Serendipity Surrounds a Secret: Madness Monday

Family Secrets Lurking 1.0

Family Secrets Lurking 2.0

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.

Family Secrets Lurking 2.0 – Wordless Wednesday

Family Secrets Lurking 1.0

Family Secrets Lurking 2.0

Serendipity Surrounds the Secret

Robert and May Stephenson Minor were reported to travel extensively, and I have always presumed it was due to wanderlust and adventure. The Donald Minor Postcard Collection (1906-1910) contained examples of photo cards from Niagara Falls, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago, Charleston, West Virginia and Markleton, Pennsylvania; postmark ink lent support to the family recollections. The notes from these same cards offer a different explanation, however, particularly when read after the 1941 exchange between Robert and son Donald.

In a card postmarked from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania on 24 March 1910, Robert writes:

Arived here all right – feeling fairly well to day can’t tell you just where to write yet or less you write to the saint Charles hotel.  I would be there.  On my pill every day. R. M. 

Robert writes again on 5 April 1910:

 Donald are you well and enjoying yourself. Is rover all right.  I would like to have you over here to be with me for company.  we might go a hunting with rover.  I am not feeling very good I have the headaches prety bad to day.  What are the folks doing.  Could you wright to me.  From Papa

Donald was just shy of his eighth birthday when his forty year old father sent this card, inviting the boy and his dog, Rover, to come hunting. Robert’s headaches must have been a debilitating, chronic fact of life which even a young child would have known about.  I am not sensing adventure in the travels of 1910; Robert, it seems, suffered from migraines that took him on a search for relief, not a journey of adventure.   The card’s postmark reveals the clue about where he sought relief that spring of 1910 – Markleton, Pennsylvania.  Nestled in the Allegheny Mountains, this town was home to a grand health resort.

Robert Minor traveled a lot in 1910; Donald’s postcards indicate that Robert was in Pittsburgh in February and March; Markleton in April; Buffalo in May and June; Pittsburgh in September; and  Markleton in October - with Donald.

This card was sent to Donald by his uncle John P. Minor, Robert’s eldest brother.

Donald how are you geting a long ar you having a nise time dont you get lost in the mountans from Uncle John P Minor

Don’t get lost in the mountains, like the secret of Robert’s condition.

I wonder how long Robert suffered from headaches.  Was Robert hospitalized in 1941 for the same chronic condition?  When did his headaches start? What events precipitated his incapacitating condition? And how did these absences affect little Donald?

The secret lurking in my work room is become sharper, easier to imagine and envision.


Family Secrets Lurking 1.0 – Amanuensis Monday

Family Secrets Lurking 1.0

Family Secrets Lurking 2.0

Serendipity Surrounds a Secret

A family secret lurks in my work room, its edges smudged by family pride and shame and simmering disputes.  Penciled thoughts leap from papers long forgotten; stamps and postmarks reveal clues that no one thought to hide.  The secret’s outline is becoming sharper.

Robert Minor was born in 1869, the youngest child of a well-to-do stock dealer in southwestern Pennsylvania.  Francis Marion and Mary Jane Gwynn Minor passed on Greene County farms to each of their four children, with Robert inheriting the Home Farm, also known as the Jacob Myers farm.  Like his family before him, Robert was to become a stock dealer, raising his two children, Helen and Donald, with his wife May Laura Stephenson Minor, on the Home Farm.  What was on the land was far less valuable than what was IN the land, and once the coal  rights were sold in the early 1900s, the family’s opportunities multiplied. Stories floated during our family reunions, whispers of fabulous wealth and travel, all lost to the depression and the world war that followed.  The details remained in the shadows.  I thought nothing of it, until I began collecting and curating family records.

Four days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, my great-grandfather wrote to his son, Donald Minor, from the Mercer Sanitarium, Mercer, Pennsylvania.  The nurses were all working somewhere else and the “guests” receiving Dr. Richardson’s treatments needed to find new quarters.

December 11, 1941

Dear Donald, Received your letter and will say that you got a good price for your calves. Please excuse this pencil riting (sic) My ink is set up in the (cupboard) or the (clothes press) will in riting these few lines. Dr. Richardson wants me to write you. Won’t you please get me a room in the Washington Hospital. Please do that much for me as he says all the nurses are away working. Do it at once and please and thank you. Yours respect (sic), your Dad

My mother was a young girl at that time, and vaguely recollects discussions surrounding her grandfather’s hospitalization.  One fact stuck with her – Robert Minor ended up at Mayview, a psychiatric hospital outside Pittsburgh.  A cousin remembers stories of misery and desperation, with Robert pleading to be removed from the hospital.

Did deteriorating wealth lead to deteriorating mental health?  Were Robert and Donald estranged? What circumstances led to Robert’s stay in the sanitarium and from what was he recuperating?  Was the Mercer Sanitarium more hotel than hospital, like the Victorian health resorts?  If so, then a move to Mayview would have been a very jolting experience.

A secret is lurking in my work room and I aim to coax it out.  “Please do that much for me. . . “

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The Old Minor Home Farm: Those Places Thursday

My mother and three siblings pose here on the dining room steps with their mother, Kerma Minor.  The white painted-brick farmhouse was surrounded by 330 acres of rolling hills studded by her daddy’s prized cows.  This was my mother’s home, Ceylon Lane, Greene Township, Greene County, Pennsylvania–where the Donald Minor family weathered the Depression and World War II.  Home on the home farm that her daddy had inherited from his daddy, Robert Minor, who had been bequeathed the home farm by his dad. Francis Marion Minor had in turn received the 330 acres from his father, John Pearson Minor, as per item 7 in his will of 28 February 1867:

I give, devise and bequeath unto my son, Francis Marion, his heirs and assigns the tract of land whereon he and I reside, known as the Myers farm, containing three hundred and twenty nine acres more or less…

Just when, I have wondered, did the former Myers farm become my family’s home farm.  Last week I unearthed a document in the Minor Papers that provides an important clue.

An article of Agreement made and concluded between James McFarland of Cumberland Township (housejoiner) and John P. Minor of Green Township both of Green County Pennsylvania on the twenty second of February eighteen hundred and thirty one as follows

John P. Minor was to purchase and supply all the materials for the project, and furnish board and lodging to James McFarland for the duration of the project.  In addition Mr. McFarland would receive $300 upon the satisfactory conclusion of all work.

For his part, James McFarland was to

complete the joiner work of the brick house formerly occupied by Jacob Myers.

The agreement stipulates that he was then to finish the floors and petition three rooms off on each floor

according to the construction of the said house.

Mr. McFarland was also charged with making cupboards, and sashes for the upstairs window, and casing and fixing off all the windows in the whole house.

and run up two pair of stairs in the dwelling house ….a pair of stairs to be run up outside on the porch and a drysink on the inside byside of chimney  the doors to be taken down and the facings new and then hung and mantle peaces and cheer boards and wash boards and all other things necessary to complete the building is to be done by said McFarland.

The house described bears a striking resemblance to the house my mother described as her childhood home.  For now, til new evidence surfaces to contradict me, I believe that the brick house, formerly occupied by Jacob Myers, was handsomely renovated by one James McFarland in 1831, and subsequently occupied by generations of John P. Minor descendants.

Mapping the Wilson-Minor Transactions: Mappy Monday

Drawn on thin paper discolored to a light blue, the survey map described a distinct parcel of land with corners marked by Black Oak, Water Beech, Limestones, fence posts, stakes, and Hickories.  Lines connected the corners and were labeled with surveying code–S37 W 151/2 poles and the like.  Unnamed squiggly lines posed as small streams crossing the land, emptying into an unnamed creek boundary. Lines cut the map into pieces; within one rectangle was the name A. Minor, within another the name R. Minor.  The outside bore a cryptic “plot of Virginia land 575.”

Five hundred and seventy-five was the amount of land that John P. Minor purchased from James P. Wilson in 1841 and 1842.  As I reread those deeds I traced my finger along the lines of this map, and with great excitement realized that I did indeed have a map which depicted the Minor land acquisition of 1841 and 1842 in Harrison County, (West) Virginia!

Five Hundred Seventy-five Acres along Simpsons Creek

With that confirmed I could with great certainty know that the bigger stream indicated Simpson’s Creek, and the smaller streams were Limestone Run and Stout’s Run.  However, I still didn’t know when this map was created or where this parcel of land was on a current map.

unto the said Abia and Robert Minor their heirs and assigns for ever all that tract or parcel of land situate lying and being in the county of Harrison in the state of Virginia and bounded as follows

The 1849 document transferring a piece of this property to Abia and Robert Minor was never executed.  It was as if the boys had given John P. some reason to pause before deeding title. BUT the document gives a surveyor’s description of the considered transaction, and that plot is only the piece labeled R. Minor in this map–a clue that this map was created sometime AFTER 1849.  Other documents related to this land include John P. Minor deeding the tract of land labeled here A. Minor to Abia Minor in 1854. Therefore, I conclude that my surveyor’s map was created sometime between the years 1849 and 1854.

The when of the map was closer to being settled at this point, however I was left no closer to understanding where these 575 acres were located. For that I consulted  the Federal Census data hoping to track the residences of the young men.  My hunch was rewarded with an interesting trail.

1840                          Abia has a child and wife in Greene County, PA
Robert is not listed anywhere
1850                          Can’t find either Abia or Robert
1860                        Abia is in Moultrie County,Illinois
Robert is in Harrison County, Virginia
1870                         Abia is in Moultrie County, Illinois
Robert is in Harrison County, West Virginia
1880                        Abia is in Harper County, Kansas
Robert is in Harrison County, West Virginia

If Robert was on that land so long then searching for a map of that 1860-1880 era might yield some clues.

At Historic Map Works I did indeed find such a map–An Atlas of West Virginia, published by D. J. Lake and Company in 1886.   This map labeled not just towns and streams, but homes and businesses. I found Robert Minor’s name by a square that sat on a small stream, presumably Stout’s Run, that emptied into Simpson’s Creek north of Bridgeport.  Limestone Run had been renamed Barnet’s Run by 1886.  With these facts I could look at a Google map with new eyes and locate the ‘Plot Virginia Land 575′.

Limestone Run was renamed Barnet's Run by 1886, and the farms were covered by interstate and malls by 1986.

A mystery is solved, and leaves me with mixed emotions.  Now I know where my ancestor once walked; where, finding coal and water and good land for farming, John P. Minor expected to give his sons a great leg up in life.  Now I know that today’s parents walk from store to car, and drive home on streets and highways, on top of that land. They too expect to give their sons and daughters a leg up.

**With sixteen passes of the Flip Pal I had successfully scanned the map before me and stitched it together into a seamless jpeg file with the built in Stitch Tool.  Flip Pal. LOVE. IT.  Check it out here.