May 20, 2008


Throughout the years, after I’d written newspaper articles on historical sites and local people, I was considered a “historian” worthy of learning more about the community history. Thus, I’d be invited to join the local historical and/or genealogical societies.

“No way,” I’d say, with a hint of arrogance. “I’m a New Englander. I have no ties to this area. If I were to join any historical society it would be in New England.”

I bit my tongue so as not to add “and I don’t like history. Furthermore, I have no German or Italian heritage, and my Irish is so far back as to be diluted to nothing.” (All three nationalities are big in Southwestern, Pennsylvania.)

Life, though, sometimes acts like a dragon, flipping its tail and eventually smacking you in the face.

In December 2002 I received an updated paternal pedigree chart from a cousin I didn’t know existed. As I scanned the information my eyes became stuck on a twig listing familiar places—Hempfield Township and Sewickley in Westmoreland County, as well as Blairsville and other Indiana County locations. Attached to the twig were unfamiliar names, including Rugh and Mechling (solid German names), and Raymer (Reamer).
What was the meaning of this?

I contacted a friend with Pennsylvania genealogy research skills. Within three days she handed me a sheath of papers on these families.

It seems that Michael Rugh, age 10, migrated to Eastern Pennsylvania from Alsace Lorraine in 1733. In 1771 he and his adult sons crossed the Allegheny Mountain wilderness and settled in what is now South Greensburg. He became one of the fourteen original Westmoreland county justices as he helped purchase land for the (Old) Zion Lutheran Church in Hempfield Township and for the county courthouse.

In 1761 his son, (Jon) Jacob Rugh married Sibilla Mechling.

In 1781 their son, Michael Rugh, was born. He and his wife Elizabeth Raymer lived in Blacklick Township (Indiana County), on a farm now located on Route 22 in Blairsville, where the former Indiana/Blairsville train tracks met at Rugh Station. (From the yard, looking over Rt. 119, can be seen the cooling towers in Homer City.) Part of the Rugh house foundation and part of the barn foundation still exist on this farm.

Elizabeth Reamer Rugh disappears off the scene after giving birth to her eighth child, Elizabeth, in 1825. Her youngest child was raised by her stepmother, Keziah Spires.

In the mid-1800s Elizabeth migrated to Iowa, where she met William Cubbage. Their union produced a daughter, Mary J. Rugh Cubbage in 1859.

I’d seen the name Mary Rugh Cornell on cemetery records from Brocton, Massachusetts, and always thought the “Rugh” was a misspelling of “Ruth.” Apparently not, according to this latest pedigree chart.

But how did an Iowan rooted in Southwestern Pennsylvania end up in New England with the last name Cornell? My maiden name was Cornell, and the family line was solid New England!

Irving Cornell was from Brocton, Massachusetts, a member of a family in the shoe-making business (Brocton was reputed to be the shoe capital of the world back then). He became a shoe salesman, and traveled to San Francisco to sell shoes.

Mary’s mother, Elizabeth Rugh Cubbage, died when Mary was quite young, and Mary was raised by a step-mother. The two women went on a vacation to San Francisco, California. While there, they decided to purchase new shoes.

The salesman must have been quite suave because Mary never returned to her home in Iowa. Irving Cornell and Mary Rugh Cubbage were married that Christmas. They had one child before moving to Brockton, the Cornell hometown. Two more children were born before Irving abandoned Mary and his children, returning to California—alone.

One of their children was William Cornell, my grandfather.

When my husband retired, we expected to live in Slippery Rock. However, since that was a distance from both our children, we decided to move to where my daughter lived near Ligonier, at the far eastern side of Westmoreland County. It was eighteen months after that that I received the letter from my cousin.

Living in the county that my ancestors helped found was not a deciding factor in our choice, but having learned of my heritage, I felt enriched by the area. I was no longer just plopped in a new community. I belonged here.

Irving and Mary Rugh Cubbage’s wedding grafted Southwestern Pennsylvania onto my family tree. I’m not just a New Englander. I am a Westsylvanian.

The dragon’s tail slapped me in the face with information that roots me here, and makes me eligible to join the historical societies in Westmoreland and Indiana counties.

For additional reading click on HALFWAY THROUGH TOMORROW


1 Comment »

  1. […] This surviving basement wall from circa 1816 was likely built and was owned by my ancestral family (Michael and Elizabeth Reamer Rugh) I discovered within an hour of my Southwestern Pennsylvania home (and me a staunch New Englander). It provided me with a sense of place in a world not my own. Like we find God in places unexpected. (YOU MEAN THIS NEW ENGLANDER IS A WESTSYLVANIAN?) […]

    Pingback by Rethink Church Lenten Photos Week 2 | Carolyn's Online Magazine — February 26, 2015 @ 1:35 am | Reply

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