Saturday, March 17, 2012

My Irish Relatives From Centralia, PA

Hope you all are enjoying St. Patrick's Day so far! Last year, I wrote about my Irish ancestor, Jane (Johnston) Brenton. This year, I thought I'd share some information I've found only recently on my other Irish relatives.

My maternal grandfather's mother was Anna (Kane) Fritzley. Anna's family has been one of my favorites to research because of their unique location. They settled in Centralia, Columbia, Pennsylvania and lived there for some time.

Centralia, PA probably sounds familiar to you. That's because Centralia, once a thriving community based in the mining trade, is now a ghost town. There are conflicting reports as to the details, but basically, here's what happened: Centralia was incorporated in 1866 and quickly developed into a thriving mining town. At its peak, the town had over 2,000 residents, many schools and churches, a post office, etc. - the basics of a small, bustling industry town. The first infamous incident in Centralia history came in 1868, when the town's founder, Alexander Rea, was murdered just outside of town by the Molly Maguires.

However, this incident is now overshadowed by the mine fire which destroyed most of the town. No one knows for sure how the fire ignited. What is known is that around 1961, a fire ignited coal underground in south Centralia. Numerous efforts to extinguish the fire failed. The fire spread to the underground mines, and continues to burn today. The air around the fire is poisonous. The town is marked by empty lots with cracked ground, piping smoke from the fire below. Most of surrounding trees are now dead sticks. Most of the residents of Centralia accepted a buyout and moved long ago, but a few still remain. In 2002, the U.S. Post Office revoked Centralia's zip code. This is what Centralia looks like now:

The street view and photos on Google Maps are very interesting as well. The spooky remains of Centralia have inspired many novels, films and other media including the film adaptation of the Silent Hill video game series and even an episode of The Simpsons.

My great-grandmother, Anna Kane, was born in Centralia in 1893 to Teddy and Sarah (Durkin) Kane. She had 2 sisters and 3 brothers (as far as I know). Her brothers and her father were coal miners, like most men in the town's largely Irish population at the time. I find it so interesting that they worked in the mines that would eventually ruin the town from below. 

Her father Thaddeus "Teddy" Kane was born in Ireland in 1868. He immigrated to the U.S. around 1881 and married Sarah Durkin in about 1892. Sarah Durkin was born in 1869 in Pennsylvania to Mark and Sarah (McAnally) Durkin. Teddy and Sarah Kane raised their children in Centralia, and as far as I know, they never left. 

Their daughter, Anna, married William Fritzley around 1910, and raised their family in Pittsburgh (including my maternal grandfather, William Fritzley). After Anna's husband died in 1955, she moved back to Centralia. She died there around 1971, so she would have been witness to the mine fire and multiple attempts to put it out. When she died, there was still hope for extinguishing the fire and saving the town. 

But in 1981, a young boy fell into a sinkhole caused by the fire and would have died from carbon monoxide poisoning if his cousin hadn't pulled him out quickly. This caused media attention to the fire to increase, to the chagrin of many residents. Starting in the mid-1980s, the residents started to accept federal buyouts of their Centralia properties and move away. But a few residents still remain in Centralia, and continue to wage a very contentious legal battle with the state to remain in their homes. Some claim that the state only wants them to move so that they can have access to the remaining coal below the town (estimates of the value of  the coal vary greatly from source to source). That may be true, but it is also true that Centralia is a dangerous place to visit. If you do, please use caution as in many places the ground is extremely unstable and the air is thick with carbon monoxide and dioxide. 

So, you can see why this is one of my favorite family lines to research. I look forward to finding out more about them. My goal is to find living relatives who can tell me more about their (or their parents' and grandparents') experiences in Centralia. 

I'm off to start my St. Paddy's day celebrations, and I'll leave you with one of my favorite Irish sayings: "It is often that a person's mouth broke his nose."


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wedding Wednesday - I Got Married Today!

Newlyweds! Me and my husband, Joe Davies.
[edited to include a better picture :)]

Monday, February 13, 2012

Pennsylvania Birth and Death Indexes Now Available Online Per Act 110

Act 110, formerly known as Senate Bill 361, went into effect today. This act makes birth certificates 105 years old and death certificates at least 50 years old available to the public.

Here's how it has been implemented:
  • Currently, indexes for birth certificates issued in 1906 and death certificates issued 1906-1961 are available at the PA Department of Health here
  • The indexes are PDF documents, organized by year and then mostly alphabetically (some are indexed by the Russell system).
  • You have to search through the index pages by scrolling through them. There is no searchable database online. Searching the PDF for a name has so far been unsuccessful for me. 
If you find a name, you can request a copy of the certificate in one of three ways:
  • Visiting the State Archives research room.
  • Sending a mail request to the State Archives for $15 if name and date are known ($25 if the request comes from outside PA) or $50 per hour if name and/or date are not know. The Archives estimates a processing time of 8-12 weeks.
  • Obtain an non-certified copy from the Department of Health (with a known State File number, found via the indexes). The fee is $3. However, the processing time for copies of birth and death certificates has now increased to 16 to 18 weeks, presumably because the number of requests will increase due to Act 110.
 I am very excited to see this information online, and I hope that it becomes easier to access the index entries and certificates in the future.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Genealogy Education Opportunities Learning Center
New from Ancestry, this is a collection of Ancestry's articles. They cover mostly basic genealogy techniques, but there are tips for more experienced researchers as well. There are also tutorials on how to use the collections of, and about recently released record collections.

More info:

Federation of Genealogical Societies 2012 Conference
"Indians, Squatters, Settlers and Soldiers in the 'Old Southwest'"
August 29-September 1, 2012

Registration is now open for this year's FGS conference, hosted by the Alabama Genealogical Society. Programs for genealogists at all levels (over 175 sessions offered). In addition to  lectures and workshops, the conference features "Librarian's Day" on August 29th, and an Exhibit Hall with vendors and a special "Spotlight on Societies."

Early Registration (through 1 July 2012): Full Conference: $195, Single Day: $79
Registration (after 1 July 2012): Full Conference: $245, Single Day: $99

Forensic Genealogy Institute - Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy
October 25 - 27, 2012, Dallas, Texas

Twenty-four hours of hands-on instruction on forensic genealogy, designed for experienced genealogists. Limited to 25 attendees. $400 for CAFG non-members, $350 for members. Registration deadline: March 27, 2012. 

 (Thanks to GeneaPress).