I’ve blogged about my four paternal 2x great grandmothers. Most people have eight 2x great grandmothers, four on the paternal side and four on the maternal. Now it is time to move onto my maternal side.
I’m starting with Regina Gallagher Kramer who spent her entire life in rural Butler County.
Regina’s entry has been surprisingly difficult to start. She was the 2x great-grandmother about whom I had heard the most factual stories. I quickly found her information in the official records. There were no circling mysteries. Regina died in 1960 so my mother knew her very well for 18 years. She was as real as more recent relatives could be to me. I even had a photo.
But I still felt this inner resistance to blogging her story. So perhaps the process of blogging will help me discover why.
Regina was born October 6, 1864 in Jefferson Township, Butler County, Pennsylvania. She was the 7th child of 11 children of John Gallagher (1825-1901) and Catherine Anna Bleichner (1832-1912.)
The Gallaghers were one of the early European settlers in the Butler County area – Hugh Gallagher landed in Butler from Ireland circa 1790 and married Jane Butler (1783-1858) who was born in Maryland. Jane’s family line of Butler’s had settled in Maryland (from England) in 1690. One of her maternal lines were Throops from Massachusetts. How Jane’s family ended up in Butler County, Pennsylvania is unclear.
The Bleichners were also one of the early settlers in Butler County. Nicholas Bleichner was born in 1801 in the Alsace region of Germany. He arrived in 1830 in Maryland, stayed briefly in Pittsburgh and then homesteaded in Clearfield Township in Butler County. Nicholas and his wife Elizabeth Zins had 8 children who survived to adulthood.
There is a robust, skewed history available online that details the first hundred years or so of Butler County. It is filled with the tropes of noble ‘savages’ who didn’t seem to mind turning over their land to the Europeans (really?) and others who did. There are slaves mentioned. Slavery was a reality in the early days of Pennsylvania. It is fascinating to read these accounts of my family history, but even more appalling to read their perspective on colonization.
An example of what I mean. This is a historical reference to the settlement of Clearfield Township in Butler County in the late 18th century. They saw that it was *literally* cleared by the indigenous residents for the purposes of cultivating food and reframed that as a sign from God that they were meant to just take the land. Sigh.
It derived its name from the fact that when the early settlers came in from Westmoreland County and elsewhere as early as 1794, they discovered, much to their surprise, a large square of cleared land in the vicinity of a family of MILLIGANs, in Buffalo Township. From its general indication it was concluded that it was an Indian corn-field. There was no doubt in the minds of the pioneers but that the cultivation was recent, as the ground was still soft and loamy. The name Clearfield, was, therefore, very appropriate, for nothing was further from the minds of the early pioneers than the thought of discovering an arena such as that in the dense and almost impenetrable forests of this portion of the country, and at so early a period.
These colonizers are the parents, uncles, aunt and grandparents of John and Catherine. All of the residents in Butler County benefitted from slavery and taking land from the Indigenous residents.
For my purposes, this is all important. Regina was at least a 2nd generation resident of Butler County, and along at least one line, could trace her family presence in the colonies back to the late 1600’s. I could go stand in this cleared field today if I chose. It isn’t remote and distant past.
John died in 1901. Catherine died in 1913.
In 1870, six-year-old Regina was living with her family in Jefferson Township, Butler County. They were farmers.
In 1880, the family was in Winfield Township. 15-year-old Regina had finished school (in grade 5) was doing women’s work on the farm. She was farming, but gender norms dictated that pulling a girl out of school after 5th grade to work on the family farm wasn’t quite the same thing as farming.
In 1886, Regina married a man from another local family, Daniel Kramer (1862-1934.) Daniel’s family was from Clearfield Township.They also farmed with Daniel eventually going into the oil fields as a ‘pumper’ They had four children, Mary Rose, Myrtle, Charles Edward, and Evelyn/Evaleen.
Daniel Kramer’s father Jacob (1828-1908) was born in Bayern and emigrated in 1847, landing in Pittsburgh and eventually in Clearfield Township. He could not read or write, but his children all attended school. Jacob and his first wife, Barbara Holz, had nine children. He married a second time to Mary, a widow with 3 children. Together, they had six more children. So Daniel had 17 siblings. He was in the middle, born in the middle of the Civil War.
The 1900 Census has Regina and Daniel living in Summit Township with the children in school and Daniel working as a pumper.
In 1910, they are still in Summit Township. Regina’s second eldest daughter, Myrtle, has married and moved out. The other three are still at home. Charles and Evelyn are both in school. In addition, the family was fostering Regina’s brothers children, Pearl (8) and Clifford (6) Gallagher.
In 1920, they are still listed in Summit Township. Charlie is working in the oil fields, too. Pearl and Clifford are still part of the household. Mary Rose (Mayme) has married. Charles was drafted in 1918 and served very briefly in France. It was family lore that he spent more time in boot camp than he did in a war zone.
In 1930, Regina and Daniel still lived in Summit Township. Daniel died in 1934 in an oil field. Regina remained in their home through 1940 which is the last formal record I can access.
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My mother told me that Regina rotated to the homes of four adult children. She spent three months with each. This included my great-grandfather Charles and his wife Anna Marie Bliss who lived in Herman proper on a farm site even though Charles worked in the oil fields. They grew a large garden. Charles was notoriously cheap, refusing to install indoor plumbing until the 1950s and then not permitting children to use it – my mother swears he rationed flushes. Imagine going from a Bethel Park suburban home in the 1950s and 1960s to visit your grandparents and use an outhouse, year round and in the dark?
Regina died September 19, 1960 at the age of 96. My mother reports that she was afflicted with some sort of dementia in her later years and would often cry out “Charlie, Charlie Kramer” as if she was calling him into the house from playing or working in the fields. It creeped my mother out. She also picked up on the fact that Regina preferred her male child over her three daughters and definitely considered her daughter-in-law much lower on the approval ranking.
Still, she did take in her niece and nephew for almost their entire childhoods. Clifford married and remained in Butler County. Pearl went into service for a year or so and then married and relocated to Natrona Heights. Evelyn named one of her daughters after Pearl. But even this kindness had a down side. My mother was brought up with a very strict understanding of who was a “real” family member and who wasn’t. Her mother was really bad – my oldest cousin was adopted and we heard about it. A lot. She wasn’t ‘really’ our cousin, etc. That’s a horrible legacy.
I found a slew of items in the social sections of the ‘Butler Citizen’ a local paper that ceased publication in 1922. These include a robust documentation of who was visiting whom – Grandma Catherine visiting the Kramers, a married Regina visiting Gallagher cousins, prospective sons & daughters in law visiting the family. One interesting note was a 1913 reference to Regina being elected to office in the local chapter of the Ladies Christian Benefit Association. I immediately thought of another 2x great-grandmother, Sarah Butler, who was active in the Maccabees.
Mary Rose Kramer (1887-1981) was known as Mayme. She finished 9th grade. At age 22, she married Lenn McCorry in 1910 and they settled in Fairview, Butler where Lenn was an engineer in the oil industry. They had two sons, Howard (1912-2001) and Cecil (1914-1983.) They rented the same house through 1940. Howard married Edith Garner, relocating to Buffalo, New York after spending some time in Erie, Pennsylvania. They had one daughter, Claudia, who died at age 40 leaving behind her 9 year old daughter, Linda Chiccone. I haven’t been able to track down Linda. Younger brother Cecil married Rita Graham. They had a daughter born before they married who only lived a few days. They went on to have 7 children survive to adulthood. Their family unite relocated to Albuquerque, New Mexico where Cecil died at age 69. His children and grandchildren remain in that region.
Myrtle Kramer (1888-1987) was the second daughter. She completed 8th grade and in 1908, married Jim Barry. He was a laborer in the railroads. They remained in Butler County until 1930 when they relocated to Freeport in Armstrong County for Jim’s job with the Pennsylvania Railroad. They had four children: Clarence, Marie, Dorothy and Charles. Jim died in 1958. Clarence married and stayed in the area. Marie never married, passing away in 1986. Marie was my grandmother’s best friend (they were first cousins). Dorothy married Jim DeBlasio who served a term or two as Mayor of Freeport.
The youngest daughter was Evelyn Kramer. She finished 8th grade. In 1920, she married Edward Green. They had 8 children, 7 of whom lived to adulthood. Edward was an auto mechanic and eventually owned his own garage.
Regina had one son, Charles Edward Kramer, my great-grandfather. He also stayed in Butler County, working in the oil fields. He married Anna Marie Bliss (1897-1968) and they had six children, two of whom died at birth. They were Mary (Val), Robert, Jean and Mary, Harry and Edward.
I realize this post is lengthy because I have so much information available to me. My great-uncle, Lenn McCorry, had completed a family tree in the 1980s which was invaluable to me (if not entirely accurate.) Regina’s life is well-documented in public records – the census, marriage license, even the newspaper society columns. I have real-life testimonies about her personality from my mother who knew her for the first 18 years of her life. Regina’s life is wrapped up in the so-called “founding families” of Butler County and there are hundreds of living cousins I’ve discovered still in this area.
In fact, Regina’s cousin married my paternal great-uncle, a fact we only just discovered this past summer. So my maternal grandmother Val was third cousins with my paternal grandfather’s sister-in-law. And that’s the tip of the iceberg – through the Gallaghers, I am fifth cousins with my high school principal. Through the Bleichners, I am sixth cousins with my actual friend, Dave Ninehouser who now lives in Ambridge. The Bleichners and Gallaghers spread into Allegheny County in the early 20th century, heading for the mills.
That’s a blog post for another day. My head is spinning.
Back to Regina herself, take note that there is little information on her after the Butler Citizen went out of print in 1922. Actually, every reference to Regina was as “Mrs. Daniel Kramer” except that single 1913 election. Then, nothing until her obituary. To be fair, the Butler Eagle was in print but their archives are not available online or as part of Newspapers.com. It is almost as if the history of rural Western Pennsylvania’s working class isn’t visible at all.
This exercise of writing this post has helped me take a second and third look at Regina’s life. I can appreciate why she might be irritable and grouchy, even rigid. Her life was really hard. We tend to romanticize farm life, but she never had indoor plumbing. She may never have left Butler County in her lifetime. She was someone’s daughter, wife, and mother for 96 years. She lived from the Civil War, through both World Wars and Korea as well as the earliest days of the Vietnam War. She couldn’t vote until she was 52 years old.
I don’t even know Regina’s middle name. I’m sure she had one, good Catholic girl that she was. I’ll be pursuing that in the future through Church records.
For now, rest in power Grandma Regina. Your legacy was tough, but long lived.
Other posts in this series: