St Clair Cemetery, Mt Lebanon, Allegheny Co, PA

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Madness Monday: Here a Marriage, There a Marriage

Looking for ancestors using the census can be frustrating.  Then again, it can also be entertaining when the hunt is on.

I knew of the name George W CALDWELL, Jr, from the 1870 census detailing the family members of my 2g-grandpa, George W CALDWELL, Sr.  Jr is found again in later census records.  Only, the later entries can make my eyebrow rise.  How so?

The 1900 census (which was taken June 2) shows Jr living with his dad in a boarding house in Pittsburgh.  Of interest is the note Jr is divorced.  I have yet to find a divorce record for Jr.

What has been uncovered is legal documentation which has made life entertaining as I try to decipher what was really going on in Jr's life.  Let's look at the sequence of the documentation:

1-  Dec 27, 1900
There is a marriage found in Mahoning Co, OH, for George W CALDWELL Jr and Emma BAKER.  The groom's parents are the ones I expect to find.  The bride's parents are James BAKER and Emma SAFFIEL.

2- 1904 Pension Papers for Daddy
George W CALDWELL, Sr, is living with Jr in Johnstown, Cambria, PA, when his pension file for the Civil War is updated.  Listed in the pension file are the names of daddy's children, all as expected.  The surprise is that all children are listed as married.  So, was Jr married at this time? Added to this is the knowledge that one child appears to have died in a 1903 accident.

3- Mar 7, 1905
There is a marriage record found in Clinton Co, PA, for George W CALDWELL Jr and Jennie GILLESPIE.  On the record is the notation that his first wife died in 1899.   Hmmm, really?

The details from the 1910 to 1940 census records flow along with the earlier documented information.  There is a son born abt 1908 who is named George G CALDWELL.  I suspect the middle name would be GILLESPIE, although I find no definitive trace of the child after the 1910 census.  Of course, I will now be interested to see how long it takes for other researchers of the family to incorporate this name without finding supporting evidence of their own.

Now, the head scratching begins as I wonder who the first wife was that died in 1899 and the final whereabouts of the wife from 1900 and the one from 1905.  How maddening it all is!

Ahhh, genealogy.  Two marriages are documented.  The census would indicate a divorce before 1900.  The son disappears.  No graves found for any of the group yet.  Will the real story please stand up?

©2013 AS Eldredge

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: 1931 Holocaust in Pittsburgh

History teaches us many lessons as we seek to learn of the past.  Some lessons are terrifying while other lessons demonstrate the heroic deeds of mankind.  We all remember the details of the Holocaust that so many suffered under the dictator hands of Hitler.  What about events that were given the description of Holocaust by those who lived through them?

One such example is the 1931 six alarm fire at the Little Sisters of the Poor Home in Pittsburgh.  Many newspaper articles referred to the event as a holocaust.  It must have been terrifying to witness the fire and the helpless infirm patients and inmates of the home.  The rescue efforts mounted by the firemen, policemen, and general public should be remembered.

Sample excerpts:

"... Carried down by ladders by firemen, after she became weak and overcome by smoke, Mrs. Margaret Kline, 80, told her rescuers after resuscitation, that she was hemmed in by smoke and flame and "prayed that God would take her away."
Miss Veronia Stein, 64, also one of the rescued, said that when she was taken down the ladders she told firemen that Mary Henley, 75 and Mary Jacobs, 75, both crippled, and paralyzed, were lying behind a door, unable to help themselves.  When firemen returned and tried to enter the same window from which Miss Stein had been saved, they found their ladders burned, and fire pouring from the window...."

"... Mrs. Sarah Carlson, 65, first spread the alarm to the aged group, three of whom were crippled or paralyzed.  Then she started for the men's quarters in another part of the building to make sure that her husband, Dan, was saved.  Her friends last night did not know whether or not she reached safety.
As the five aged who were able to walk began helping Bridget Dooley, Margaret Henry and Bridget Reardon to safety, the three invalids cried in unison:  "No! No! Help Mama."  "Mama" is an aged and paralyzed woman in the next room, beloved by all the inmates...."

"... Men seemed to try to outdo each other in their efforts to save the aged and infirm from the smoke and flames.  Trapped inmates were carried down ladders by firemen, and volunteers and one aged woman, unconscious, was lowered to the ground from the third floor by a rope tied around her waist.
Firemen and policemen, live Lavery, off duty, rushed to the fire, working in civilian clothes in which they had been enjoying an evening's rest to battle the flames.  Brawny bluecoats worked with the doctors to aid the stricken victims of smoke as they waited for the arrival of the clanging ambulances in the shadow of the flames that had turned a quiet haven for the aged into a roaring inferno.
Men and boys living in the vicinity of the home, were the real heroes of the catastrophe, veteran policemen and firemen, who had attended most the city's big fires in recent years, said last night.
"This is certainly the worst fire I've ever seen," Lavery said..."

Take time to read some of the stories on our Old Pittsburgh Newspaper Project.  Along with details of the fire and rescue efforts are the names of the wounded and dead.

Ahh, genealogy.  Tis a great day to thank those first responders for their heroic efforts to protect others in times of need.  Thanks.

©2013 AS Eldredge

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Those Places Thursday: Going Crazy Just to Smoke

Ever heard of the smoker? Today, most visions when the word smoker is uttered include someone with a cigarette hanging out of their mouth.  Typically, this brand of smoker is found lounging around the approved smoking section outside the doors of many buildings.

Read the words from 1931 Pittsburgh and weep for the old men who went "gas crazy" just to catch a smoke in their approved smoking site at the Poor House.

..... I had heard of the "smoker" while I was still in the observation ward of the hospital.  An old Negro had come over from the home for a few days' treatment of a boil on his neck.  He regarded the boil as a not unmixed evil, since it gave him a few days of uninterrupted rest and food considerable better than that he was accustomed to in the home.  He was talking about the old men over at the home.

"Those old fellows oveh theah all crazy," he informed me. "They all gone gas crazy."

"Gas crazy," I demanded, immediately thinking of gas victims of the war.  "Those men were all too old to serve in the army.  They can't be gas crazy."

"Oh, they's gas crazy all right.  They sits theah all day drinkin' in that gas in the smokah till they gits jes as crazy as bedbugs."

Hot and Stifling

He failed to make me understand just what he was talking about but assured me:

"You goin' oveh to the Home, yeh say.  You'll find out about the gas, Jes' wait."

I did.

The first place I made for when I was transferred to the home was the "smoker."  It is a great, barn-like room, filthy dirty with rows of benches.  More than a hundred old men were sitting and standing about the great room.  Here these old pensioners on a great city's bounty can smoke.

At one end of the room is the biggest stove I ever say.  It must be done duty in its time as a giant kitchen range.  That's the only purpose I can conceive anyone might have for building such a monstrosity.  It must be all of 10 feet square with an iron top.  Underneath this top, great gas jets roar.   Flames leap out through big cracks and holes in the shattered top.

The Home - Rockview

It provides heat.  It also fills the great room with stifling fumes of unburned gas until the air is thick and foul.  I could stand it only a few minutes.  But these old men are used to it.  All day long some of them sit there, smoking in silence and hopelessness, breathing in the noisome deadly fumes......

.....Together we walked through the corridors and saw the broken men draped along the pipe, the blind, the halt, and the maimed.  We ate the scanty dinner.  We breathed the fumes of the "smoker" for a moment and then escaped to the keen, wintry air outside with a gasp.

He turned to me, on his face the most devastating despair I have ever seen - and I have seen men go to their death on the gallows - and he said slowly:

"Well - here we will live.  What do you think?"....

What do you think of the smoker written about in 1931 Pittsburgh?  Tis enough to drive one crazy.  At the least, many old pensioners were allegedly crazy after they smoked in the approved smoking site of the City Home at Mayview. 

This entire story, along with 74 other historic articles, can be read on the old Pittsburgh Newspaper Project site.  But beware, reading some of these stories will break your heart.

Ahhh, genealogy.  Another day has passed in to the history books.  I wonder what future generations will think of our stories from today. 

©2013 AS Eldredge

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Thankful Thursday: Finding the Poor, Ill and Insane in Early Allegheny County

Finding documentation or information on some ancestors can be quite a task if the ancestor happened to have been admitted as an inmate to an early institution for the poor, ill, insane or neglected.  The Commonwealth of PA does not readily allow for any information on the inmates to be released easily.  For some researchers, this may be just the lead for which they are searching.

My genealogy buddy, Lynn B, and I have been fascinated by the early poor houses and institutions used in early Allegheny and Washington Counties, PA, after some recent comments on the Allegheny Co Rootsweb Mail List.  So, we set out to find the census for these places which frequently changed names and locations over the years.  Additionally, we are locating old newspaper articles and placing them online as well for researchers to peruse.

The tidbits I have gleaned from this research include identifying which institutions just changed names and which ones changed locations.  Common to them all is the appalling circumstances these poor and ill of our past lived in.  It can be heartbreaking to read the articles.

Comments from readers have included that Marshalsea, which was later renamed the Pittsburgh City Home Hospital at Mayview, was for the people from the city of Pittsburgh while Woodville was for the county poor and ill.

Other comments have included the correction of spelling of some names found in their census, while another researcher sent the death notice for one of their own who had spent time at an Allegheny Co. institution.

Woodville Hospital had alternate names as well in its history.  Included are:

Allegheny County Almshouse
Allegheny Hospital for the Insane
Allegheny County Home for the Poor
Woodville State Hospital

The House of Refuge which was incorporated by the Commonwealth of PA in 1850 was originally in Pittsburgh.  It moved to the new site in Washington Co, Morganza, in 1876.  Whether your research takes you to the early House of Refuge or the later Morganza, it should be remembered this institution was for the confinement and reformation of delinquent youth.

As we find more articles, we are placing them online for other researchers.  Another 20 articles were uploaded today, bringing our total to 53 for the Poor House and 33 for Morganza.

If interested in reading these articles or looking for your beloved, go to the Pittsburgh Old Newspaper Project.

Ahh, genealogy.  We appreciate the comments and knowing others may find some tidbit to assist them in their quest for the family history.

©2013 AS Eldredge

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Freak Found in Pittsburgh

Thirty-three articles are now available on the Allegheny County Poor House.  After reading these articles, you may discover more of an understanding of the sad plight of people who were abandoned, neglected, or poor in our nation's past.  Some of the stories have a "ho hum" quality in their tale, but other stories have the ability to shock in today's world and values. 

An example of a shocking story at Marshalsea from the June 28, 1904 Pittsburgh Press follows. I suspect many readers will be left speechless and heartbroken after reading the tale of the unknown male.

Found Freak In Empty Room
Long Haired Idiot Boy Abandoned by Showmen Who Meant to Exhibit Him
Will Go to Marshalsea

Abandoned by men who sought to profit by its mental and physical deformities a male freak, about 18 years, was discovered yesterday afternoon in the third floor of the rooming house at 545 Second avenue. About the time of the discovery was made by Mrs. Annie Dropple, the landlady, Superintendent of Police Wallace received an anonymous communication from the men who had left the freak, telling him where it could be found.

The case is the most heartless in the history of the local police department, and for a time the authorities were puzzled as to what steps to take. Finally it was decided to send the freak to Homeopathic hospital until this morning, when it will be taken to the city home at Marshalsea.

About 10 o'clock Sunday morning two well dressed men called at Mrs. Dropple's boarding house and asked if they might rent a room. She informed them that there was but one vacant room in the house and that it was furnished with only a bed and mattress.

"That's all right. We have traveled about 100 miles and are very tired. We are going to show at the Swissvale carnival next week," said one of the strangers as he passed upstairs. Two hours later the men left the house and Mrs. Dropple did not see them return. It was learned last night, however, that about midnight neighbors say a closed carriage drive to the door. Two men alighted and between the carried a long, closely wrapped bundle into the house, while the carriage drove rapidly away. This was the last seen of the strangers.

About 10 o'clock yesterday morning Mrs. Dropple went to the third floor front room which she had rented to the strangers. They were nowhere to be seen, but on the bed lay the form of a half animal, half man continually beating its head on the mattress. She fled in a fright and at once notified Patrolman McCready, who investigated and then notified the police.

Capt. Bartley went to the house in company with Superintendent of Detectives McQuaide and Detectives Kelly and Cole. The officers found the freak still beating its head against the bed. It was beyond all doubt the most pitiable specimen of a human being imaginable. It had the face and long hair of a woman, while the trunk of its body was distorted and splotched with patches of long wiry hair. Its limbs were about the thickness of a man's wrist and were bent and twisted. It was about 5 feet 6 inches in height and weighed about 100 pounds. On the bed beside its head was a piece of meat which had evidently been left for it by the men who abandoned it. At 10 o'clock last night it was removed to Homeopathic hospital.

The being was bereft of reason and could not talk. Judging by all indications, Superintendent McQuaide stated that the freak had evidently been exhibited throughout the country as a missing link of wild man, and this theory was confirmed upon returning to central police station where Superintendent Wallace had just received a mysterious letter which explained the matter. The letter read:

Chief of Police, Pittsburgh, sir, at 545 Second street you will find in the third floor front an unfortunate boy who is foolish and who is singularly marked and possesses peculiar characteristics. He is entirely harmless and helpless because he knows no more than an animal. I was here with him with the intention of putting him with a carnival, but they refused to do as they agreed. I have been compelled to abandon him to be put in a home by the proper authorities. He has no living father or mother, he has no friends. I have kept him until I broke and cannot do so longer,

The letter was unsigned and bore the postmark of the Pittsburgh postoffice. The police are making an effort to learn the identity of the men.

To read more of the articles, go to and click on the Poor House articles.

Ahh, genealogy.  History.  Sometimes, it just breaks my heart to read it. 

©2013 AS Eldredge