Coal miner’s hero story revealed

Physician finds Mon Valley mine disaster tale through ancestry research

  • By Scott Beveridge August 29, 2014
Thomas Dixon Smith V of Fort Wayne, Ind., is shown with his cousin, Edith “Jean” Bish, 91, of Bulger, at a memorial to victims of the Port Royal Mine disaster. - Scott Beveridge / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

A physician in the state of Indiana was presented with a difficult challenge while researching his ancestry with the last name of Smith.

Thomas Dixon Smith V would finally reveal, using his unusual middle name while searching English census records, the mystery in his family about the fate of his great-great-grandfather, who died a hero in a 1901 coal mine disaster in the Mon Valley.

“It took me years to figure this out,” said Smith, 64, of Fort Wayne. “There are thousands of Thomas Smiths in English census records.”

He also narrowed his search by using his great-great-grandmother’s maiden name of Cuthbertson, a detail provided to him by his great-uncle, Robert Smith of Midway.

His great-great-grandfather arrived in Philadelphia from England Sept. 20, 1880, and would make his way to Smithton and work in Port Royal Mine No. 2 in nearby Rostraver Township.

The name also appeared in a 2001 article in a Pittsburgh newspaper commemorating the 100th anniversary of back-to-back explosions in the mine that claimed the lives of 19 miners. Thomas Dixon Smith was among a rescue party of 16 men who went into the mine when the second explosion occurred.

He was the last to die five days later from burns and shock in McKeesport Hospital and was buried in a grave that went unmarked in Richland Cemetery, Dravosburg, Smith said.

A granite marker, donated by the North Hill Marble and Granite Co. of Akron, Ohio, was finally placed on the grave Aug. 7 after Smith unraveled the mystery and located the grave site..

“I was never made aware of the circumstances of his death, but I was intrigued, being named Thomas Dixon Smith V, as to whether this long chain of namesakes was simply whimsical, or was some form of legacy,” he said.

Smith said he wanted to have his great-grandfather’s story published to inform the many descendants of the miner now living in Washington County, including his surviving cousin, 91-year-old Edith “Jean” Bish of Bulger, and the Pittsburgh region about the sacrifice the man made.

Scott Beveridge has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1986 after previously working at the Daily Herald in Monongahela. He is a graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s fine arts and art education programs and Duquesne University’s master of liberal arts program. He is a 2004 World Affairs journalism fellow.


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