This final family in my genetic puzzle is the one that as a boy I actually knew, but their origins are somewhat a mystery to me. I even lived in their home, on Beaver Road, in Ambridge, after my father had died, and my mother was recovering from her breakdown. Mary, my great-grandmother, died a few weeks after my father; I just remember an angry short and stout woman, who spoke no English. She died in her home, in the same room my mother had been born in. Fortunately I have re-connected with my 2nd cousin Dorothea (she was born on my mother’s 35th birthday, and she was named after Dorothy) who is the keeper of that family’s burial plot, and of their photos and memories. I will try my best to tell their story, even though much is undocumented.
My great-grandfather Wasyl was born in the Ukraine in 1860, and his wife Mary was born there in 1870. By 1891 Wasyl immigrated and settled in Luzerne Co., Pa., to work in the coal mines. Mary immigrated in 1893, and they were soon married. Their first son, John, and first daughter Julia (Jewel), were born there, and perhaps so was Steve. The family got the shits of mining anthracite, and gathered their belongings and carted them to West Virginia, where they “followed the coal”, having six more children on the way. They scrimped and saved to buy a house in the booming steel town of Ambridge.
On their way northwest they stopped to work in Brownsville, Pa. Jewel met McClelland Johnson, and perhaps they married, but their relationship soon failed. My mother was born in the Comoshot’s new home, and McClelland (a.k.a. Shipley) was drafted into the Army. He was in training in Quartermaster School when the war ended. Jewel told Shipley their daughter was stillborn, and told Dorothy that her father was dead. They never met, even though they only lived 20 miles apart.
Wasyl and his sons went to work in the steel mills. Misfortune stalked the family. My grand uncle Steve was killed in a motorcycle wreck in 1925. The Great Depression hit Ambridge hard; Mary’s big garden helped the family survive. The men were for the newly forming steel workers unions in the years of labor strife that followed. Jewel had a rocky relationship with her mother. Sometimes she would take my mother and leave home to live in an apartment, and get a job. Sometimes she lived at home. Dorothy told me how poor they were. Jewel had her arm severely burned when she worked in a steel mill, and lost most use of it, but still made beautiful quilts.
Wasyl died of a heart attack in 1934, his friend Wasily Debelia (sp?) lived with the family during the hard years; he is buried in their plot in Economy Cemetery. Jewel married Joe Adams in 1934, and my mother was so happy to have this gentle giant as her father; they moved to a new house in Byersdale. He was a wonderful grandfather to me.
Rose and her husband Mickey took over Mary’s big house after she died. The other brothers and sisters moved away, but most stayed near Ambridge. Joe Adams died in 1968, and Jewel died in 1977. My father and my mother are also buried in their plot at Sylvania Hills Cemetery. Dorothy moved to Gettysburg, Pa., after divorcing my step father. She died in 2002, and her ashes are spread around the world. Yes, that family saw some hard times, and were not a very happy people. But they were there for me, and they all worked hard for what they had.
I am proud to have their Slavic genes in my mix. I will now wrap up these essays on my family, and will retrurn to posting entries from my Farm Journal., next week. I am amazed how much interest their is in backyard gardening now; all it took was a global financial meltdown.
Written & compiled by Thomas J. Dunn/Marti 16 Mar 2009
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- The “Wallrose Folks” (March 15th, 2016)
- Alice Fleuckiger Wallace died in 1918’s Flu Epidemic (February 20th, 2016)