From the Files: Perry Brooks and Family, 1920 Census

At the time of the 1920 U.S. Federal Census, Perry Brooks and Emma Angeline Copas Brooks are living with five of their children in Pomeroy, Ohio. Pomeroy had been booming in the late 19th century, attracting many salt and coal miners, but it entered into a steep and lasting decline by 1890. Still, Perry earned his wages mining coal.

Perry Brooks and family, 1920 US Federal Census

Both Perry and Emma are 40 years old, report being able to read and write, and are living in a rented house. Their oldest daughter, Katie, died 19 years prior to this census, and Susan Mae is married and living in West Virginia. Their remaining children are Sarah, 17; John Leonard, 14 and attending school; Joseph, 11 and attending school; William Ray, less than 2 months shy of 5; and Phyllis, 3 months. They were all born in Ohio.

There is also a boarder and coal miner named Cowell living in their home. With the exception of a farmer and a rubber factory worker, their nearest neighbors are coal miners and their families.


Clipping: Marion Martin, Extreme DIYer

I’ve long been told that my uncle, Marion Woodruff Martin (1919-1996), was something of an inventor in his youth, and I’ve just come across this gem in the November 8, 1948 issue of The Newark Advocate (Newark, OH). Marion was 29 years old at the time. I can’t make out much in the pictures, but this clip is fun to look at anyway.

Marion Woodruff Martin, Inventor

A transcription of the text in case you can’t read it in the enlarged imaged:

Marion Martin is pictured above on his farm just outside of Hebron with the corn and baled hay elevator which he made himself out of scrap. Martin said the elevator isn’t much for looks, but it does the work and cost about $125. He also made the garden tractor used to power the elevator. Martin uses it for seeding and mowing and other small jobs.

Bob Miller of radio station WRFD, Worthington, interviews Marion Martin, near Hebron, on the “Over the Line Fence” program. Martin told how he started farming with his father on shares, and how he has now purchased a 144-acre farm for himself, just outside of Hebron. The interview was broadcast over WRFD today.


(Not) A History of Social Media

Paul Starr’s The Creation of the Media: Political Origins of Modern Communications has been sitting unread on my bookcase for far too long. I’ve only just begun reading it, and, in spite of the rather plodding pace, I’m finding it immensely interesting.

I may write more about the book another time, but for now—though the book has made no mention of this particular sphere—it has me reflecting on the notion of social media. I am a light user of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites, and I recently had a conversation with friends over Chinese food about this newfangled idea that anyone cares what I’m doing right now or with whom.

Only later when I had on my more academic thinking cap, did it occur to me that I know very well that social media is by no means new.

A Google search on the history of social media will likely tell you that the phenomenon is at least 30 years old. Beth Hayden and Rafal Tomal trace is origins to the first email, sent by researchers at the Advanced Research Projects Agency in 1971, followed in 1980 by Usenet, which allowed people to post messages to online news feeds. The social media that we know today, many contend, is the latest step in an evolution that began with the birth of the internet.

Neat. Oh, but wait. What about all those newspapers I’ve been reading from the early 20th Century?

It matters, of course, how we define “social media.” Its current definition involves the internet and an ongoing exchange of user-generated information. But the way most of us use social media and the way people, including my recent dinner companions, think and talk about social media still has a lot to do with making public what we’re doing, where, and with whom.

The Society section has long been a staple of American newspapers, and many of its entries are easily as mundane as those now-ubiquitous Facebook posts about what’s for dinner.

The Newark Advocate (Newark, OH), 10 Apr 1912, p. 7

The Newark Advocate (Newark, OH), 10 Apr 1912, p. 7

As a family historian, I love the Society section. I’m like a kid at Christmas if I discover the person I’m researching lived in the coverage area of a newspaper that bothered to make note of parties and dinners and, in short, who was where doing what with whom. Avery Martin, from the clip above, was my maternal grandfather. In 1912, he was 18 years old. Given other details I know about his life, I can guess that this note appeared in the Society section because he’d been away attending college at Ohio State University and was home for a visit, something his friends and neighbors would certainly have liked to know.

These days, we don’t usually put that sort of thing in the newspaper: we put it online. But clearly, our obsession with the mundanities of others’ lives is nothing new, and as I work to add color to the sketches I make of my forebears’ lives, I am grateful for our long human history of nosiness.

The Newark Advocate (Newark, OH), 22 Nov 1911, p. 3

The Newark Advocate (Newark, OH), 22 Nov 1911, p. 3

Now if only I had an Instagram photo of what my grandmother, Helen Woodruff Martin, had for dinner.


Obituary: Dora Alice Sager Woodruff, 1871-1959

The Newark Advocate (Newark, OH), 30 Nov 1959, p. 26

Mrs. Dora A. Woodruff, 88, wife of J. A. Woodruff, in failing health for some time, died at 1 p. m. Sunday in the home north of Kirkersville.

Born Nov. 10, 1871, in Black Lick, Franklin County, she was the daughter of Dallas Sager and Kesiah (Mann) Sager and had lived in the Kirkersville area 48 years. She was a member of the Methodist Church of Kirkersville.

She leaves her husband; one daughter, Mrs. Helen Martin of Hebron; two sons, Leland and Clifford of the home; four grandchildren; six great-grandchildren; one brother, Robert Sager of Black Lick.

The funeral will be held at 2 p. m. Wednesday in the Emerson Funeral Home in Kirkersville with the Rev. Starling Morrow conducting the service. Burial in Kirkersville Cemetery. Friends may call at the funeral home.


From the Files: Avery Martin’s WWII Draft Registration


Back to the past

After a couple of years of too much new (I work in IT) and not enough old, I’m determined to return to carving out more leisure time and spending more of that time doing history. The first step has been to make myself a space, which has been slowly taking shape in my previously dank and creepy basement. Tomorrow, I plan to hang lights and curtains, roll out a new rug, and set up my desk and chair. There’s more to do to finish the space, but nothing that should prevent me from finally sitting down and searching out the past.

While I’m creating a new environment for myself, I’ve also decided this website could stand to have some work done. Since I rarely find big chunks of time for working on my own stuff, I’ll be doing this in bits and pieces. The “new” site will be fewer independent pages and more blog posts. It’ll be easier to maintain, so I’m hoping I’ll post more to it. In the meantime, please excuse any oddities and missing bits.


Lieutenant Andrew Thompson

Andrew Thompson is believed to have been born around 1750 in Ireland and immigrated to colonial America in his early 20’s. Shortly after his arrival, he joined a local militia in Washington County, Virginia, appearing as Ensign in Robert Doak’s Company of Militia in a list dated June 2nd, 1774. Later that same year, Doak’s Militia and hundreds of other Virginia militiamen fought in a little-known war of expansionism called Dunmore’s War, a fight between colonials and natives over the fertile lands of the Ohio River Valley. The Battle of Point Pleasant, October 10, 1774, was the war’s only major battle, ending with a victory for the Virginians, forcing the area’s native population to recognize the Ohio River as the new boundary between their land and the colonies.

By the time many of Virginia’s militiamen returned home in mid-1775, the American Revolutionary War had already begun. Returning militias quickly routed Lord Dunmore, who had led Virginia’s assault against the natives but now commanded British troops against Virginians.

Also in 1775, Andrew found time to marry Ann, and they had their first of 8 children later that year or early in 1776.

The next time I am able to find Andrew Thompson on record is in April of 1777. For reasons as yet unclear, Andrew travelled from Virginia to Lyons, New Jersey, and joined Colonel Oliver Spencer’s Regiment of the Continental Army. As Ensign, the lowest officer’s rank at the time, he was to be paid $20 a month for his service.

After years of fighting as a militiaman, Andrew would see comparatively little action as a soldier of the Continental Army. A mere six months into his service with Spencer’s Regiment, Andrew found himself helping to defend his infant nation’s capital, Philadelphia. On September 11, 1777, the British were victorious over Washington’s army at the Battle of Brandywine. Philadelphia was lost to the British, and Ensign Andrew Thompson was a prisoner of war.

British prisons and prison ships were brutal places where many died of disease or starvation. Andrew’s position as an officer appears to have spared him that fate. Although at least one Thompson_Andrew_PayRoll_Sept1777list of prison ship captives does include his name, it doesn’t seem that Andrew spent all, if any, of his captivity in a British prison. Due to the overcrowding of the prisons and perhaps to a strategy of separating captured enlisted men from their leadership, the British devised a scheme to parole captured officers on their word as gentlemen that they would not leave the city they’d been placed in nor assist the Continental Army in any way. Andrew was paroled to Flatbush on Long Island, New York, where he rented lodging either in the home of Peter Lefferts* or on his account. An Army “Account of Debts due by sundry American Officers during their Captivity To the Inhabitants of Long Island for mentainance [sic]” reports that Andrew Thompson owed to Peter Lefferts 65 pounds, 2 shillings, and 9 pence.

Andrew remained as a prisoner in Flatbush for much of the war. His name appears many times in Continental Army lists of “Absent Officers,” and, in March 18, 1780, he is described as an “unexceptionable” prisoner of war, a man beyond reproach. All available evidence suggests he kept his word as a gentleman and an officer on the terms of his parole, staying in Flatbush and out of the war effort. Of course, little evidence is available.

He was released on December 15, 1780, more than three years after his capture, and when he retired from the Continental Army two weeks later on the first day of 1781, he returned to his wife and son as Lieutenant Andrew Thompson.

He’d come from Ireland little more than 7 years past, and he’d been in war or a prisoner of war ever since. He soon moved his wife and child to farmland in what is now Bland County, Virginia, where he lived a long life as a farmer and public servant, working at different times as Sherriff and Deputy Sherriff. Some evidence suggests he may have also remained active in his local militia. As was typical for the time and place, Andrew did have slaves. Four are counted among his household on the 1810 census, eight in 1820, seven in 1830, and three in 1840.

Andrew Thompson died in 1843 at the age of 93. His great grandson, St. Clair Thompson, fought for the Union in the American Civil War.

Andrew Thompson is my 6th great grandfather, and St. Clair Thompson is my 3rd great grandfather. My grandmother, Margaret Thompson Brooks planted the seed for this story and many, many more.

*Lefferts has been mis-characterized in some Thompson family histories as a Loyalist, a British sympathizer, perhaps because his large family estate was burned by Continental soldiers early in the war to prevent its being captured by the British. Lefferts was, in fact, a 1st Lieutenant in the Continental Army and, following the war, served as a delegate to the New York state convention when it ratified the United States Constitution.


A Tough Week for Coal

A recent blog post at The New York Times provides an excellent rundown of citizen and government action against Big Coal.

Green Inc.: A Tough Week for Coal


CNN – Coal River Mountain

Today, posted a story about the impending destruction of Coal River Mountain. An excerpt and link to the full story are below:

RALIEGH COUNTY, West Virginia (CNN) — Lorelei Scarboro loves to talk about the wild turkeys and bears living on West Virginia’s Coal River Mountain.

She watches them from the home her husband built when they were first married. But Scarboro is convinced it could all become a casualty of blasting that could begin on the mountaintop which is just 100 yards from the family cemetery where her husband is buried.

“Everything I have here is at risk,” said Scarboro whose father, grandfather and husband all worked as coal miners.

About 470 mountain tops in Appalachia, including the one next to Coal River, have been destroyed. Mountaintop removal mining is faster and cheaper than underground mining but its impact on the environment is much worse.

“I know there is a right way and a wrong way to mine coal and mountain top removal is the most destructive practice they can do,” said Scarboro, now a member of the Coal River Mountain Watch.

Mountaintop mining is legal and became more prevalent six years ago when federal laws were relaxed. During the mining process, miners blast the mountain and shear off the top ridges to extract layers of coal. From the air the affected mountains appear flat, gray and dusty with rubble sliding down into the valleys and streams.



Thompson and Green Family Cemeteries

On July 1st, my dad and I, armed with a GPS and one 14-year-old hand-drawn map, set out in search of two of our old family cemeteries. Getting to each of them required some near-off roading and a bit of hiking, but we did finally find them.

Green Cemetery ViewGreen Cemetery is located on Winifrede Mountain, just south of Winifrede, West Virginia. Fields Creek Road runs from the WV Turnpike and through Winifrede, ending at the gates of the Winifrede mine. A gravel road to the left leads under the coal tipple and around the mountain. Toward the end of the road, there are several houses and a path up to the cemetery.

Although it appears to have begun as a cemetery for the Green family, it now contains headstones for about a dozen families, and it is still being used. Surrounding the large Green family headstones are dozens of mostly uncarved concrete stones that have recently been painted white. Evidence suggests many of these mark Green burial places.


    More about Green Cemetery…


Thompson Cemetery OverviewThompson Cemetery is located in a remote area of Lincoln County, West Virginia, about 35 miles southwest of Charleston. The Cemetery itself is about a mile hike off of Frank Fork Road near Bulger. It sits on what appears to be coal or gas company land and is roughly 3 miles north of the current boundaries of the Hobet Mine, one of the largest mountaintop removal mining operations in the region. Most of the headstones in this cemetery are hand-carved local rocks.


    More about Thompson Cemetery…


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