Monday, November 26, 2012

Mystery Monday: You're right; I'm wrong

Mystery Monday is a daily prompt at Geneabloggers that asks us to share mystery ancestors or mystery records – anything in our family history research which is currently unsolved.  With any luck fellow genealogy bloggers will lend their eyes to what has been found so far and possibly help solve the mystery.

In a recent Sepia Saturday post, I made light of my great-aunt Velma’s use of the term “scabs” thinking she was simply looking down her nose at some unsavory neighbors.  Several readers – no, make that MANY readers – called me on it, noting that the term “scabs” is used to denote workers who refuse to join a labor union or those who cross the picket line to take a striking worker’s job.

OK OK, you’re right.  As it turns out there was a nationwide railroad strike among the shopmen in 1922 (same year as Velma’s letter to Violetta) when the Railroad Labor Board announced that hourly wages would be cut by seven cents.  It was the last straw in an ongoing feud over a number of issues including working conditions and outsourcing of shopcrafts to avoid the pay, pension and benefits that would have gone to railroad employees.  NOTE: this affected the shops only, not operators’ unions that represented engineers, firemen, and conductors.  Just the shops.  And Shenandoah, Virginia was a major town along the Norfolk & Western line.  There were lots of shops. 

N & W Railroad Strikers 1922
Railroad Strikers in front of the old hotel 1922
Shenandoah, Virginia
scanned from Shenandoah: A History of Our Town and Its People

The railroads employed strikebreakers to fill vacancies caused by the strike.  Hiring “scabs” only increased the tension and hostilities between the railroad and striking workers.  In fact, the National Guard and US Marshals were on duty in seven states.

President Warren G. Harding proposed a settlement but with very little benefit for the labor unions, so railroad companies rejected any notion of compromise.  Eventually the strikes died down as local shopmen made deals on the local level.

Jacob P. "Jake" Hockman
Jacob "Jake" Hockman on the right
scanned from Shenandoah: A History of Our Town and Its People
I still don’t know how the Hockmans figured in the story of the scabs and the potential firing of Paul Hockman.  His father Jacob “Jake” Hockman owned a lumber and coal yard.  No doubt he supplied coal for the railroad as well as local businesses.  

Paul Hockman could possibly have worked for the railroad, but I have not looked in sources beyond what is easily available on Ancestry.  In 1920 he was only 14 and not working, but by 1930 he was managing his father’s lumber and coal yard.  

© 2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.


  1. Great follow up. You never know where a seemingly simple remark will lead you. It has also put a bit of flesh on the skeletons of names and dates and started to make real people.


  2. I love how people in the blogosphere are so ready and eager to help. I've experienced the same over at my own blog.

    Have a happy Monday!

  3. Thanks for the update and history lesson Wendy. You're so funny - ("OK OK, you're right.") I enjoy your writing style.

  4. I'm with you, Jana - I don't care what Wendy is writing about it's always an entertaining post!

  5. Oh, wow, Wendy, there's a world of history embedded in that simple comment in one letter! Who would have thought.

    From the context, I had wondered, if that shop were actually owned/run by the Hockmans, if Paul had stepped in during the strike. I know nowadays, when a union strikes, that leaves management scurrying to keep the work going forward. I imagine family might have stepped up to fill in where the management, themselves, couldn't cover all the bases. Of course, back then, such events could turn out to be more volatile than nowadays. Just my guess...

    I totally agree with Jana and Debi, though: what a kick to get your take on it all! You definitely have a personality-plus writing style, and that's great!

    1. Not knowing whether Claude S was one of the scabs and whether Paul was one too, I am not sure what to make of it. But it sounds as though maybe the strike was coming to an end, that some of the scabs were being let go and railroad shopmen would be returning to work.

  6. OMG - I'm blushing. I must copy this page and tape it to a mirror in case I need a lift out of the depths of despair.

  7. You might want to take a look at newspaper accounts of the strike. Then, as now, newspapers loved to report on a scandal. If nothing else, newspaper accounts should make for interesting reading.

    Agree with all about enjoying reading your blog and following along with your research progress. Good luck and keep us posted!

  8. Interesting follow-up post, Wendy. As Liz says, local newspaper reports might give some clues, It's amazing where a letter between sisters has taken you! :-)

  9. Genealogy teaches us many unexpected things.

  10. Good work, Wendy! What a nuisance we readers can be. Strikes were a much more adversarial experience in earlier decades. Unions and companies used to risk everything in labor conflicts that frequently got violent and always left ill will. I've marched on picket lines, but never had to endure the outrage of scab workers crossing the line to work for less. Seeing that might easily lead to a split between friends or family and arguments about the unfairness of a strike.