Story by Story: A Doll’s Cradle

A doll’s cradle, tucked away, unseen for a generation, has found its way into my home, a piece of my mother’s collection.  In photographing this wicker treasure, I discovered a clue as to its origins.  Affixed to the bottom of the toy was a piece of masking tape with the words “made by Robert Minor for Marilyn, 193?“, written in my mother’s handwriting.

Robert Minor holding Marilyn, 1932, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. From the Marilyn Minor Strickland Collection.

Robert Minor holding Marilyn, 1932, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. From the Marilyn Minor Strickland Collection.

Marilyn’s granddaddy Minor (1869-1943) was a substantial man, stocky, square.  Looking at his picture, it is not hard to imagine that Robert Minor milked cows from an early age, or that he was groomed to take over the family cattle trading business as soon as he could count.  But his sturdy physique and natty attire belied an emotional vulnerability.  Intractable headaches and melancholy shaped Robert’s ability to work, to parent, to care and be cared for.  And once the family sold the mineral rights for the coal on that Pennsylvania farm in 1906, Robert had the means to do more than suffer in silence.

Treatment for nervous conditions in the early 20th century was limited, with most, like Robert, seeking the rest cure at various resort-like sanitariums.  Fresh air, clear spring water, no stressors, and occupational therapy were thought to be just the ticket to relief.  Relief did not guarantee return to a normal, productive life.

The stories told at family reunions, and recently uncovered postcards and letters, reveal that Robert never quite shook the demon depression.  He was subject to violent outbursts throughout his life.  His wife, May Laura, had even advised their adolescent son, Donald, to never be alone with Robert out in the barn.  Robert also had a habit of kicking his shin black and blue whenever he became upset.

Robert Minor must have retreated to sanitariums many, many times. Somehow the farm remained functional, and a legacy for Donald, his wife, Kerma, and his children, including Marilyn.  And in spite of frequent absences, Robert appears to have been a doting grandfather, buying dresses and toys when at home, and writing letters when away, like this note to ten year old Marilyn from Mercer Sanitarium, Mercer, Pennsylvania, when once again he was a resident of that therapeutic institution.

“Dear Marylin(sic) you little sweet thing, I only wish I could write you a nice letter one you would be proud of but Grandady (sic) isn’t able to do it.  Of course I could ask you about the school and your little friends and about your brothers and sisters and who your teacher is and where you go to school Willow Tree or Garards Fort, and how many there were in the school and do you mind the cold, and did you or any of them take the Hooping (sic) cough.”

At Mercer Sanitarium, Robert would have been under the care of Dr. W.W. Richardson, M.D.  Many nurses would have been called up to serve in various war-time positions.  I suppose, though short staffed, the basis of that 1942 care would have remained much the same as before the war: good food, raised on the premises; daily chores around the home and farm; and instruction in weaving, brass work, lace weaving, or basketry.  Basketry.

When I look at this doll’s cradle, I see more than eight inches of woven wicker.  I see a troubled mind holding in his heart what he couldn’t hold in his arms.  My dear little Marilyn…..

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Mapping My Ancestors: An Update to the Wilson-Minor Transactions

Have you ever wondered  if anybody ever reads what you have so passionately researched and diligently recorded?  Just as I despair that my family storytelling has NO audience, I got a comment, followed by a description, followed by an email with PHOTOGRAPHS.  This post was originally published two years ago, and today, because of curious reader, I have additional descriptions of land purchased 170 years ago by John Pearson Minor.  

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.

Phillip Wilson stopped by my blog, and read through this post, recognizing immediately that he grew up on Robert Minor’s farm.  His parents, Robert and Helen Wilson, purchased the land in 1962.  Their home, built around 1940, sat close to the “cellar house”, the basement of the original home.  Phillip played for hours down by the creek while his mother kept a watchful eye from the patio, til they paved paradise and put up an exit ramp. 

Robert Minor Farm, photo from Philip Wilson 3.2.2013

Robert Minor Farm, photo from Philip Wilson 3.2.2013

Robert Minor Farm, photo from Philip Wilson 3.2.2013

Robert Minor Farm, photo from Philip Wilson 3.2.2013

**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.

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.