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Poor Polly
The Muddled and Confused Identity of Mary "Polly" (Younkin) Minerd/Miner
By Mark A. Miner


The Miners' error-riddled grave marker at New Freeport, Greene County, PA, installed by a well-intentioned grandson 60 years after their deaths.  

Poor Polly, if that’s who she really was. 

Great-great-great grandma Mary “Polly” (Younkin) Minerd/Miner -- whose long life was filled with suffering and heartache -- is little-documented in the annals of written history. Sadly, in the few instances of her name in print, she was mis-named so many times, by her own grandchildren, that the legacy has been awfully muddled and confused. 

Yet she has left a most enduring legacy in the lives of 40 known grandchildren and 128 known great-grandchildren. The next generations of her offspring born during the rest of the 20th century and into the 21st are un-countable in their sprawl and enormity. 

Polly began life in about 1815 in the “Hexebarger” community of the hamlet of Kingwood, Somerset County, PA. She was one of 10 children of "Yankee John" and Nancy (Hartzell) Younkin, and she later named many of her children after her siblings – among them Susanna Schrock, Jacob H. "Devil Jake" Younkin, Ephraim Younkin, Elizabeth Andrews, Mahala Schrock, John H. Younkin, Nancy Sanner, Syvilla Rush and Sarah "Sally" Kreger. She neither learned to read or write.

Another unusual twist about Polly is that her sister Syvilla was the great-great grandmother of famed actress Shirley Jones. 

Reflecting the ways of Pennsylvania Germans of the era, she married her cousin's son, Henry Minerd. Their lives together began on his 123-acre farm in Hexebarger. There, they started a family and to accumulate some measure of wealth. Together, the couple produced 11 children -- John Minerd, Ephraim Minerd, Chauncey "Chance" Miner, Henry Harrison Minerd, Susan Birch, Andrew Jackson Miner, Nancy Farabee, Sarah Minerd, Elias "Eli" Minor, Jacob Minerd and Catherine "Kate" Bedillion.  

In 1849, the Minerds sold their farm and moved to a nearby tract of 135 acres, called the "Troy Land." Within a year or two, a fire apparently destroyed their homeplace, leaving nothing but the "shirts on their backs." Deeds show that Henry sold this property in 1851 for a $225 loss. 

Sometime later in the 1850s, the couple pulled up stakes and left behind their teenage son Ephraim and Polly's widowed father and legions of other family and friends in Kingwood and environs. Their journeys took them to Beeler Station, Marshall County, WV, thence to West Finley, Washington County, PA and finally across Wheeling Creek into Greene County including in Morris Township (1870), Gilmore Township (1880) and finally to New Freeport, Springhill Township. After leaving Somerset County, and lacking basic reading and writing skills, their name generally was spelled “Miner” and “Minor.” They never again owned property and appear to have been tenant farmers on others' lands.

Of Polly’s offspring were four sons, son-in-law and grandson-in-law who served in the Civil War. She is known to have had one son with mental disabilities -- "idiotic" in the language of the day -- and helped raise an illegitimate granddaughter. Her husband was difficult in personality. He severed relations with their son Chance after the son volunteered for Union Army duty over the father’s objections. Henry once was described by a Greene County official as having “gone to the devil.” 

One of life’s cruel fates inflicted on Polly was epilepsy. In the later words of her kinsman and researcher Charles Arthur Younkin, she was “in the habit of taking fits.” While holding her baby “Jakey” one day, over an open fire, she was stricken and fell headlong into the flame. Polly “was pulled out by her mother by hair and upon seeing how badly she was burned, her mother died of fright as also did child from burns,” Charles wrote. “Polly herself having one ear burned off as well as many facial burns, she not being able to see either her mother, or child, on account of severe burns.” 

One wonders, with this horrific disfigurement, whether Polly may have been confined to her room or kept away from the eyes of her grandchildren over the remaining 30 or so years of life. In the 1880 federal census enumeration, she is listed as "maimed, crippled, bedridden or otherwise..." When she died, circa 1886, there was no obituary in the local Waynesburg newspaper. 

Officially, the federal census enumerations of 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880 all name her as "Mary." Her children's death certificates are another story. Her maiden name is given as "Not known" in the certificates of her son Andrew (with his daughter Emma White as the source), Nancy Farabee (by her son Oliver) and son Eli (by the superintendent of the Greene County Home). But she properly is listed as "Polly Younkin" in the death certificate of her son Ephraim (provided by Ephraim's widow Rosetta) and as "Mary Yuncan" in the certificate of her daughter Susan Birch (furnished by her son John Wiley Birch).

At least five other of Polly’s adult grandchildren, who left written records of her existence, did not use the correct one when the opportunity arose. As we will see, Polly was mis-named over the years by her grandchildren as "Katherine" - "Elizabeth" - and "Nancy."

John Wiley Birch's profile in this county history book names his grandparents not as Henry and Polly but "Andrew and Katherine" - Courtesy Google Books

– Polly’s grandson John Wiley Birch was a prominent candy store owner in Washington, PA. While he correctly listed his grandmother's name as "Mary Yuncan" in his mother's 1906 death certificate, he gave a completely different name some nine years later. When profiled in the 1926 book, History of Washington County, by Earle R. Forrest, in a lengthy entry, spanning parts of three pages, she and her husband were listed as “Andrew and Katherine Miner.” He appears to have confused their names with those of his uncle Andrew Jackson Miner and aunt Kate (Miner) Bedillion

“Elizabeth” – In the 1928-1931 timeframe, Polly's grandchildren Golie Cephas Bedillion, William R. Bedillion, Lucy (Bedillion) Martin, Rebecca (Birch) McElfish and William Allen Miner organized a family reunion. It was alternately held at Washington, PA and Wheeling, WV. But when they labeled it for public consumption and newspaper promotion, they initially called the couple “William Henry and Elizabeth Yonkon Miner" and later to "Mary and Elizabeth Miner" and eventually "Henry and Elizabeth Miner." This confusion just cannot be easily explained.

News articles in 1928 (left) and 1929 referring to Polly as "Elizabeth."  -  Google News

– Henry and Polly sleep for the ages in the same tiny burying ground. The site is difficult to find in an obscure, overgrown and hilly patch on privately owned farm near New Freeport, Greene County. Their graves apparently went unmarked for nearly 60 years. In 1946, their grandson William Allen Miner, at that time a 70-year-old resident of Southern California, having buried his wife and relocated the grave of an infant son, and likely feeling nostalgic if not melancholy, made a gesture of permanence for the grandparents. 

Records of the Kurtz Monument Company of Washington show that on May 23, 1946, Will paid $75 to buy a second-hand stone and have it installed at the site on the D.K. Phillips farm. There were two errors on the marker, both original mistakes on his part, caused by the faulty memory of an elderly man. Polly's name mistakenly was carved on the stone as "Nancy" – possibly confused with her daughter Nancy (Minor) Farabee – and the year of Henry's death erroneously was inscribed as "1890" when in fact it was "1888." 

W.A.Miner's 1946 contract for his grandparents' grave marker - Courtesy Kurtz Monument

Researchers Charley and Otto Younkin  
“Daughter of Frederick and Catherine (Patton) Younkin”
– Polly is named in genealogy notes collected circa 1934 by Otto Roosevelt “Pete” Younkin of Masontown, PA. Otto helped organize the large Younkin National Home-coming Reunion of the 1930s and ‘40s and actively interviewed older cousins to determine who was who in the sprawling family tree. For reasons not yet known, he included Polly as the daughter of Frederick and Catherine (Patton) Younkin of Kingwood, and typed it accordingly in his notes.

For many years, having learned of these notes in 1991, the founder of this website considered that reference as gospel and published at least one article saying so in the Younkin Family News Bulletin edited by Donna (Younkin) Logan

But not all research and organization, however well-intentioned, can be accurate until it's confirmed. Otto’s partner in the reunion work, Charles Arthur “Charleroi Charley” Younkin of Charleroi, PA, was on a similar mission to figure out Polly’s place in the lineage. As secretary of the reunions and publisher of the original Younkin Family News Bulletin (1937-1941), he had the drive and curiosity to do so, likely with an eye toward publishing in his newspaper. 

Above: Otto Roosevelt Younkin's notes from 1934 placing Polly in the wrong branch of Younkins. Below: Charles Arthur Younkin's 1935 letter spelling out her correct place within the sprawling Younkin lineage.

Rosetta (Harbaugh) Miner set straight Polly's identity  
In October 1935, he made a drive to Kingwood to visit his aunt, Rosetta (Harbaugh) Miner, who was Polly’s daughter-in-law. In that conversation, Rosetta set the facts straight. Charles in turn spelled these out to President Otto in a letter dated Oct. 15 1935, cited above, documenting Polly’s connections and relating the story of the epilepsy and fire tragedies. In yet another irony, the letter among others made its way to the Pacific Northwest and kept in Oregon for decades. The knowledge contained therein remained hidden to Donna (Younkin) Logan and other researchers of the 1990s when it was needed most. It was not until a death in 1998 that the papers returned to Ohio and thence donated to the Minerd.com Archives in the early 2000s.

When I met Rosetta's elderly daughter Minnie (Miner) Gary in her home in Kingwood on a hot summer day in 1978, she verbally confirmed that her grandmother's maiden name was "Polly Younkin" and retold the fire story. 

This website, Minerd.com, has been in stages of research since 1977. Over the ensuing decades, as much knowledge as possible has been gathered about Polly and Henry from many sources and from many kindly people. I am so grateful for everyone's help. It’s my hope that their story will remain in the public eye long after mine is not.

Copyright © 2023 Mark A. Miner