Taking The Past Exit

My husband and I were returning from vacation, northbound on Interstate 81.  The highway made a backwards question mark, cutting into the southern anthracite fields of Pennsylvania.  Signs indicated distances to old patch towns–Tremont, Minersville, Donaldson, Port Carbon. As we passed the Tower City exit our conversation took a genealogical turn.

T: “My mother’s mother’s people came from Tower City.”

Me: “The Monahans or the Carrolls?”

T: “The Carrolls. The Monahans were from Shenandoah.”

Me: “Hmmm…That’s a good 30 minutes up the road, even longer back in the 1870s.  How did Margaret Carroll and John Monahan meet?”

T: “I never thought about that.”

We traveled on, but my curiosity took the off ramp into nineteenth century Schuylkill County.  Once home, I burrowed down into Monahan and Carroll genealogy warrens before hazarding any guesses into how T’s great-grandparents met and married in 1878.

The story starts, as so many Irish tales do, with the Great Potato Famine of the 1840s.

Martin and Margaret (Kelley) Carroll made the trans-Atlantic trip by 1848, finding work and community in Minersville, Pennsylvania, the birthplace of their first child.  Margaret, the future Monahan matriarch, was their third child, born in 1854. The family moved west during the Civil War, to the coal seams surrounding the town of Tremont.

Map of Schuylkill County, Minersville to Tremont, 1854

Map of Schuylkill County, 1854. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division, Washington, D.C. (Minersville is on the far right, and Tremont on the far left.)

Thomas and Bridget Mona(g)han left Ireland about the same time as the Carrolls, living for a few years in Liverpool, England, where Thomas earned the family’s fare as a laborer on the docks or the railroad. In 1854 the couple boarded the Andrew Foster with their little boys–the future Monahan patriarch, John J., and Michael–and crossed the wintry ocean to New York City.  By the end of that decade, the Monahans lived among the residents of Swatara, a patch town south of Broad Mountain, and a bit east of Tremont.


In 1870 both the Carrolls and the Monahans lived in the area serviced by the Swatara post office.  Margaret was helping her mom make a home; John was an underground laborer alongside his dad.

Patch towns had collieries, schools, stores, and churches.  Surely there was ample opportunity for John to meet Margaret.  Perhaps the young folks lingered after mass or danced together at the wedding of a mutual friend.   I find it perfectly reasonable to presume that Margaret and John flirted, courted and wed because of geographic proximity.

In the last decades of the century, the Monahans and the Carrolls drifted, with various members settling in different towns nestled among the Appalachian hills.  By the time T’s mother was old enough to have memories of visiting, aunts and uncles were centered–the Carrolls in Tower City and the Monahans in Shenandoah.  But that is story for another day.


Put Procrastination On A Shelf

Book.Corrigan.Mining.1887.01.EHDeadlines are a writer’s friend, and I desperately needed one if I was to transform an octopus of a research project into a finished story.  Analyzing my mother-in-law’s old book, The Mine Foreman’s Handbook, for heirloom status had proven to be a daunting task.  

The editor of my local genealogical society newsletter reminded me each time I visited their library of my promise to contribute a story.  This past spring  I committed to pressing “send” by the summer solstice.  And the account of Martin Corrigan’s book flowed out, line by line by line.

I urge all you family history lovers to venture out from tree shaping and blog posting.  We all have some big stories to tell.  Find a genealogical or historical society near you and make friends with their newsletter deadline.

Here is an excerpt of  Inside Out: Judging a Book By Its Cover, which begins on page 11 of the summer issue of Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society’s newsletter, The Heritage. 

51-The Heritage Summer 2016, Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society

“In 1887 Martin Corrigan was granted a Certificate of Service by the Pennsylvania Mine Foreman Examining Board, an alternative certification which recognized men who had served as mine foremen for at least one year prior to the 1885 Mine Safety Act9 . Martin Corrigan did not own this book in order to take the Mine Foreman Exam himself. Martin may have originally purchased the book for his own private library, consulting its contents in his role as mine boss for Augustus S. Van Winkle’s Milnesville collieries. But Martin also loaned this book out. The words “Please Return” were found inside the front and back covers, and on one of the first pages someone inscribed the words: Martin Corrigan No. 90 North Wyoming Street Hazleton.”

The Night of Mary Corrigan Delehanty’s Birthday

My mother-in-law Mary told the story like this.

In 1919, Jim and Anna (Monahan) Corrigan lived with his mom, Mary Walker Corrigan, above his medical office in a double house on West Broad Street, Hazleton, Pennsylvania.  Anna went into labor on June 25, and that night Jim, a general practitioner specializing in obstetrics, delivered his own first born child.

While Mary tended to his wife, Jim cradled his infant daughter and headed to the only phone in the house, down in his office. After placing a few calls to announce his Mary Margaret’s arrival the euphoric father returned to Anna and Mary.

“Jim, where’s the baby?” asked his mother.

He turned on his heel, ran down the stairs and scooped Mary’s swaddled little body off the desk where he had absentmindedly set her while talking with his brothers.

Later James A Corrigan, MD recorded this delivery, as he  did every delivery, in a pocket-sized notebook, and checked off the entry when he officially recorded Mary’s birth with Pennsylvania Vital Statistics, Form No. 11.

Corrigan Medical Notebook

Corrigan State Birth Record

Enter a caption

These records were identified by Mary Corrigan Delehanty as belonging to her father, James Aloysius Corrigan, MD.



The Union of Martin Corrigan and Mary Walker: Throwback Thursday

The United States was teetering on the brink of civil war as Mary Walker of Tamaqua (PA) made plans for her union with Ebervale (PA) coal miner Martin Corrigan.  President Abraham Lincoln spent the Easter season contemplating the resupply of Fort Sumter. Mary and Martin completed the final details for their marriage.

On Easter morning, 31 March 1861, Mary traipsed up the mountain from Tamaqua to the region’s main Irish Catholic church in Beaver Meadows.  In all likelihood Mary was accompanied by her mother, Ellen, and sisters, Anne and Ellen, each taking a turn carrying the dress in which the Irish immigrant was to exchange vows.  Meanwhile, Martin, himself a recent Irish immigrant, hurried to put the finishing touches on his wedding attire, borrowing a vest and dress overcoat to spruce up his outfit.


Colton’s Map Of Pennsylvania, 1859

Though St. Gabriel’s Church existed in Hazleton and was most likely the Corrigans’ home church, Martin and his entourage traveled to the diocese’s main church, St. Mary’s, to rendezvous with the Walkers.  Within the celebration of the high holy day of Easter, Martin and Mary were united in marriage by the Reverend Father Scanlon.  Afterward the young couple posed for a photograph, to capture in perpetuity the beginning  of the Corrigan-Walker partnership.


Martin and Mary Walker Corrigan on their wedding day, Easter Sunday, March 31, 1861 St. Mary’s Church, Beaver Meadows, PA



Family Genealogical Record, Ida May Corrigan, 26 Dec 1903. Hand written original. Corrigan Collection with author.

Map 1859 COLTON’S PENNSYLVANIA. Published by Johnson & Browning, 172 William St. New York: accessed online at http://www.mapsofpa.com/antiquemaps35.htm.

Photographic copy of original carte de visite, inscribed on back by Mary Corrigan Delehanty. Corrigan Collection with author.


Miscellaneous sources such as census data and obituaries of Martin Corrigan and Mary Walker. Author’s notes available upon request.


Tuesday’s Tip: Local Servers Aren’t Always Computers

Chances are that you, family historian, live within reach of a local genealogical server, an organization that is dedicated to preserving your sanity, as you preserve your family’s stories.  These genealogical societies can host educational events, house regional history archives, and provide encouraging words during even the most discouraging of times.

My local server, The Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society, includes an amazing team of photographers who have rigged up a splendid system of cameras, lights and reflectors.  These digitizing fiends capture a myriad of local documents, from baptismal records to century-old newspapers, AND, as I discovered, members’ family treasures.

I recently acquired a set of deeds for my husband’s childhood home in Hazleton, Pennsylvania.  The series begins in 1883, with a wonderful document from the Diamond Coal Land Company conveying title to a parcel in Square #6 of the Diamond Addition.   Measuring 16¾ inches by 27¼ inches, the yellowed paper proved impossible to scan and challenging to clearly photograph at home.  After explaining my predicament to these local genealogists, the guys offered to make digital copies for me! While the cameras worked their magic, I read the Hazleton (PA) Sentinel’s  1884 account of the coal trade on an in-house computer, another product of their preservationist zeal.

Local genealogical societies are wonderful groups to support, with your membership fees and your company.  We all have so much to gain from the camaraderie and sharing.

The Diamond Coal Land Company was a piece of the Ario and Calvin Pardee coal conglomerate, which also owned the Lehigh Valley Railroad Company and many anthracite collieries in the area.

The Diamond Coal Land Company was a piece of the Ario and Calvin Pardee coal conglomerate, which also owned the Lehigh Valley Railroad Company and many anthracite collieries in the area.