52 Ancestors: Closer to Home

Posted by: Eileen A. Souza

If you return me
To my home port
I will kiss you
Mother earth
Take me back now, take me back now
To the port. Of my birth

“I’m Your Captain/Closer to Home” written by Mark Farner and performed by Grand Funk Railroad 1970

I struggled with this week’s theme of “Close Up”. I received several good suggestions from my Facebook friends, but the story would not come. Until…

How does a boy from Mount Carmel Township meet a girl from Coal Township? The answer is big bands.

First a little geographical background. The village of Atlas in Mt. Carmel Township was my father’s home. My mother grew up in Ranshaw, Coal Twp., and her mother was raised in Johnson City (formerly Brady and now Ranshaw) in Coal Township. All my father’s family, once they arrived in the US, settled in Mt. Carmel Township, while all my mother’s family settled in Coal Township. Atlas and Ranshaw, as shown on the 1874 map below, are 5.1 miles apart.

Unlike many immigrant family lines that migrated west and south, my family stayed close up to each other until the coal mines began closing up during and after WWII. My maternal grandparents moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania around 1940 for better employment.

In this 1981 map, we see that the area looks pretty much the same as we saw in 1874. The circled area is in the southeast corner of Northumberland County, nestled in the heart of the anthracite coal region. In fact, Mt. Carmel is less than ten miles from Ashland, which is in Schuylkill County.

We now come full circle to those big bands. My parents were in their teens and early twenties during the swing era of big bands. My mother told me stories about dancing to the Dorsey Brothers, Glenn Miller, Ozzie Nelson and Gene Krupa, when the appeared locally in live concerts. These concerts occurred regularly and drew attendance from all around the region. It was at one of these dances that my mother and father met. She told me she was attracted to him because he was one of the better dancers and she was very picky about who she danced with. They moved closer to home when they married in 1941.


The 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge, initiated by Amy Johnson Crow, is a series of weekly prompts to get you to think about an ancestor and share something about them. The guesswork of “who should I write about” is taken care of. This week’s theme is Close Up.


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4 Responses to 52 Ancestors: Closer to Home

  1. My parents met the same way. Mom, though born in Shamokin, lived in Selinsgrove when they met. Dad was born and bred in Shamokin. If he hadn’t gone to a dance in Sunbury they might not have met. Later they danced all over the coal region and even won a competition out in Michigan while on a visit.

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