It has long been a goal of mine to learn about my own ancestors' roles during the 19th century in Schuylkill County, particularly with regard to the coal mining industry. Ever since I was a child I've known that several of my ancestors were Irish coal miners there. The more questions I've asked about that side of the family, the more intrigued I have become.
You see, this side of the family didn't take kindly to questions about the past. For many generations children's questions have been hushed, certainly since my grandmother's childhood in the early 1920's. In the midst of this secrecy, the questions asked have become family legends themselves.
Could our John Donnelly have been in with the Mollie Maguires? He was of the right time period, the right age, the right occupation, and the right ethnicity. He even shared a surname with some of the prominent Mollies themselves. What was his story?
Unearthing the life story of John Donnelly, my great-great-grandfather, would be a great genealogical find, indeed. I have found he and his wife's marriage record, and what I believe to be the story of his accident in the Shenandoah Evening Herald and the Pottsville Republican. If I have the right John Donnelly, he and his brother died in an explosion at Bear Ridge Colliery in Shenandoah. Could he also have been involved with those that were fighting to improve the conditions that eventually cost him his life?
The questions remain after three generations. Will I be the one to set them to their final rest?
John Donnelly & Michael Donnelly (Miners, Bear Ridge Colliery, Mahanoy Plane), Report of the Inspector of Mines for the Sixth Anthracite District of Pennsylvania, Schuylkill County, 1893; Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Mining & Reclamation, Harrisburg.
“Boilers Explode. One Man Killed at Mahanoy Plane – One Injured.,” Shenandoah Evening Herald, March 20, 1893.
“Buried To-day,” Shenandoah Evening Herald, March 21, 1893.
“Frackville Gossip: At about three o’clock Sunday morning…,” Pottsville Republican, March 20, 1893.
“Frackville Notes: Michael Donnelly…,” Pottsville Republican, March 21, 1893.
"Known ‘Mollie Maguires’ (AOH) Membership List Mentioned in Trial Transcripts," Ancient Order of Hibernians St. Brendan Division #1 (Online: Berks County, Pennsylvania AOH) [Pinkerton Detective Agency], <http://www.angelfire.com/pa4/berksaoh/pdf/mollies.pdf> , accessed 3 January 2008.
The above image of the Bear Ridge Colliery coal mine in Shenandoah is courtesy of the North Eastern Pennsylvania Photo Collection. Bear Ridge Colliery is the site where John Donnelly was believed to have died in an explosion. This photo was taken a little over a decade later in 1907.
This post was inspired by Craig Manson's question: What's your version of The Greatest Genealogical Find Ever? posted at GeneaBlogie.