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Importance of Speaking to Living Relatives to Glean Information

I thought I identified the correct family line on the Molner branch of my extended family tree. The information fit, names of the sisters matched so I thought, and the location fit. I heard a story that the mother died young that fit in with data I gathered. I spent countless hours trying to find records of their lives.

Then I went to a wedding.

In September 2015, I attended my niece’s wedding. I had the opportunity to connect with Aunt Sandy. Aunt Sandy is related to my older brother and sister. The Molner branch of the tree is from my mother’s first marriage to Robert Gaber. My mother, Shirley, married Robert in July 1954. Robert died suddenly in December 1956. My mother was a widow at 21, with two toddlers to raise.

There wasn’t much contact with the relatives and descendants of this line as in most families the ties that bind where long cut and we drifted apart. My sister reconnected to Aunt Sandy when she moved to Florida where her Gaber grandparents once owned a house that Sandy now lives in. That night at the wedding, Sandy and I, started talking details of her mother, Elizabeth Molner family.

I found out I was way off this branch. Luckily, the axillary bud of this twig was fairly short when I lopped it off my family tree. In its place has grown a sturdy twig that will support the leaf primordia that will turn into leaves to fill in the family tree.

Meet the Molner’s

Aunt Sandy provided the names of the siblings, the parents, and that the family lived in Mahanoy, Pennsylvania. Turns out Elizabeth Molner was one of nine children both to Paul Molner and Veronica Petrilla. Both parents lived to the early 1950’s. Currently, I can only find information about the parents from the 1930 and 1940 Censuses and possible death records.

The 1930 Census has Paul’s birthplace is listed as Poland, Russia. Veronica Petrilla Molner is from Austria. Paul immigrated in 1905 and Veronica immigrated in 1904. Married about 1917. The first four children were born in Illinois. The remaining five were born in Pennsylvania. The 1940 Census contradicts with the 1930 Census listing all the children born in Pennsylvania.  Except Elizabeth Molner, who is now married to Stanley Gaber, is listed on the 1940 Census as being born in Illinois.

I will have to create a research plan for this family to locate further information. Did the parents marry in Illinois, are there naturalization papers, can I find out from whence they immigrated and all the other pertinent details. Now that I am on the right footpath.

Am thankful that I spoke to Aunt Sandy while she is still alive. My own father passed away last November 2015. There are still more questions I should have asked. It is so important to connect to the past through the living.


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Hiatus Ending Soon

I will be back to blogging on a regular basis in February.  I just haven’t’ had the energy lately to blog. Between the full-time job, long Seattle commutes, my genealogy study group assignments, a chronic cold/sinus infection, a wedding, and a funeral, there just wasn’t extra time to spare for writing on the blog.

I need to finish the 2015 genealogy goals and set 2016 genealogy objectives. A goal without a plan, is just a wish.  So it’s more about doing this year, instead of wasting tomorrows.



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#52 Ancestors No. 26 – James White – Michigan Thumb Fire September 5, 1881

This is post 26 of the 2015 #52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge where a group of us blog about a different ancestor for each week of the year.  To learn more about the 52 Ancestor Challenge visit Amy Johnson’s site at Amy’s website. 52ancestors-2015 Image

Thomas MacEntee of GeneaBloggers tweeted of photo of a cartograph1 depicting the Michigan thumb area that mentions a fire that happen on this day in 1881, as a blogging prompt. Recognizing the all too familiar appendage of my birth state, I remembered that one of my ancestors lost their life during the fire.

Burnt District resulting from the Michigan Thumb Fire, September 5, 1881.

Burnt District resulting from the Michigan Thumb Fire, September 5, 1881.

The illustrated cartograph showed the burnt district in the Michigan thumb area that resulted from the great fire on September 5, 1881. The Great Fire, as it is known, burned for three days. It destroyed a million acres of land, including forests, farms, mills, and businesses. The fire consumed the lives of over 280 people2.

James White was just five months old when he died on 16 September 1881. His death was caused by the effects of the fire 11 days earlier.  It is not known if he suffered from smoke inhalation or from burns. The death was recorded in 1882 and is transcribed in the GENDIS2 database.

I have a mimeograph copy of a family history from an unknown source and date that includes two written pages of notes. The notes talk of Aunt Vi (Violet White), who would be James’ older sister. The letter mentions that Aunt Vi was five years old at the time of the Great Fire. The writer of the letter states, “Aunt Vi remembers them huddling under a quilt all but their father and one of the boys. They had to keep pulling out sparks that land on the quilt. Then all was over the quilt was full of little holes.”  There is no mention of James’ death.

James’ parents are James Montgomery White and Persis DesJardins are my great great-grandparents. Th family were farmers in Minden, Sanilac County, Michigan. By the time of the fire, James and Persis had eight children. Two more children would come later. One was my great-grandmother, Minnie White.

2Wikipedia Great Thumb Fire,

Additional resources:,1

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#52 Ancestors No. 25 – Francisco Mine #2 1926 Coal Mine Disasters – Two Roll Family Members Lost

This is post 25 of the 2015 #52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge where a group of u52ancestors-2015 Images blog about a different ancestor for each week of the year.  To learn more about the 52 Ancestor Challenge visit Amy Johnson’s site at Amy’s website.

Coal mining without a doubt is dangerous work. Toxic gases, coal dust, explosions, fires and flooding occur; taking the lives of over 10,000 just in the last two centuries. Tragedies continue today as the world continues to mine for precious minerals, gemstones, and energy sources. Health issues from mining may affect miners after they stop working in the mines.

Coal has been mined in Indiana and Kentucky since the early 1800’s. Coal was the fuel for steamships and railroads that helped expand the growth of United States. I have two family lines who settled both Indiana and Kentucky. Members of these families migrated from the back breaking, drought or disease ridden and labor intensive farming to the more dependable coal mining employment.

My own great-grandfather Oliver Cromwell Roll worked on the railroad. As did his uncles and cousins. My grandfather, Hugh A. Howes, did not want to work the mines or railroad and headed north to Detroit to work in the auto factories.

Inscription by Laufa Helsley Lockwood, the widow of Frank Helsley

Inscription by Laufa Helsley Lockwood, the widow of Frank Helsley

The probability that my collateral ancestors would be affected by a mine disaster may have been marginal. Nevertheless, two of my relatives died in the same mine incident. My third great Uncle, Samuel W. Roll, son of Isaac Roll and Elizabeth Weir, lost a son and a grandson.

1926 Francisco Mine #2

The explosion occurred on December 9, 1926. 37 miners lost their life. The cause of the explosion was undetermined. Francisco Mine #2 was located near Princeton, Gibson Co, Indiana. Workers came as far as Evansville, IN, 40 miles away to work the mines.

Two of Samuel sons, John R. (b. 1863) and Shelby Jackson Roll (b. 1868), ended up as miners. John R. Roll mined in Spottsville. Shelby moved up to Evansville and mined at the Francisco Mines. John’s son, Ollie Roll (b. 1895), lived in Ohio Township, located near Evansville.

It is quite possible the two men, one an uncle, the other a nephew; rode to the mines together or stayed nearby in lodgings. Shelby was one of the missing after explosion and fire. His body was found the next morning. His was 58 years old. Shelby married late in life to a widow with three daughters. He did not have children

Ollie Roll was 31 years old on the day he died in Francisco Mine #2. He was survived by his wife Emma and their four young daughters.


Princeton, IN Coal Mine Explosion and Fire, Dec 1926, originally submitted by Stu Beitler.
Mining Accidents
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Coal in Indiana – – Memorial Headstone, tlws (#47311297),
Indiana Coal Mine Disasters

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#52Ancestors: Week 24 – Olga Cartwright – Planted a Family Tree

This is week 24 of the 2015 #52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge where a group of u52ancestors-2015 Images blog about a different ancestor for each week of the year.  To learn more about the 52 Ancestor Challenge visit Amy Johnson’s site at Amy’s website.

On a far off branch of the Pittman section of my tree lies the Cartwright family. And wouldn’t you know it…the Cartwright family included a son named Ben Cartwright. Cue! Bonanza.  “On this land we put our brand, Cartwright is the name, fortune smiled, the day we filed the Ponderosa claim.” Yes, there were lyrics to the opening tune. Humming the theme song now, aren’t’ you?

Olga Cartwright married John Barnett in 1912. This couple starts the twig in the line that descends down to lost cousins I have yet to connect. They are the grandparents to Kenneth Ralph Barnett, written in the 2014 series of #52Ancestors – No. 33.

Olga is the daughter of Mathew Thompson Cartwright (1857-1935) and Susan J. Melton (1859-1930). She had nine siblings including her brother Ben. The family lived in Cleaton, Muhlenberg Co., Kentucky. The unincorporated town south of Central City, KY, still has a rural appeal.

Olga and her husband John had a total of 12 children. John earned his living a miner in the coal mines. Olga lived from 1893 to 1974. Her relationship to me is labeled as mother-in-law of first cousin twice removed.

Bonanza Lyrics written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans.


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