Death in a Coal Mine

#52ancestors Week 9 Disaster

Last week, I began researching the mystery of a young boy in a photo and managed to identify him as the brother of my husband’s grandmother. He was an uncle to Elizabeth Lubinsky Pawlak (the brother of her mother, Susan Stempkowski Lubinsky) His name was Michal Konstanty Stempkowski and he was called Constantine in English. I was delighted to find his Polish birth certificate but could find no record of his death. I know he was alive in 1900 as he was listed in the census but disappeared from the 1910 and further census records! You can review his story thus far in the previous post. Just so you get a sense of the area of Pennsylvania in which the Stempkowski’s lived, here is an overview of the location of Schuylkill County (pronounced Skool-kill).

Schuylkill County is outlined in red.

Since the family stories claimed Constantine died while working in a coal mine, I searched for information on coal mine accidents in Pennsylvania. Since the mines in this area contained Anthracite coal or hard coal, I had to find the reports for the Anthracite regions. I found the “Pennsylvania Registers of Mine Accidents, Anthracite 1899-1913” online and began browsing the records. Thankfully they were arranged in alphabetical order by surnames and then first and middle names. The categories on the register included the names of the mine, date of accident, age of victim, fatal/nonfatal, occupation, nationality, single/married, # children, accident cause or remarks, and fault (victim, others, unavoidable) among other information.

Here is what the pages of the register look like.

On this register, I found the death record of Constantine Stemkofski (surname was misspelled) who died in a fatal accident inside the Silver Creek mine on September 20, 1905. I am certain that this is the young man I was looking for. He was listed as Polish nationality, alien, single and age 18. Since he was born on 29 September 1888 according to his birth record in Poland, this fatal accident occurred just nine days before his 17th birthday! So he was really 16 years old when he was killed in a fatal accident! Family story has it that his parents signed for him to work in the mine as he was underage but that is not verified. It could be that he misrepresented his age so he could work to help support the family.

Closeup of report showing Silver Creek Mine and date of fatal accident of Constantine Stempkowski.

The other side of the report listed the cause of his death. He was struck by a descending cage and the accident was classified as “unavoidable.” How very sad the death of Constantine is! No one wants to be forgotten and by finding his story and telling it, I feel he will be remembered. Just looking at all the accidents, one is aware of the multiple hazards of working in a coal mine!

The other half of the report of Constantine’s death – “struck by descending cage”

Another verification that this report was actually about Constantine is the fact that the Silver Creek Mine is just north of Cumbola where he and his family lived. The map below of part of Schuylkill County PA show “Silver Creek” just above Cumbola and New Phildelphia.

I have not yet found any pictures of the Silver Creek mine or of Constantine’s grave. Perhaps the area historical society would have some photos and information on the mine. I am in the process of contacting them. I am guessing Constantine was most likely buried in St. Anthony’s Cemetery (incorrect – see below) near Cumbola. There are very few gravestone photos of the cemetery online so if I ever get to travel to Pennsylvania, a visit to the cemetery would be on my list of places to see! I will post anything I find on future blogs.

March 29, 2020 I found a list of people buried in the Sacred Heart Cemetery in New Philadelphia near Cumbola and Constantine is buried there. On the list, he is named as “Stemkowskiego, Konstantego Date of Birth: 1888 and Date of Death: 1905.”

Source: lithuaniangenealogy.org/static_db/PA-cemSacredHeart-NewPhiladelphia.php

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