Hazleton, Pennsylvania: My Second Home Tuesday, Jan 28 2014 

I was not born nor raised in the Hazleton area, but I spent so much time there during my childhood that I consider it a home away from home.

It was the place my mother grew up, and her parents and grandparents before her.  In fact, generations of her family called the Hazleton area (or West Hazleton, Sugarloaf, and Conyngham to be specific) home.  Most of my ancestral relatives on this branch of my family tree were coal miners or truck drivers.  They made an honest living out of grueling work that kept them away from their wives and children for long periods of time.  Not only was it time-consuming but dangerous.

My 2nd great-grandfather, Elmer Karchner, died in a coal mining accident at the age of 32.  He left behind a wife and numerous young children.  This was a man who seven years prior listed his occupation as Musician on his marriage license.  What heartbreak!  How many of those young men and boys lost their lives not only on the job but developed illnesses as a result of their treacherous working conditions?  The very notion of such tragedy leaves an imprint on my spirit to know so many suffered so much.

My maternal grandfather died when my mother was just fifteen years of age.  Ten years prior, he suffered an accident on the job.  While fixing an issue on his tractor-trailer, the rear wheels rolled over both of his legs.  As a result, my grandmother went to work to help support the family and a hospital bed placed in the family’s dining room.  My mom tells the story of how a tree was planted in the empty lot near the house, allowing my grandfather to watch from the window as the tree grew. My grandfather eventually regained use of his legs and returned to work, albeit not every day.  He eventually died of a ruptured colon, likely caused by the accident a decade earlier.

Though the employment options were not the safest, it was home.  There were open spaces.  Relatives lived near one another.  You walked down the main street and knew the local shop owners.  One of my great-grand uncle’s even ran a furniture store, employing some of his brothers. Though my parents moved down to Bucks County once married, we frequently returned to Hazleton to visit my grandmother and other relatives in the area.  I recall those times as some of the most vivid and memorable of my childhood.  Here are just some of the memories that have stuck with  me:

  • MOM-MOM’S HOUSE:  My grandmother’s house in Hazleton would not be considered large by standards of the time or now, but it was the perfect size.  This was a home that welcomed family and friends.  She had 3 bedrooms upstairs, ideal for her young grandchildren to spend the night. Downstairs you’d find the living room that melted into the dining area, a place filled with guests during the holidays or celebrations.  The kitchen was small yet adequate.  The backyard included room for a garden and had a sandbox for the kids to play.  I have so many vivid memories of staying at MomMom’s house.  I can visualize my uncle lifting us up to hang on the push-up bar in the kitchen entryway.  I remember playing with my grandmother’s shoes and costume jewelry in her bedroom.  I recall extended family seated around the dining room table during a Thanksgiving meal.  I loved my grandmother, and I adored the house she called home.

My dad loved his mother-in-law's cooking!

  • FAMILY AND FRIENDS:  My mom had the luxury of growing up near so many cousins.  They  were her playmates, her confidantes and friends.  When we went to Hazleton, many of her cousins still remained in town.  As such, their children became our playmates.  I think of them not as my second cousins or first cousins once removed but I simply call them my cousins.  Now that we’ve all grown, I am so very thankful to have had them as part of my childhood.
  • AUNTS AND UNCLES:  Once my grandmother passed, we continued to visit family members in the Hazleton area.  My Uncle Lenny and Aunt Betty had the BEST house I’d ever seen: hidden passageways (storage area), an indoor pool (watch out for the sliding glass door), and a split-level.  My uncle would take us for drive around the yard and quiet street in his golf cart.  I have so many fond memories of not only the house but my time with my aunt, uncle and cousins.Scan-140128-0003

Though times have changed and residents found new places to call home, the Hazleton area will always hold a very special place in the hearts of many!!

Miller-ing around Thursday, Aug 23 2012 

Perhaps it’s unfair to declare only my father’s side of the family as stubborn…because my mom’s got her own challenging ancestors!

I made mention in an earlier post about the Smiths on my father’s side.  I mean really…John Smith?  Okay, moving on – my mother has a similar challenge in her lineage and that award goes to the Millers of Trenton, NJ!!!!!  Congrats guys on there being so many of you and living in an area where birth and marriage records are scarce.

As soon as I found out my mother’s grandmother’s maiden name was Miller I thought, “Oh Crap! You’ve got to be kidding.”  I don’t remember how I eventually found out her surname or how I stumbled upon the correct census info that listed her parents.  Once I found her parents, Oscar and Bertie, I also found a plethora of siblings.  Thankfully, they had unique first names like Calvin, Carl and Arthur.  No, not that Arthur Miller!  At least, I don’t think they’re one and the same. 😉

Oscar was born in, and lived for some time, in Pennsylvania.  According to the records I have been able to find Oscar, Bertie and their children moved from Hazleton down to Trenton, NJ between 1918 and 1920.  Thank goodness for the WWI draft cards and the 1920 census! My latest search is to find the real estate transaction for the home they purchased on Mulberry St.  One they lived in until at least the late 1940s.  I’ve come up short so far, but I’m continuing on.  I’m determined to find it.  But I think my next stop may involve visiting the local offices to look for records.

But there’s so much more to the story of Oscar and Bertie.  Bertie died in 1926 at a young age, leaving behind at least 8 children.  Four years later, the youngest daughter, Gladys, was living in the home of her mother’s sister; a home that she was still residing in as of the 1940 census.  Obituary records for her siblings and cousins indicate that she became more like a sister to her cousins.  Which makes sense since she literally grew up with them.

I wonder what life was like for them then.  How difficult must it have been for Oscar to have someone else raise his daughter after his wife’s death.  Granted, it was his sister-in-law but still.  It intrigues me to know their story.  Was there hurt feelings between them?  What was Gladys’ relationship like with her father in comparison to the one she had with her aunt and uncle?

But the story that caught me off-guard is this one…I found documentation and newspaper articles indicating Oscar remarried a woman named Delphina Dempster Kemble, sometime around 1945.  Delphina’s husband, Leroy Kemble had passed and Oscar was still a widow.  Here comes the most interesting part…according to the 1940 census Leroy and Delphina Kemble were living in the home of Oscar Miller and his sons (on Mulberry St).  Five years later, Oscar and Delphina were married.  So, my eyes bugged out of my head and the family detective/writer in me yearned to know more.

While I still look for verification of Oscar’s parents and grandparents I’m intrigued to know more about the stories and experiences that shaped them as individuals.

If it’s not one thing… Monday, Aug 6 2012 

Last week I discussed the challenges I have been dealing with in researching my father’s side of the family.  It’s Mom’s turn this week and finding her relatives has been much easier; for the most part.

Growing up I spent a lot of time in my mother’s hometown.  Hazleton, Pennsylvania became my home away from home.  A place that I loved to spend my summers.  My grandmother had been one of the most important relationships in my young life and she’s remained a big part of my life ever since.  When my maternal grandmother died in 1984 I was only 7 but the impact of that loss was significant.  By that time, my mother had lost her father, her step-father and then her mother.  All before her 32nd birthday.  I can’t imagine what she had to deal with. She had four daughters left to raise without her mother to offer support, guidance and advice.  Sometimes, I think that’s part of the reason she’s such a pivotal part of her grandchildren’s life. 

My mother grew up in a house that her grandfather had built.  She’d tell me stories about the winding staircase, the fireplace and the family get-togethers.  We found pictures a few months ago that showed the ornate fireplace, the cherubed ceilings and the french doors.  There were so many photos of family members; especially my mother, uncle and their cousins. 

Family played a significant role in my mother’s life.  She grew up with so many cousins, on both sides of her family, and they spent a lot of time together.  (There’s a part of me that wished I had the same; but times change and families live where economics and employment determine they go.)  Even after my grandmother died we’d go back to Hazleton frequently.  My mother still had aunts, uncles and cousins in the area and there was even a family reunion every August.

I knew more about my mother’s side of the family then my father’s.  We joked that my mom was a coal miner’s daughter but it was only a few generations of difference.  In putting together my family tree I realized how happy I was that her side of the family had unique names, both first names and surnames.  Thank heavens for the Elmers, Ellsworths and Martins! I found generations of coal miners, farmers and truck drivers.  I realized that the strong family bonds were necessary because early death was not only likely but frequent.  My mother’s great-grandfather died in a coal mining accident in 1902 at the age of 32.  He left behind a wife and numerous children.  How did his family put food on the table, clothes on their backs and smiles on their faces?  My great, great-grandmother remarried a few years later and the half-siblings went on to hold that joint family reunion.

My mother’s father died at the age of 40.  A truck driver by occupation, he was injured in a fluke trucking accident; causing him to no longer be able to work.  My grandmother had to work to provide for the family.  Eventually, he became sick and died at an age that was much too young.  My grandmother remarried and I grew up knowing my mom’s brother, step-brother and step-sister as equal members of my family. 

In researching my maternal ancestors I’ve come to the conclusion that family isn’t always determined by blood.  Love guided my mother’s relations and she passed that down to her children.  For that, I will be eternally grateful!

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