Employee Record Cards, Part II

In our last blog post we talked about the employee records cards that we encountered this summer.  Here is a blog post from University of Maryland anthropology major Katie Chen, who has been working on this difficult project all semester. I asked Katie to talk about her working process:

Hi! My name is Katie Chen and I am a sophomore at the University of Maryland, College Park. I am currently studying Anthropology, but recently got interested in archaeology. During my freshman fall semester I studied abroad in London and took a course called Social Anthropology of Britain. During this semester, I started some ethnographic research on the London black cabs, learning about the cab business and the changing geography of London through interviews with the drivers.  This experience confirmed my interest in ethnographic research and anthropology. Someday I hope to return to London to continue what I started.

Recently, having become interested in archaeology, I decided to help Mike on his research on the Lattimer Massacre. I am currently making a database of miner employee records cards. My strategy has been to go through the cards and make an initial attempt at deciphering the handwriting.  After a couple days, I will go back to the cards and read them again. This method has worked almost every time, but some cards need more review time.

On several occasions, I’ve tried to look online to see if there is a name for the type of script used then.  I have not been successful yet, but I’ve been able to look at specific examples, and get an idea of what the letter could be.  Inputting data is rather tedious and can be frustrating, as I have spent more than 30 minutes looking at one card because I can’t read the names or locations. When entering data on locations, I will sometimes look up on Google if my spelling version comes up with any additional spellings. This has worked a couple times, which has been exciting. Otherwise, I will have to go back to taking a break for a couple of days and coming back to the cards.

In addition to this project, I am researching what religious or spiritual beliefs miners might hold across the globe. After reading articles about conditions in the mines and hearing stories, I wondered if there was any belief that propelled the miners to endure such harsh conditions.  The mines are extremely dangerous and miners risk their lives and health every time they go down. With this side project, I would like to find out if the conditions of mining are similar worldwide and if there are any religious, spiritual, superstitious attitudes consistent across them.

Employee Record Cards

One of the most exciting research sources we found this summer are employee record cards from the Lattimer Coal Company.  These cards span the early twentieth century, in the period after the massacre and the Big Strike of 1902. There are 2,685 cards in total.  They contain a huge amount of information about each employee including name, date of employ, age, nationality, country of birth (not always same as nationality), church, doctor, occupation, wage rate, and whether they have a miner’s certificate. Some cards include  the word  “Dead” scrawled across the front of the card. Some of these include notes on the back describing the cause of death for miners.  Other notes include health issues identified by the company doctor.

An example of a card can be seen here.  The name on the card is Manus Gallagher, Jr., a resident of 799 Alter Street.  He was born in Lattimer, PA in 1900.  He began work at the colliery on the July 7th, 1917. He attended a Roman Catholic Church. The collection also includes a card for Manus’ father, who appears to have been killed in the mines.

We are in the process of transcribing all of the data on the cards to a searchable database.  We hope to present it to the public.  Ideally, members of the public could add details, stories and photographs of their family members to the project. In the next post, student Katherine Chen will describe a bit about the process of  transcribing the cards,a project she has taken on for the semester.  We will also report on a visit to Lattimer we made this past week and the discoveries we made.