Tuesday, February 9, 2016
It may have been fascination over the unfolding tale of John Syme Hogue that kept me from my regular indexing duties last month, but this month, it may just be frustration over impossible-to-read handwriting.
When indexing records for FamilySearch.org, you'll find them directing your attention to prioritized projects—ostensibly those they want to wrap up and put online. I've always had a different take on which projects I should spend my volunteer hours indexing, however. Last month—as it has been for many months in the past—it's been records from Chicago, Illinois, home of our Stevens and Tully ancestors during the mid to late 1800s. This time, though, I opted for another direction: North Dakota.
Why North Dakota? It just so happens that there was a project needing indexing that might just help me with a long-unanswered question from the line of one of our Tully family who had married a Ryan and emigrated from Canada to the Dakota Territory. I'm at a loss to find marriage records for some members of that family in exactly that same time frame—and, hopefully, in that same location. Perhaps assisting in that indexing project would not only help me answer my own research questions, but spread some of that good research cheer to others at the same time.
Sometimes, that is more easily said than done. Though this indexing project clocked in at a middling level of difficulty, that estimate was arrived at, likely, from assessing the length of the documents, not from their appearance. The one snag I hit was that of handwriting. I apparently landed a batch drawn up for one particular justice whose handwriting was clear...but illegible. The digitization was clear, there were no confusing stray marks, everything else was easy to read. But the handwriting! It was a case of indistinguishable humps and bumps which could be interpreted any number of ways. Talk about enigmatic.
Sometimes, the longer you stare at a page, the less clear it seems to become. I'm afraid my accuracy rating is going to take a nosedive on this one. But I can hardly call it quits so early in this game. I'd love to see that collection make it to the "indexed" side of the equation at FamilySearch.org. I have a few Ryan and Tully wedding questions I'd love to see resolved.
Above: "Evening Winter Landscape," 1885 oil on canvas by German landscape painter, Johann Jungblut; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
Monday, February 8, 2016
Though it took two months to recount, we've now covered the main points of the saga of John Syme Hogue of Charleston, West Virginia. It was certainly not the story I anticipated uncovering, once I arrived at this spot in the various branches of my own matrilineal line. Even though it did touch upon the who, what, where and when of the man's life history, it leaves somewhat to be desired concerning the why of the tale.
That "why" begins with the question of why even pursue the story in the first place. After all, if I stack my family tree next to his, the final tally is that he was fifth cousins with my great grandmother—hardly even someone she'd be aware of, much less know personally. The only link we'd share would be my seventh great grandmother, Margaret Watts, daughter of Richard Watts and wife of William Strother of King George County in colonial Virginia. And, if we recall how some members of our complete genealogical tree may not even be included in our genetic tree, that leads to the realization that John Hogue and I likely share not one shred of DNA in common.
So why pursue such a person's story? It certainly wasn't for the genealogy of it all. The litany of names and dates could have been stripped from the documentation quickly, allowing me to add each in its respective slot and move on to the next line as a matter of routine research.
Perhaps it was owing to the jolt of the unexpected or to that sixth sense of sniffing out a story. Still, why bother? After all, it wasn't my direct line.
I rather suspect it has to do with that penchant for discovering the stories of these individuals. Whoever these people are, with their labels neatly hanging on our family trees, despite those full names and complete dates, they are still as virtually unknown as if they had been pinned up on the display as nameless entities. Who cares if a person's name, five or seven generations back, was John or James or Joseph? We still won't know who he was—until we learn his life's story. That's when an ancestor becomes a real person to us.
Then, too, perhaps it was because of the unresolved drama. John Hogue's story became not only his own story, but the story of the lives of all the people his life touched—or, as the case turned out to be, snuffed out in an ill-conceived moment of desperation. His was a tangle of unresolved stories—everything from the ruined reputation of the family he left behind, to the family he tore apart in Canada, to even the young family he left behind by his death in the formative years of their lives. I want to know what became of them—each one of them and the ripple effect radiating out from their own experience. Perhaps, even now, that story continues to unfold.
The story of John Hogue reminds me of why I choose to see this research task not as genealogy but as family history. A matter of semantics for some, I suppose, but a very real differentiation in my own mind. Though these family members may, in their own cases, each have lived what might be considered, in the big picture, insignificant lives, I still want to unfold that story line to see how it played out, to follow the connections and realize the network of its impact. And, above all, to preserve what I've found and pass it on, so others may know about it, as well.
Above: "Farm with sleigh," 1900 oil on canvas by Russian painter Titus Dvornikov (1862-1922); courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
Sunday, February 7, 2016
While John Hogue—if it was, indeed, our John Hogue—may have survived the blast from the 1944 mining disaster up in Shinnston, West Virginia, chances were against him for long term survival in his chosen profession. Most coal miners who survived the more immediate occupational hazards of their trade would eventually succumb, likely from a more insidious and slow-acting threat to their health, whether from Black Lung disease or from other coal mining-related respiratory diseases. Even after concerted effort to improve working conditions for coal miners later in the twentieth century, the sad statistic was that, for career coal miners working more than twenty five years, prevalence of Black Lung disease was still at thirty two percent. In John Hogue's day, it was likely worse.
While I have no way yet to determine what finally claimed the man's life, the Hogue obituary, published in the Charleston Daily Mail on August 16, 1956, mentioned he died at his home—then in Ridgeview, just south of Charleston—"after a long illness."
Perhaps, given John Hogue's life story, for him to have attained the age of seventy one may have been considered sufficient. Remembering he, at one point, was not slated to have lived beyond his thirties, it may have been an outright blessing. Added to the hazards of his most recent occupation would have been the baggage of a fugitive's lifestyle and youthful indiscretions with unnamed addictive substances, all potentially detrimental to one's lifespan.
Whether seventy one—or ninety one—it is never enough for the one who is living it. Nor is it sufficient for the family members that person leaves behind. In Hogue's case, considering his 1940 marriage, you know he had to have left a young wife, and possibly also children. That, in fact, was confirmed in his obituary, noting three daughters, "all at home."
Left behind, in addition to his immediate family, was his brother Andrew, who with his wife had moved from the Hogues' hometown of Charleston to Beckley. Another brother, a military man then living in southern California, and a married sister still in Charleston, also survived him. Both his half-brothers and his unmarried half-sister from his mother's first marriage were all gone now.
With his late-life marriage and his children still living at home in the mid 1950s, the likelihood of that next generation still being with us—somewhere—sets me wondering. Do those children even know about the tumultuous past of their father? Was that reprieve and narrow escape from dying the death of a condemned man now a family legacy to be passed down through the generations? Or, like many men of that era, did John Hogue simply put all that unfortunate experience behind him—and behind the closed lips of family members who would prefer not to relive the trauma by repeating the tale?
Then, too, with a story so unusual, so incredible, I feel the pull to pursue additional contemporaneous documentation to glean every detail of the full story. Some of that would entail pulling records from archives in Manitoba and Ontario, as well as stateside in West Virginia. And, as the story itself became embedded within a larger social context of not only fading public support for capital punishment, but the escalation of concurrent war-time involvement both in Canada and the United States, it would reflect the interwoven aspects of such impacts as these.
The tragedy of the rise and fall of dynasties is usually reserved for the sagas of the famous and the powerful, but in an ancestral trajectory that arced with the pinnacle of America's first Supreme Court Chief Justice and maintained its dignity through the respected men and women taking their place in the subsequent generations of the Hogue and Patrick families, the same dynamics play themselves out in the microcosm of John Syme Hogue's lifespan. As much as he descended from a "well respected" and "long prominent" family in the Kanawha Valley region, the final token representing his life remembered was nothing more than a humble stone marking his existence in the family plot back home in Charleston. From the looks of it, one would never have guessed what that dash between the 1885 and the 1956 entailed.
Above: Photograph of the stone marking the grave of John Syme Hogue at Spring Hill Cemetery in Charleston, West Virginia. Photograph courtesy of Find A Grave volunteer Pj; used by permission.
Saturday, February 6, 2016
Coal mining has to be an occupation that is not only physically demanding, but rife with hazards. In the United States alone, coal mining has historically been considered a dangerous occupation, with over one hundred thousand coal miners killed in accidents in the twentieth century, alone. Even more sobering is the statistic that ninety percent of that century's fatalities occurred in the first fifty years.
How can this procedure go wrong? Let me count the ways. Besides vehicle collisions or mine wall failures, there is the possibility of roof failure, gas poisoning, coal dust explosions or gas explosions.
When something did go wrong, it often could cost the lives of many. Take just one year in that century as an example. In 1944, from a total 453, 937 miners employed in the entire United States, nearly thirteen hundred of them died on the job. Anyone studying the bigger picture of their family history in those coal mining states of Ohio, Kentucky or West Virginia—as our family had in researching my husband's maternal line in Perry County, Ohio—will recall the newspaper headlines and accompanying photographs of somber-faced family members awaiting news of the fate of loved ones trapped down below after yet another mining tragedy.
One such example was the March, 1944, disaster at the number four mine of the Katherine Coal Company in Shinnston, West Virginia. Opened only six months prior to the incident, the mine employed about one hundred fifty men.
What was described as "a violent underground blaze" caused, in turn, "a blast so terrific that it tore up a surface area of half an acre" in the early morning hours of March 25, 1944. It all started with a spark from a machine cable, which ignited a wall of coal.
The front page of the March 26 edition of The Charleston Gazette described the unfolding story. At the point at which the explosion occurred,
One of the dead men—no one yet knows who—was piloting a motor into the mine. Tiny pieces of the motor were found, but no trace of the motorman.
Other factors complicated any hope of rescue attempts. For one, the ventilating system for the mine "was completely wrecked," while a makeshift replacement, hastily set up, was no match against danger of further methane gas leaks. A greater problem than that, though, was
the fact that the explosion, in tearing up the earth, left a giant hole through which air rushed in to feed the underground flames.
It was reckoned that the explosion "eventually reached every section of the mine." Because of the now out-of-control situation, the state Mines Chief and a special state inspector-at-large were called in, as well as representatives from the United States bureau of mines. Crack safety teams and rescue crews from surrounding areas—even from neighboring states—arrived to render aid.
Still, contingencies led to the decision that the only thing left to do was to "push the broken earth back into the hole and seal up the enormous air vent." It was estimated that it would take five to six weeks for the flames to be fully extinguished, at which time crews could be sent in to recover the bodies.
It was reported that sixteen men had lost their lives on the job that day at the number four mine of the Katherine Coal Company—about ten percent of the entire work force assigned to that location.
It was interesting to note, in reading the account of the disaster, that one of the employees mentioned in the article was named John Hogue. Whether that Mine Superintendent was the same as the John Hogue whose life story we've been following, it is hard to say. But I'd consider it a possibility.
The outcome for Hogue, unlike those sixteen others, was different but unexpected. According to The Charleston Gazette,
Mine Superintendent John Hogue narrowly escaped with his life, through the lucky break that he had returned to the toolhouse for some equipment just as the blast let go. Hogue had been in the mine superintending salvage efforts.
Hogue was standing with John Crock and John Earnest near a stove when the explosion occurred. All were thrown about thirty feet but escaped with bruises.
If this was, indeed, the same John Hogue as the coal mining engineer we know, it wouldn't have been the first time he had narrowly escaped with his life.
Friday, February 5, 2016
Some wedding announcements may be more remarkable than others. In the case of the marriage of forty five year old John Syme Hogue and his seventeen year old bride, Lucille Epling, one couldn't help also notice—if one were familiar with the now twenty-five-year-long saga of John Hogue's history—his employment as a mining engineer at his new home in Mahan, West Virginia.
For those with patience to read the fine print at the back end of local newspapers, under such headings as "Notice of Judicial Sale," there is a way to reconstruct the twisted trail of purchases, leases assigned, re-sales and other hallmarks of high finance and real estate. But for those of us with less patience to learn about Mr. Hogue's employer—the Christian Colliery Coal Company—let me introduce the Reader's Digest version of the story.
However, I warn you: this detour comes with a high risk of rabbit trail sightings.
Found in a page four column entitled, "Our Neighbors," this snapshot of just what the history of the Christian Colliery Coal Company was had been provided by the June 19, 1940, Charleston Daily Mail—just months before the Epling-Hogue wedding.
The thumbnail sketch:
The Imperial Colliery company opened Mahan's first mine in 1911 under Judge Lynch Christian and Quinn Morton. Nine years later the Steel and Tube Company of America took over and sold out in 1921 to the Youngstown Sheet and Tube which in turn sold to George Daniels about 1925 or '26.
Named after Judge Christian of the supreme court of Virginia, the Christian Colliery company today is under the vice presidency and general managership of A. O. B. Hogue.
While even that streamlined description could leave
- First, the place where John Hogue was employed as mining engineer was named after a judge of the Virginia state Supreme Court, and
- Second, the general manager of that mining concern was none other than John's own brother, Andrew O'Beirne Hogue.
What I hadn't bargained for, in that brief tour of the real estate exchanges embedded in the coal mines of this neck o' West Virginia, was the very next sentence in the article.
Mahan's first settlers were the Hatfields and McCoys who followed the trail blazing Daniel Boone across White mountain from Virginia. It is still a much discussed topic that back up in the hills may be found Boone's marks on trees—crudely cut half moon designs with the outline of an axe cut over his initials.
Really? I wasn't sure how reliable it might be to glean my history lessons from the local newspaper, so I took a cursory glance at other resources about both Daniel Boone and the Hatfield-McCoy feud. While Daniel Boone was mostly remembered for his knowledge of land around Kentucky, he did, for a while, move to the region around Point Pleasant (now in West Virginia) and when nearby Kanawha County was first formed, he was appointed lieutenant colonel of its county militia.
That, however, pre-dates the famed Hatfield-McCoy feud by several decades. Yet it could be possible that the predecessors of those ill-fated families had actually been escorted into that then-unknown territory by Boone, himself.
The introduction to that Daily Mail article had quite the way of explaining the county's colorful heritage:
Tales about every phase of the famous Hatfield-McCoy feud are as prevalent on Paint Creek as ants at a picnickers' convention and it has been passed from generation to generation that the private family war had its birth in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia and over, of all things, an old razor-back hog.
Again, I'm not sure about taking one's history lesson from a newspaper article, but when the story continued with some verifiable details, I took the bait and hopped down that rabbit trail.
It is not every person who knows there is a graveyard on Paint creek at Sandy City in which are deposited the remains of three McCoys—once rugged mountain boys—no doubt.
The article included the name and inscription on one headstone—of "Samuel McCoy who died Sept. 16, 1846, aged 60 years, four months and four days"—so I took a look at Find A Grave. Sure enough, there was a photo of the headstone upon which could be seen those very words. See for yourself here.
The cemetery location provided another confirmation—in Kanawha County, West Virginia—as did the fact that not only Samuel but his brother James were among the McCoys listed in the cemetery's burials. (The third mention in the newspaper article described an unmarked grave which gave appearances of being for a child; the third McCoy listed in the Pratt Cemetery is someone who married a Huddleston.)
One more tidbit was shared in the Daily Mail article, a bit of hearsay providing local color:
It is told by Jim Williams, one of the creek's old timers at Mahan, that the time of the extension of the C. and O. line further up the creek (about 1910) several of the surviving McCoys sat with rifles on this small plot and made track surveyors go around the graveyard. The line originally had been right through the cemetery.
"And that's the real McCoy," the article's author concluded.
Just to the other side of this article and its accompanying photographs was another local history feature, "Paint Creek Highlights." In it, one short paragraph mentioned,
John S. Hogue, father of the present vice president and general manager of the Christian Colliery company there, was the civil engineer in charge of the location for the standard gauge railroad running up the creek to Kingston, about 23 miles from the mouth.
One wonders whether the railroad company the senior John Hogue represented in his surveying duties might have been the C. and O. I simply will have to polish up my West Virginia geography.
Above: McCoy family nemeses, the Hatfield Clan, shown in an unsourced photograph, circa 1897, courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
Thursday, February 4, 2016
Even for someone like John Syme Hogue, with his checkered past, one must assume the possibility of settling down, eventually, to married life. Yes, I know he already had made that momentous "I do" promise back in Michigan before his many crimes caught up with him—and for the outcome of that commitment made back in 1915, I have no further information. One must presume that that bride had seen the handwriting on the wall and had done what she must do to preserve her own peace.
That was then. This is now 1940, and John Hogue has been back home in Charleston, presumably on his best behavior after all the trials he had endured. Likely, his family—what was left of them—made sure to encourage him to remain on the straight and narrow. Perhaps a parole officer stopped by to chime in on the chorus from time to time, although I doubt those Canadian and Michigan officials would be keen on keeping up such a long-distance relationship.
By this point, Hogue would have been gainfully employed, incorporated back into his community, and taking his place as a productive member of society. At least one would presume so, as such a staid lifestyle seldom elicits such blaring newspaper headlines as had followed him nearly twenty years prior. At least, there were no longer any eye-grabbing bulletins that I could find.
Still, although it would not seem out of the ordinary for someone in Hogue's shoes to decide to remarry, the little entry in the Boone County, West Virginia, marriage register caught me by surprise. Dated October 11, 1940, application was made for the forty five year old John S. Hogue of "Kan. Co."—presumably Kanawha County, where his home would have been located—to marry a nearby Boone County resident. The bride's name was Lucille, daughter of George and Ellen Epling of Ridgeview, West Virginia. At the time the license was issued, three days later on October 14, she was seventeen years of age.
After the fact, both The Charleston Gazette and The Charleston Daily Mail made similar note of the event in brief entries on their society pages. According to the Sunday, October 20, Daily Mail in an entry headlined, "Miss Epling and John Hogue Marry,"
Miss Lucille Epling of Ridgeview, W. Va., and Mr. John S. Hogue of Mahan were married Saturday morning at the First Presbyterian church of Charleston. Rev. J. Blair Morton performed the ceremony.
Mr. and Mrs. Hogue left for a trip to Washington and other eastern points and on their return in two weeks will make their home in Mahan. The bride wore a blue costume suit, matching accessories and a shoulder corsage of orchids.
Mr. Hogue is employed as a mining engineer for the Christian Colliery Coal company.
Wednesday, February 3, 2016
It's hard enough for today's ex-convict to complete his prison term and return home as a rehabilitated member of society. As impossible as it might have been, at the time of John Hogue's 1917 trial for murder in Canada, to predict he would at some point see this day, his opportunity to return home came in the late 1920s.
If you are thinking in the historical context of a bigger picture, you are realizing just what type of economy those wings of freedom were escorting him into. Perhaps in the upheaval of the stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing depression, life in Charleston, West Virginia, took on a very guarded shade of gray for everyone alike—no matter what role they assumed in the community.
Although no mention could be found concerning John Hogue's first years after returning to civilian life back home in Charleston, hopefully, he found a place to stay, a job and some means of re-integrating into the social fabric of his hometown. In later years, newspaper articles gave the occasional glimpse that John Hogue was still there, taking his place as part of the extended family, thanks to those long litanies of honorary pall bearers at funerals or guest lists for the gala celebrations of golden wedding anniversaries of his elders or exchanges of first vows of his siblings' children.
There was, however, one sad note capturing a moment in Hogue's life in the earlier years of his return home: the funeral notices of Susan Harvie Hogue, John's mother. As is often hoped by family historians, I found one of these notices—from The Charleston Daily Mail of Saturday evening, December 30, 1933—to confirm her relationships, along with some pertinent dates for this twice-married widow.
Funeral services for Mrs. Susan Harvie Hogue, 79 years old, who died unexpectedly at her home in Brooks street Friday afternoon, will be held at the St. John's Episcopal church at 2:30 o'clock Sunday. Rev. John Gass will officiate, and burial will be in Spring Hill cemetery.
Until a short time before her death at 5 o'clock Friday, Mrs. Hogue had been in her usual good health.
Although she lived most of her life in Charleston, Mrs. Hogue was a native of Richmond, Va., where she was born in 1854. She was the daughter of Dr. Spicer Patrick and Mrs. Virginia Harvie Patrick.
In 1872 she was married to Henry Poindexter, who died in 1879. In 1884 she was married to John Syme Hogue, who died in 1917.
The obituary went on to list Susan Harvie Hogue's six surviving children: a son and daughter from her first marriage, and three sons and an additional daughter from her second marriage, including her oldest, the recently-returned junior John Hogue. All were now living in Charleston at the time of her passing, in addition to two grandchildren and three brothers.
The funeral notice went on to conclude, "The family has requested that no flowers be sent," making me wonder whether to take the bait to read between the lines—shock of suddenness? Allergies?—or just be grateful for the written review confirming the family constellation as I presumed it would be.