Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Thankful Thursday - Unions and Child Labor Laws

I wrote this post months ago and scheduled it to go out around Labor Day. I've got a series of posts for Mondays so I didn't want to schedule it on Labor Day so I felt "Thankful Thursday" would do perfectly.

So what precisely am I thankful for? I'm thankful for unions that demanded action, better conditions, better pay, time off, etc. The union helped to build the middle class in America. Do some of the unions have bad reputations? Sure, but what group doesn't have some bad eggs. As they say, "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater." They are still beneficial today.

I have ancestors that worked as children. I'm grateful that my children don't have to do that. I'm grateful that it is illegal for children to work until they are a certain age. I'm glad that school has become more important (although not important enough) in our country. This was not always the case and if you have coal miners, railroad workers, etc in your family tree you may very well have a great aunt, uncle, or cousin that died as a child at a job.

I was searching through and looking for hits on names in my tree. I was going down my Brogan line with no good hits for John Brogan. I was just getting ready to click on another member in my tree when I saw the hint by his name. I had been ignoring the hints recently because I was in school and just didn't have time to sift through them the few times I was on. School was out giving me more genealogy time so I started looking through the hints and found a hit in the 1870 US Federal Census Mortality Schedule. So I took a closer look.

1870 US Federal Census Mortality Schedule from
This tells me that John Brogan was 12 years old when he died in August by being run over by a rail car. He wasn't playing on the railroad tracks though. He was at work. To me that looks like it says "work at mines," but the 1870 US Federal Census Mortality Schedule Index lists his occupation as "railroad worker." It could be both though because the coal was transported by the railways so he could have been at one of the many mines, but working for the rail company. Either way here is a child that should not have died.

I'm sure that he was working because more money would have been helpful to the family so just saying that he shouldn't have been working isn't that easy. There was no minimum wage and wages weren't spectacular. There wouldn't be a national minimum wage until Roosevelt's New Deal and a federal child labor law didn't come into existence until 1938.

I could go on for quite some time about how unions and political movements to improve the lot of the blue collar worker were usually connected and how important it is to support our unions so we don't go back down this road, but this is a genealogy blog post so I'll stop there.

This information was important to me because I had a Family Group Record (FGR) given to me by a distant cousin who helped me so much with this line and many others we had in common. The FGR was the only source I had for John Brogan though and that's not good research. As mentioned I got no good hit on for John because there weren't newspapers covering this time for the Hazleton area, or at least not on their site. This record tells me how the little boy died.

There's also something else significant about this find. I had his death listed as August 1870, but it's not. It's August 1869. This is an easy mistake to make though because you can get lost in the title. The fact that this is from the 1870 census. You have to look at the top to know which year he died in...

Instructions (Top) for the 1870 US Federal Census Mortality Schedule

Under #2 where they ask for the name of the deceased it says, "Name of every person who died during the year ending June 1, 1870, whose place of abode at the time of death was in this family." So the enumeration began or ended around June 1, 1870. This would be the cut off. Since he died in August and that didn't happen yet it's clearly telling us that it would mean August 1869.

There's a memorial on FindAGrave for John Brogan, but it doesn't have any dates on it because there aren't any on the tombstone. He's on the same stone as his parents, Frank and Mary Brogan nee Monaghan, and sister Roseanna. As serendipity often comes into play I can easily fix this memorial since I own it. I created it after one of my many trips to St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery in Beaver Meadows when I canvassed the cemetery looking for surnames from my tree.

So as we prepare to celebrate Labor Day this Monday with cookouts with friends and family take time to remember what we are celebrating and those that can't be with us or died before their time at work. God Bless the American worker, but God Bless the organizations that help to protect them.

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