Elmer Cole

It started with Benjamin Franklin Cole and Eliza Ann Wilkins getting married.

Their first son, Elmer Earl Cole was born November 8, 1894 in Patton in Cambria county, Pennsylvania.

While still living in Patton, Elmer’s brothers were born. Burzie Frank was born June 29, 1897 and Hiram Paul was born September 5, 1900.

From an interview with my grandmother (Elmer’s sister), “My dad worked in the mines in Patton. He got to be mine foreman, but it was beginning to run out in Patton, so they moved to Clearfield.

Harriet Irene was born in Clearfield, Clearfield county, Pennsylvania on February 5, 1905.

Elmer is standing, Burzie sitting on the left, Hiram on the right and baby Irene in the middle. The picture would have been taken in 1905.
I think this picture was taken by Burzie in 1915 or 1916. Elmer is on the left, then Irene, Mother Eliza, father Frank, and Hiram.
In May of 1917, Elmer enlisted. The announcement was in the Clearfield Progress.
The Clearfield Progress began printing letters written home from soldiers and mentioning the local boys who had enlisted. This article appeared on Tuesday evening, June 12 1917
The letter Elmer wrote while he was stationed at Fort Sam Houston in Texas. It was published in the Clearfield Progress on Monday evening, June 18, 1917.
Elmer’s letter from France was published in the Clearfield Progress on Thursday evening, October 18, 1917.
In the Clearfield Progress LETTERS FROM OUR SOLDIER BOYS
on Thursday evening, February 21, 1918, Elmer’s letter home was published.
WWl is over.

From an interview I did with my Grandmother Irene: “My brother Elmer died overseas of influenza. Mother and dad were shopping when we got the word about Elmer’s death. They had just gotten word in the papers that the Armistice was signed. My mother was all thrilled because her boys would be coming home. This message came. I answered the door. There was no one at home but me. The man that delivered it said, “Is your dad at home?” And I said, no, he’s downtown. He said, “Don’t you dare open this until your dad comes home.” Well, as soon as he was done, I opened it because it wasn’t sealed tight. So when my dad came home, I handed it to him. He read it and he said, “You know all about this, don’t you.” and I started crying. He said, “That’s all right. I’ll tell your mother.”

The casualty list in the Clearfield Progress that listed Elmer dying from influenza.
the army’s death notice for Elmer.

From an interview with my grandmother: “My dad only lived one year after Elmer died. My mother said he just grieved, Elmer was the oldest son. He just seemed to go downhill from then on and he died from the flu”.

Elmer’s body wasn’t sent home from France until 1921 and he was buried in Hillcrest cemetery in Clearfield on July 1921.
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Paul Cole

I set up this blog because I joined Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 ancestors in 52 weeks (#52ancestors). The challenge is to write about ancestors each week and SHARE the massive amount of material in my genealogy files. This first blog is about my great uncle Paul Cole because he was also the first one I wrote about in my genealogy writing class at the library. I have an affinity to Paul. In many ways our lives followed similar paths.

Paul was born July 10, 1877 in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania to Benjamin Franklin Cole Sr. and Harriet Giles. He was a younger brother to my great, great grandfather, Benjamin Franklin Cole Jr.

On December 1914, Paul arrived in the New Orleans port aboard the ship Marowjine. He came from Puerto Cortes, Honduras where he had been working. The vignette I wrote was as if I was there or was Paul: “The ship was docking tomorrow in New Orleans. He was sorry he didn’t have time to sightsee in the city, but Paul wanted to get to Clearfield by Christmas. Tomorrow was Monday and Friday was Christmas. It was going to be a rushed trip on the train. Paul was looking forward to seeing family over the holidays but mostly to eating dinner with brother Frank and family. He was especially anticipating the plum pudding Eliza traditionally served for Christmas dinner. He still felt the excitement he felt as a lad when the lights were turned down low and Frank carried in the plum pudding blazing from the brandy poured over the hard sauce. And he liked the taste of the pudding. Not like brother Malcolm who thought the pudding was heavy. Well, Malcolm was used to the fancy food he ate in the hotel in Chicago where he was working. He hadn’t been eating plantains and yams for the last year in Honduras. Though, before that when he was working in the canal zone, the food had been decent. Not as horrendous, according to the old timers, as it had been in the early years of the construction. By the time he had gotten to Panama, there were huge Y.M.C.A.s that had been built for the workers and each had a clubhouse where you could get iced soft drinks and ice cream. Ice cream in the jungle! That was luxury. He was wondering what kind of food they would be eating in Alaska. He wasn’t going to be home for long when he had to make the trip to Alaska for work. He carried the newspaper article with him about the government enacting the Alaska Railroad Bill into law last March. Congress appointed the engineering commission to oversee it, and the chief engineer would be Captain Frederick Mears. Not only had Captain Mears worked on the Panama canal and was now on his way to Alaska to work on the railroad, but other canal workers, including him, were on their way. And best of all, some of the same equipment used in construction of the canal was being sent to Alaska. He had heard that even the small Bucyrus steam shovels that he had run were also going to be used in Alaska. But that trip to Alaska was making him apprehensive now that it was getting closer. He was worried he couldn’t bear the frigid weather there. But it would be better than the snakes, scorpions, and tarantulas of Panama. There is always a trade off. And there was the lure of a new place, a true wilderness, a place he had never seen before. A new great adventure. Nervousness, excitement. The combination was always there for him at the beginning of a new job and a new land.” (explanation: Plum pudding is not what we think of as pudding in the U.S. It’s a British steamed fruit cake. My mother made it for Christmas when my sisters and I were young. The recipe was given to her by Grandma (Eliza) Cole, Paul’s sister-in-law.)

When Paul got to Clearfield, he was interviewed by a reporter. I was given a transcription of the article but it didn’t have the date but it seems to have been published in the early part of 1915 or name of the newspaper which I assume was the Clearfield Progress

“At Home After Four years: Paul Cole, the fifth son of Frank Cole of this place, returned from Honduras, Central America, on Tuesday of last week, where he has been running a steam shovel since leaving the Isthmus of Panama in December last. Mr. Cole went first to the Isthmus in 1910, where he engaged as a locomotive engineer and so continued until the work was completed. He spent two vacations during that period in Clearfield, and will leave in a few days for Alaska where he expects to assist in the building of a government R. R. in that country. Mr. Cole wears the Isthmian badge given him by the commission at the end of his first two years of continuous service and also has a strong testimonial signed by Geo. H. Gothals, chief engineer on the Isthmus. Thus another Clearfield boy, purely self made who was never in school after he was 12 years of age, has come to the front as among the distinguished young men of Clearfield and whose credentials show a steady promotion during the four years he was in government employ.”

The Panama Canal Service Medal that Paul received came about when in the fall of 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt visited the Canal Zone and, in a speech at the close of his visit to Cristabel, said “I shall see if it is not possible to provide for some little memorial, some mark, some badge, which will always distinguish the man who for a certain space of time has done his work well on this Isthmus”.

On December 1906, the White House released a statement: Medals of a suitable character are to be given to all citizens of the United States who have served the government satisfactorily on the Isthmus of Panama for two years. A competent artist will be engaged and the design for a medal prepared. President Roosevelt is anxious that suitable tribute to, and recognition of service shall be shown by the government, and believes the effect will be salutary and wholesome.

The November 25, 1908 edition of the Canal newspaper “The Canal Record” had an article that the design for the medal had been completed. ( Digital copies of the Canal Record can be read on the University of Florida Digital Collections website.) It was the size of a panama silver dollar and would be struck in bronze. On the front would be a portrait of President Roosevelt. Around the border would be the inscription ‘For two years continuous service on the Panama Canal’. The other side has a view of the Culebra Cut with steamers passing through. ‘The Land Divided, The World United’ is inscribed above the horizon and around the rim is ‘Presented by the President of the United States’. Each medal was inscribed with the name of the employee and the medals were numbered consecutively, in the order in which they were earned.

In the Feb. 10, 1909 edition of “The Canal Record”, it was reported that 1000 pounds of “French scrap” (copper pipe collected from old French excavators and locomotives, bronze bearings taken from railroad cars, and tin found in an old French warehouse) was sent to the Director of the Mint at Philadelphia. The first batch of the medals were sent to the canal zone in September 1909.

This is a picture of a medal but not Paul’s. I don’t know what happened to his.

In the April 22 1914 issue of the Canal record was a list of employees who were entitled to receive a canal medal or service bar. The date shown opposite each name was that from which medal or bar is computed. Those who served continuously from 1911 to 1913 to a medal.

I don’t know if Paul made it to Alaska. The Alaska Railroad commission did publish a newspaper but the whole newspaper has not been digitized or at least is not in one place and they didn’t give out medals. Researching at the National Archives in Washington D.C. in records for the Panama Canal and the Alaska Railroad for information on Paul is on my bucket list.

In the April 13, 1917 obituary of Paul’s father in the Clearfield Republican, Paul was listed as address unknown.

I was so thankful that genealogy sites started publishing World War l military registration cards. I found Paul’s with him living in Verde, Yavapai County, Arizona. It was signed on Sept. 12, 1918.

Paul is working as a structural iron worker in Verde. His closest relative is his sister, Mrs. Hallie Poole. He is short, stout and had grey eyes and dark hair.

Now that I knew Paul was in Arizona, I also found that he registered to vote on May 22, 1918 with the official register of electors for Cottonwood precinct, Yavapai Co., Arizona.
I was lucky to find this register on the internet but generally you have to go to the county. I don’t know if Paul always registered to vote or this time was special. He may have wanted to specifically vote in the 1918 elections which took place in the middle of Woodrow Wilson’s second term. It was the lone election to take place during America’s involvement in World War l, and the elections were a major defeat for Wilson’s foreign policy agenda. Republicans ran against the expanded war-time government and Wilson’s proposal for the League of Nations.

#301 is Paul Cole/ occupation is iron worker/ political party is rep/ age 42/ nativity is Pa./ residence is cottonwood and in the remarks, Paul is 5 ft. tall, weighs 170, has dark hair and grey eyes.
On Oct. 12, 1918 in the “Personal Items” column of the Mohave County Miner and Our Mineral Wealth newspaper in Kingman, Arizona, Paul was mentioned.

I’ve never found Paul in the 1920 census. I have no idea where he was.

In the January 21, 1927 obituary for Paul’s brother, William, Paul was listed as living in Chicago, Illinois as were his brothers, Clarence and Malcolm.

Again in the February 14, 1928 obituary of his brother, Charles, Paul and Malcolm are still in Chicago.

Then, Paul disappears again until I find a mention in the Gossip for Tonights Tea Table in the May 19, 1931 issue of the Clearfield Progress: “Paul Cole, who came up from his home in Lake Park, Georgia, Friday to visit his sister, Mrs. Isaac Poole, Jr., returned home Sunday.

Once I have a state I find Paul in the 1930 census in Georgia, Lowndes Co., Lake park town, district 19.

1930 census for Georgia, County of Lowndes, Lake Park town, district 19. Paul owns his house which has a value of 4000

Imagine my surprise when I see that he is a widower and was married at age 24 and his occupation is gardener. Up to this point I had never seen a mention of a wife. So I go back to the 1900 census for McKees Rocks borough, Allegheny Co., Pa. Paul is a boarder, 24 years old, single, and works as a sawyer in a box factory.

But I do find a marriage license for Paul and Mamie Johnston.

1901, July 15, Paul Cole and Mamie Johnston Marriage license issued in Allegheny Co. Paul was born in Clearfield county, Pa. on the 10th day of July 1876 and is residing at 112 4 ave., Homestead, Pa. occupation is mill worker and he has not been married before. Mamie Johnston was born in Allegheny co., Pa. on the 14th of Feb. 1880 residing at 603 Califonia ave, Allegheny, Pa. and has not been married before.


Mamie is residing at 603 California on the marriage registration. I go back to the 1900 census for Allegheny Co., and Paul’s brother Guy is also living at 603 California av. in a boarding house run by Mary Johnston with her daughter, Emma, Mary (Mamie), and Maude. Probably how they met. But then tragedy struck:

Mamie died just a year and a month after she and Paul got married.
And sadly, their son died a month and a half later than his mother.

After 8 years of living in different boarding houses, Paul goes to work on the Panama canal. And I return to Paul in Georgia. Around 1935, he sells his house and moves to Pittsburgh where is brother Bert is living and he dies there on May 14 1939 in the Allegheny General Hospital.

Paul died of terminal bronchopneumonia, septicemia, acute pulmonary edema and other contributory causes were real calculus (left) and urosepsis

May 15 1939 Paul’s obituary is in the Clearfield Progress: Paul Cole, formerly of Clearfield, died from a short illness in the Allegheny General Hospital, Pittsburgh, Sunday May 14 at 11:20 am. Born July 1, 1887, he spent his early years of life in Clearfield. For several years he served as an iron worker on various construction project in South and Central America. He made Pittsburgh his home the last four years. He is survived by the following brothers and sisters, his wife having passed away several years ago, Mrs. Isaac Poole, Mrs. L. E. Rowles, both of Clearfield, Bert of Pittsburgh, Clarence of Hammond, Ind., Malcolm of Chicago, Ill. He was brought by train from Pittsburgh on Tuesday, may 16, to the home of his sister Mrs. Isaac Poole of 501 West Front Street. Funeral Services will be conducted at the Poole home by the Rev. R. A. Zimmerman on Tuesday at 4:00 PM. Internment will be at Clearfield Cemetery.