My Family History – Connections


Hello Again!

I’ve had several “go and stop” periods with this blog and this year has been especially challenging with so much time devoted to My New Jersey Big Year.

And while I haven’t had as much time to spend on searching out my family history, I haven’t stopped looking for opportunities to make connects and learn more about my roots.   Recently, I stumbled upon a Facebook page devoted to the history of Magoffin County, Kentucky.   After responding to a post about a “possible” ancestor, I had the great fortune of stumbling into a Cantrell cousin living in Kentucky.

Because I haven’t asked permission, I won’t post her name here – but I will share with you that she gave me the names of nearly all the people in my blog header.   This photo includes my grandfather, Monroe Cantrell, and his brothers, sisters, and other family members.   Interested in the names?

Here we go – starting on left, Thurman Wright, Shell Cantrell, little boy Charlie Cantrell (Shell’s son), Carl Cantrell, Lonzie Cantrell, John Wallace Cantrell, little boy Ralph Cantrell (Earl’s son), Earl Cantrell , Monroe Cantrell, Polly Cantrell, Nora Alice Cantrell Gamble, Lynne Cantrell Dainels.  In back row on left – Ronnie Hershal Cantrell (son of John Wallace), Elsie Wright (daughter of Polly), Glen Wright (son of Elsie),  man in back on right is Parel (son of Polly).

I’ve looked at this photo dozens of time and wished I knew all the names.  My father knew most and somewhere in my files I think I have a copy of this photo where he wrote down the names.  I haven’t had much luck finding that photo – but thanks to my new cousin I now have names to go with many more faces!



Getting Back Into The Swing of Things


I’ve been away from my family blogging for the past several weeks, as My New Jersey Big Year has taken up nearly every spare moment since the January 1st.    And while that my Big Year continues to be a great adventure, I’ve been thinking recently that I need to make time to continue my family history research.

To take care of some “back of the house” issues, I’ve transferred ownership of all my blogs to a single e-mail address.  This makes it easier for me to manage my account from a single user interface.  When I went about setting up my blogs, I used different accounts and that meant I needed to log out of one blog to log into another one.  This new arrangement keeps me logged into all my blogs at the same time. 

My apologies for the silence, but I hope to get things moving again and keep up a reasonable blogging rate (expect about one post per week or so).  I have included in this post photos of my paternal grandparent’s grave markers.  Monroe passed away when I was only 10 years old, but I still have some very clear memories of him.  I knew Ruth as an adult and have nothing but the fondest memories of her.  She was an incredibly special person.

Mountain Memory – Family Camping at Cranberry River Campground

Photo compliments of Wikipedia

My Dad was a union coal miner and, along with every other United Mine Workers of America member in West Virginia, received two weeks of summer vacation each year.  During that time, the coal mines in southwestern West Virginia closed for the time period outlined in the bargaining agreement, and many of the miners and their families to head off for their annual vacations.

A favorite location of mine was a campground along the banks of the Cranberry River, not far from Richwood.  Located in Pocahontas County and part of the Monongahela National Forest, Cranberry River is a tributary of the Gauley River and is known for excellent trout fishing and the botanically unique area known as Cranberry Glades.  I really never cared much for fishing, but I loved the area’s unspoiled natural beauty and the chance to be someplace different, if only for a few days.

To protect the river and surrounding areas, the National Forest Service gated several miles of a gravel road that lead from the Glades to Richwood.  A campground at the down-stream gate provided camp sites with few amenities; rings for campfires and cooking, composting restrooms, and two hand pumps provided drinking water for the entire campground.  Even with these rustic conditions, this campground was the first choice for nearly everyone and, knowing that sites would fill up fast, my family would leave for Cranberry as soon as Dad got home from working his last shift, making our best possible time to the campground.

After camp was set up and chores were done, I was free to roam about the area as much as I wanted.  While most of my family would go off for a day of fishing, I would jump on my bike and spend hours riding along the gravel road upstream to the Glades.

Officially known as the Cranberry Glades Botanical Area, the Glades are a cluster of peat bogs found at the head waters of Cranberry River which serve as the southern-most home to several plants typically found in the cranberry bogs of Canada.  Arriving by bike, I would hike along a series of trails and boardwalks, exploring the Glades and marvel at strange plants like the purple pitcher plants and sundews that fed on insects.  Lots of plants grew there that I would never see at my Logan County home, like wild cranberry bushes and skunk cabbages.  The Glades are higher in elevation and a little cooler that most of the surrounding area, so I would enjoy the welcomed relief from summer’s heat after several miles of riding my bike – uphill!

My bike ride back to camp was made easier by the nearly continuous downhill grade.  The forest was well known as a game refuge, so I was always on the lookout for deer or fox or, if I was really lucky, a glimpse of a black bear.  I’d arrive back to our campsite with exciting tales of my day’s explorations.  Mom would listen patiently while preparing dinner.  If it had been a successful day for fishing, we’d have fresh trout for dinner.  Otherwise, hamburgers and hot dogs and roasted marsh mellows cooked over an open fire would round out my day.  I would set up late at night to watch the fire burn down, chase fire flies, or simply stare at the night sky.

The water of Cranberry River was very cold, which made for great trout fishing, but made swimming more than a bit of a challenge.  There were several shallow swimming holes in the river, though, and on really hot days I would pull on my swimming trunks or cut-off jeans for quick, cooling dip.  Mostly, though, my brothers, sister, and I would stand on large, flat rocks near the river and complain about how cold the water was – until our parents would threaten to take us back to camp.  Then we’d make the plunge.  The water was so cold it felt like tiny needles all over my body, but after several minutes of yelling, splashing, and water fights the icy water didn’t feel so cold.  Finally, tired and freezing cold, I’d wrap up in a towel and shiver my way back to the camp for a quick change into warm, dry clothes.

After a few days, I would know many of the other kids in the campground, so evenings were sometimes spent playing horseshoes, touch football, baseball, or hide and seek.   Finally, I return home with my family, sunburnt and filled with enough memories to last me until the next year and another coal miners’ vacation.

1930 Census – More information about Monroe and Ruth

Last time I talked about some of the information found in the 1930 Census about my paternal grandparents, Monroe and Ruth Cantrell.  This time I’ll go through some of the other interesting tidbits about their everyday life included in the census.

The 1930 census began on 2 April 1930 for the general population of the United States. (The enumeration in Alaska began on 1 October 1929.) Regardless of when an individual was contacted, all responses were supposed to reflect the status of the individual as of 1 April 1930.

Enumerators (census takers) collected the following information for each household:

  • Address (name of the street, avenue, or road; house number)
  • Occupant (name of each person and their relationship to head of family)
  • Residence (whether home is owned or rented; value of home; whether home is farm residence; whether home has a radio)
  • Personal (sex, race, age, marital status, college attendance, ability to read and write, birthplace, and birthplace of parents)
  • Citizenship (language spoken before coming to the United States; year of immigration; whether naturalized or alien; ability to speak English)
  • Occupation (trade or profession; industry or business working in; class of worker; whether worked the previous day; line number of unemployment schedule)
  • Military (whether veteran or not; war or expedition participated in)

Other interesting facts about the 1930 census:

  • This is the last census in which individuals were asked whether they could read or write.
  • Unlike previous censuses, this census did not ask individuals for their year of naturalization.
  • The 1930 census is the only census to ask whether the occupants of the home owned a radio.
  • Based on the census, the average number of people in a household was 4.1.
  • In 1930, the average life expectancy for an American was 59.7 years.
  • The leading country for people of foreign birth was Italy (1.8 million).

Last time I talked about Monroe and Ruth’s address, age at marriage, children, and Monroe’s occupation of motorman in the coal mines.  The census also tells me that:

  • They rented their home for $9 a month and didn’t live on a farm.
  • Apparently, they didn’t own a radio.
  • Neither of them were attending school or college and both could read, write, and speak English.
  • Monroe and his parents were born in Kentucky, while Ruth and her parents were born in West Virginia.  Margaret and Lige were born in West Virginia.
  • Monroe was employed and was not a veteran.

Why would the census taker be interested in whether the home had a radio?  Apparently, the federal government was beginning to think about ways to produce mass communication for the general population and radios were beginning to gain popularity.  The question was designed to estimate the percentage of the population that had access to this form of communication.

So the census provided me a snapshot of my grandparent’s life and, if I didn’t have any other source of information, provides clues about where to look next for more information about their lives.

1930 Census – Monroe and Ruth Cantrell Family

Last time I posted an image of Monroe Cantrell and Ruth Johnston’s marriage register.  According to the 1930 census, Monroe and Ruth, my paternal grandparents, lived in the Triadelphia District of Logan County, West Virginia at house number 13 on County Road.  It’s unclear if that was the actual name of the road or if the census taker was simply noting that he was on a county road.   The census confirms that Ruth was 16 when she married Monroe, who was 21 at the time.

By 1930, my Aunt Shorty (Margaret) and Uncle Lige (James Elige) had been born and Grandpa Monroe was working in the coal mines as a motorman.   The motorman was responsible for bringing cars filled with coal to the surface and returning underground with empty cars.  A motorman was considered skilled labor in 1930 and, according to family lore, Monroe was paid the princely sum of $1.25 per day.  Considering the unskilled laborers who shoveled coal into the cars were paid about a quarter a day and the average US annual salary was about $0.70 per day, my grandpa would have been considered well paid.

Two other people are listed as “boarders” in the census, Sank Wright and Ben Smith.  I’m pretty sure that Sank Wright was related and may have been Monroe’s uncle.  I’m not sure about Ben Smith.  However,  I have found records of several marriages in Kentucky between the Cantrell and Smith families, so it is at least possible that that Ben Smith was a relative too.

Do any of these names match with your research?  If so, could you please drop me a line or leave a comment?  Thanks!!



“The miners wore red bandanas, which earned them the nickname, “red necks.” In Logan County, Don Chafin mobilized an army of deputies, mine guards, store clerks, and state police. Meanwhile, after a request by Governor Morgan for federal troops, President Harding dispatched World War I hero Henry Bandholtz to Charleston to survey the situation. On the 26th, Bandholtz and the governor met with Keeney and Mooney and explained that if the march continued, the miners and UMWA leaders could be charged with treason. That afternoon, Keeney met a majority of the miners at a ballfield in Madison and instructed them to turn back. As a result, some of the miners ended their march. However, two factors led many to continue. First, special trains promised by Keeney to transport the miners back to Kanawha County were late in arriving. Second, the state police raided a group of miners at Sharples on the night of the 27th, killing two. In response, many miners began marching toward Sharples, just across the Logan County line.”  (Excerpt from West Virginia’s Mine Wars, found on the West Virginia Archives & History website.  Photo from the Roanoke Times.)

Now, I would venture to guess nearly every person born or raised in West Virginia (and probably a good portion of southern Appalachia) has been called a “red neck” at some point in their lives.  Truth be told, many of us refer to ourselves as red necks more often than not.  However, it wasn’t until I started researching my family history that I truly gained an appreciation and respect for its meaning, or the part that my home town played in its history.  More about this in a later post.

I don’t know the exact date of my grandfather Monroe Cantrell’s arrival in Blair, West Virginia.  According to family lore, though, he arrived from Kentucky during the height of hostilities between coal operators and coal miners.  Promised good wages and steady work, he was instead greeted at the train station by union organizers with a surprising offer of three choices.  He could get back on the train and return to Kentucky, or he could join the coal miners union, or he could die.  Unable to return to Kentucky, Monroe became a life-long member of the United Mine Workers of America that day, settled in West Virginia, and on January 8, 1925 married my grandmother, Ruth Johnston.

Check out the top line in this image of “Register of Marriages Within the County of Logan, West Virginia” I still need to obtain an official copy of their marriage certificate, but this online image provides a secondary record of Monroe’s and Ruth’s wedding date.  I don’t have photos of their marriage or from their early years together, nor do I know how they met.   But this record shows the event that started my line of the Cantrell family in West Virginia and opens up another family history, the Johnston family.

So, it all started with a game of marbles.  Funny how seemingly small, insignificant events can lead to major life changes! Do you have similar stories to share?  If so, leave me a comment!