Thursday, October 25, 2012

Treasure Chest Thursday: He Came From Ireland

The blogging prompt for today is to look in the Treasure Chest and see what's there that might tickle a fancy. This is one is easy... and I really do need a prompt today to get me going after my trip back East to see Mom!

I always go for the photos. To me they are the most evocative bit of family history and beg a story if one can be had. So here's my treasure to share with you.

What you see here is the tombstone of my 2nd GGF, John Kelly. When Mom was just beginning the long 40-year task of constructing our family tree, this is one of the places she started. The family knew little about our John Kelly who was born in Ireland and died in Eckhart, Allegany County, Maryland. There was his tombstone, an Irish cross, for all the world to see up in St. Michaels Cemetery in Frostburg. Hard to read, it was, but Mom went again and again trying all the usual tricks of water and sunlight. Finally the rock revealed all it had and Mom recorded it.

John Kelly was born 22 June 1829 in Shannonbridge, Clonmacnoise (the parish name), Ireland. He died 28 June 1891. He married Bridget Cockrane, born Dec 1830 and died after 1910 but we have no good record of her death.

Shannonbridge is in Offaly County, Ireland. In 1854 Kelly was the 9th most common name in the county. And I'm willing to guess that there were more than one John Kellys about the countryside! Am just glad we're not Egans as they have 47 households in Offaly:)

Then in the 1980s Mom and Dad and I went to Ireland and visited Shannonbridge and the historical site of Clonmacnoise. They were just then putting the local parish records on computer and so we had to go see the priest for a permission note to view them. A long climb up a flight of stairs to the place were they were working on the files was paid off with our John Kelly's father's name: John Kelly born about 1800. He married Bridget Brown also born about 1800. And that's our brick wall because records back before that were burned in a fire. More's the pity.

The historical site of Clonmacnoise on the Shannon River.

I chose this as my treasure because it is the most tangible real object that connects me to Ireland. Without it I don't have any idea what I'd do on St Patrick's Day;)

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

He Died In The Outhouse

Am reading Betty VanNewkirk's second book, Kaleidoscope, ever a treat! Betty writes a weekly column about local history for the Cumberland Times-News newspaper. Here's a link: . Some of the columns specifically about Frostburg have been gathered together to form this and another book, Windows To The Past.

I do like reading local Western Maryland histories because I never know when an ancestor might pop off the page. My paternal GGGF Charles William Zeller (1829 - 1901) and my GGF Gustav Zeller (1858 - 1927) have both been mentioned a couple of times in Ms. VanNewkirk's entertaining books! So let me share the bare bones of one story in which my GGF's barber shop is mentioned, although as you'll see, the story takes some twists and turns far afield of his excellent establishment!

This particular story, "The Body in the Privy", can be found on page 103 and mentions Mr. Zeller's barber emporium up the street from the location under discussion and the fact that Gus had not only running water in the 1920s but tubs and basins for showers and baths! Imagine! Family lore has it that GGF prided himself on having the most elaborate and top level barbershop in all of Western Maryland.

But the story on page 103 isn't about Gus Zeller. No, it's about that inconvenient body they found when excavating for a new building 115 East Main Street and down the street from the Zeller Barber Shop. The building at 115 had been purchased and improvements were required. Digging revealed an old outhouse cleared and limed when indoor plumbing was installed. In July of 1923 the boys digging a sewer ditch for the new building found - are your ready - a leg bone! They called the cops.

More digging revealed a full human skeleton, gold cuff links with the initials J. R. D., small change, a watch fob and bits of fabric. If you want the full Monty of gory details you'll have to read the book:)

Through a series of CSI Frostburg deductions and general questioning the man's identity was determined. The story came out, it seems, in dibs and drabs. The cuff links, it was determined, belonged to one John Daniels also known as Uncle Shink, a rotund jovial man who liked his drink. Not married... wise were the single ladies of town!

On the night in question, Uncle Shink visited two of the numerous bars, said he was going home, and then just up and disappeared! The hunt for him extended to Ohio and other mining areas of the country with no results. On what would have been his 45th birthday his body was found in the old outhouse so long out of use that everyone had forgotten that it was even there in the first place.

Now I ask you, how drunk would you have to be to fall in an outhouse?!

Photos of the Day from the Archive:

Gustav Zeller (1858 - 1927)
The day the first electric trolly came to Frostburg
and Gustav Zeller in his white barber's coat,
hand to head, at the front of the trolly.

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The Braddock Stone

Housing for the Braddock Stone
at the Frostburg Museum,
Frostburg, Maryland


Didactic panel

The Bradock Stone, now ensconced in its new pavilion in front of the Frostburg Museum and recently dedicated on September 13, 2012 just preceding the town's bicentennial, is not only a historical object but a family object. Oh yes, we too join the long line of people of the town who claim a history moment attached to this large rather strange item!

If you can't easily read what it says in the rather poor photos I took on my most recent trip, here's what's carved into the Braddock Rock, text below. As you might be able to tell, it's been infilled with paint so as to make the reading easier.

Front: "11 miles to Ft. Cumberland, 29 MS to Capt Smyths Inn and Bridge Big, Crossing The Best Road to Redstone, Old Fort, 64 M"

Back: "Our Country's Rights We Will Defend"

It's a strange and fascinating object. Reads like an early road advertisement for Captain Smyth's Inn. Because of where it was placed long ago, it was thought that the stone marked the actual path General Braddock took in 1755 trying to oust the French from Fort Duquesne at present day Pittsburgh. However there is nothing substantive to substantiate that theory, except the proximity of where it was found in relationship to Braddock's presumed road.

The DAR, ever patriotic, looked to enshrine the stone in a pavilion similar to the one you see in the pictures above. I think I remember that their efforts took place about 100 years ago or more. They lost interest, it is said, when the inscription seemed to indicate that the stone wasn't likely to have been marking Braddock's route at all.

Local legend says that the stone was split and then was going to be used as steps to an outhouse... or... that a local stonemason grabbed it but when discovered was persuaded by the authorities to make the repair you see so evident in the photos.

Our family's connection with the stone is on the Whetstone side, that's Mom's mother's parents. They had a farm, or actually a parcel of a few acres, and the stone resided just outside of the fence defining the back yard. It was already split but not repaired when Mom played there in the 1920s. She still remembers the very sweet wild strawberries that grew at the base of the stone.

Mom likes to say that her cousin George broke the stone. George was an awful tease and one of his favorite targets was Mom, a dangerous number of years his junior. Devilish George was the most likely candidate to have been making mischief enough to break that stone. If anyone did it, it was probably George! Or so Mom liked to say;)

Mom and her cousins.
(Hey Mom, is that George on the right..
although any of these three look like they'd enjoy making
trouble for the sweet little girl in the hair bow!)

Mom's Whetstone Grandparents:
Joseph Hampton Whetstone (1858 - 1939) and
Catherine Elizabeth House Whetstone (1865 - 1947).
Mom sports a hair bow!

Monday, October 15, 2012

"A Day in the Life of Frostburg"

There's a really lovely and insightful independent film made for the bicentennial of Frostburg, called "A Day In The Life of Frostburg." Frostburg is the Western Maryland town in which my ancestors resided, almost exclusively. It puzzles me as to why adventurous and brave ancestors picked up and moved from Wales, Ireland, England, and Germany to settle there... and stay there generation after generation!

Finally I think I found an encapsulation of that answer I arrived at a while back. This 30  minute film, all shot by residents of today's Frostburg, captures the spirit of the place and explores what exactly draws and keeps people engaged with it.

You might not want to watch all 30 minutes of it but if you have about 5 minutes check out the beginning of Part II. Betty VanNewkirk stats it well. Here's the link:

A Little Museum Packs A Big Wallop

Recently back east visiting Mom in the little Western Maryland town of Frostburg, and we thought we'd make time to go visit the Frostburg Museum. Glad we did! A visit to a local museum can really shed light on the lives of the ancestors, and possibly render even more direct information from the files.

Here's a link to the Frostburg Museum:
And here's a link to their genealogy page:
Here's the text about the holdings that might be pertinent to family history researchers:

Without following the usual procedures of those tracing family roots, the Museum has a great deal of information about families who have lived in the Frostburg area. Voting registration prior to World War I; tax assessments from 1910; a tailor's measurements from the first part of the century... items not found on the Internet.
Card files, vertical files (mostly newspaper clippings), and correspondence with family members are cross-indexed, and City maps of various vintage help to locate the houses where people lived.

This lovely small town museum is housed in an old historic school building once the home of Hill Street School. Mom attended Hill Street School because it was the closest elementary school situated just at the other end of her block. Here's waht the museum's web site says about the building:

Built in 1899, the Hill Street School was the last school in the area of a design that was fairly common at that time. Originally six rooms, a two-room and auditorium addition dates from ca. 1914. Several areas of the basement were at one time used for cafeteria, kindergarten, and meeting rooms. When it was no longer needed as a school, the building reverted to the County Commissioners, who gave it to the City; the Museum Association now holds title to it.

Looking towards Mom's childhood home,
just beyond the house with the striped awning.
Hill Street School,
now the Frostburg Museum
(Photo courtesy Frostburg Museum)

I can attest to what the museum has, and if your ancestors come from the area, it's a must do on your itinerary. Inside you'll find shelves with numerous genealogies of local families including the Trimbles and Porters, and those are ours. A long time ago Mom gave them a copy of her Whetstone family file but we forgot to check and see if they still have it. The old city maps are invaluable. And you might even find ancestors in the sales books of a grocery store! On our next visit Mom and I want to go play in these records and see what we find!

Interpretive display of a coal mine.
So many of the area's residents worked in coal mines that
this display must be popular!

Besides direct information about the genealogy of ancestors, there are so many artifacts and objects that frame the time and place in which the ancestors lived! Room after room full of the memorabilia of daily lives in small town Western Maryland are found here as well as specific objects that give history to named families. 
Ralph, our docent, asked me if the family still had the big barber chair that was in my GGF's barber shop behind the old house at 89 West Main Street. No, sad to say we don't. It was sold off years ago by I don't know who. I remember that you could probably talk one of the cousins into giving you a good spin ride in it;) It would have been great if the old barber chair had been donated. Too bad.

Mom had fun in the classroom on the second floor and found her 1936 high school class photo, and Dad's too. Aunt Betty looked for hers and found it while I found Aunt Dot's and Uncle Harolds... they were in the same class! High school sweethearts:) It was shocking to see how very small the desks were then: did we ever fit into one? Guess so.

Mom and Brother, left, look for classmates in
her high school class photo, while our docent, Ralph looks on.
Aunt Betty in her class photo.

Small museums like the Frostburg Museum must dot the county! There's one we want to visit just west of here in Garret County. That's next on our list. Imagine all the history waiting to be discovered by family historians in these local gems.

Aunt Betty donated a trunk that came over with her GGM form Wales! It's quite the story and I think that I'll save it until next time. There's a beautiful crazy quilt that goes with it too... and I have photos.

Yeah, this post is going to come in parts:)

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Moonshining Miners

Just back from a visit back East to see Mom and the family. It was fun in both the planning and execution of it all. Met Cousin Steve and his wife and their grand-baby at the mall after Mom got her hair done on Friday morning. You can't tell me Steve and Kitty don't love that little one! Always great to see the love of family passed from one generation to the next:)

There were wonderful other happenings that I'll blog about in the coming days: a fascinating author of local history came for coffee after her last class on Friday, and a trip to the Frostburg Museum with Aunt Betty and her good friend, Shirley. Plus, Mom and I had a blast digging around her archive! The dust was flying off the files on the "back shelf"!

Here's a photo of little Frostburg, all nestled into the fall foliage of scenic Western Maryland... then I'll tell you a story:)

Frostburg, Maryland, Fall 2012
I picked up two books by Betty VanNewkirk about Frostburg: Windows to the Past, and Kalidascope. They are both collections of essays written for the Cumberland Times-News newspaper. Here's a link: . Betty taught at Frostburg State University for many years as did her husband, whom I think I had as a professor. I believe Mom told me that Betty just celebrated her 97th birthday!
One of the articles in her first compilation, Windows to the Past - simply titled "Prohibition", on page 61 - illuminates the difficulties and amusement surrounding the enforcement of the Volstead Act along the George's Creek coal mining area. My GGF, Daniel Williams, was a miner there. He died before all the turmoil over prohibition but never mind because he was a non-drinker anyway. His boys, however, were drinking men:) 
Windows give a clear analysis of the situation: the miners went out on strike, and times were hard but not impossible because the miners had savings accounts, owned their homes, had chickens for eggs and meat, perhaps a cow, and of course gardens. The United Mine Workers sent care packages that included corn to be used as chicken feed. The miners, ever resourceful, saw the possibility of turning the corn into mash and that mash into moonshine. And moonshine was a hot commodity during prohibition!
The town officials knew what was going on but didn't want to get between the revenuers and their miner neighbors. As Mrs. VanNewkirk writes:

They worried about the situation - but their real concern was for the town's precious water supply. They estimated that there were 100 stills operating within the city limits, each one requiring a half-inch stream of water running over the coils for 24 hours at a time; the Frostburg reservoir wasn't up to that demand!
She goes on to explain the percent of alcohol in beer and how it was tweaked over time. Interestingly, when the revenue agents finally caught up with the moonshiners and confiscated the wares, they "followed up with the pronouncement that local moonshine was the best to be had anywhere in the State." That had to be the best advertising that a moonshiner could get!
Copies of Betty VanNewkirk's excellent and entertaining book can be had from the Frostburg Museum. Call for information on ordering. Here's the link:
Photo of the Day from Aunt Betty's Archive:
GGF Daniel William's home in Ocean Maryland,
center of the George's Creek mining activity...
and Prohibitoin Era moonshining.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Computer VS. Internet

Who knows why our computers do what they do when they are alone? My internet has been dodgy this last month and then a while back before I went to see MOM back East, it went out all together. Spent the morning with a nice kid at the Geek Squad and my hopes were up. But home here and my hopes are dashed. My internet is an on and off again thing. So the Geek Guy and I will be spending some quality time tomorrow morning.

Plus, I have so much to report from my trip to see Mom! Drat this misbehaving technology!