Inter-connectedness: The Biggest Surprise of Minerd.com’s 15 Years Online

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Cousins took part in the Oklahoma Land Rush, 1889, claiming their stake

As a child, I grew up with a handful of first cousins on either side of the family. All but two of my cousins lived far away. We were rather a small bunch.

At the age of 10, I learned that more of us were “out there” when my great-grandmother and great-aunt showed me an old family photo album. Then at a family reunion in 1975, my great-aunt gave me that album, charging me to “go out and find these people someday.” The concept fascinated my young mind.

That’s the basic prelude which led ultimately to the creation of Minerd.com, a website celebrating its 15th anniversary tomorrow, May 7, 2015.

While on the journey, the discovery that’s astounded me the most, and kept me fascinated in continuing the work, is the clan’s collective impact on Americana. I like to call it “inter-connectedness.” Here are some highlights:

The “Peopling” of America – Many of our kin of the 1800s had the insatiable “wanderlust” and ventured westward from Pennsylvania, forging into the unknown. In the process, these pioneers, faced cruel hardships, hopelessness, sickness and even death. By persevering, they helped transform vast empty spaces into thriving communities.  See our special pages devoted to the Ohio Bicentennial, Western Migrations, Central Illinois, Northwest Missouri, South-central Kansas, Oklahoma Land Rush and Kissin’ Cousin Marriages. Our research on “In Lasting Memory” documents a staggering number of family deaths since 2000, one every 4.09 days on average.

Military Service and Sacrifice – Many hundreds of cousins have served in the United States Armed Forces during wartime, in every known major conflict from the American Revolution to the Iraq War, including more than 100 in the Civil War. At least 34 have lost their lives in the service, the supreme sacrifice so Americans can enjoy our freedoms. We continue to tally the cousins who fought in the Philippine Insurrection and Spanish American War and World War I.

Coal, Coke and Steel – More than 400 descendants have toiled in the mineral and metals industries of our nation, including more than 30 who have died in the workplace. One union organizer met with President Franklin D. Roosevelt to help settle a coal strike. Several entrepreneurs have owned their own mineral and steel production companies. In 2002, a cousin was a key player in the “Nine for Nine” coal mine rescue in Pennsylvania, PA, which gripped the nation and was featured on CNN and Fox TV.

A Sense of Wonder – The field of public education has attracted an extraordinary number of people in our family. Over many generations, more than 370 cousin-educators have touched thousands of lives and conveyed a sense of wonder. They have opened young minds to the vast universe of words, numbers, athletics and arts. Cousins have worked as administrators, teachers, coaches, aides, secretaries, bus drivers and custodians, from one-room country schoolhouses to our nation’s most prestigious universities.

Pittsburgh Regional Landmarks – Some branches have remained in Western Pennsylvania over eight to 10 generations. Many have had decades of involvement with the construction, care, conservation and/or preservation of some of the Pittsburgh’s region’s most beloved and important landmarks — ranging from Fallingwater, Braddock’s Grave and Fort Necessity, and National Turnpike to the Minerd Funeral Home (a Uniontown landmark) and Westmoreland Homesteads (Norvelt), built during the Great Depression with support by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to benefit unemployed coal miners and their families.

Popular Culture, Entertainment and Creativity – Cousins have entertained millions of Americans as actors, singers, TV/radio hosts and writers. One was named by the New York Times as “one of the most prolific recording singers in the late 1920’s and early 30’s.” Another was an influential Illinois news editor who covered President Lincoln’s election but later was attacked in Edgar Lee Masters’ famed Spoon River Anthology. Among writers, one had his fiction published in the North American Review, and two others (in Pennsylvania and Illinois) had their poems appear in a 19th century anthology alongside the likes of Walt Whitman and James Whitcomb Riley. In the area of journalism, a cousin was one of the first women columnists with the Dallas Morning News in the 1890s. A current-day cousin is a movie and reality TV producer, and another has been director of entertainment at a major Texas theme park. View our Online Quilt Museum, Online Museum of Creativity and Cousin Voices section with essays and poetry authored by more than 25 cousins.

Custer Connection – Our website tells the award-winning saga of a forgotten Ohio oilfield laborer whose father, Capt. Thomas Ward Custer, was a two-time Medal of Honor winner in the Civil War, was the brother of General George Armstrong Custer, and were among five Custers slain at Little Big Horn. This story, published in the Research Review Magazine of the Little Big Horn Associates, received the organization’s prestigious Frost Award in 2006.

Rich Racial Mixture– One branch of cousins, centered in Philippi, WV and Athens, OH, descends from a Pennsylvania German father and a Native American mother of the mid 1800s. Considered of mixed-race, these cousins were cast out of society, neither white nor black, and faced lifetimes of discrimination because of their skin color, with two marrying former slaves (in Ohio and West Virginia). Authors of books such as Almost White (1963), journalists and scholars have studied the group, who often are derogatorily nicknamed “guineas.” Minerd.com’s proprietary research documents a wide range of racism, from willful destruction of birth record and imposition of extra “n*gger” taxes by county officials, to prevention of children from attending school with whites. Within the Mayle-Male branch, there have been more than 190 intra-marriages with Minerd offspring of West Virginia and Ohio.

Science and Space Exploration – At least four of descendants played key roles in the U.S. space program since the 1960s — one as an Army nurse on the splashdown recovery stations for astronauts in the Mercury program; one as an Apollo rocket engine navigation systems engineer, who received a commendation letter signed by NASA astronauts; one as an astrophysicist in Italy who researched gamma ray bursts in deep space; and one a physicist with Switzerland-based CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. Others have been scientists and researchers featured in the National Geographic, and inventors who hold numerous patents.

Medicine – Escaping from the grip of early illiteracy and the peculiarly German fear of formal education, cousins have become leaders in the medical field as physicians, nurses and administrators. These include a Civil War surgeon wounded by enemy sharpshooters; a co-founder of the first Minerd Reunion in Western Pennsylvania; and an Ivy League researcher in early childhood diseases. Cousin-healthcare practitioners have worked in rural communities and at large metropolitan hospitals. One remarkable step-cousin was Mark Twain’s personal physician.

Farming and Agriculture – The earliest Minerd pioneers in Western Pennsylvania made their living off the land — farming, hunting, timbering and boiling salt found in natural springs. Today, many of our cousins continue to make a living in the fields of agriculture. One cousin in Indiana is the fifth generation to reside on the family farm, dating to 1847. Others have been forest rangers and fire wardens, protecting our natural resources.

Corporate, Business and Entrepreneurship – Cousins have held leadership roles a wide range of businesses large and small, from gasoline service stations, insurance brokerages and iron foundries to large banks and financial services firms. One cousin sold his small Chicago pharmacy to Charles Walgreen, marking the very first in what became a national chain of stores. Another was an executive with an Ohio buggy company working alongside tire maker Harvey S. Firestone and World War I flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker. Yet another built a technology company winning an Inc. 500 award.

Religious Faith and Evangelism – Scores of our cousins have served as clergy, planting churches, pastoring congregations planting, evangelizing as overseas missionaries, educating students and preserving our religious heritage. Many church buildings constructed under the leadership of cousin-pastors still serve as houses of worship today in Pennsylvania, Ohio, California and beyond.

Transportation – Cousins have helped design, build and serve in our nation’s vast, sophisticated transportation infrastructure — from the National Turnpike, Panama Canal and early railroads to rural road and bridge building, pioneering commercial airline flight and the Interstate Highway System. More than 35 cousins and their spouses have been killed in railroad and streetcar accidents, with scores more losing their lives in vehicular mishaps. One notable cousin was Assistant to the President of the Missouri Pacific Lines Railroad in the 1920s and ’30s.

Professional and Collegiate Sports – Only one known cousin has played professional sports — a pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers in the early 1970s. Others have performed in minor and semi-pro leagues during their heyday in the early 1900s. Some have excelled at the collegiate level, including the winningest coach in the Ohio Athletic Conference, the University of Pittsburgh’s men’s basketball record-holder for rebounding, and players in the Army-Navy, Sun Bowl, Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl football games. One is a former golf pro in San Diego at a prominent course which hosted PGA tournaments won by Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.

Political Service – Many cousins have served the public through elected and appointed political leadership and government service. In Western Pennsylvania, one cousin was a Pittsburgh City Councilman who introduced ill-fated anti-smoke legislation in the early 1900s, taking on the big steel companies. In California, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Kansas and Oklahoma, their roles have ranged from county treasurers, prothonotaries and directors of the poor … and common pleas court judges … to small town mayors, town councilmen, school board directors and tax collectors … to federally appointed postmasters … and to top regional political strategists and organizers.

Cousins in Print – Cousins have been quoted and mentioned in such leading American publications as the New York Times, Time, USA Today, People, Fortune, Reader’s Digest, National Geographic and Wall Street Journal. Other cousins have been authors, editors and writers for the Miami Herald, Harvard Business Review and North American Review. Others have been typesetters and printers with small community newspapers. In fact, newspapers contain a bulk of the stories of our cousins at large, everywhere, over the decades.

Genealogy, Family Reunions and Historical Research – Minerd.com is an online repository for archives of early reunions of the Minerd-Miner, Harbaugh and Younkin families of Western Pennsylvania, the Minards of Knox County, OH and the Laugherys of Delaware. Cousins have co-founded or been active with the Ohio Genealogical Society, Churches of God Historical Society and Abraham Lincoln Centennial Association, while others have been leaders of local historical societies and family reunions. This rich legacy has set the stage for today’s themed National Minerd- Minard- Miner- Minor Reunions, held in Western Pennsylvania.

Literacy and Name Spelling Variations – Our family knowledge is obscured by a lack of written history. One cousin said this was due to illiteracy and to “Burning of cabins, destroying records, if any were made.” Many early cousins signed their name with an “X.” While our name originally was the German “Meinert” or “Meinhard,” it became Americanized via a gradual evolution. Today the most common variations are Minerd, Minard, Miner and Minor, with isolated cases of Meinder, Minder, Minord and Minarde.  The earliest known example is in a lawsuit from 1841 in Fayette County, PA, where the court clerk wrote two versions of the name:  “Christian Seneff ads. Henry Minor (or Minard).”

Kissin’ Cousin Marriages – Before genetics were known, it was common for cousins to marry each other at all levels of American society.  In fact, more than 20 such marriages occurred within our clan. President Thomas Jefferson encouraged his daughters to marry within their own family, and they did.  The Minerds were particularly intimate with the Younkin and Mayle-Male clans.

Erosion of German Culture – Over time in America, it became increasingly unpopular to claim a German heritage, most especially during World Wars I and II when our nation held a great contempt for all things German. Today, few traces of the clan’s German roots remain. See “How Our Family Lost Its German Identity” and “Minerd/German Migrations.”

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