Having recently spent an afternoon going through family history with my mom’s older brother, my uncle Jim Coyle, there were plenty of wonderful, flashy items.
The dog tags (and attached Miraculous medal) Great-Grandpa Wargo wore as an Aviation Metalsmith 3rd Class in the Pacific during World War II.
Photos of Great-Grandpa Wargo’s parents’ wedding in 1906.
Photos of Great-Grandma Wargo’s grandparents, John Prentiss and Mary Greiner, outside their East Side Buffalo home in the 1910s. The spot is now covered by the Buffalo/Niagara Medical campus.
What looks to be a Kindergarten photo of my grandmother, June Wargo Coyle. It was instantly one of my favorite photos of her.
Not quite as flashy, a six-page letter, written in long hand, by an older Coyle cousin with information meant for young genealogist uncle Jim Coyle in 1971.
Mary Coyle was my great grandfather Coyle’s first cousin. She was born in 1906, and spent the early part of her life living among our ancestors and extended family in Pennsylvania coal country.
It was another Coyle cousin– Ceil Gallagher– who reached out to Mary on Jim’s behalf. Ceil lived in the Marine Drive Apartments, and the first couple of pages of Mary’s letter is the good, old fashioned kind of long hand letter that people don’t write anymore– complete with complaints about troubles with legs and invitations to come visit. “We have plenty of room,” writes Mary to Ceil.
Then there are several generations of the Coyle family tree, almost certainly (and perfectly) rendered from Mary’s memory… people who would have been Grandpa Coyle’s great-aunts and great uncles and their children and grandchildren.
Good ol’Mary couldn’t have imagined it writing nearly 50 years ago, but her longhand family tree helps close the gaps with several fourth and fifth cousins with whom I share DNA according to ancestry.com’s DNA test– but with whom I could not find a common ancestor (until now.)
My favorite part of the letter (and probably ol’Mary’s favorite part to write) is the last page.
Her handwriting shrinks in size as she shares distant fuzzy memories of long ago trips with her dad to visit aunts and cousins. At one point she admits, “I think I am the only one who knows anything about our relations.”
John Coyle (c.1849-1908) came to Pennsylvania from Ireland around 1861 and married Mary Dugan around 1865. Those immigration and marriage years are based soley upon data in the 1900 census.) Up until Mary’s letter, the information on census reports and this death certificate are all that I’ve known about John Coyle’s history.
He came to the US at a point when records weren’t kept as well as they would be in years to come. The fact that John Coyle is a common name doesn’t help. We can’t be sure when or through where he immigrated, or where in Ireland he came from.
But once he was here, the John Coyle family lived in and around the coal towns of Carbondale, Mayfield, and Jermyn in Lackawanna County. According to the 1880 census, their son Andrew was born in New Jersey– they clearly moved a lot, to where ever the mining jobs were.
There were seven boys in the family, and those boys worked jobs in the mines just like their father– things like breaking up larger chunks of coal and leading the donkeys pulling the carts of coal. They eventually moved about an hour’s drive south to Beaver Meadows in Carbon County. Some of the family also eventually wound up in the larger cities of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, which are in between these clusters of towns.
Mary Coyle writes what she knows about her grandfather’s sister.
In what was new information to me, Mary writes that John Coyle had a sister– who was known as Biddy, Fanny, or Frances. She married a man named Gallagher and had two kids. Margaret married Sherman Tompkins and Charles married Jennie Keating.
Searches on ancestry.com show many of Fanny/Frances Coyle-Gallagher’s descendants have traced their lineage back to her, but none have connected Fanny and John as brother and sister.
Like John, Fanny came to the US from Ireland. But she came a few years later– and already married, which makes her easier to trace.
Fanny Coyle was married to John Gallagher in Gweedore, County Donegal, on 22 Feb 1870– there were a few people who linked that information from a list at donegalgenealogy.com. The names look like other names that pop up with the Coyles– Gallaghers, McGees, Duggan, etc, which is another good sign that it’s the right place to look.
There are a few trees which mention Fanny Coyle-Gallagher, but appear to trace back the wrong Patrick Coyle as her father. Based on the dates alone, they have the wrong guy.
One ancestry.com member– Edward O’Donnell Neary– seems to have some good information from somewhere, perhaps from a family bible or other source that has been handed down. His tree has Fanny’s father as John Patrick Coyle, born 21 March 1824 in County Donegal, Ireland and died March 1894 in Dunfanaghy, County Donegal. The good news there, is he also has Fanny’s mother as Cecila McGee– the name that matches John Coyle’s Pennsylvania death certificate.
I’m reaching out to him to see where he got this information from, and to share the information that I’ve been working with.
Mary goes onto explain that her grandfather John must have had another brother or cousin, because she remembers visiting Mrs. Malloy and Charlie Coyle who both lived on Kidder Street in Wilkes-Barre.
She’s right once again. Charles J. Coyle and Isabelle “Bella” Coyle-Malloy were two of the six children of Andrew Coyle and Mary O’Donnell-Coyle.
At this point, given the facts presented in Mary’s letter, it’s clear this group of Coyles is related. What isn’t clear, is how they are related. To figure that out, we’ll have to learn more about Andrew, like his death date– with the hopes of finding his death certificate, which should give his parents’ names.
Mary visited Mrs. Turnbaugh(?) in Beaver Meadows, whom she believed to be her fathers’ aunt. This is the only lead that doesn’t bear any immediate fruit. The only Turnbaugh woman of the proper age in Carbon County was born in England. This needs further research.
She also remembers visiting Celia O’Donnell and the McGees in McAdoo, PA. McGee is John Coyle’s mother’s maiden name, and there are several McGee/Coyle marriages of people in McAdoo, but no solid connections without further investigation.
One final note on ancient Coyle history came in the beginning part of the letter. For all the she remembered about John Coyle’s relatives, she didn’t know anything about his wife– my great-great Grandmother– Mary Duggan Coyle.
“It never dawned on me that I don’t know anything about my grandmother’s side. I can’t recall ever hearing anything about her, except all the neighbors used to speak of her as a wonderful person.”
Because Mary Coyle sat down and wrote a letter 50 years ago, hundreds of her cousins all over the world are closer to understanding a little more about where we’ve come from.
And that is pretty great.
I’m getting ready for St Patrick’s Day…
In 1900, my third great uncle, Patrick Norton, was a grain scooper (or as the 1900 census has it, Longshoreman, grain) who lived above the Swannie House, 170 Ohio Street, First Ward, Buffalo, USA.
This 1920s photo of the Swannie is from The Buffalo History Museum via The Public.
His father, Miles Norton, came to the First Ward from Ireland to work in in the grain elevators and along the docks. He died in 1883 at the age of 45.
The Norton family lived a few blocks away in a tenement building at 64 Chicago Street.
Patrick’s sister, my great-great grandmother, Bridget Norton, married a seaman from Prescott, Ontario named Thomas Slattery. Slattery eventually became captain of the Juniata, one of William “Fingy” Conner’s Great Lakes passenger steam ships of the Great Lakes Transit line.
Slattery lived at 26 Indian Church Road, one house from Seneca Street behind Babe Boyce (now Hong Kong Kitchen.)
It’s the first time I’ve been able to find anything on either of them from before the 1910 census, when they lived in Pennsylvania coal country– and told the census worker that they came from Hungary in 1906.
He died in January, 1919, leaving his widow with six kids and a very limited knowledge of English.
I wish I had a photo of him– especially since his first name is my middle name (I was named after his son, my mom’s grandfather, Stephen Julius Wargo.)
His only crime was being a member of the Communist Party.
Charlie Doyle’s story is one that I learned not from McCarthy-era newspaper articles, but from sitting in kitchens and on front porches on Seneca Street in South Buffalo.
“He was a commie, but he was always trying to help people,” I’d hear. “A good guy.”
You’d expect that kind of talk from his family — from my family. Charlie Doyle was my grandmother’s uncle. Aunt Agnes’ brother.
I grew up in the ’80s, not the ’50s, but Communists still weren’t good. They were the bad guys, but there was still Doyle, the Communist who caused people to smile when they talked about him.
I didn’t realize until later that the story of Doyle was a bigger deal than just family lore. Though he continually denied it publicly for his safety and the safety of his family, he was a member of the Communist party. He was also a talented labor organizer and helped workers force safer working conditions and better pay at places such as Bethlehem Steel, Republic Steel and Carborundum.
Despite having been a legal U.S. resident for 25 years with an American wife and family, because he was born in Scotland, he wasn’t allowed to re-enter the U.S. after a trip to Canada in 1949.
He spent the next several years in and out of prison based on illegal entry charges before– at the height of the McCarthy era– he was deported in 1953.
Being deported from the US wasn’t the end of Charles Doyle’s trouble.
In London, Doyle picked up where he left off in Western New York– leading labor organization efforts at a nearby power plant.
The resulting nationwide labor slowdowns caused massive power outages, including at London’s famously lit Piccadilly Circus. Those outages came during one of the coldest snaps of weather on record in London, and nearly two dozen people died from the cold. Doyle was tried in their deaths but exonerated.
In 1963, London’s Daily Mirror tabloid front page was filled with his photo and the bold-faced underlined words, “The most hated man in Britain.”
And it wasn’t just America that didn’t want him. Despite having being deported from the US to his native UK, the House of Lords discussed trying to send him back.
Buffalo’s most famous Communist– labor leader and playwright Manny Fried– wrote about Doyle in a piece which was rejected for publication by The Buffalo News called “Democratic Leaders Are at a Fork in the Road.”
When (John L.) Lewis broke with the American Federation of Labor and sponsored the Congress of Industrial Organizations to organize production workers, he said that he hired the communists to organize the workers because communists were the best organizers, idealists sacrificing everything to get workers organized — and when they got the workers organized, he fired them.
Charlie Doyle, the leading open Communist Party activist in Western New York, was hired by Lewis to work for the Steel Workers Organizing Committee. Charlie played a major role in organizing workers into the union at the Lackawanna Bethlehem Steel plant. Then Lewis fired Charlie, and others were credited with
what Charlie had done.
When Lewis subsequently split with CIO leaders and formed District 50 of his Mine Workers Union to organize chemical workers in Niagara Falls, he again hired Charlie Doyle. When Charlie finished organizing those chemical workers into the union, Lewis again fired Charlie.
The CIO Chemical Workers Union then hired Charlie — and the unions Charlie had organized switched from District 50 to CIO. Then CIO fired Charlie. And then Lewis rehired Charlie – and those unions switched back to District 50 with Charlie. AFL and CIO merged into one organization and their AFL-CIO Chemical
Workers Union hired Charlie — and all those same unions of chemical plant workers switched over to the AFL-CIO with Charlie.
Carborundum workers went out on strike in connection with contract negotiations and leaders of the union in Washington held a meeting about the strike across the river in Fort Erie, Canada. U.S. Customs and Immigration wouldn’t let Charlie back across the bridge into U.S. But Canadian authorities looked the other way while Charlie crossed the river back into U.S. in a boat.
FBI and U.S. Immigration then picked up Charlie for deportation on grounds that years earlier when he came here from Scotland he was a communist. Charlie had his first papers to become a citizen, but hadn’t been granted his second papers to complete the process. Jailed for deportation, Charlie staged a hunger strike, but
finally agreed to be deported to England in return for U.S. government authorities persuading his Catholic wife to agree to end their marriage so he could marry the woman he loved.
(Several decades later the Buffalo AFL-CIO Central Labor Council passed the resolution offered by University of Buffalo Chapter of United University Professions recognizing Charlie’s contribution to organized labor in Western New York.)
–Democratic Leaders Are at a Fork in the Road, Emanuel Fried
Doyle died in London in 1983. His obituary appeared in the Chicago Tribune.
During The Prohibition, my great-grandmother made moonshine in the family basement and sold it from my grandpa’s baby buggy. Here’s Gramps telling the story….
During a visit on June 18, 2012, Gramps tells the story of his mother using a copper kettle to make whiskey in the basement of their Fulton Street home during The Depression and Prohibition days as a way to keep food on the table for their family with ten children Babcia would put the bottles in with Gramps in his baby buggy for distribution around The Valley.
The Cichons lived on Fulton Street in The Valley, between Van Rensselaer Street and Smith Street. My great-grandparents owned the home where the booze was made from 1922-1978. Jan Cichon and Maryanna Pochec both came to Buffalo from Poland in 1913. They met here and were married at Holy Apostles Ss. Peter and Paul Church at Smith and Clinton in 1914.
John Cichon died in 1967. Mary Cichon died in 1980. Gramps died in 2014 just after his 88th birthday.
Gramps always told a lot of great stories, but this was one I’d never heard before. I was bursting with questions to ask, but I always considered my visits with Gramps to be his time. Nearly all of his friends, nine brothers and sisters, my grandmother, and four of his ten children died before he did. He needed a friend to talk and listen and bring Tim Bits—not someone to ask uncomfortable questions.
Then and now, I wish I could have done more. I tried to be equal parts buddy and grandson, and I listened to whatever he had to share and never judged…. And I paid back those secret candy bars and ice cream cones from my youth with a box of Tim Bits or a “real burnt-up hot dog with sweet relish and slivered onions” with each visit.
The table where we ate the soup was even older, enamel but sturdy. My mother and grandmother likely ate soup for lunch in the same spot at the same table where I sat on those early 80s afternoons.
My ol’man took me to my first Bills game at Rich Stadium against the Baltimore Colts in 1982– the players’ strike shortened season.
Gramps was a ticket taker at the stadium, so we didn’t pay– we handed him a matchbook which he ripped and gave back to us in case the boss was watching. Aside from the free admission, Gramps letting us in also meant we could get in with the big bag of home-popped popcorn, which was our only snack for the game.
The fact that we didn’t pay to get in probably means we weren’t part of the 33,900 announced attendance that day, but it doesn’t matter anyway– we left early because I was five years old and cold.
Longtime Erie County District Attorney Frank Clark was exactly the man he appeared to be in the quick soundbites you saw on TV or heard on the radio.
Like most who’ve held the title “District Attorney,” Frank Clark had an insatiable passion for justice and very little time for those who tried to side-step it.
The difference with Frank Clark was the way he expressed that passion. His style displayed the grit forged as former Marine prosecutor, but also the humanity and humor of a man who clearly loved people and loved his job.
When he retired from the DA’s office, I spent a day or two combing through WBEN’s archives to put together a couple stories that were emblematic of Frank’s style and also my appreciation for him– covering him and his office was one of my great joys in 20 years of broadcast journalism.
These stories won an Associated Press Award for Best Feature in 2009, and I’ve never been any more proud of an award. Frank loved it too– which made it one of my favorite stories, ever.
This is Frank Clark at his finest– making a point and turning a phrase. After he retired from the DA’s office for health reasons, he remained a valuable legal resource for us at WBEN, and it was clear that he loved talking to us nearly as much. He loved getting worked up during a phone interview– which were often done while he was undergoing dialysis.
Brilliant, never plain in his plain-spokenness, a genuine good guy.
Rest in Peace, Mr. DA.
Grandma Cichon died 21 years ago today… I don’t know that I’ve ever had such difficulty wrapping my mind around a length of time.
I can hear her laugh and her telling us, “tootle-oo,” but never goodbye… it can’t have been that long.
But more and more, I hear her laugh in mine, and feel the same unbridled joy she did when expressing it.
And this post proves that I’ve caught on to what Grandma knew with her salutations- there are no goodbyes when you live in someone’s heart.
Like each of my grandparents, she’s so much of who I am. It isn’t possible to be any more grateful. Each of them so full of love, and each so different and different in the way their love was shown.
The only right thing to do is to continue to turn out and offer up that same love to the world in their honor… especially today, for this beautiful, tough, artsy, survivor mother of 10.