52 Ancestors: Out of Misfortune, Rises Hope

Posted by: Eileen A. Souza

Misfortune is a tricky theme for me. The first thing I did was to look up synonyms for the word misfortune. Google’s dictionary provides the following synonyms: problem, difficulty, setback, trouble, adversity, a stroke of bad luck, a reversal (of fortune), misadventure, mishap, blow, failure, accident, disaster, catastrophe; sorrow, misery, woe, trial, tribulation, tragedy.

As I was going through my records, I realized that I did not know enough about specific events in my ancestors lives to write about their difficulties, accidents, disasters or other misfortunes. In general, I knew that all my ancestors were essentially poor, with the families supported by working in the anthracite coal mines. That alone had to be a hardship since most of the males had a low life expectancy due to miner’s asthma (aka black lung). I finally came across this clipping, and it struck a chord with me.

Obituary of Edward McGinn, “Locust Gap Man Dead,” (Northumberland Co., Pennsylvania) Mount Carmel Item, 21 December 1914, Vol. XXVII No. 43, p. 1, col. unknown

Obituary of Edward McGinn, “Locust Gap Man Dead,” (Northumberland Co., Pennsylvania) Mount Carmel Item, 21 December 1914, Vol. XXVII No. 43, p. 1, col. unknown


According to the 1900 US Federal census, Edward A. McGinn Sr. was born April 1860 in Pennsylvania. His death certificate states that he was born 14 April 1859 in Glen Carbon, Foster Township, Schuylkill Co., Pennsylvania. He is the son of Christopher McGinn and Ann Delaney McGinn, and the brother of Margaret McGinn, my great-grandmother. His cause of death was heart disease with dropsy. He was buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery, Locust Gap, Northumberland Co., Pennsylvania.

Based on the birth of their first child, and upon both the 1900 and 1910 US censuses, Edward McGinn and Ellen T. Hogan were most likely married in 1886. They had eleven children of which eight survived. Through census research, the children were named Christopher (Christie), John, Edward Jr., Irene, Leo, James, Margaret, and Aloysius. I have not found a Catherine. Accordingly, the obituary may have meant Margaret, Catherine may be Margaret’s middle name, or may just be in error.

As we examine Edward’s obituary, we see that he was ill for a year before he died. The mines did not pay sick leave, so the family had to have struggled to sustain themselves with their main breadwinner lying ill. It does mention that he belongs to A.O.H. (Ancient Order of Hibernians). Maybe they and other local organizations provided some aid to the family.

The obituary even declares that the family is having hard luck. Edward’s son John, who would have been about 23 years old, has a fractured right arm, I’ll bet he was right-handed, too. He is another family member who works in the coal mines and whose injury would preclude him working, further reducing the family’s income.

Finally, we see that one of the children is seriously ill. My records show that Edward and Ellen’s daughter, Margaret, dies three months after her father. Margaret’s death certificate gives her date of death as 24 March 1915 and her cause of death as heart failure with dropsy. She was nine years old.

Okay, the tears are flowing. But this family survived. Ellen lived into her eighties and died in 1949. I am sure she had more hardships to overcome in her long life. Overcoming misfortune demonstrates the resiliency of our ancestors and brings me hope for our futures.


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 Misfortune.


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4 Responses to 52 Ancestors: Out of Misfortune, Rises Hope

  1. As my grandmother used to say, “If they didn’t have bad luck, they’d have no luck at all.” I hope you’ll consider adding this post to the March Genealogy Blog Party: As Luck Would Have It at https://mydescendantsancestors.com/2018/03/blog-party-luck.html. Would love to have you join us! 🙂

    • Elizabeth, thank you for your comment. I added this post to your March Genealogy Blog Party. Thank you for your invitation. Last week our 52 Ancestors prompt was Lucky and I wrote about an ancestor who may have been unlucky in love since he was arrested 3 days after his new marriage for a breach of promise where the plaintiff was suing for 10,000 in 1908/1909. I firmly restrained myself from writing about myself, a single mother in 1968 who survived a flood that destroyed all her possessions and then in 1969 had her sons kidnapped by her first husband and taken to another state, but this is another story.

  2. A very touching story of a family just trying to get by. Now that I think about it, untold numbers of men working in the coal mines gave their lives so others’ families could stay warm.

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