Tag Archives: Castle Gate Mine explosion

The voyage to meet my ancestors begins …

On November 8, 1921, my great-grandfather William Garroch—along with his brother Peter, his 16-year-old son (my grandfather, William Jr.) and his nephew Thomas—crossed the Atlantic Ocean, from Glasgow to New York City. They traveled on an ocean liner called Cameronia, in second-class cabins.

On January 20, 1922, my great-grandmother Helen—along with their three daughters—followed on a ship called Lapland, also second-class. Helen had $200 cash, in pocket.

After passing through Ellis Island, they traveled by train to Castle Gate, Utah, where Helen’s brother, William Littlejohn, was the superintendent of the Castle Gate coal mine, owned by the Utah Fuel Company. He had arranged jobs for numerous family members, and many of them traveled from Scotland, where the life of a coal miner was much, much more difficult.

Both oceanic voyages took 11 days, and I don’t know how long it took them to get from NYC to Castle Gate. Tomorrow I will travel to Castle Gate with my daughter, from Phoenix, Arizona, a nine-hour drive.

I’ll keep their discomfort in mind if I begin to feel restless about sitting in a car for such a ‘long time’. My daughter’s car is a comfy ride, and we’ll have a cooler packed full of fresh, healthy Trader Joe foods. In comparison, I have nothing to complain about.

Once we’re there, we’ll be touring the site where the town of Castle Gate used to be. It no longer exists. The only thing left is the cemetery where William, Helen, Peter and Thomas are buried, and the opening to Mine #2, the mineshaft in which all three men were killed during the Castle Gate Mine Explosion on March 8, 1924.

We’ll also be visiting the Western Mining and Railroad Museum to view pictures of the town and the people from back then, and chat with the curators there.

I’ll be posting here and on Facebook, live, during the trip so if you’re as interested in genealogy as I am, follow along! I think you’ll find it fascinating.

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Who do I think I am?

A genealogy FANATIC, that’s who!

I’ve been into ancestry research for many years, long before the TV show Who Do You Think You Are? began airing. It has since become one of my favorite programs. How about you? Isn’t it a great show?

When I first signed up with Ancestry.com in 2008, I knew very little about my grandparents, and nothing about anyone beyond them in my family tree. After extensive digging (and some mild obsessing) my first big success came when I discovered a long-lost second-cousin from my paternal grandfather’s side of the family who coincidentally lived a couple of miles from my brother.

I was hooked!

Since then, I have connected with family from all over the world, some of whom happen to look just like me. My dad had 10 first-cousins we never knew about, so I am now enjoying a whole passel of second-cousins.

Next, it was time to dig into my mom’s side of the family.

I wasn’t making much progress until one day I got a message in my Ancestry.com inbox from the husband of my third-cousin (who, up until then, I didn’t know existed), telling me that some of my Scottish ancestors had died in a famous Utah mine explosion.

Over the years, since I first learned of this story, I’ve managed to dig up an impressive amount of information about these people about their lives, and their deaths.

William and Helen, my great-grandparents whose names I didn’t previously know emigrated from Scotland in 1922 with their four kids: Jeannie, Willie (my eventual grandfather), Nellie and Isabella.

Before then, William worked in the coalmines in Scotland, where life was desperately hard. Helen’s brother was a big wig at the coalmine in Castle Gate, Utah and he arranged jobs for his family members. Several of his siblings journeyed across the Pond on ocean liners, with their families, to seek their fortunes.

Only a year later, Helen died of cancer at age 39 leaving Jeannie, who was 19 at the time, to mother her siblings. Six months later William, his brother Peter and their cousin Thomas were all killed in a massive mine explosion that took the lives of 172 men. William and Helen’s kids were now orphaned, strangers in a strange land.

Through my research, I discovered that William and Helen’s kids spent a large sum of money ($2,000 in today’s currency) for their headstone. That tells me that they cared a great deal for their parents — after William was killed, the kids had to fend for themselves. To put themselves in debt like that … well …

I’ve seen this photo of Helen and William’s headstone online, because someone else posted the pic on the FindAGrave website. Next week I’m traveling to Castle Gate to visit their graves for the first time.

It will be my honor to pay my respects to these people, the great-grandparents I never knew — and never would have known, if not for Ancestry.com.


lisa author shotLisa Bonnice is an award-winning, best-selling author. Her current passion-project is a series of metaphysical comedy novels. The first in the series is Be Careful What You Witch For!, a modern-day fairy tale about Lola Garnett, a bored housewife and office drone who wakes up with unexpected psychic abilities, and no instruction manual, and Twink, the reluctant, sarcastic faery assigned to assist and educate her. Its sequel, Patterns in the Chaos, is in the works.

http://www.lisabonnice.com

Ancestry search reveals the beginning of a story

I didn’t know my mom’s dad. Her parents divorced when she was a teen, and I only have a vague memory of meeting him once when I was a kid. All I knew about him, growing up, was that he was born in Scotland and he was an engineer who worked at the Nike missile sites in Norway during WWII.

Because she never talked about him, and he didn’t seem interested in us, I wasn’t very curious about who he was. I concentrated all of my genealogy research on my dad’s side of the family, and was able to unearth his ten long-lost cousins. I am now in contact with cousins all over the world, people who look just like me, who I never knew existed!

But now that I’m planning a summer 2014 trip to Scotland, where my grandfather was born, I thought I’d do a little research on Ancestry.com to see if I could scout out any locations to visit while I’m there. Oh boy, did I find some stories!

I’m still putting the pieces together but, from the looks of it, just his lifetime alone was a heckuva tale. He was born in 1905, in Dreghorn, to a coal-mining family. Ancestry.com searches have given me actual locations where they lived, in various “Miners’ Rows” in Dreghorn and the surrounding villages around Kilmarnock, Ayrshire.

Never having been there, the phrase “Miners’ Row” meant nothing to me. I had no frame of reference. My husband’s parents were also coal miners’ kids, but they grew up in America. Their lives were hard–I’ve seen the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter, and I’ve visited Elkhorn City, KY, where his dad grew up–so I expected to find that my grandfather’s life wasn’t a cake walk. But here in the US, life was easy compared to the conditions in turn-of-the-century Scotland!

Here is a description for Six Row, which Ancestry.com listed as one of his family’s addresses (from the Scottish Mining Website):

“There are two water-closets for each row placed immediately in front of the houses and two washing-houses. There are also very filthy cesspools in front of the doors. The brick tiles on the floors are very much broken up, and holes inches deep are to observed everywhere. The walls of the houses are very damp, and the partitions do not appear to have been plastered. There is one ash-pit for every two rows. A well with gravitation water is placed in each row. There are two washing-houses for each row, but the floors are so sunken and broken up that the women complain that they have to stand to the ankles in water when doing their washing. The condition of the roads into these rows is abominable.”

I found this photo on an Ayrshire history site (ayrshirehistory.org.uk). It seems to be a fairly representative photo of the miners rows back then.

So I guess it’s no surprise that the entire family packed up and moved to the US in the 1920’s. Things didn’t get much better for my grandfather, because within two years of moving here, his mother died of cancer and, a year later, his father and uncle were killed in the famous Castle Gate Mine explosion in Utah.

Photo of the Castle Gate memorial “borrowed” from Paul and Kathleen Smith’s travel-blog http://www.lazydazers.com/index.cfm?fa=ShowItem&ID=3232

I don’t know why my grandfather wasn’t there that day. My mom thinks that it may be because he told her that his parents didn’t want him to be a coal miner–they wanted a “better life” for him. However, just two weeks before the explosion, the mining company cut down on their work force and laid off many men who had no dependents. So that could be why he wasn’t there. In any case, he and his sisters, according to the records I found, were taken in by his mother’s brother, who was killed in a car accident in 1944.

The irony is that, if I follow his family tree backward into history, he is descended from royalty on his mother’s side of the family (by about twenty generations). The Littlejohn branch takes us backward to the Stewart/Bruce lineage!

At this point, that’s about all I know about him. I can’t wait to get to Scotland to walk the same ground as these people about whom I only know the stories of their deaths. I look forward to learning about their lives.

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