Thomas Morgan | Life in 1800s Carnegie, Pennsylvania
I suppose, for families of Welsh descent, there are more common names to have in your ancestry than Thomas Morgan and Jannett Reese.
Like, say, Jones or Evans or Roberts or Griffith. So I’m told.
But the hundreds of records that come up for Thomas Morgan and Jannett (or Jeannette, or Janet) Rees (or Rhys or Rees), born in Wales about 1850, reveal enough commonality to render a search for definitive documentation, well, complicated.
Luckily, by the time this pair of names links up, as it were, in the United States after 1870, the recorded evidence is a bit more yielding.
Of all the Welsh Thomas Morgans getting married after emigrating, only one matches with a Jannette Reese. My great-great grandparents marry Oct. 15, 1872 in Philadelphia, PA.
The Morgans next appear together on the 1880 census, about 300 miles west, in Apollo, PA. Thomas, 32, is employed as a heater in the northeast Pittsburgh suburb, and 30-year-old Janet occupies herself with raising their three children, William, 7, Thomas, 3, and Sarah, 1.5 (better known to those-in-the-know as Aunt Sade).
The census next finds the Morgans in 1900, living southwest of Pittsburgh in Carnegie, on Lea Street. This move may jibe with what descendants today know of the origins of my great-grandmother, Beatrice Ethel Morgan (one day to be Weible), but due to the fire that destroyed the 1890 census, the 20-year gap raises more questions, which I’ll get to in a moment. But suffice to say, seven-year-old “Bealnica” (in census transcriber parlance) is faithfully listed as the youngest member of the household, along with older siblings Janet, 12, Glen, 16, David 17, Sarah, 21, Thomas, 23, and William, 26.
But where is the family patriarch, Thomas? The census lists Janet as married for 25 years, but now widowed. (The census also reports an eighth child who has passed away by then.) The document lists her year of immigration as 1870, and reports that the family home is owned, free of mortgage. The family seems all together, and well off, but what all has happened in the intervening two decades?
In my search for information about my great-great grandparents, the trail went cold at this point. Janet appears again in the 1910 census, still on Lea Street, still living with six of her children (Sarah was married to Harry Clyde Curtis, and mother to a Janet of her own by then). This is the last federal census in which she is listed. And due, in part, to Pennsylvania’s strict lockdown on birth, death and other vital records (whereas Ohio’s, since 1801 on, are public and, fortunately, widely transcribed and available), that’s where I left her for awhile.
My questions: When did Janet and Thomas die? And where? What were their lives like between 1880 and 1900? And ultimately, who were my great-great-great grandparents in Wales?
Through some creative record-diving, and a bit of friendly assistance — not to mention luck — I’ve found some answers, at least to the first few questions.
There are several sites online which compile cemetery records. Two of the best I’ve consulted are findagrave.com and interment.net. Through the work of thousands of family connections and volunteer researchers and photographers, these sites build databases of cemeteries old and new, in the U.S. and abroad. The big limitation? You could find the right cemetery, in the right town, and still be out of luck if no one bothered to write down and upload your ancestor’s information, or photograph their headstone.
Taking a chance, I began browsing cemeteries in Allegheny County. I started with a cemetery in Carnegie that had the most records listed, and… Eureka! A search for Morgan turned up not only records, but gravestones for my great-great grandparents.
Thomas, as suspected, had passed away only years before that 1900 census. A volunteer photographer at Findagrave.com offered to look up his obituary, if it was published. And Janet’s, and son Thomas H., and daughter Sarah and granddaughter Janet Curtis, all of whom are buried at Chartiers Cemetery.
PITTSBURGH POST GAZETTE – OCTOBER 18, 1897 – PAGE 5
MORGAN-On Sunday, October 17, 1897 at 5:10 a. m., Thomas W. Morgan in his 50th year.
Funeral services from his late residence, Hotel Morgan, corner of Fourth Ave. and Chartiers St., Carnegie, Pa. on Tuesday, October 19 at 2:30 p. m. Friends of the family are respectfully invited to attend.
[New Castle, Pa. papers pls. copy]
While neither Thomas’s obituary or that of his wife or descendants offer any clues to the previous generation (it appears the Post-Gazette followed the same constricting style guide for paid obits from before 1897 through Janet Curtis’s death in 1995), it did lead me to a book published in 1896. Allegheny, County, Pennsylvania; Illustrated, which has been scanned and preserved in its entirety through Google Books, includes an entry and sketch of the same Hotel Morgan mentioned in Thomas’s obituary.
As it turned out, Thomas owned this hotel, which you can find on this 1897 map of Carnegie (marked 7):
According to the description accompanying the history book entry, Thomas Morgan bought the hotel in February 1895. His family first came to Carnegie about 1884. Thomas worked in the steel mill there, and served two terms as a town councilman. He bought and renamed the 16-year-old hotel and had it outfitted with gas heat and electric lights. The book entry brags up the hotel’s accommodations, quarters, food and liquor and service, and called it “the chief hotel in the borough.”
As for what happened to the hotel after Thomas’s death, or why he died at such a young age, the obituary again offers no clues. But there is the matter of a will that Thomas left. Given a bit more persistence, a bit of that welcome luck, the state of Pennsylvania may yield a few more answers yet.
Janet died in February, 1914, about four months before my great-grandmother, Beatrice Morgan, married Robert Ohio Weible. By then she was living on Seventh Avenue in Carnegie, likely in the home of her daughter, Sarah Elizabeth Curtis.