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.


Wisdom Wednesday: 100>99

Within the last week I read an article about commitment, or rather keeping a commitment.  In sum, the author stated that it is easier to practice your craft or hone your skill, develop new habits and deepen your spiritual practice if you commit 100%.  No creeping “well, just this once I won’t take my binoculars” or “I’ll get to the writing tomorrow.”

So I am committed to this experiment.  If I write every day on this blog or on my work-in-progress Shared Legacy narrative (more on that later), no excuses, will the writer’s block melt?  If I take my binoculars or camera everywhere I go, will I  spend at least a few minutes mindfully every day?  And if I write and deeply look at my world, will I find myself energized and engaged?

What have you, dear reader, decided to commit 100% to?  What tricks did you develop to hold yourself accountable?



Birding by kayak, with camera AND binoculars. Not seen in this shot, the Great Blue Heron fishing off to my right.  Later on I watched a Green Heron play hopscotch on bank-roots.

MyStory: Birding is the only good reason to garden


Edited to reflect reality…*

Yesterday I tried to get super close to a bigger-than-a-crow hawk that sat perched on my neighbor’s play set. Tawny,heavy brow, white lores around the very big, very curved beak, yellow legs, brown and tawny back, white chest, several black stripes in the white tipped tail.

It was not a Coopers, and not a Red-tail.

It just rested and looked around, up and down, barely paying me any mind as a skulked closer, with either  camera or binoculars at my eye. The hawk let out a high pitched whistle, which I instantly recognized as that sound that had pulled me outside for the last month.

It let out another whistle as it unfolded its wings and drifted over the treetops. I raced into the house to examine my shots and ID the mystery raptor…only to notice that my card was still in the computer from last  photo edit. Drat!!!  Fortunately, trying to frame a good field ID photo had focused my attention enough on the hawk’s details that I could trip the empty-camera-card-slot-failure into a success.

I got really close to an immature Broad-wing Hawk!!!

And I ran out of time to weed before dinner prep.  *snaps fingers* Shucks…

Just so we are clear…Gardening is merely the prompt to birding in my backyard.  Binoculars, I have found, must accompany the trowel, or at least be a dash distance nearby, or I just procrastinate the dirt work.  Even then, birds trump plants. Like yesterday…

Night temperatures fell past dew point, and this morning’s herb garden was bejeweled in water beads, leaving even weeds pretty.  Yesterday’s chore had to be completed before the cilantro got crowded out by crabgrass and some mystery choker.  Summer contact calls were music to weed by so out I went, binoculars, trowel, weed bucket.  When I could distinctly see sage, oregano, cilantro seedlings, and thyme, I declared gardening done, and strolled around, glasses in hand, just in time to watch a mustached Northern Flicker and his partner send their sharp beaks between blades of dew-soaked grass.  In the distance, an adult male Northern Cardinal fanned his feathers wide, and a pair of Mourning Doves fluttered in to join his hedgerow morning spa.

Gardening is a gateway chore to my passion.  I relax, content.

Woodland Apparition

Ghost Flower 02

This ghostly flower can be found blooming in the deep woods from June to September, when the leaf canopy creates a shady gloom.  A symbiotic relationship between a fungus (mycorrhiza fungi) and tree roots releases nutrients that the myco-heterotrophic Ghost Plant soaks up.   


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.”