Serendipity Surrounds a Secret
My mother’s family was a well-to-do farming clan – the Minors of Greene County. Cattle and stock dealers for generations, the family groups had accumulated hundreds of acres of hilly land in southwestern Pennsylvania by the turn of the twentieth century when the bituminous Pittsburgh coal vein prompted a speculative race. Around 1905 the rights to that black gold were sold, by some accounts for up to $600 per acre, and the Francis Marion Minor family was suddenly land AND cash rich. In spite of the opportunities afforded the prosperous, my great-grandfather, Robert Minor, suffered from horrible headaches and melancholy, traveling throughout his life from health resort to health resort seeking relief . I haven’t been able to pinpoint a reason for his brooding. Some secret lurks within family lore. It hangs over other stories like the fog lingering over the Susquehanna River even as the rest of the Wyoming Valley clears to reveal its broad plain, mountain ridges and blue dome sky.
Last week I stepped away from the shroud to gain perspective, re-searching the family patriarch in case some new record or paper had been digitalized.
John P. Minor + cattle
Among the google-returned items was a newspaper article from 1908. My great-great-great-grandfather Minor died in 1874. But. . . . If an article catches my interest, I read first and judge relevance later. Suddenly this unexpected detail poked through the family fog:
- A quick review of the family register confirmed that THIS John P. Minor was the eldest brother of my great-grandfather, Robert Minor. John Minor had married Elizabeth Garard, and they had one child, Ira, who died December 12, 1908.
- A further newspaper search at the Library of Congress Chronicling America yielded multiple accounts of the bank’s failure in 1906 – and of this young man’s suicide. Mr. Rinehart was convicted in January of 1909 for stealing funds from the bank and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
- The postcards which document my great-grandfather’s descent into headaches and melancholy were postmarked 1910.
- After rereading my Minor documents of that era, I am not convinced that the fortune mentioned in the article was that of John P. Minor alone, but perhaps that of the entire FM Minor clan. Even so, the $500,000 dollars would have been the equivalent of $12,000,000 dollars in 2009. Losing half of that sum would have resulted in the family being worth “only” $6 million dollars, with the economic clout of someone with $131 million dollars in 2009. *¹ Split among four families, that is still a grand fortune, by my book.
Did the Minor family have a predisposition to brooding, melancholy, headaches, and other “nervous ailments” and was my great-grandfather’s depression caused by this bank failure or by the family crisis that came in its wake? Why did Robert Minor continue to suffer? And what ever happened to all of that money?
Perhaps I will never really know the true nature of the secret, or be privy to the knowledge that hurt this family so deeply. This genealogical serendipity surrounds my secret, however, helping to define its edges and contain its outline. At the very least, I know that there really was a family fortune, that there really was family tragedy and that at least some members of the family – like Robert Minor – had difficulty coping.
The secret is by my side now, not lurking in a corner driving me mad.
*¹ The website Measuring Worth is extremely helpful in calculating the relative worth of the U. S. Dollar, from 1774- the present.