Oil in them there hills!

There has always been the family myth about where the money went. Cousins have wondered who the lucky one that got it all was. With all my research I couldn’t find who even had the mystery money.

My third great grandfather Zuver had been an oil producer when crude oil barrel prices would rocket to $120.00 (today’s value) a barrel in the early 1860s. He would also experience the bottom dropping out of the value as it plummeted to $23.00 (today’s value) just 10 years later. By the time of his death, his obituary headline would read “Was Once Wealthy,” having had close to a million dollars of today’s money in value. The money was long gone before his death in 1911 and he was living off of the mother’s pension of the son he lost in the civil war.

My second great grandfather has turned out to be another option for having had some wealth, but not to the same extent as my third great grandfather Zuver. Jacob West, known for his photography skills, was also involved in oil production. My latest research has been turning up information on his ventures.

About 1889 Jacob was venturing into oil production and got into a fight with Joseph E. Brownyear over ownership of oil property. By 1890 Jacob had leased land on the Mitchell and Van Vleck farm in Limestone, New York and was drilling wells. The Van Vleck family were very prosperous in the oil production business and had been involved for many years. Jacob’s number 1 well, drilled on the farm just outside of Limestone, would produce 10 barrels of crude oil an hour. After more than 30 years of production in the area, barrels per hour production had dropped considerably, this well’s production made newspaper headlines.

Prices for crude oil had dropped considerably by this time and would fluctuate from $16 to $35 (today’s value) dollars a barrel during 1890 – 1905. From newspaper reports, I noticed that Jacob had wells in Limestone, New York and in Lafferty Hollow, Pennsylvania. Jacob would lose 500 barrels of crude in two separate fire incidents. His crude tanks would catch on during electrical storms, burning his profit up in dense black smoke.

When Jacob died, he left his wife with over $30,000 in debt. In the bills you can tell he had a taste for fine made clothing and lived well from his profits in oil. It would take her 5 years to settle all of the accounts and was taken to court to settle some of his oil production cost debts.

Money may have been in the family from time to time, but it didn’t seem to outlast the maker to be passed on to any family member.

Photos taken by Mary Melissa Zuver West, Jacob's wife.



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Siffrin – Glass Making Family

Glassblowers were among the founders of the Jamestown colonies in 1607, using locally obtained materials to make their glassware. Dutch and German colonists began these early ventures. These early glassmakers failed due to production and managerial difficulties.

It would take until the second half of the 19th century when manufacturing methods would allow the mass production of glassware and the boom in the industry. Stained glass became more prevalent, showing up in the windows of St. Ann and the Holy trinity Episcopal Church in Brooklyn, NY between 1843 and 1848. J & G. H. Gibson Company of Philadelphia made the glass ceilings for the House and Senate chambers of the United States in 1859.

Demand for glassware increased and from 1820 to 1840 more than 100 glass manufacturers were in operation in the United States using molds to form blown glass wares. My great-great- grandfather, Ludwig Siffrin, would immigrate to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1881 to work in glass factories there. He would bring 7 of his large family of 12 children and his wife, Carolina Eberhardt Siffrin with him.

I have traced the movements of this family branch from Germany to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Kane, Pennsylvania, and then on to Bradford, Pennsylvania. Of his children, William, John and Peter, would all follow in his footsteps as glassworkers. Sophia would marry Elwood Meitzler, a contractor, Christina Mary married Joseph Grant, a glassworker and Louise married John Edward Hedman, a glassworker. After Ludwig’s death, Caroline would marry his younger brother, William, also a glassworker.

I wondered if the few other Siffrin families from the 1800s were also related to the family. I went back digging through the family in Germany to see if any other members had immigrated to the United States. Searching back through the direct family I found another family member that had immigrated.

Barbara Siffrin, sister of Ludwig Siffrin’s father, would live for part of her life in Alton, Illinois. Barbara married Johann Michael Koenig and had 8 children. By 1894, she and 4 of her eight children, all born in Germany, were living in the St. Louis, Missouri area. Her son Christian, also known as Chris, would work at the Illinois Glass company as a glassworker at Alton, Illinois. The Illinois Glass company incorporated in 1873 would merge with the Owens company to become Owens-Illinois Glass Company in 1929.

Barbara’s son Philip would work at the Alton company as a glass blower until retiring and moving to St. Louis and run a neighborhood café until his death. Her daughter, Catherine Maria, would marry Jacob Senz in Germany, who worked as a glass blower in Alton Illinois. Their sons, Philip Henry and Charlie Joseph would also work in the glass industry. Barbara’s daughter, Christina Kathryn, would marry Jacob Schneble in Germany, who, at one point, worked in the glass industry.

As the industry became more mechanized, less skilled glass blowers were needed and the family in the United States started moving away from learning the age old skill. In Germany the remaining Siffrin family continued to work in the glass industry. In 1848 the Siffrin family, still known for their glass making skills,  had moved from Saarbrücken to Stolberg, Germany.  Over one hundred years later, six Siffrin brothers were still talking about and two of them working in the glass factory.


John McKim, A Tale of Two Wives

For as long as I have been researching, there has always been a debate about who John McKim married, was his wife a Rung or a Nelson. Or was John Mckim married twice? There has been much discussion concerning who John McKim, born 1805 in Centre County, Pennsylvania and died 1867, Mercer County ,Pennsylvania was married to. It would seem that he was married to Henrietta Elizabeth Rung and had at least two children, William Rung McKim, my three times great grandfather, born in 1832 and died during the Civil War in West Virginia, and Henrietta Rung McKim born in 1833 and died in 1881.

Henrietta Rung’s father, George Rung was born in 1777, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and died in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania in 1842. In his will George gives money to his grandson, William R McKim, his granddaughter, Henrietta R McKim and his son-in-law, John McKim. There is no mention of his daughter in the will, is that because she is already deceased? There is also no mention of Robert Alexander McKim, who was born in 1838. Is that because Robert isn’t a blood related grandchild?

“I give and bequeath to Will Rung McKim, one thousand dollars, as soon as he arrives at the age of twenty one years, I also give and bequeath to Henrietta McKim one thousand dollars as soon as she arrives at the age of twenty one. I also bequeath to John McKim fifty dollars two years after my death. . . . . I also desire my son John Rung and my Executor to keep, if he can, William Rung McKim until the age of sixteen years old, keep him in good clothes and give him eighteen months schooling, one year of the schooling to be given at fourteen years old, if he stays until sixteen, he is to let him go to a trade, and if he does not stay until the age of sixteen, he is to have but eight hundred dollars of the foregoing bequest.”

If the above is true, then John McKim remarried to Harriet Nelson and had Robert Alexander McKim, born in 1838, whose death record has Harriet Nelson as his birth mother’s maiden name. Harriet Nelson was previously married to John Adam Lightner and had a daughter, Margaret Jane Lightner in 1834. Harriet’s first husband was deceased about 1835 placing the marriage of John McKim and Harriet between 1835 and 1837. Margaret appears on the 1860s census living in the McKim household with her mother, Harriet, and half-brothers and sisters. Henrietta Rung McKim was already married to Thompson Buckley and William Rung McKim was a widower with a six year old daughter living with her maternal grandparents.

Also from the 1860s Census, you see Harriet McKim living next door to her Nelson relatives and siblings.

Henrietta Rung McKim Buckley inherited 50 dollars from her uncle, John Rung, in his will dated 1877 in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. John was her mother, Henrietta Rung McKim’s brother. No other siblings of Henrietta Rung McKim were mentioned in the will of her uncle. This would probably be because they weren’t related.

In Harriet Nelson McKim’s father’s will dated 1850, Harriet and John McKim are both mentioned. John Nelson was holding a promissory note for money that John McKim had borrowed and was forgiving the debt and leaving additional inheritance to Harriet.


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Photographic Archeology

As a child I wanted to be an archeologist. At some point I changed my mind and decided that becoming an artist of some sort was more in line with what I really wanted to do for a living. I think it had to do with there being a lot less science, math and dirt involved.

Instead in my spare time I do genealogical archeology. Since inheriting my great-great grandmother, Mary Zuver West’s glass negatives, I have been doing a lot more digging around for clues to who the people in her photographs were. From my grandfather, Chester West’s photographs I can accurately determine his siblings in photos and his parents. Every one else is taking more time to determine.

The family would vacation at a camp at Chautauqua Lake during the summer. Here they would boat, relax and enjoy each others company.

zuver_west4th of july circa 1907

I have been trying to determine who the other members of the family are in this photo. Using images from family trees on ancestry, I have come up with a few guesses on some of the people in this photograph.

leander zuver

This is an image of Leander L Zuver, also known as Dick. He was a younger brother to my great-great grandmother and was a photographer in western Pennsylvania. Early in his career he worked for my great-great grandmother and her husband Jacob. I am pretty sure I have him identified correctly in the photograph.

agnes braniff 1867_1949


Leander’s wife was Agnes Braniff. This is a photo of Agnes from an ancestry tree. An educated guess would say she would be in this family photo. I am guess that I may have her identified correctly.


nellie ives zuvercropped

This is a photo of Nellie C Ives Zuver. Her husband was Thomas Wellington Zuver. I am pretty sure that Thomas is in this photo also.



vern leslie zuvercropped

This is photo of Vern Leslie Zuver. Son of Thomas Wellington Zuver and Nellie C Ives Zuver. If father and son resembled each other I am pretty sure that I have Thomas correctly identified in the photograph above. Thomas would have been about 47 years old in the photo above.



George Quincy and Lewis Wilbert are guess by the look of their age. Hopefully someone has photos that can be compared!



Her Question, My Discovery



It seemed like a simple enough question, how was I related to the McKims in Mercer, Pennsylvania? The question came through ancestry.com and I try to answer as many as possible. I sent back information about my third great grandfather, William R McKim that had died in the Civil War.

There were a lot of things about this man that I knew and could confirm. He had been in the war and died in Virginia. He married my third great grandmother that was a Kilgore, in Oberlin, Ohio. That both of them had been going to Oberlin College at the time of their marriage. And that he had artistic skills, from the drawings that he had signed and left in the family bible. I knew his wife had died a couple of years before he did. And I knew my orphaned great-great grandmother was raised by her mother’s family.

I couldn’t confirm that his father was John “Adam” McKim and his mother Henrietta or Harriet. Logic placed him in the family from location, and his birth year. Nothing else solidly placed him, and what I determined to be his younger sister, in the family of 5 other children living in Mercer.

That was until the email conversation with my now new cousin. As we traded communications, she wrote that William was mentioned in his grandfather, George Rung’s will. George Rung lived in Petersburg, Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania and was a tanner and a county Burgess. Not only did this confirm William’s name but corrected the maiden name that I had for his mother.

William’s mother was Harriet Rung, not Nelson as I had thought. She and her husband, John McKim, are mentioned in George Rung’s will. All six of his living children were included in his will, but only four of his grandchildren received notice.

His daughter Henrietta’s first born child, William Rung McKim seemed to be a major focus of his attention. Aside from the one thousand dollars that he would get at the age of 21, he would also be clothed until the age of 16 and schooled for 18 months. He was to be trained in a trade until he turned 16 or he would only receive eight hundred dollars at 21. Henrietta, William’s sister, would also receive one thousand dollars when she reached the age of 21.

George Rung would leave one thousand dollars to his grandson Lewis G Mytinger and five hundred to his oldest grandson John Farringer Rung when they both reached the age of 21. He didn’t show the same concern for these grandsons’ continuing education and training as he did with William.

William would attend Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio in 1853, at the age of 21. While in Oberlin he would marry Sydney Isabella McKim, who was also attending college at Oberlin. Their only child, Lilly, would be born shortly before their first anniversary.

Lilly would be left an orphan by the time she turned 7. Her mother would pass when she was three from illness and she would go to live with her maternal grandparents. Her father would die in the Civil war just 4 short years later.

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West Studio, 66 Main Street

My great-great grandmother’s glass negatives have pushed me to do more in depth searching on her life. I have tried over the past several years to determine where the West Photography studio at 66 Main Street and the last studio, Mrs. West’s, on Congress Street in Bradford were located. Over the years the streets in Bradford were renumbered making it more difficult to pinpoint.

In my hunt for information I found a couple of articles using Newspaperarchives.com on fires that were on Main Street in the late 1800s. The Baker-Whitehead building would catch fire for the first time in February of 1896 where the West studio was located. The fire damaged the West studio and when the studio was reopened, Mary West would be in charge. Mr. Whitehead was in favor of erecting a brick building but was waiting on consent from the Baker heirs to start construction. From what was to happen just a few months later, I don’t think the building was repaired with brick.

The second article, from the fire that would happen in June, detailed which shops burned and in what order they caught fire. According to the article in June 1896, the Bay State Hotel, 72 and 74 Main, next to the Zook building started burning. From all accounts the fire had started in the Zook building, 70 Main Street. The West studio was located at 66 Main Street, in the Baker-Whitehead Building, on the west side of the Zook building. The fire was so hot that buildings across the street started to smoke and residents helped wet the fronts of the buildings down to keep them from catching fire. From the Bay State hotel east, Nick Asselto’s Little Casino cigar store, then McCourt’s restaurant were also consumed and the Tammaro building gutted. The fire spread in both directions, consuming 68 Main Street and then burning through the West Studio, on the third floor, at 66 Main. The Sondheim building, 62 and 64 Main, on the west side of the Baker-Whitehead building, crashed to the ground destroyed.FIRE 1896 Bradford1895_Sheet6 (2)

I had purchased a book about Main Street’s buildings from the Bradford Landmark Society and searched through it for clues from the story that could tie to the articles on the buildings. There was an article about the Baker building, which use to be the location of J. R. Evans men’s clothing store, and it mentioned that it was next to what was the Bay State Hotel. Current residents can still see the Bay State name on the top of the old hotel building which has housed many different stores in the first floor, including Fannin’s bridal shop where I had worked years ago.

Penn State University Library has a collection of searchable maps that include fire risk assessment maps that show the location of buildings and the street addresses. Some of the maps note the type of businesses that were located in each of the buildings. I can tell from those maps the exact location of 66 Main street and can even see the note for the building having 3 stories and a photo studio in the building. In 1896 there were 7 store fronts in what now has three buildings that would only encompass the width of 6 store fronts. The Zook building is long gone, squeezed out between the Baker building and the Bay State Hotel.

jacob and mary studio 66 main

Grandmother West moved the business to Congress Street following the second fire. From newspaper accounts there were legal issues with starting the rebuild of the Baker-Whitehead building that caused a delay of several months. From other maps on the PSU site I can determine where she would conduct business until retiring.

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The 115 Year Old Collaboration


I wonder what my great-great grandmother would think about, had she known 115 years ago, that her great-great granddaughter would one day be carefully scanning her glass negatives on to her computer. We take pictures, share them with friends and relatives and usually give very little thought to generations in the future rummaging through stacks of unmarked photos, trying to learn a bit more about us and our daily life.

platesI have learned a lot about her, a glimpse into her personality and snapshots into the way she lived. Without a doubt, her skill and eye for photography comes through in the shots I assume she took for her own pleasure and experimentation. She loved light and texture and traveled by train to many locations to take landscape photos that pull you into the image. She was known in town as an experienced photographer of women and children. She adored her son, his wife and her grandchildren and their images show in many of the existing glass negatives.

I enjoy those negatives she might have thrown out, one showed her slender fingers imprinted on the negative, making me wonder if she caught the negative before it had slipped to the ground and broke. Others show her shadow, boater hat firmly planted on her head, which she would have cropped out when printing. You get a quick glimpse of her in another negative, her tall thin reflection appearing in the window behind her grandson.

To get the images scanned onto my computer would require the purchase of a professional scanner and hours of careful scanning. Internet research turned up a supplier for archival negative holders and boxes. Adobe Bridge let me catalogue the negatives for research and grouping. Each bit of research gave a sharper picture of this creative multi-faceted lady and the locations around where I grew up.scanning

After scanning and cataloguing slides I determined that I wanted to frame one for the house. The hard part was then to decide which one. I played with multiple images, cropping and sizing and purchased a wide format photo printer to see the results of the collaboration. The detail from the small 4 by 4 inch glass negative surprised me, and it held up when enlarged to images over 13 by 22 inches.

I chose a photo of the Olean, New York boat launch taken around 1900. The water on the river was so still that it perfectly reflected all that surrounded its banks. Mounted and framed it now hangs where it can be enjoyed by the next generation, a 115 year old collaboration of two related artistic personalities. Priceless.