognized the plight of  sailors as they aged and could no longer work on the sea.  It was his idea to establish Sailor's Snug Harbor.

Here is a link to an article which appeared in the Haper's Bazaar in 1873 about how the retirees are treated at  Sailor's Snug Harbor.

Here is another article on how the charity in the New York Times about the vast fortune associated with the charity of Sailor's Snug Harbor.  This article reveals that Alexander Hamilton, (yes the Alexander Hamilton which was one of the country's founding fathers), was involved in Capt. Robert Richard Randall's will and the establishment of Sailor's Snug Harbor.

Sailor's Snug Harbor was established in Manhattan, but eventually moved to Staten Island on 83 acres of land and once housed as many as 1,000 retired sailors.

SUNY provided me copies of the original application.  It was a wealth of interesting information including the fact that James H. Fuller's first work on a commercial ship was 1843 on a trip to Kingston, Jamaica.  His last work on a ship was in 1905.  He worked for 62 years in commercial shipping.  Most of that time was spent on masted vessels traveling between Portland, Boston and New York.

I did find he died at Sailor's Snug Harbor on December 21, 1917 at the age of 90.  Which is amazing!  A life at sea is a hard one and not one that is well known for its longevity.

Here is a copy of the death certificate obtained from SUNY Maritime.

I have always been drawn to the sea and I have always felt like I should make some attempt to learn to I have some idea that sea water may run in our veins.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Wisdom Wednesday - Julius Henry Kurtz, The Key To My German Ancestry

My great great grandparents, August & Minnie Kurtz came from Germany, but I had no idea where they originated in Germany.  They arrived in the US in 1882.

After talking to my oldest surviving relatives, I had run into nothing but dead ends of their origins.   However, I am a optimist, I knew there had to be a way to find this just may take a while, so I just kept looking and sleuthing for leads.

Sometime those leads are right in front of and you don't realize it.

My breakthrough began with the discovery of an article about the untimely death of my great great grandfather, August Kurtz.  It mentioned that he met with a lifelong friend, Peter Russenberg, at the time of his death.  Maybe this was the clue I was looking for.  Find out where, Peter Russenberg was from and I would know where August Kurtz was from.  There was only one problem.  I couldn't find any record of Peter Russenberg.  

Another frustrating dead end.

The key clue ended up being something that was more subtle.  In the article it mentions that August Kurtz was going to meet his oldest son arriving by train from Pittsburgh.  It also mentioned that he had eleven children and several of them were grown up.  It had always baffled me that August and Minnie were married about 1875, but hadn't had any children until after they arrived in 1882.  A seven year gap between getting married and having your first child would have been very unusual at that time.  The only source I had for their children's names and year of birth was the 1900 US Census, which showed 9 children.  Based on those census records, I conducted research on each of their children and looked up copies of their obituaries, but none had mentioned that they were born in Germany or the German origins of their parents.  

More dead ends.

But when August Kurtz died in 1903, the census records indicated that his oldest son, Edward Kurtz, would have only been 19.  I didn't consider the age of 19 being "grown up", which seemed to indicate their were potentially two Kurtz children that I hadn't accounted for.  

I went back to Minnie Kurtz's obituary, who died in 1917, to see if I had missed anyone.  I have to admit, I had looked at all the Kurtz's obituaries for clues to their origins, not for missing children.  Minnie's obit mentioned two people I hadn't accounted for:  Henry Kurtz of Trotter and Mrs. Mary Biber of Pittsburgh.  These had to be the older children who were born in Germany!!

I reviewed several of the other Kurtz children's obituaries and found Henry Kurtz mentioned several times.  How had I missed him before?!  There was no further mention of Mary Biber.  I focused my efforts on Henry.  From when he was mentioned in his siblings obituaries he must have died between 1944 and 1953.  I did some newspaper searches of the Daily Courier of Connellsville, PA and I tracked down the obituary of a "Julius Henry Kurtz".  Initially, I was unclear if this was the Henry Kurtz I was looking for, but the obituary mentioned 3 of his brothers.  No question that this was the RIGHT Henry Kurtz!

But the obituary didn't say anything about where he was born in Germany.  

Was this another dead end?  I kept digging.   

I am very grateful to the US government for requiring 62 year old men to register for the draft in WWII! While a little too old to probably be fighting in WWII, it is a great source of ancestral information.  On I found a copy of Julius Henry Kurtz draft registration which showed his answer for "Place of Birth" as ESSEN, Germany!  

YAY!!!!! There it was, what I had been searching for for months and months!

Essen, Germany is an industrial center of Germany and was the coal and steel center of the country.  Essen was part of Prussia, but is now part of the region of Germany known as North Rhine - Westphalia.  The coal industry grew rapidly in Essen throughout the 1800's and it went from a medium sized city to almost 100,000 residents by the time August and Minnie left.  It is possible that this influx of people was a contributing factor to why they decided to emigrate to the US, to find new and better opportunities.  This would be consistent with family stories that my mother told me about the family being coal miners in Germany and they came to Western Pennsylvania because it was the center of coal mining.  

I am not content to let my search end by knowing that my ancestors came from Essen, I would like to see if I can uncover vital records from Germany pertaining to August and Minnie's birth's and marriage.  Can't wait to see what more I can find out from my research in Germany.

Just goes to show that sometimes the clues are right in front of you!  Keep digging and you will find what you are looking for.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Mystery Monday - Tracking Down the Death of August Kurtz

Davidson Mine Shaft
One of my big family mysteries has been what happened to my great-great grandfather, August Kurtz.  I had read from my great-great grandmother's Minnie Kurtz's obituary that August had died in an accident on the Baltimore and Ohio railroad.  

But did he work on the railroad?  How did it happen?  Were there any more clues to be found regarding where in Germany he and been born?

Somewhere in the course of my research, I had determined that he had died on April 1, 1902.  I did a lot of searching for local papers with that date and had no luck in finding an obituary of news story about his death.  No luck.  Nothing.  Zip.  As sometimes happens, key assumptions we make in our research are wrong.

Recently, I contacted the Connellsville Area Historical Society.  August Kurtz had died near Connellsville, PA, so it seemed reasonable that they may be a good resource for information.  I have had a lot of success when researching other relatives by contacting other local historical societies.  I highly recommend reaching out to area historical societies in your genealogy research.

I received a breakthrough the other day when I received an email from Tom Rusnack from the Connellsville Area Historical Society.  I am not sure how he figured it out, but he found a story about August Kurtz's death not on April 1, 1902, but April 1, 1903!!  One year later.  

I would have never have thought to look there.

The article was a little difficult to read, so I have transcribed it below.
August Kurtz of Nigger Hill and Peter Russenberg of Crossland Station, two German miners, who have been friends for a lifetime, stood together on Baltimore & Ohio tracks near the Davidson Shaft Tuesday at Midnight and chatted together about old memories.  While they were standing a shifting engine flashed around a sharp curve and struck both men.  Kurtz was hurled from the tracks and had his neck dislocated.  Trainmen brought him to the depot where they ordered the Cottage State Hospital ambulance, but the man died in a few minutes.  Russenberg was taken to the hospital on Wednesday.  He has bruises and scalp wounds, but is not thought to be seriously injured.
The remains of Kurtz were taken to the state morgue, where they were prepared for burial.  On Wednesday, they were taken to his home.  The funeral was held Thursday afternoon at 2pm.  Kurtz had been employed as a miner at Davidson for a number of years. He leaves a wife and eleven children, several of them being grown up.  He had left home at a late hour, saying that he would go to the Baltimore & Ohio Express to meet his oldest son, who was expected up from Pittsburgh.  He met Russenburg and the two drunk together.  They had just decided to go to their respective homes when the fatal accident happened.  Deputy Coroner Sims investigated the cause of death and decided that no inquest is necessary.
It was very interesting to find out that August Kurtz was a coal miner.  The Davidson Shaft was a coal mine that ran vertically down over 100 feet near the middle of Connellsville, PA.   It was operated by the Davidson Shaft Mine and Coke Works.  

The article DID NOT state where August and Minnie Kurtz were born in Germany, but it gave me a great clue to track down which would did lead to their origins in Germany.....but that is the subject of my next post.

Next Post:  Julius Henry Kurtz, The Key to My German Ancestry

Sunday, October 2, 2011

St Nicholas Day Miracle - Darr Mine Tragedy, December 18, 1907

You hear miraculous stories of people that decide not to get on a plane just minutes before a flight takes off which is destined to crash.  Or people who fall from outrageous heights only to survive without a scratch.

Were theses people just lucky or was there divine intervention?

My great great-grandfather, John Korba, was a religious man. He was raised Byzantine Catholic.

He worked in the Darr coal mine owned by the Pittsburgh Coal Company at Jacobs Creek in Western Pennsylvania. He had arrived in the US in 1894 from a part of the Austrian Empire which is now present day southern Poland.  He came here to make a better life for himself and start a family.

He gave up a lot to come here, but he never gave up his religion.

Working in a coal mine is hard and dangerous work.  Even in the early 1900's many native born Americans sought higher paying and less hazardous work.  The mine companies hired new immigrants who were desperate for work.  The mines exploited them as cheap labor.  The mine companies did provide housing the miners in company towns often called "patches”.  While this did give the miner a roof over his head, it meant the company had a lot of control of their employees’ lives.  Miners who lost their jobs, also lost their homes.

In addition, many miners worked 6 or 7 days a week and were only paid for those days they worked. 

No work, no pay.

St Nicholas is the patron saint of the Rusyn people.  St Nicholas feast day was an important religious observance for John Korba and many of his fellow miners.  Even though he would lose a days pay, which he desperately needed, it was important to him to attend religious services on December 19, 1907.

Daily Courier Newspaper Excerpt 12-20-1907
 Due to his faith in god, he was attending services and listening to Reverand Alexander Dzubay at 11:30am.  The ground shook like there was an earthquake.  Everyone present instantly knew what it explosion at the mine.  Men must have rushed out of the service in the hope of helping to rescue survivors.

Only one man would survive the mine explosion.

There were over 250 men in the mine that morning and there would have been as many as 100 more miners if it hadn't been for those devout Byzantine Catholics observing St. Nicholas Day.  The mine went almost a mile underground and that is where they believe the explosion happened.  There had been complaints of gas and coal dust in the mine and it is likely that one of the miner's open lamps sparked the explosion. 

The Darr mine disaster is the worst mine disaster in Pennsylvania history.  The mine did not reopen for about 2 years.

It is important to note that mine safety at this point in history was not considered a high priority.  The mine companies were more interested in profits than safety and there was very little government safety regulations at that time.  For men who died while working in the mines it was typical that the company would compensate the family by covering burial expenses and pay $150 to the survivors family members.

In fact, the month of December 2007 was the deadliest month in mine history.  Only a few weeks before, on December 6th, there was another mine disaster in Monongah, West Virginia claiming the lives of almost 400 miners.

Miracle of St Nicholas at Darr Mine Religious Icon
The Miracle of St. Nicholas

The amazing thing about both these mine disasters is that they both occurred on the St. Nicholas feast day. 

How can that be? 

In Monongah, West Virginia, there was no Byzantine Catholic Church in the area, so those celebrating the feast day did so at the local Roman Catholic Church which celebrated St. Nicholas according to the Gregorian calendar -- December 6th.  It is estimated that those attending mass in Monongah instead of working the mine that day probably saved 60-100 miners.  There were Byzantine Catholic clergy in the area of the Darr mine at Jacobs Creek, so the Byzantine Catholics celebrate St. Nicholas on December 19th according the Julian calendar. 

The fact that hundreds of lives were saved on these two celebrations of St. Nicholas is known as the Miracle of St. Nicholas. 

The survivors of the Darr mine disaster were so grateful that they established two churches in the towns surrounding the mine:  The St. Nicholas Orthodox Church at Jacobs Creek and the St Nicholas Byzantine Church at Perryopolis. 

Divine intervention or luck??

One thing is for certain that cheating death certainly did a lot to reinforced John Korba's faith. He played a key role in the establishment of the St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Church in Scottdale, PA,  He died 50 years later at the ripe old age of 81,  I am sure he cherished every day as the gift that they were.

If it wasn't for his faith, many of his ancestors would not be here today. 

Interested in learning more about the Darr mine disaster and the Miracle of St. Nicholas check out these links:
Centennial of the Miracle of St. Nicholas, Jacobs Creek
Darr Mine Disaster, December 19, 1907
Darr Mine Disaster - New York Times Article