Wordless Wednesday: Minors of Greene County – 1875

With my trusty Flip Pal scanner, I captured this image of a family heirloom.  The photograph is snugly framed, with a sturdily nailed backing that I didn’t want to disturb.  So I did the best I could and scanned from on top of the glass.  The image  will be useful in identifying other photographs that my mother is letting me take home, since we know the identities of these folks.

Seated are my great-great grandparents, Mary Jane Gwynn and Francis Marion Minor.  The little boy standing to their left is my great-grandfather, Robert Minor.  Standing behind the trio are the older children – Sarah Priscilla, John Pierson and Olfred Minor.  I know that Robert was born in 1869, and he looks to be about 5 or 6 here;  T W Rogers of Carmichaels, Pennsylvania took this photograph sometime in the mid-1870s then.

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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.