John George Hughes, the son of George Henry Hughes and Mary Ann Storey, was born on June 10, 1873 in West Hartlepool, England. His baptism took place on July 6, 1873 at All Saints Church in Stranton. John grew up in the Longhill section of West Hartlepool living primarily on Hill Street. Most men in the extended Hughes family worked with their hands in one of the many industries in West Hartlepool. John was no exception and by the age of 17 was working as a coal dealer.
On June 7, 1897 John married Elizabeth Ferdinande Olesen, daughter of Christian Olesen and Ferdinande Weiss at St. Aidan’s Parish Church in West Hartlepool. John’s brother, Samuel Hughes and sister, Mary Alice Hughes were the witnesses. Elizabeth, a native of West Hartlepool was born on October 16, 1876 and had lived in a somewhat better part of town then the Hughes Family.
John continued to deal in coal and the family moved to 4 Casebourne Street, which is located near Longhill. On March 19, 1898 John and Elizabeth’s only child, George Henry Hughes was born. George Henry was baptized on Easter Sunday, April 10, 1898 at St. Aidan’s Church, West Hartlepool, England. Among his sponsors were his uncle, Samuel Hughes, and his grandmother, Mary Ann Hughes.
The Hughes family was living at 59 Clarendon Road (still the Longhill area) when enumerated for the 1901 United Kingdom census report and John was employed as a coal hawker.
On May 1, 1901, John George participated, as a witness, in his brother, Samuel's, marriage to Sarah Jane Adamson. St. Aidan's Church records indicate that Samuel and Sarah Jane honored my great grandparents by naming two of their children after them--John George born in 1908 and Elizabeth Ferdinande born in 1906.
Perhaps dissatisfaction with work and living conditions in West Hartlepool prompted the Hughes Family to immigrate to the United States. On May 9, 1906, during the reign of King Edward VII, they boarded the ship Corona in Liverpool, England and began their ten day journey across the Atlantic Ocean arriving at the Port of New York on May 19, 1906. The next leg of their trip was across the state of Pennsylvania to the town of Pittsburgh where John had a friend, M.C. Mathews. From 1900 to 1930 nearly 19 million immigrants came to America. When the Hughes family arrived, Theodore Roosevelt was president.
Within a year of their arrival in Pittsburgh, the Hughes family was residing at 2518 Carey Avenue in the South Side area outside the city of Pittsburgh. While living on Carey Avenue, in the fall of 1907, Elizabeth and George Henry returned to West Hartlepool to visit family and friends. Elizabeth made a second trip to England in August, 1910 to visit and returned to Pittsburgh with her brother, Bill Olesen. From 1910 until 1914 the Hughes family called Wright Street on the South Side home. During the first years in the Pittsburgh area, John was employed in an iron mill located along the Monongahela River which flows past the South Side of Pittsburgh.
Sometime after 1914, the Hughes family, along with Bill Olesen moved down the Ohio River to Woodlawn, Pennsylvania located in Beaver County. John was employed as a foreman and millwright with the Jones & Laughlin Steel Company from about 1916 until his death. Woodlawn was a company town--the stores, houses, bars--were all owned by J & L Steel. 131 Spring Street, which was an end unit in a row house, was home to the Hughes Family and Elizabeth continued to live there after her husband’s death. It is believed that her brother, Bill, also worked for the company so they were allowed to continue to use company housing. Today, Woodlawn is known as Aliquippa, Pennsylvania.
The main street of Woodlawn (Aliquippa) ends at the entrance to the steel plant and lining both sides of the street outside the plant are bars where the steel workers would stop after their shift for a “shot and a beer” or boilermaker.
Conditions in the steel mills at the turn of the century were intolerable. There was no heating and no safety standards. The blast furnaces used coke to provide heat in the manufacture of pig iron. The furnaces ran continuously and polluted the air around the city of Pittsburgh with high levels of carbon monoxide. The air surrounding the steel mills was black and a dark cloud hung above the city until 19—when mills were forced by the government to use pollution control devices.
Inside the mills, the men worked around huge heavy cables, hot slag was skimmed off and lifted by crane to another part of the mill, and raw materials were brought in by cables. Areas near the blast furnaces were as hot as 16000 degrees and in other unheated parts of the mill, in the winter, it was freezing. Workers wore heavy boots, rubber aprons and asbestos gloves for protection, not realizing how harmful the asbestos gloves were to their health. The owners of the mills (steel barons) paid minimum wage, offered no benefits and pocketed the profits. John George Hughes worked in mills under these conditions the entire time he lived in the United States.
Steel workers’ striking the mills was not uncommon during the early 1900’s. The steel barons would hire “hired guns” to police the steel mills and shoot the strikers. Other battle tactics used to stop the strike would be to shut off the water and electricity to the company houses and close the company store. The workers were at a loss. Most of them did not have a car to travel to another town to purchase food and they could not exist without water and electricity.
John signed his Declaration of Intention papers on June 13, 1916 and the Petition for Naturalization on July 31, 1918. John George, Elizabeth and George Henry Hughes all became citizens of the United States on December 12, 1918.
John was a tall man at 6 feet 2 inches with sandy colored hair and blue eyes. He was an active participant in his community. A member of All Saints Episcopal Church of Woodlawn, and two fraternal organizations; the Loyal Order of Moose No 379 in Woodlawn and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in Pittsburgh.
In 1921, John Hughes was informed that his son, George Henry Hughes, was not a citizen of the United States by virtue of his service with the Canadian Forces during World War I. John presented his case to Judge Orr in chambers. The Judge ruled that George Henry Hughes should be granted citizenship and asked John Hughes to “prepare a petition which would amend and correct the record.” John would never complete his son’s petition.
On Friday, May 20, 1921, several weeks before the birth of his first grandchild, John George Hughes died at the family home, 131 Spring Street, Woodlawn, Pennsylvania, Beaver County, at the age of forty-seven. The cause of death is listed on the death certificate as larynges abscess. Funeral services were held Monday afternoon at the Hughes home with interment following at Woodlawn Cemetery.
Elizabeth Olesen Hughes, known as Noonie, was a widow at age forty-four. It is believed that her mother, Wilhelmina Ferdinanda Weiss Olesen, immigrated to the United States about the time of John George Hughes’ death. Elizabeth lived with her mother and brother, Bill, until their deaths in the 1940’s.
In 1922, Elizabeth and her son, George Henry Hughes, continued the citizenship process by hiring an attorney named C.W. Parker and on January 23, 1923 entered a petition in the U.S. District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania. The petition was heard by Judge Schoonmaker and made the order with little comment. During the May term, 1923, case No. 867, George Henry Hughes was granted citizenship “In Equity.”
It is unknown how Elizabeth managed financially as a widow. Her brother, Bill Olesen, was employed and perhaps supported them all. There is a story that Noonie remarried, but that the marriage did not “work out” and she retained the Hughes name following the divorce. Sometime after 1935 she moved to Monaca, Pennsylvania in Beaver County along with her mother and brother. There is a 1938-39 city directory listing her as residing at 1298 Washington Avenue, Monaca. The family was still living at that address during the 1940’s. Following her brother’s death in 1946, Elizabeth asked her son and his family to move into the Monaca home with her. They lived there until 1950, at which time the Hughes family, including Noonie, moved to a large multi-level apartment in Bellevue, Pennsylvania.
Numerous family members describe Elizabeth as an individual with a rather nasty personality. She was not pleased when her son married and although unsuccessful, did her best to destroy the marriage. She enjoyed her “tea time” during the day and loved to eat the slab of fat off the roast beef! I remember her being nice to me, although she was somewhat intimidating.
Elizabeth died at age eight-four on Wednesday, October 11, 1961, just five days short of her eighty-fifth birthday. She was pronounced dead in her bed at her son’s home at 71 North Bryant Avenue, Bellevue, Pennsylvania, Allegheny County. Elizabeth’s attending physician was her grandson, George VanGilder Hughes. The cause of death was heart disease which she had suffered for five years. Following services at All Saints Episcopal Church on October 14, 1961, Elizabeth was buried beside her husband, mother, and brother, at Woodlawn Cemetery, Aliquippa, Pennsylvania.
Child of John George Hughes and Elizabeth Ferdinande Olesen:
Collection of blogs featuring John and Elizabeth Hughes.
Check out the old South Side neighborhood where the Hughes family first lived in the Pittsburgh area.
Comprehensive history of the English roots at the Hartlepool Page
Open the Hughes Family Treasure Chest!
Updated: August 2015
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