St. Patrick’s Day : Just An Excuse To Work On My Irish Family (in-law) Tree

I don’t live anywhere close to where my ancestors grew up. I don’t even live close to where I grew up! When my kids started leaving home, and my parents started leaving this earth, my sense of place and time, home and identity got launched airmail to the moon. Thus was started a genealogical hobby that has turned into a family history passion (that some would call compulsive hoarding and obsessive research.) MY ancestors, MY photographs, MY family, wrapped me in stories. Cocooned by memories I feel rooted, ready…to see more stories.  

Suddenly every town I pass through holds the possibility of a tale–not mine, directly, but my husband’s and our children’s.  These mountains and the Susquehanna River are holding the Irish lilt of Corrigans and Dooleys, Monaghans and Carrolls and Delehantys. St. Patrick’s Day seems a fitting day to introduce some of these characters.

Let’s start with the earliest arrival–Miner John Corrigan

Straight off, let me explain that when I write about John Corrigan, I am writing about John Corgan.  And vice versa.  John was an Irishman, born in 1811 in County Carlow, near the town of Leighlin’s Bridge, and just east of the Leinster Coalfield.  When he married a Queens County girl, Mary Dooley, in 1833 was he a miner? Perhaps.  The couple had three children in Leighlinbridge–Martin (1834), Esther (1836) and Margaret (1839)–before they moved to the Welsh mining town of Swansea, where Daniel (1841) and Michael (1843) were born.  The growing family returned to Ireland, where daughter Ann (1845) was born.  But the famine conditions drove John and Mary out of the country, back to Swansea, Wales in search of a better life. Certainly Mary was busy caring for all of these children, and bearing two more–James (1847) and Catharine (1850), while John and Martin worked in the mines for the Swansea Coal Company.

On the plus side, the training inside Welsh mines was considered to be outstanding, and Welsh miners were sought after among American companies in the mid-century anthracite boom.  The Corrigans became Corgans, a Welsh miner’s family.

In December of 1851, John Corgan left his pregnant wife and eight children in Swansea and headed for America. Mr. Corgan boarded a ship in Liverpool, England, and arrived in New York, New York on January 2, 1852.  John Corgan found work in the company town of Nesquehoning, Pennsylvania, home of the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company.  Word was sent back across the Atlantic, and in September, six weeks after delivering her ninth child, Elizabeth, Mary set off with her family to join John. The brood arrived in New York on December 2, 1852.

Nesquehoning was a company town, with a company store that let families pay “on the cuff”, credit paid with wage deductions.  John Corgan, and his elder boys, worked with the certainty and expertise of the Welsh miners, and were compensated as skilled miners. This family had options, while most miners were held in abject poverty, never clear of their company debt.  The Corgans could move, and move they did.  Family records indicate that the clan lived in several Lehigh Coal Company towns, including Nesquehoning, Summit Hill and Hacklebernie, all near Mauch Chunk, Carbon County, Pennsylvania. In 1855 they moved to work in the newly opened Council Ridge Colliery, operated by Sharpe, Weiss and Company, in what would become the town of Eckley.  The Corgans returned to the Mauch Chunk area of Summit Hill by 1858.  By the end of the decade, John was a naturalized citizen of the United States, and Mary and John were tired proud parents of 12 children, the eldest (Martin) being 25 years old and the youngest (William) just a year and half.

By 1860 the entire family had moved up the mountains, to the communities surrounding the growing coal hub of Hazleton, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.  In addition to celebrating first teeth, an end to diapers, First Communions and Confirmations, the Corgan family planned weddings,and John and Mary welcomed grandchildren into their home.  To play with their youngest kids.  The thrifty couple also purchased land–five lots on Second Street, between Mahoning Road and Tunnel Street, in Mauch Chunk Township (now Jim Thorpe).  Though the family was moving quite frequently–whether for better working conditions, better pay, or at a company’s request–home for John and Mary remained within the steep hills along the Lehigh River, connected to the parish of St. Patrick’s Catholic church in Nesquehoning.  Before any home could be built, however, Mary died, and in 1863 she was laid to rest in the St. Patrick’s Cemetery, her grave marked with this inscription:

In memory of Mary wife of John Corgan, a native of Ireland, Queens County, Parish of Killeshen, who departed this life July 27, 1863, aged 48 years 11 months and 18 days.   May she rest in peace, amen. 

Children weep not in sorrow of spirit, but joy my time is here over, I go that good part to inherit, where sorrow and sin is no more. 

The 1860s brought Civil War, and mining was a vital industry to the cause.  There are no records of John Corgan, or his sons, being called up for duty.  But the tax records of that era indicate that John remained on the move returning to Hacklebernie, Mauch Chunk Township, by 1864. The Welsh-trained miner earned $1018.00 that year, which earned him the honor of having to pay the IRS. John remained in the Lehigh Coal Company mines to the end of the decade.

Susquehanna River near MoconaquaIn 1870, John Corgan moved north, into the upper anthracite fields, just off the Susquehanna River, in the steep hills around Moconaqua and Shickshinny, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.  His eldest daughter, a coal miner’s widow, helped John tend to his three youngest children as she mothered her own two boys.  The sixty year old father kept working as long as he could, until his children were all grown, with adult lives that would be brighter than his own.  John Corgan was an able miner, but illiterate.  He was thrifty and careful to ensure that his children learned to read and write, to have opportunities, to build resilience and self-reliance.  He died at age sixty-six, on March 30, 1877.  His obituary appeared in the Nesquehoning Items of the Mauch Chunk paper:

Nesquehoning, April 5, 1877

Died at his residence in East (sic) Nanticoke, Mr. John Corgan, aged 68 (sic) years, formerly a resident of Hackelberney (Hacklebernia).  His remains arrived on the 1:30 train on Monday and was interred in St. Patrick’s Cemetery.  His family consists of six sons and six daughters, all grown up persons, who escorted their father’s remains to the grave.

John Corgan’s life represents a story arc repeated in countless families.  He journeyed from the undulating hills of County Carlow, to the coal ridges of Swansea, Wales; across an ocean to the anthracite fields of the Appalachian Mountains of Northeastern Pennsylvania.  He never saw Leighlin’s Bridge again, or the priest of his parish, the friends from his childhood.  John kept the Welsh spelling of his name throughout his life, a testament to his miner’s education, a pass to a better life for his wife and family. His children’s children lived lives above ground, becoming businessmen, doctors, teachers, clergy, community leaders–a tribute to the grit, determination, and pride of an Irishman.

I am greatly indebted to the genealogists before me, particularly Margaret M. Corgan, author of The Corgan/Corrigan Family, self-published, 1991.  As always, a huge shout out to all archivists responsible for the digital records within Ancestry.com, including the U.S. Federal Census, the US IRS Tax Assessment Lists, and the 1851 Welsh Census.  

A Well Dressed Woman: (almost) wordless wednesday

One in a set of three photographs taken by Trinidad, Colorado photographer, Oliver Eugene Aultman, in 1890 and sent to the Marion and Mary Jane Gwynne Minor Family. Located in the Minor Photograph Album, archived with author.

The West Building, site of the first Aultman StudioOne hundred and twenty-four years ago Oliver E. Aultman welcomed a well dressed woman and her family to his newly opened third floor gallery in the West Building, the “finest (photography studio) of its size west of Chicago” according to the local papers. Trinidad, Colorado was a booming town in 1890, supporting the surrounding mining communities and business ventures.  This family arrived in their finest clothes, the father and eldest son dressed in matching plaid three-piece suits, their patterned silk ties neatly knotted at their throats.  The younger boy, not old enough for his own suit, wore his best pleated wool coat, with a complimentary bow tie.  The two girls wore matching dresses, with ruffled shoulders and loose fitting bodices.  The mother wore a dark dress, with a pleated bodice and ruffled shoulders, decorated with elaborate applique and a small locket.  Her hair was swept back in a low bun, with short bangs and a bit of curl.

Aultman Ad 1892 Trinidad DirectoryOliver Aultman composed several shots of the family; the adults were placed in separate poses empty of props or backdrops, and the children were grouped on some bales of hay, casually placed in front of a subtle bamboo-patterned panel.  After the shoot, the young photographer and the parents discussed the viewing of proofs; the glass negatives were placed in envelopes and labeled S.A. Stephens in pencil.  Sometime later the final portraits were selected, copies made and distributed to friends and family, including the family of Francis Marion and Mary Jane Gwynn Minor, of Garards Fort, Pennsylvania.  Who was S. A. Stephens?  Is that the name of the father?  Of the mother, the well dressed woman?  Or is it the name of the person who contracted for the sitting?  And how is S. A. Stephens and the well dressed family related to the Minors of Ceylon Lane, Garards Fort, Pennsylvania?? 

Accepting all hints and recommendations for further investigation!!  Stay tuned…

Click on the images below to view these photographs more closely. 

The River Is Floe-ing. Spring Is Coming.

Fort Jenkins Bridge Camera and binoculars bounce on my vest-padded chest as I leave footprints in week old snow.  I am headed to the river, to watch the ice floes flow.  Here at the bend, where West Pittston says hey to Pittston, the Susqhehanna is open, ice clinging in nooks and crannies.  A dozen Buffleheads ride the current toward Wilkes-Barre. Common Merganser and Mallard pairs gather to preen or forage where the river meets beach.  A lone Bufflehead floats mid-river, his glossy black-green head turning slowly right and left. Suddenly he tips tail to sky, and plunges beneath the icy water, with barely a ripple. I take slow, deep breaths, and smell what these birds know.

Down RiverWinter is leaving.  

Spring is coming.  

We have more mud than snow, more current than ice.  Insects are hatching, snails are moving, mussles are available, fish swim closer to the surface.  Life is on the move.  

The ice is floe-ing on.

Ice floe-ing

Once Was Lost, Now Is Found

I had forgotten about this essay, written in another blogosphere, 2009. The memory tugs my mouth into a smile, so I pause in my ancestor tale-chasing to share a small moment of my own history.

We had been home from Ireland less than twenty-four hours.  The dogs had been home from Uncle Jim’s Canine Retreat less than twelve hours.  WHAT WAS I THINKING!?!

Like an atomic clock automatically reset to the correct time when it crosses a time zone, Luci sat in front of her food container.  You can take the dog anywhere and she knows when its dinner and where the food will come from.  I obligingly completed the routine, ”Say please.”  All three dogs went down.   I then scooped out the correct portions, (which Luci insists are inadequate), gave the release command “Food” and they scrambled to their appropriate bowls, woofing down the kibble in 30 seconds or less.  Then I  let my posse out for the post-prandial bathroom break.  Like I said…..WHAT was I thinking?

My Three Muskateers

Cappy, Luci, and Fly

Nonchalantly I returned to the matter of finishing our human dinner.  Minutes passed before I glanced at the gathering dusk and thought “Maybe I better get the dogs in before it’s too dark, just in case Luci doesn’t remember the Invisible Fence Boundaries and we need to hunt.  Hahahahahaha.”   I stepped off the front porch whistling into crisp fall air.  No dogs.  I  rounded the garage whistling around its corner and noted the sun slipping just below the Appalachian horizon.  No dogs.  I called “Cappy! Fly! Luci!  COME!”  and walked briskly toward the meadow.  I chuckled at the sight of Cap and Fly, heads buried in the Lupine Patch, obviously enjoying some scat delicacy.  I whistled again, and they hurled themselves  toward me.

 No Luci Freckles followed.  I called “Luci!” again and continued to make a loop around the house. Step, call, step, call, step, call.  Each step coming faster, each call rising in pitch.  By the time I came full circle the neighbor German Shepherd had joined my call, and I figured that his was one less yard to search in. I stuck my head into the house shouting ”I need help finding Luci!” TD immediately exited the house, then the yard to search the neighborhood.

I kept calling “Luci!” at a steady, hollering pace, so that she could find her way home in the gathering twilight.  WHAT was I thinking!? Just letting them out, collars on, no supervision, five months old, aftersupper. WHAT was I thinking?! I seized my highly reactive brain; plan,organize, harness the energy!!!!

(BTW Jerome Kagan is so on to something)

Methodically I moved into the eastern side of the meadow, carefully calling and looking into neighbors’ yards to the left, then searching for movement among the thick patchwork of lupine, milkweed, four kinds of goldenrod, aspen saplings and grasses to my right.

Look left, call.

Look right, call.  Goldenrod stalks stand tall, seed puffs glowing in the dimming light like the pup’s tail I wanted so desparately to see.

Look left, look right.

A rustle and shake of some fur caught my attention, pulling it down a now-dark meadow path.  Hardly daring to hope that the missing caramel-colored pup could actually be just disobediently relaxing mid-meadow, I moved through the towering goldenrod.   “Luci?”  “LUCI!?”  Amid the crunching of leaves I could hear the crunching of teeth on animal bone.  ”Luci?” Lazily, she lifted her head from her rabbit meadow treasure and glanced at my distraught face.  “Uh, yeah, Mom, I’m kinda busy here.  Can I get back to you?”  I slipped the leash on without another word, and Luci-once-was-lost-but-now-is-found reluctantly pranced up the path with me, Cappy and Fly.

As I walked her into the neighborhood to rendezvous with TD my senses were released. For the first time I noticed the sky was streaked with vermillion and cinnabar stripes, pulled west to east, where they disappeared into the eastern dusky gray.   I took great drags of  late autumn air spiced with fallen maple, walnut and oak leaves.  The sky was streaked, not my face.  My throat was full of gratitude, not sobs. And Luci remained oblivious to the search and rescue mission TD and I had launched.

My heart had barely decelerated than I received this email from ITD:

Dear Mom and Dad,

Glad to hear that you guys had a good time and are back safely. I look forward to seeing pictures, and sharing stories with you of your time over there. In recent news, I have decided to spend my funds to do this winter trip with AP . I am in the process of trying to get a new passport, and will be filling out paper work with AP to get a visa with the Syrian embassy. I sent you the itinerary for the trip.blah…blah….blah….I am budgeting 2500 ….my savings…blah…blah…blah…. Let me know if you have problems/concerns with what is going on.(Emphasis mine)……blah…blah…blah…. I have talked not only with AP, but with 5 other people who are from Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan blah…..blah……blah…….Get back to me on the ongoing discussion. Best Regards,

Seriously, my son signed this bombshell “best regards.”

There is a local bridge repair that requires one to enter the expressway with no ramp, from a stop; 0 mph to 50 mph in about 100 feet.  ITD’s email required my heart to do the equivalent.  If it would have been helpful to the cause to jump up, run around the house, through the meadow, and along rock outcrop paths, I would have.  Such is my response.  Instead, I tore through the US State Department web site, pressing copy and paste buttons until I had my first email response.  I then went to bed.

I awoke with new clarity and initiated the day’s exchange with startling insights and careful ruminations.  Pithy one sentence letters -$1000 over 21 days=$48/day- were followed by pithy one sentence affirmations -We are amazed by and proud of you! – and then I concluded my day’s assault by reminding him of already owned STA student travel cards, NEXT  student insurance cards, and SIM phone cards.  Planning and research; it’s what I do when running  won’t yield results.

Having ITD travel into the very big world yanks my heart like Luci’s venturing to defy the recall whistle.  I can crash through a field of six-foot high goldenrod stalks, dried in autumn sun to a crisp brown. I can find and drag Luci from the object of her rabbit-lust. I can’t very well crash through the tangle of ideas, skills, and ambitions  I so carefully sowed throughout my son’s childhood.  I can’t find and drag my son from the object of his wanderlust.  Both Luci and my son challenge me to grab onto that calm-assertive energy, and become the person I need to be; so my son can become the person he needs to be.

Greensboro, Pennsylvania Yesterday and Today: mappy monday

Today I learned how to add a google map to my wordpress hosted blog, quite a simple accomplishment, actually. The big secret is to access google maps in the classic mode. Open http://www.maps.google.com, and your page automatically loads the New Google Maps. In the lower right hand corner you will find a tool bar. Click on the question mark on the left, and you will have options to take a tour, send feedback, ask questions, or return to the classic mode. That action returns you to the “old” map, and once you have zoomed into your desired location, look to the upper left. Do you see the get directions block? Look to the right and click on the link symbol. Here is secret #2. You must copy the HTML code, not the short code. Return to your wordpress blog and paste the code into your post. Check out the results with a preview!! Finish up your writing, save, and publish!!

Caldwell's Illustrated, Historical, Centennial Atlas Of Greene County, Pennsylvania. From actual Surveys by & under the directions of Henry Cring, C.E. Assisted by C.T. Arms, Sr. C.E. J.A. Underwood, C.E. J.A. Howden. P.L. Mason. W.J. Kerstetter, C.E. W.F. Arms, C.E. H. Cring, C.E. Published By J.A. Caldwell, Condit, Ohio. 1876. Engraved, Lithographed & Printed By Otto Krebs, Pittsburgh, Pa.: accessed digitally from David Rumsey Historical Map Collection, http://bit.ly/1dIaFYm, on February 18, 2014.

Caldwell’s Illustrated, Historical, Centennial Atlas Of Greene County, Pennsylvania. From actual Surveys by & under the directions of Henry Cring, C.E. Assisted by C.T. Arms, Sr. C.E. J.A. Underwood, C.E. J.A. Howden. P.L. Mason. W.J. Kerstetter, C.E. W.F. Arms, C.E. H. Cring, C.E. Published By J.A. Caldwell, Condit, Ohio. 1876. Engraved, Lithographed & Printed By Otto Krebs, Pittsburgh, Pa.: accessed digitally from David Rumsey Historical Map Collection, http://bit.ly/1dIaFYm, on February 18, 2014.

Caldwell's Illustrated, Historical, Centennial Atlas Of Greene County, Pennsylvania. From actual Surveys by & under the directions of Henry Cring, C.E. Assisted by C.T. Arms, Sr. C.E. J.A. Underwood, C.E. J.A. Howden. P.L. Mason. W.J. Kerstetter, C.E. W.F. Arms, C.E. H. Cring, C.E. Published By J.A. Caldwell, Condit, Ohio. 1876. Engraved, Lithographed & Printed By Otto Krebs, Pittsburgh, Pa.: accessed digitally from David Rumsey Historical Map Collection, http://bit.ly/1dIaFYm, on February 18, 2014.

Caldwell’s Illustrated, Historical, Centennial Atlas Of Greene County, Pennsylvania. From actual Surveys by & under the directions of Henry Cring, C.E. Assisted by C.T. Arms, Sr. C.E. J.A. Underwood, C.E. J.A. Howden. P.L. Mason. W.J. Kerstetter, C.E. W.F. Arms, C.E. H. Cring, C.E. Published By J.A. Caldwell, Condit, Ohio. 1876. Engraved, Lithographed & Printed By Otto Krebs, Pittsburgh, Pa.: accessed digitally from David Rumsey Historical Map Collection, http://bit.ly/1dIaFYm, on February 18, 2014.