Sunday, December 14, 2014

Facebook delivers a family story detail that I didn't know!

The Zeller Barbershop,
Frostburg, Allegany County, Maryland.
Before 1917.
See that fine barbering emporium on Main Street in the Western Maryland mountain town of Frostburg, above? That was my great grandfather's shop. He was Gus Zeller (1884 - 1927). As best I know he had a business here first and then across the street. Why did he move across the street? Because the shop you see here burned to the ground in a large fire on 14 December, 1917, and that's 97 years ago today as I write this.
I was on Facebook this morning and happened to see a post about this fire that destroyed a big chunk of the downtown business area. Wow, I thought, it happened just three years short of 100 on this day! But then I went on to read all that had been posted and it was the full text of an article that ran in the Cumberland Times newspaper, a larger town that was close by Frostburg. I'm posting the full text of the article here, copied from that Facebook post, in the chance that someone whose ancestor was also the victim of the fire might search and stumble upon this. I learned a thing or two about the events of the day from this article so if it helps someone else, more the better.
A reprint from the Cumberland Times Friday, December 14, 1917

Seven Buildings Totaling Loss Of $150,000 Destroyed – Stiff Gale Balks Firemen Who Fought For Four Hours – Frostburg Department Handicapped, New Auto engine of Cumberland And Coney Firefighters Save Town From Devastation.

FROSTBURG, Dec. 14 – A fire, doing an estimated damage of $150,000, broke out this morning about 5 o’clock from the Shea building, this place, and before it was extinguished burned seven buildings to the ground. The destroyed buildings were: Shea building and a double block residence and average on same lot; the building occupied as store and residence by the Frostburg Furniture Co. and a warehouse and stable on the same lot; a building owned by Mrs. D. J. Betz and occupied on the ground floor by Jeffries Bros., jewelers; Zeller’s barber shop and C. F. Betz’s grocery store; a garage and storehouse on First street owned by the Frostburg Furniture and Undertaking Co.

Burns Four Hours
Fanned by a stiff gale the fire burned furiously for four hours and it was not until 9 a.m. that it was under complete control. For some time it looked as if the Lyric building would also burn, and all its occupants moved their furniture and fixtures to places of safety. The Lyric Theatre suffered considerable damage from the blazes which leaped across from the Betz building, all the east windows being broken and the sash and frames burned.

Lose Everything
The occupants of the Shea building lost everything, as the fire was so far advanced when discovered that nothing could be saved. The building was occupied on the first floor by the Shea’s drug store and McCrorey’s five and ten cent store, on the second floor by offices of Clayton Purnell, attorney; Frostburg Building and Loan Association; Thomas Elias’ tailor shop and offices of Parker-George’s Creek Coal Co., the Gleason Coal and Coke Co. and Sullivan Bros. Coal Co; the third floor of the building was occupied by the local aerie Fraternal Order of Eagles.

Furniture Stock Ruined
The Frostburg Furniture and Undertaking Co. lost their entire stock and almost all the household furniture of Jonas J. Durst, president of the company, who with his family, resided on the second floor. All that this concern was able to save out of an estate valued at $30,000 was two horses, a motor ambulance, a National touring car, two hearses and some embalming instruments.

Groceries Burned Up
C. F. Betz, grocer, lost almost his entire stock, while the entire stock of the Jeffries Bros., jeweler’s was saved. G. W. M. Zeller lost heavily although some of his barber chairs and fixtures were saved. Nearly all the household furniture of Robert Cook and James Durst, who occupied apartments on the second floor of the Betz building was saved. The second floor of the Beatz building was occupied by the offices of the City Clerk J. S. Metzger, Attorney Charles G. Watson and City Engineer William Harvey. City Clerk Metzger saved all the town’s records and the most valuable of his own papers. William Harvey saved most of his equipment and papers. Attorney Watson lost practically everything. Some damage by water was done to the Lyric cafĂ© and the Hosken and Gunter’s pool room. These two concessions moved all their stock and some of their furnishings when the fire appeared most threatening. The second floor of the Lyric building, which is occupied as a residence by Mrs. L.R. Ash and J. C. Youngerman, was emptied, the goods being carried to the houses of friends and stores on the opposite side of the street.

Save Draft Records
The furnishings of the third floor of the Lyric building, occupied by the local draft board, were also carried to places of safety, and scores of men worked untiringly carrying out the immense stock of goods Stanton’s hardware store. Most of these goods were packed in the Catholic church yard. Mrs. Truman Thorpe and Mrs. Isabel Campbell occupied the burned double block house in the rear of the Shea building. The Thorpe family saved much of their household goods; Mrs. Campbell saved nothing but a watch, which belonged to her deceased husband.

Save Hotel
The Gladstone Hotel was in great danger for a long while, but owing to the direction of the wind and persistent efforts of the firemen the damage to this building was slight. The residence of Wm. J. Daily and a house owned by Mrs. John Brady were in great danger for a while and so much fear was entertained for their safety that all the contents were removed to neighboring houses.

Nearby Cities Aid
This was the most extensive and damaging fire experienced in Frostburg since 1874 and had it not been for help from Cumberland, Lonaconing and Midland the disaster would have been probably the worst in the history of the town. Between 75 and 100 men of Good Will Fire Company, Lonaconing, arrived at 7 o’clock with much needed equipment and they worked heroically with the Frostburg Fire Department until the blaze was under control. The new motor truck of the Cumberland Fire Department arrived on scene at 8 o’clock and the strong stream this engine produced, after being attached to the fire plug in front of St. Michael’s Church, was all that prevented the fire from eating its way down Welsh street and First street. The Midland firemen were also on the scene and worked hard until all anger had passed.

New Truck Broken Down
Had it not been for a combination of adverse circumstances the Frostburg Fire Department could undoubtedly have kept the fire confined to the Shea building. The men never worked harder, but they had to work without the new motor truck – their best piece of equipment, which was in Cumberland undergoing repairs. Another handicap resulted from the recent gas failure, which caused a freezing temperature in the hose house and the hose, used only a few days ago at another fire, were found to be frozen when put in use this morning.

Hose Burst
It was not long this morning after the fire bell rang until four of the hoses were connected to as many water plugs, but when the pressure was turned in, three of the lines burst, causing a loss of time for repairs. Add to this, annoyance of a high wind and for some reason an unusually low water pressure and one can easily understand that it required almost superhuman effort on the part of the men of the fire departments to save from destruction a larger area than is now laid in waste.

Stocks were Heavy
Owing to the holiday season, all stores were heavily stocked and consequently the loss is greater than it would have been at any other season of the year. Mr. Shea alone places loss at $60,000, while that of the Frostburg Furniture Co. is estimated at between $30,000 and $35,000. These two are the heaviest losers. A conservative estimate places the loss of the others at $60,00, making the entire value of the property destroyed $150,000. The blaze occurred in the heart of the town and the destructive work of the four hours’ fire this morning has changed that section from a block of brilliant stores attired in holiday dress to a blackened area of ruins, which will make the town poorer in many ways until this section is rebuilt.

To Resume Business
Several stores have arranged to resume business at once. Jeffries Bros., who saved all their stock will be open for business tomorrow morning in the vacant room next to the Palace Theatre. This firm had a huge iron safe in the fire, which was filled with valuable jewelry. It was forced opened after cooling off and everything was in perfect condition including the most delicate watches, which were keeping perfect time. The Frostburg Furniture Co. will probably occupy the Gladstone’s annex. The undertaking business portion of this firm will be carried on without interruption, their office being in the Gladstone Hotel until further notice.

My great grandfather went on to build out a bigger and better barbering establishment across Main Street. He stayed on there until he retired and turned the business over to one of his sons. Gus Zeller died in Frostburg, in his home on Main Street and just up the hill from the thriving business he built.

Gustav William Zeller
(1881 - 1927)

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Friday, December 5, 2014

Greetings to all my Workman and Troutman peeps!

You know how you go along and work on one of your family lines and then all of a sudden, you start hearing form new-to-you cousins? That happens to me a lot, and I like it. Recently I've been working on the Workman and Troutman lines of my Western Maryland ancestors. These two lines connect up right where Nancy Ann Troutman married Elisha Workman. Here's what that junction looks like on Mom's Big Tree on Ancestry, which I'm always happy to share with any new-to-me cousins. Just send an email and I'll invite you:)

To me, this is a fascinating line of ancestors. Both lines contain Revolutionary War ancestors who fought or paid taxes in support of the effort and took loyalty oaths. They were prosperous in amazing measures leaving large estates for wives, children, and beneficiaries. And the probate files! Oh the sumptuous probate files! And best of all, this bunch of Troutman and Workman ancestors stayed right where they were and all the records are in Allegany County, Maryland. Lucky me!
And because I have this dandy blog here, one of my cousins picked up on the photo of Nancy Ann Troutman, second below, and obviously a studio portrait, and sent me the one on top! Now this was probably taken at the same sitting as the full body portrait already in my possession due to the kindness of someone on Ancestry. Look, the clothing is the same.
But this image is different, isn't it? Look, it appears to have been reworked somehow, at a later date perhaps. Almost looks airbrushed to me but perhaps other techniques were used. Maybe traditional art materials such as paint or pastels. See how smooth her face is and how uniform the background is? Did the original studio photographer re-work his photo to give the effect of a painting? Was that something photographers did then? Wish I knew.

Image sent to me due to the kindness of Cousin Brenda!! Thank you so very much! What a treasure this is.
Her head looks to be at a slightly different angle. And of course that top image is without her glorious hat. Would she, being a proper lady, have consented to having her image made without her hat? What were the customs then?

Nancy Ann (Troutman) Workman 1826 - 1882.
So greetings and hello to any cousins from the Troutman or Workman line! I'm super glad that you stopped by and please send an email (you'll find it at the top to the right) and let's chat.
And please let me know what you think about this photo! Also, a question for those of you who know about such things, what year do you think this was taken? We'd sure like to know.
Late Breaking News! Cousin Brenda just emailed and said that the top portrait is a charcoal drawing! Excellent. And a real nice one too. Thanks, Cousin Brenda:)
Now if we can figure out the approximate time the photo was done based on the clothing, we'd be golden.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Quick note on Isaac Workman

I've been in contact by email with a descendant of Isaac Workman, DAR and SAR Patriot, and of his grandson Elisha Workman. My great grandmother was sister to his ancestor and they both were children of Elisha. We've been going back and forth about a number of things, and our conversations reminded me of something, a finer point, about Isaac.

I've posted here previously about the Workman Military Lots in Allegany County, Maryland, and you can read that post here. And you can see how many of these lots the Workman family owned in the map below.

A section of the Frostburg State University military lot maps in Western Maryland.

There has been speculation that these lots were earned through military service, but they were not. I was hoping that they were and that the entire male side of the family had gone to war, united as one. What a good family story that would have made! But that was not at all what the records show. I checked everywhere, in Fold3, The National Archive, the DAR records and listing of their Patriots, FamilySearch and Ancestry. He was not in any of them.

What I did find is that Isaac Workman has been verified as a DAR Patriot based on an Oath of Allegiance he swore.

Here's what the Maryland Historical Society had to say about that particular Oath of Allegiance.

Oath of Fidelity:
Abstract                        The Oath of Fidelity was instituted by Laws of Maryland 1777, Chapter 20, An Act for the Better Security of Government.  Every free male 18 years and older was required to subscribe to an oath renouncing the King of England and to pledge allegiance to the revolutionary government of Maryland.  Those already engaged in military service were assumed to be loyal.  Quakers, Mennonites, and Dunkards were permitted to affirm.  There were several penalties associated with failure to obey the instructions of the ACT.  Magistrates neglecting to keep books and transmit them to the Governor were to be fined 500 pounds.  Persons expected to take the oath who did not do so were required, for the rest of their lives, to pay triple the ordinary tax on real and personal property.  They were forbidden to exercise and practice the trade of merchandise or to practice the law, physic or surgery, or the art of an apothecary, or to preach or teach the gospel, or to teach in public or private schools, or to hold or exercise within this state, any office of profit or trust, civil or military, or to vote at any election of electors or senators, or of delegates to the house of delegates.  Oaths were to be administered by the magistrates of each county before March 1, 1778.  One list of those who subscribed to the oath was to be kept at the county court and another sent to the governor and Council in Annapolis. 

Retrieved online January 18, 2013 at Maryland Historical Society,

That's quite descriptive and informative. Men over 18 were required "subscribe" to an oath renouncing England and everything she had to offer. There was no going back now! The punishment for not doing so: for the rest of their lives they were to pay triple the ordinary tax on real and personal property. Yikes! This was serious. And look at that, they were from then forward forbidden from being a merchant, doctor, lawyer, pharmacist, preacher, or teacher. They couldn't hold office or vote either. This was serious stuff.

Isaac lived in Washington County when he took the oath. It was a county that was formed out of Frederick County to the east in 1776 and named for George Washington. (How patriotic is that?) Allegany County where the Workman family lived was formed out of Washington County in 1789 so it's quite possible that he lived in what's now Allegany County when he took the oath.

By the way, nice piece of trivia, the descendants of men who paid the 1783 tax assessment are eligible for the SAR and the DAR because a part of it went supply the Revolutionary War effort. Here's a link to the an index of that tax roll. If you want to look for an ancestor you'll be best served by looking at all of the entries.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Just a family story or the absolute truth?

In doing genealogy we often hear that we are to look askance at those family stories grandmother told us. More myth than truth, we've been told. So look to the records and turn our backs on the stories, was the advice. Hmmm. Bad advice.

I was thinking about this today when I was reading about the Irish story teller or seanachie. Story telling is a long tradition in Ireland and other Celtic areas. It's more than just a tradition, it's an art, really. There was no written record of the stories of each clan so it was the oral tradition that kept the very life and history of each clan alive. Additionally, bards were paid by the chieftain to tell the clan stories for education as well as to make up new stories for entertainment.

I know in my own family lines where the Irish tradition was kept and held dear, the family story had an honored place. Grandmothers were the tellers of stories and did it with pride and passion. They instructed the children of each generation with a serious intent that they all learn and remember the stories, the better to know who they were and who they came from. The stories helped define us as a clan in the New World.

Now I have a better grasp of which generations could read and write and had the option to make a written documentation of the family stories. Yet, they didn't do that. The written word was for the bible and legal matters, not family stories. Family stories were like a special treat, told only if you were good and sat quietly and listened. We loved the vast supply of stories told for entertainment and still retell them even today. Only now am I sorting out which stories were meant to educate us.

On my Mom's side, my 2nd great grandmother was born in Ireland and came here as a young girl. Mary Elizabeth Farrell was born 22 November 1835 and migrated with her parents and young sister, Catherine. They came in the years just before the Irish Famine, and we wonder if they saw the handwriting on the walls and got out. Or were they residents in one of the harsh Alms Houses and offered passage to get them off the government's rolls. We have yet to check the records in Ireland in any serious way, but we have a clue about where to look given to us by Mary Catherine herself!

My grandmother was Emma (Whetstone) Williams (1897 - 1956). She loved family and was proud to be first a Whetstone and then a Williams, two families with proud histories in the Western Maryland area where she lived. Her own grandmother was Mary Elizabeth (Farrell) House (1835 - 1919), who came from Ireland, and told the children stories she wanted them to remember. Mary Elizabeth told Emma that they came from the place in Ireland where St. Patrick drove out the snakes.

Yeah, I can hear the skeptics who dismiss such stories as bunk. I hear you loud and clear. But this is not just any family legend of made up stuff spun together out of the shadows from a fire on a winter's night. This is different.

It's an Irish origins story. Let me break it down for you. It's Irish. There are drinking stories and infant stories and fairie tales, and harvest stories, and summer horse race stories and more, much more. We are very particular about the type of stories we're telling. So this story of our family coming from the place in Ireland where St. Patrick drove out the snakes is a family story that conveys family history. And it's an origins story. You don't mess with origin stories especially family origin story. You can mess with drinking stories all you want, and are encouraged to do so. But do not mess with the family origin story.

And look what Mary Elizabeth did there! She wanted her descendants to remember where their people had come from so she put it out in the most memorable way possible. She said, where St. Patrick, the very patron saint of the land, did the most flamboyant (at least to my mind) act of his life. The very place where he drove the snakes out. Supposedly. But you see it doesn't matter if he did or didn't. This isn't about St Patrick or what he did. It's about remembering an important aspect of one family's story and putting emphasis on it in such a way that it is remembered.

See what I mean? So don't go and dismiss that family story outright because some guy with a blog says you should. Ask yourself what kind of a story-telling tradition your people came from. Are there different kinds of family stories? Then ask if your story is a frivolous one that entertains or a big import one about who your family was and what happened to them. And remember it might not be the best, most riveting full-blown epic story. It might simply be a short description of something that happened to your people, some time, some place. A bit of a fragment might be all that's left of that epic saga of the history of your clan. Is this a story for education or entertainment? That's a big clue.

My advice to you is to treasure that family story because it very possibly is the real deal.

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