Photo of the Day – January 16, 2015

The caption simply says ‘Martha’. I have no idea who Martha is. This photo dates from the early 1920s along with many of the Lowry and Pepperney photos in that collection. I checked my family tree and there are no Marthas of a matching age or relation to fit here. I checked the Lowry and Pepperney neighbors from the 1920 Federal Census and again, no dice. Maybe further research will reveal this Martha, but in the meantime, enjoy a photo of her standing on someone’s front porch in a long skirt and heeled boots. 

Martha (unknown), photograph, taken at unknown location around 1920; digital image, photocopy of original, scanned in 2013 by Joseph Lowry; privately held by Mary McCaffrey, [address for private use], Canton, Ohio. Woman in long skirt and heeled boots. Provenance is Mary Pepperney Lowry to Charles Lowry to Mary McCaffrey.

Mystery Monday – What Happened To Edward Lowry?

Update: After this was posted, I discovered more about Edward Lowry, including his death and where he is buried. You can read that post here.

Edward Lowry is a mystery. A brick wall. After 1904, an apparition being sought. He is also my 2nd great grand uncle, a son to my third great grandfather Michael Lowry. Throughout Edward’s life, he worked hard, but was never able to stay in one place and to some degree, appears to have had a strained relationship with his family. Over the course of a few dozen years, he made a trek west starting in Pennsylvania before the final mention of him appears in Washington State. But it’s only the final mention, and probably not the final record. I’ve been trying for years to figure out what happened to Edward. The easiest thing to do to help locate someone is study what you already know.

Edward was born in 1855 in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania, the second child of Michael and Bridget Lowry. He had an older sister, Mary, who edged him by a year. At least three more children would follow, including Anna in 1858, Margaret in 1861 and my great great grandfather Michael Jr. in 1868. For at least the first five years of his life, Edward and his family lived in Carbon Township in Huntingdon County. Michael Sr. was a coal miner and that dangerous work is how the family paid its bills. There is speculation that he was a member of the Molly Maguires, an often violent Irish secret society believed to be active in Pennsylvania coal fields. They used murder, extortion and kidnapping to fight for better working conditions on behalf of the Irish American miners. Whether or not Michael was a ‘Molly’ remains to be determined.

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By 1870, the family had moved to Saline Township, Ohio, along the banks of the Ohio River. Edward, only age 15, was already at work in the coal mines with his father. Today, a child this age can’t drive, vote or drink, but 140 years ago, he was sent into the dark and dangerous depths of a coal mine to extract whatever million year old carbon he could.

In 1877, Edward married Sarah Humphrey. Sarah was born in Ohio to Welsh parents but spent much of her childhood in Bevier, Missouri. By 1879, the family of three lived in Boulder, Colorado where their first child, Edward Jr was born. In addition to being a miner, Edward was an organizer for the Knights of Labor. This early labor union rose quickly prominence and size in the early 1880’s but by the middle of the decade, largely failed because of a weak organization and a penchant for violence.

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By the end of the 1880’s, Sarah was in Bevier with her family. We know this because it is where their second son, Ralph, was born on 18 April 1889. How long they stayed with Sarah’s family or the reasons for leaving Colorado are unknown, but by 1900 the family  was together in Republic, Washington. Republic is the county seat of Ferry County in northeastern Washington. Ferry County was created in 1899 from a part of Stevens County, located to the east. Ferry County is so large and so desolate that its population density even today is just 3 people per square mile. Large amounts of snowfall and very cold temperatures in the winter no doubt made living in Republic less than ideal in the late 1800’s.

At the turn of the century, Ralph was busy studying in school while his older brother and father worked in the coal mines. It’s hard to image an 11-year old dreaming about escaping that life if it was all he had known. We know, however that while his brother continued to work in the mine, Ralph would go on to obtain an engineering degree from Washington State College and become a senior engineer for the Bureau of Reclamation. He would be involved in some of the largest and most important construction projects ever conceived in the United States. (See my article about Ralph here.)

The last mention I have of Edward Sr. is a 1904 obituary for his mother Bridget that appeared in the Leetonia Reporter. It says only that he was living near Spokane, Washington, 120 miles away from Republic. I haven’t located either of them in the 1910 Census. Sarah Lowry died in 1915 at age 57 in Spokane and is buried alone in Republic. Her obituary makes no mention of Edward, only her sons.

Sarah’s grave in beautiful Republic Cemetery. Edward is not buried there.

In 1904, Edward was only 48 years old. So the important questions to be asked are when and where did Edward die? Where is he buried? Why did Sarah go back to Bevier for the birth of her son when the family was otherwise living in Boulder? This is a brick wall that I really want to answer to both help explain Edward’s journey west.

(PS: Today is supposedly the 184th birthday of Edward’s father and my third great grandfather Michael Lowry. How they tracked birthday’s in 1830 in rural Ireland is beyond me, but sure, let’s celebrate. Happy birthday grandpa Mike!)

Mystery Monday – Who Is Edna?

Update 3/14/2015:
While searching, I discovered a picture of Edna Reiber on her wedding day. The picture is of a low quality and from a bit of a distance, but the similarities are enough that I believe it to be her. Edna Reiber is the sister-in-law of my 2nd great grand aunt Philamena Pepperney Reiber.
Original post:
This photo is from a collection of Lowry and Pepperney photos dating between 1915 and 1930. While the name ‘Edna’ is written across the top and bottom (more faintly), it’s not clear who Edna is. I have three Edna’s documented in my family tree and they are all on my maternal side, while the photo collection is on my paternal side. Perhaps over time I will find another Edna tucked in a branch somewhere.
Possibly Edna Reiber Ferry (1905-1986), photograph, taken unknown location probably in the mid/late 1920s; digital image, photocopy of original, scanned in 2013 by Joseph Lowry; privately held by Mary McCaffrey, [address for private use], Canton, Ohio. Portrait of woman with hair pulled back, white collar on blouse. Provenance is Mary Pepperney Lowry to Charles Lowry to Mary McCaffrey.

Mystery Monday – Whose House Is This?

The problem with scanning thousands of Lowry and Pepperney family photos at once is that I was sloppy with my record keeping. I was eager to just the photos scanned and returned to my aunt. As a result, I don’t know if anything is written on the back of this photo. Namely, whose house is this? Perhaps nothing was written on the back. Does anyone out there know whose house this was and where it was located?

Update: My aunt Mary found this photo in the stacks and reported back that this is the birthplace of my great grandmother Margaret Pepperney and her brother James. This house is located in Charleroi, Pennsylvania. That is consistent with other information I have. Thanks Aunt Mary! (2/31/2014)

Mystery Monday – Who Murdered John A. Witt? Part 2: The Autopsy Report

I previously wrote about the murder of my great grand uncle John Witt (here). In the intervening time, I made some inquiries to see if I could learn about this tragic event. A member of the Allegheny County Genealogy Facebook group informed me that the University of Pittsburgh Archives Service Center maintains the case files for the Allegheny County Coroner’s Office from 1887 through 1974. A quick reply to an email, a $12 check and two weeks of patience provided me with John’s autopsy report. I share it with you here with a warning that certain parts are graphic and include scientific descriptions of the bullet wounds, organs, and John’s physical condition. While it’s certainly sad to think that such a report is even necessary, it’s also a reminder that his murder is unsolved and forgotten by many. Hopefully, we can work to change that.

“Autopsy of John Albert Witt,” Allegheny County, Pennsylvania Coroner’s Office Records, collection AIS.1982.07, box 506, record 194211-246, University of Pittsburgh Archives Service Center, Pittsburgh.

Mystery Monday – Who Murdered John A. Witt?

On 29 September 1942, 78-year old shopkeeper John A. Witt woke around 6 a.m. and shortly thereafter lit the furnace in his grocery store that also served as a post office substation. It was probably a routine that played itself out hundreds of times during the 40 years he was a shopkeeper in the Brushton neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Brushton was a mostly German and Irish enclave in east-central Pittsburgh where John no doubt knew most of his customers. He may have even known his last customer.

John was born on 25 November 1863 in nearby Butler, Pennsylvania. His father Martin had emigrated from Hessen, Germany in 1832 and John grew up in a city caked in coal dust under the glow of steel mills. He married Johanna Thaner and together they had a large family of girls with son John Jr stuck in the middle.

The details are sketchy and the verdict unknown, but on that fall day in 1942, John Witt was shot and killed by an unknown assailant in his store. The motive has yet to be discovered. The cash was still in the register; the stamps still in the drawer. His daughter found him slumped against the wall, shot in the abdomen and finger. He was dead upon arrival at Pittsburgh Hospital.

My limited research on John’s death has not turned up any information on who may have committed this crime or if they were ever charged, but this is a story that I certainly hope to learn more about.

Relationship to me:
John A Witt (1863 – 1942)
son of:
Martin Witt (1830 – 1921)
father of:
Joseph F Witt (1868 – 1943)
father of:
Francis John Witt (1899 – 1992)
father of:
Howard D Witt (1929 – 2001)
father of:
Rebecca A Witt:
mother of:
Joseph P Lowry


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UPDATE 7/19/15: For more information on John Witt’s death, see my follow-up post here:

“Grocer’s Death Laid to Bandit.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 1 October 1942. Accessed 5 November 2012.

“Aged Grocer Fatally Shot in Bruston.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 30 September 1942. Accessed 5 November 2012.