The Mining Strike of July 1933

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Like many of our patrons, we received mail from some distant locales this holiday season. One package arrived from the Museum of South Texas History, whose curator sent us two pictures to add to our collection.

The images date back to 1933 and depict National Guard troops stationed in Brownsville during the coal strikes. Both were stamped for distribution through the Central Press Association and arrived with suggestion captions taped to the back.

Brownsville National Guard

“BROWNSVILLE, PA . . . Pennsylvania National Guard troops sent to prevent violence in the coal regions establish their camp three miles west of Brownsville.” July 31, 1933.

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Event: Author Visit by Marian Szczepanski

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Author Marian Szczepanski will be visiting our library on October 27th at 6PM for a reading, discussion, and signing for her book, Playing St. Barbara. Ms. Szczepanski performed research for her novel right here in the Pennsylvania Room!

PSB_HI_RES (2)About the Book

The big coal strike of 1928 ends, yet crosses still burn. Angry miners plot. Company policemen stalk and spy. Miner’s wife Clare Sweeney hides bruises inflicted by her husband—and her real name. Her three daughters harbor secrets of their own. Each knows (or guesses) only fragments of the others’ unvoiced stories. Their intertwined lives eerily mirror the 7th century legend of St. Barbara, patroness of miners, reenacted annually in the town pageant. Tested by scandal, heartbreak, and tragedy, each woman will write her own courageous ending to St. Barbara’s story.

About the Author

The granddaughter of immigrant coal miners, Marian Szczepanski grew up in Greensburg and lived as a young child in the Jamison Coal Company house where her mother and aunts were raised. She hold an MFA in creative writing from Warren Wilson College and a BA in American Studies from the University of Notre Dame. She has won awards for short fiction and magazine feature writing. Houston Press included her on its roster of “100 Houston Creatives” for 2014. Playing St. Barbara is her first novel. She lives in Houston, TX.

Please join us on Monday, October 27th for this free event and support an author from southwestern Pennsylvania!

Researching Your Coal Mining Ancestors

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Fayette County has seen two particularly large waves of immigration — the pioneers and the industrial workers — that offer unique challenges for the genealogist.

In the era of the pioneers, the county did not keep vital records and the census only reported the heads of the households’ names. Many of the churches founded at that time have since folded or combined with other congregations. And some families just loved to repeat certain names, even within generations. (In the course of answering a research request, I have definitely muttered, “The number of William Martins in this family is too damn high.”)

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A member of the Coal and Iron Police rides alongside a State Trooper.
Credit: Uniontown Public Library.

On the other hand, those who immigrated to work in the coal mines or coke yards often rented their homes instead of purchasing property, leaving no deed or mortgage records. Their names were confused and misspelled by just about every official they met. Many died without leaving a will or the money to fund the purchase of a permanent headstone, and unfortunately, wooden markers don’t last all that long in Pennsylvania weather.

There were many who came here, made the money they needed, and returned to their home country. Some came to America entirely alone, leaving future researchers bereft of the local family connections that can be so helpful in tracking down an ancestor.

I find researching our county’s coal and coke workers much more interesting than researching earlier immigrants, possibly because many of my own relatives came to work in the industry. So, I thought I’d share some of my favorite resources — not just for tracking down your coal mining ancestors, but for understanding how they lived.

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