Thursday, July 30, 2015

Harry G. Vance, Horseman...and Mortician?

Harry Grant Vance built a career around horses, and he was born and died in Washington County, Pennsylvania. So when I found a Harry G. Vance in the 1910 census, who was in Carnegie, Allegheny County, working as an undertaker, I was convinced that it was a different man.

Harry was born on May 10, 1868, to John and Mary Jane Shipley Vance in Smith Township, Pennsylvania. At the age of 24, he married Melissa Guthrie at her father's residence in the city of Washington, Pennsylvania. Melissa's father, Robert Guthrie, was my husband's 2nd great-grandfather.

Harry and Melissa had five children, many of whom appear to have been well-educated. Daughters Mary and Gladys were teachers and son Carl was a pharmacist who operated his own drug store. Harry surrounded himself with horses. In 1900, he was a "livery man." By 1912, he was a horse dealer, a profession that continued for 20 years. Here's an ad from 1907 when he was part of Vance & Hood:

The Daily Notes (Canonsburg, Pennsylvania), February 26, 1907

But where was he in 1910? I couldn't find him in Washington County. A search on kept pointing me to Carnegie, Pennsylvania. The names of the wife and four children matched, but I was still skeptical. This H.G. Vance was a funeral director and even had an ad in the city directory:

R.L. Polk & Co.'s Carnegie Directory, 1910-1911

It turns out that it was the same man, and searching newspapers helped me confirm this fact. I found the following blurb in The Daily Notes from Canonsburg, Pennsylvania in 1909:  "Harry G. Vance is moving to Carnegie, where he has purchased the Steele undertaking establishment. Mr. Vance was for a number of years engaged in the livery business in Canonsburg."

Harry's time as a mortician was also mentioned in his 1950 obituary: "He engaged in the livery and undertaking business in Canonsburg for several years as an associate of the late William H. McNary. He also engaged in the same business in Carnegie for a number of years."

Partial Obituary:  The Daily Notes (Canonsburg,
Pennsylvania), January 17, 1950

It appears that his time as an undertaker in Carnegie didn't last long. Three years after his move was announced in the newspaper, the Carnegie city directory showed him working as a horse dealer.

Harry Grant Vance died in Washington Hospital on January 16, 1950, at the age of 82. I'm sure he loved horses to the very end.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Use Veteran Burial Cards to Locate Graves

Overall, I haven't had much luck getting responses from cemetery offices with respect to the location of my ancestors' graves. Whether I use mail, telephone, or email, I rarely hear back from them. And, unfortunately, the relatives I wanted to locate weren't on

I should point out that I've had a couple of positive experiences. I wrote a letter to two separate offices, which were not located on the cemetery properties, and received handwritten responses. One even provided a handmade map showing the specific location of my great-grandfather's grave, including the surnames of dozens of graves surrounding his.

Other than that, I've been disappointed with the lack of responses. I've called and was told someone would call me back. Nothing. I've emailed others. No responses. Perhaps they get inundated with requests for this type of information, but it can be pretty frustrating. So in many cases, I have just gone to the cemetery and started walking.

One I visited was Birmingham Cemetery a.k.a. Zimmerman Cemetery in the Carrick area of Pittsburgh. The death registration of my 2nd great-uncle, Jacob Nehren, indicated that he was one of my family members buried there. My sister and I didn't have any luck finding his grave, although we did find a cousin and his wife. It could be that Jacob didn't have a headstone, or that his stone from 1887 had been damaged or deteriorated after all of these years.

However, while reviewing some of the records I had gathered for Jacob, I noticed that his Pennsylvania veteran burial card on provides details I wish I had seen before. It says his grave location is in Section D and Lot No. 17, and he has a marble G.A.R. headstone.

Time for another cemetery trip!

Note: Digital records for this cemetery, as well as the church records, can be found in the University of Pittsburgh's Library System. Included in this collection are PDFs of "ten reels of microfilm containing a constitution and journal, history, minute books, lists of members, memorial publications, baptismal, marriage, burial, and financial records from 1843-1977."

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Stable Boss Albert Parrish

Last week I wrote about my cousin Margaret Parrish, who appeared in a 1915 testimonial ad. This post is about her father, Albert, whose occupation was a stable boss for a coal mine.

According to Descriptions of Occupations: Mines and Mining, the "stable boss is in charge of the stables and of the horses and mules employed at a mine. He sees that the draft animals are properly fed and kept in good condition." The qualifications listed for this job are "[p]hysical strength; good eyesight; good hearing; ordinary ability. A knowledge of veterinary science is advantageous but not essential. He should have had experience as a driver and in the handling of horses."

Albert Parrish was working in Pittsburgh as a "laborer" in 1880, a "stable man (coal)" in 1900, and a "stable boss (coal co.)" in 1910. As the father of 11, he had a lot of children to feed, although four of them died before the age of 5.

There's a great photo on the Historic Pittsburgh website that shows a mule and his driver hauling a coal car from a mine in 1910. The description provides the following information:

"Mules were used exclusively to pull coal cars before mechanized vehicles, because Percherons and Clydesdale horses were too expensive and too large to maneuver in the tight quarters of the mine. Large mule stables or barns were built near the mine to accommodate the animals. Collieries with deep mines had mule stables below the surface where the mules were kept. Every mule driver was held strictly responsible for the safety of all animals in his custody. The mules received medical treatment and were also given frequent rubdowns with horse liniment. A great number of drivers pampered their animals by feeding them sweets such as candy, lump sugar, sweet apples, figs, dates, and cookies. Some drivers even taught the mules to chew tobacco. An Act of Legislature outlawed the underground mule stable in December 1965, making it illegal to house animals in mines."

At the age of 68, Albert was still working but was no longer employed in the mining industry. By 1920, he had moved on to steel. However, his family must have been proud of his former position since his 1924 death certificate shows that one of his daughters indicated his occupation was a stable foreman.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Digital Records of the University of Pittsburgh Archives

Library Card Catalog
If your family tree has Pittsburgh connections, you should definitely take some time to check out the extensive record collections held by the University of Pittsburgh's Archives Service Center. Here are just 10 of the items you can view online:

But don't just focus on the digital records. Make sure you search the collection guides for any records that could help you with your genealogy research. Many haven't been digitized, but you may find a gem that is too good to ignore.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Cousin Afflicted by Polio

I feel strongly that relatives in our family tree with no descendants deserve to be remembered. I am especially troubled by the young children who were born and died in between censuses. Their existence may be overlooked entirely. But for adults, too, who didn't marry and didn't have children of their own, I think it's important for us to find as much as we can about them as well. Their lives are worth remembering.

While researching my 3rd great-grandmother's brother, Andrew Steimer, I found something interesting in his 1902 will. It seems to indicate that his son, John, had some kind of accident and needed care from family members:

"I desire that my estate remain as it is as long as my wife survive [sic] me and at her decease I desire that my real estate and personal property of whatever kind and wherever found be divided equally among my three children namely Andrew, John and Barbara, the share of John to be in the care and custody of my executor herein after named and to be used only for the care and comfort of my son John and should my son Andrew and my daughter Barbara fail to care for my son John then I will that they receive one dollar each and all the rest and residue of my estate I give to my son John under an administrator appointed by the Court."

I looked at John's census records for 1900-1930 and didn't see any clues as to why he would need care, other than he did not work. He also could not read or write, but his siblings could, so he must have been kept home from school. Then I found his World War I draft registration card, which indicated he was 34 years old and an invalid.

Finally, his Pennsylvania death certificate from April 27, 1938, shows that he died at the age of 53 of a cerebral hemorrhage. In the occupation section, it indicated "None" and "Crippled." Most importantly, under "Other contributory causes of importance" related to his death, the doctor wrote: "Polio myelitis from early childhood. Invalid all his life."

At some point when he was a child, John Steimer was struck with polio. According to The College of Physicians of Philadelphia:

"Few diseases frightened parents more in the early part of the 20th century than polio did. Polio struck in the warm summer months, sweeping through towns in epidemics every few years. Though most people recovered quickly from polio, some suffered temporary or permanent paralysis and even death. Many polio survivors were disabled for life. They were a visible, painful reminder to society of the enormous toll this disease took on young lives."

The book, Passage through Crisis: Polio Victims and Their Families, which I found in the HathiTrust Digital Library, backs up this assessment: "A disease may be feared on account of its causing death, but a disease which permits the patient to live in an enfeebled condition is even more dreaded and its occurrence in a community makes a much deeper impression."

It's not surprising that John's father wanted to ensure that his son was cared for after his death. Both parents were gone by 1910, and I'm happy to report that John's siblings took care of him as their father wished. In the 1930 census, eight years before John's death, siblings Andrew and Barbara, as well as two additional brothers named Peter and William, were living with John. These four siblings, in their 50s and 60s, were single, so perhaps they sacrificed their chance at marrying and having children to take care of their brother.

All of these Steimers, with no descendants of their own, stuck together and definitely had lives that mattered.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Vintage Testimonial Ad Featuring Margaret Parrish

Margaret Parrish was a Pittsburgh divorcee in 1915 when she was featured in a testimonial ad for Plant Juice. The complete ad is at the end of this post, but here's her quote:

"I had suffered with rheumatism for the past ten years, and I had no appetite, was very nervous and restless, and my kidneys were affected. I doctored a great deal, but nothing seemed to do me any good. At times I was so bad that I could not walk and could scarcely move in bed. I had been reading in the papers about Plant Juice and decided to try it, and I am glad that I did because at the present time I am in fine health and work every day. Plant Juice has cured me, and I am only too glad to recommend it to others who suffer as I did."

Margaret was my first cousin 3 times removed and, unfortunately, died at the age of 39, ten years after this ad appeared. She had divorced Winfield Leo Kelley in 1905 which, if the ad is accurate, was the year she started having problems with rheumatism. I was unable to find her listed in any city directories, so I'm not sure what work she did in 1915 or if that detail was fabricated. At the time of her death, she was married to her second husband, Thomas Lloyd.

Interestingly, I was able to confirm that this was my cousin since her address was printed in the ad. It matches the address on her Pennsylvania death certificate. Her parents were Albert Parrish and Sushannah "Susan" Baker. She is buried in Elizabeth Cemetery in Elizabeth, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.

The Gazette Times, July 1, 1915

Thursday, July 9, 2015

An Ancestral Trait?

Wine Pouring into a Glass
I rarely drink alcohol but, while on vacation last week, I ordered a drink with dinner. My 11-year-old son didn't like it. Not one bit. On the way out of the restaurant, he proceeded to tell me that he's never going to drink and that the police officer who spoke to his class about drugs and alcohol never drinks either.

While I will certainly remind him of this conversation when he approaches his high school and college years, it made me think that my son's current view of alcohol is a trait he shares with a paternal Stewart ancestor. Hamilton Stewart, his 4th great-grandfather, was a proponent of temperance. A son's obituary credits Hamilton with forming "the first temperance society west of the mountains" in 1829. A book from 1894, The First One Hundred Years of McKeesport, may be more accurate when it says:

"The original temperance society was organized under his [Rev. Alex. McCandless] direction ... in 1829 and was said to be the only organization of the kind in Western Pennsylvania at that time. The first signers to the pledge were Wm. Penney, John Gray and Hamilton Stewart, and, be it said to their credit, they never broke it."

I'm sure Hamilton would have been proud of my son's negative views of alcohol.

Whether a trait is the result of genetics or the environment someone grows up in, it's interesting to find similarities among relatives. As you've researched your family tree, have you found ancestors with similar interests or talents although they were from different generations?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Discover Dentistry Degrees

Genealogy and publications such as The Dental CosmosMy 1st cousin twice removed, Helen Jay, married a dentist in 1924. Dr. William Alfred Gregory attended the University of Pittsburgh's School of Dentistry and received his degree in 1922.

This detail about his education appeared in his obituary when he died in 1977 at the age of 81. However, since information in obituaries can be incorrect, I wanted to verify his degree. If you have a dentist in your family tree and don't know where he went to school, perhaps this may help you, too.

One source of information is a publication called The Dental Cosmos. Not all years are available in Google Books, but the 1922 issue that I needed is out there. I searched for William's name and, sure enough, he's one of 77 gentlemen that year who received the degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery from the School of Dentistry of the University of Pittsburgh.

You could also look for specific state or national directories online such as in the HathiTrust Digital Library. Many of these directories provide the school and year of each dentist's degree. Just a few of the publications I found include:

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Family Birth: Born on the Fourth of July

American Flag, Fourth of July
Reverend James M. Welch is relatively well-known if you have Cowden ancestors from Pennsylvania. He is the author of the 1904 genealogy book, Ancestry and Kin of the Cowden and Welch Families, which can be found on the Internet Archive.

James is my husband's 2nd cousin 3 times removed and was born on the upcoming holiday, the Fourth of July, in 1869. His parents, Robert & Mary Cowden Welch, lived in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, not far from where I live now. After graduating from Washington & Jefferson College in 1888, James went on to attend the Allegheny Theological Seminary. His biography is listed in W&J's alumni directory, which can be found in the U. Grant  Miller Library Digital Archives:

"WELSH [sic], JAMES MARCUS--Son of Rev. R. C. and Mary C. (Cowden); born Canonsburg, Pa., July 4, 1869; U. P. T. S., pastor Second Church, Indiana, Pa.; married June 2, '99, Martha Gwynn [McLaughlin], Philadelphia, Pa., United Presbyterian minister, Indiana, Pa."

James & Martha didn't have any children, and he died too young. According to his death certificate on, he died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on January 17, 1916, at the age of 46 of erysipelas, a facial infection.

Note: It's important to remember that published family histories are not necessarily accurate. Use them as a starting point, but always track down records to verify the information.