My family tree seems to make a pretty good case for the need for OSHA standards. In searching old newspapers for details of their lives, I’ve already stumbled on several family members who met rather horrific ends in the workplace.

My third great-grandfather, Andrew Marriner, fell into a circular saw at a lumber mill, and literally cut himself in half. No less dramatic was the death of another third great-grandfather, Joseph Augustus Seeds. Joseph was an engineer for the Pennsylvania Railroad whose engine caught fire as it pulled ten passenger coaches out of Jersey City. An account in the New York Herald-Tribune the next day (Saving a Train from Wreck, Monday, October 23, 1882) lauded him as a hero who sacrificed his own life to save the 600 passengers on board. Joseph had initially escaped the burning engine, which was, by all witness accounts, an inferno, but he ran back into the fire to stop the train as it sped across the Hackensack River. He died of his burns a few days later. Joseph’s older brother George also worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and census records showed he had lost an arm in a workplace accident at some point. These gruesome tales were long detached from the chain of our family’s oral history, and only through historic newspapers have we rediscovered how these ancestors lived and died.

The stories that did get passed down, however, haven’t been as easy to confirm. Two of my grandfathers were also injured seriously in what can only be described as freak accidents, one in the workplace, and one as a child. And another railroad accident ended the career of a second great-grandfather. But so far, I’ve been unable to find a single piece of proof in print.

Joseph Jones, better known as Pappap in my immediate family, lost a leg in an industrial accident. The story, as originally told to me, was that he got in the way of a wrecking ball. But family members have more recently clarified a few details. It seems he was actually struck by a large bucket of scrap metal (nickel, specifically), which was suspended by a hook that failed. I know the accident happened for certain, because I sat on Pappap’s wooden foot as a child and knocked on his wooden leg. The leg was definitely gone before I entered the picture. But no one can tell me where the accident occurred (where he was born, in Pennsylvania, or where he lived most of his life, in NJ?), or precisely when. It’s very hard to find any account of an accident if you don’t know where it happened or when, as it turns out! I have to believe there’s a newspaper clipping somewhere about this poor chap who had a bucket of nickel dropped on him and had to have his leg amputated as a result. I mean, I found three separate incidents of people’s fingers being crushed in just one 1918 issue of the Red Bank Register. A leg should warrant at least 2 inches of column space! And it doesn’t make it any easier that my grandfather’s name was Joseph Jones. Try searching for that name anywhere, and narrowing down the results effectively.

William Clampffer, my mother’s father, suffered his injuries as a young boy. As I understand it, he was observing an auto race when a crash on the track sent debris flying into the crowd, and a piece of a race car impaled his leg through the thigh. He didn’t lose his leg, fortunately, but he did suffer pain from the injury for the remainder of his life, and I’ve heard he walked with a limp. Again, I have no information regarding where the accident occurred, or when. I did find a summary of Pennsylvania case law related to his lawsuit, so it must have happened at a race track in Pennsylvania (despite some family members thinking it may have occurred in Wall Township, NJ). One would think a boy (I believe he was about 12 at the time) being hit by a flying race car would get some coverage in a newspaper or two. But so far, I’ve been unable to find any news related to his accident. I know my uncle Bill spent a good amount of time researching his father’s accident, but to the best of my knowledge, the details eluded him, too.

And then there’s what may be the most tragic family tale of them all, a story told by my now-deceased grandmother. My second great-grandfather, John Edward MacIntyre, was at the controls of a Pennsylvania Railroad train when he spotted a woman pushing a baby carriage across the tracks. He tried everything he could to stop the train, but was unable to do so, and the engine struck and killed the mother and child. As Grandma Hadley told it, he climbed down off the engine and never got back on it. He was devastated by the accident. And again, I have no knowledge of where this accident occurred, or precisely when. He lived in Elizabeth, NJ for the last years of his career and life, so I’ve searched newspapers in NJ, PA, and NY. Just this week, I spent a few hours in the local history room of the Elizabeth Public Library, and used city directories to piece together a timeline of sorts. He was listed as a Pennsylvania Railroad engineer each year through 1927, and then in 1928, he is only listed with a home address, no occupation. Just one year later, his wife is listed as a widow. If the story is true, and the accident occurred sometime around 1927-8, it doesn’t surprise me at all that he died a short time afterward. Witnessing such a horrific accident, and thinking you might have been able to prevent it but failed, would drain the life out of a person, I think.

Solving these mysteries is going to take more than the internet, obviously. I think I’ve got some hours sitting at the microfilm viewer ahead of me. And I’m hopeful that the Urban Archives at Temple University – where a considerable collection of Pennsylvania Railroad employee and pension documents are housed – will yield some answers in the case of John Edward MacIntyre. Stay tuned for more gory family tales.

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Here Lies One Tough Dude

by Debbie on April 8, 2013

You can only find out so much about an ancestor by looking at census records and vital records. I followed the trail of census records to discover the identity of my fourth great grandfather, Andrew B. Marriner, and noted he identified himself as a 30-year-old “laborer” on the 1850 census. The family lived in Howell Township for much of the 19th century, and I was amused to learn their post office was identified as “Turkey.” I live just a few miles from the part of Howell once known as Turkey. In fact, I hike the trails of Turkey Swamp Park regularly, but now I do so wondering if I’m walking in the footsteps of my ancestors.

Through the Find a Grave website, I discovered he died in 1902, and was buried in the cemetery at the Ardena Baptist Church. I’d driven past that cemetery dozens of times, without knowing I had ancestors buried there!

But as interesting as these finds were, they didn’t tell me much about who Andrew Marriner was, or how he lived. For that, I started digging through old newspaper archives. And that’s when I stumbled on the gruesome tale of how my fourth great grandfather died.

From the Red Bank Register (December 10, 1902):

 INJURED IN A SAW MILL

An Aged Man Falls Against a Circular Saw – Andrew Marriner of Ardena, in Howell township, met with an accident in Maps’s saw mill at that place a few days ago that will probably cost him his life. Mr. Marriner is 83 years old. He was watching the men in the mill when he tottered and fell against a circular saw that was in operation. One of his arms was sawed almost in two and a wound was made in his side that exposed his lungs. Only the prompt action of a mill employee in dragging him from the saw saved him from instant death. His recovery is doubtful, his chances being lessened by his advanced age.

Good Lord! I get queasy just thinking about it. And as predicted, he didn’t survive long. Just two days later, the following obituary appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer (December 12, 1902):

FELL AGAINST A SAW AND DIED

ASBURY PARK, N.J. Dec. 11 – Andrew B. Marriner, of Yellow Brook, aged 82 years, is dead as the result of a terrible accident. He fell against a circular saw and his right arm was severed and his side gashed open to within an inch of his spine. He walked to his home, half a mile away, and sat down in a chair until a physician arrived. He died a short time after.

After reading the gory details of his demise, I felt compelled to visit the cemetery where he’s buried. I didn’t find a headstone for him, but if I could inscribe one for him today, it would read “Here lies Andrew B. Marriner. He was one tough dude.”

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A Riches to Rags Story

August 22, 2012

I started researching my family history about 6 months ago, and it quickly became an obsession. Thankfully, several of my ancestors spent a good deal of time scratching their genealogical itches, as it were, and left me quite a paper trail to follow. I’ve quickly accumulated over 800 grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins on my […]

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For Uncle Bill

May 20, 2012

Just a few nights ago, I decided to launch this blog. I’d recently started researching my family history, and I wanted a way to share my genealogical finds with my family. I was especially interested in reaching out to my uncle Bill, my mom’s half-brother. Bill started his own search for our ancestors many years […]

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