"Box 170, Charleroi" was the most famous address in the Younkin family in the 1930s and early '40s, belonging to Charles Arthur Younkin. Nicknamed "Charleroi Charley," he was a businessman, reunion organizer, journalist, letter writer and family cheerleader. His pioneering genealogy resulted in a national following involving thousands of cousins, during the height of the Great Depression, a phenomenon he called the "great Younkin awakening." His efforts set the stage for the renewed interest in Younkin family connections today, and the establishment of the Younkin Reunions East and West in the 1990s.
Born at Clay Run, near Mill Run, Fayette County, PA, on April 16, 1880, he was one of 10 children of William Dayton and Lucinda (Harbaugh) Younkin, and grandson of George A. and Charlotta (Younkin) Younkin. He was raised in the old family farmhouse of his parents, where he no doubt heard many stories of his pioneer Minerd, Younkin and Harbaugh ancestors who had settled in the area. The farm was within a half mile of the ancient Imel Cemetery, where Charley's ancestors rest for etenity.
Thinking he would become a teacher someday, Charley studied at a normal school to prepare for an educator's career. But perhaps attracted by the risks and rewards of entrepreneurial opportunity, he became a wholesale grocer and poultry salesman, following in the footsteps of his brothers.
At age 22, on July 31, 1902, Charley married 18-year-old Saloma Hall (1883-1992), the daughter of John L. and Emma Hall of Connellsville. Because Saloma was underage, her father signed his consent on the marriage license. Rev. J.S. Boyd performed the wedding ceremony in Connellsville.
One of Saloma's daughters in law once referred to her as "a grand person." (Saloma's sister Margaret Hall married Charley's distant cousin Brady Scott Harbaugh.)
The Younkins had six children -- Bessie Marie Todd, Clarence William Younkin Sr., Frederick Arthur Younkin, Harold H. Younkin, Emma Lou Gosney Zance and Pauline Bartack.
For the first few years of their married lives, the Younkins resided in the Snydertown section of Connellsville, Fayette County. Sometime in the 1920s, they moved to Charleroi, Washington County, PA, making their home on Fifth Street Extension.
Charleroi is a river town in the Monongahela valley. In that locality, Charley initially was employed as a truck driver.
Tragedy struck in 1929, when their married daughter Bessie Todd died in Pittsburgh of tuberculosis, leaving a husband and two young daughters.
Three years later, on April 21, 1932, the heartache compounded with Saloma died, also of TB, at the age of 49. She was laid to rest in the Younkin family plot at Imel Cemetery near Clay Run.
Charley was left as a widower at age 49. Having become "engaged in genealogical work" in about 1930, he immersed himself into the field to help overcome his grief. When the Harbaugh Reunion was held in August 1932, the Connellsville (PA) Daily Courier reported that he was elected secretary: "The seventh annual reunion of the Harbaugh family will be held Sunday, August 28, at the Mill Run Baptist Church. The affair will be in the form of a basket picnic. Principal speakers will be Attorney F.E. Younkin of Connellsville and Prof. John Harbaugh of Ohiopyle. Officers are: President, G.H. Adams of Connellsville; vice-presidents, Marshal Harbaugh of Ohiopyle and I.D. Younkin of Connellsville; secretary, Charles A. Younkin of Charleroi."
~ Roots of Reunion ~
On July 16, 1934, one of Charley's exploratory letters arrived at the home of Otto Roosevelt "Pete" Younkin in Masontown, Fayette County. The letter began:
Perhaps you will wonder who is writing you and why. I received your name from a friend. There is quite a bit of talk of holding a Younkin reunion in the near future, and the aim if we do is to have as many branches represented as we possibly can, and you know there are many branches. The opinions of the different ones will be the decision, whether we are going through with it or not.... May I ask to which branch do you belong, are you a descendant from either Jacob or Frederick Younkin who settled near Kingwood before the Revolutionary War. Or are you from a different branch. Dear friend I do not mean to be inquisitive, but I do want to learn as much about our early ancestors as I possibly can.
Otto replied immediately that he "was in favor and would do what [he] could towards making it a success."
Less than three weeks later, Otto and Charley met for the first time, by accident, in a cemetery near Kingwood, PA Otto was visiting his mother in the area and decided to visit an old cemetery.
"Having spent an hour or so in the cemetery," Otto wrote, "we were ready to leave for other old burial grounds when another car drives in through the wilderness. Two men got out of the car, one of them whom I recognized ... [but] the other man was a total stranger to me.... Upon being introduced we learned this stranger to be none other than ... Charles A. Younkin of Charleroi, PA, who was upon a similar mission as ourselves."
And so the friendship began. The two men had much more in common than their names. Both were "double" Younkin. Charley's father, William Dayton Younkin, was the grandson of Charles and Jane (Johnson) Younkin of Fayette County, and of George and Nancy (Johnson) Younken of Greene County, PA. Otto, born in Ursina, Somerset County, was raised by his single mother Mollie and grandfather Balaam Younkin. Otto's double Younkin connection came through two sets of great-grandparents -- Jacob J. "Dorcas Jake" and Dorcas (Hartzell) Younkin and Thomas R. and Barbara (Younkin) King, all of Somerset County.
Both Charley and Otto grew up surrounded by extended relatives and deep family values. Both were raised in small rural communities. Their story has many ironies; one was born out of wedlock; the other did not begin his genealogy work until widowed.
Otto was a public school teacher in Masontown, Fayette County. He was married to Mildred Coldren with two sons, Harry "Tom" Younkin and William Younkin. Otto entertained political ambitions, and one distant cousin, Glenn Younkin of Marion, Illinois, once wrote saying, "I am living in hopes of calling you 'Congressman'."
~ The First Reunion ~
Charley wrote to Otto proposing that they meet to plan a reunion. They did so, on Aug. 12, at the Kingwood Picnic Grove, where the reunion remains today. In addition to Charley and Otto, the organizers included David F. Younkin of Johnstown, Cambria County; Milton Bruce "Peter" Younkin of Kingwood; Nellie (Younkin) Wiley of California, Washington County; and Wesley D. Younkin. Charley, elected as secretary, sent invitation cards to all he knew.
The first reunion took place on Sept. 2, at the Kingwood Picnic Grove. Charley later wrote that the reunion "sprang up like a mushroom overnight."
It drew 400 people, on very short notice. Officers were elected to the new Younkin Family Association: Otto R. Younkin, president; attorney Frederick E. "F.E." Younkin of Connellsville, PA, vice president; Charleroi Charley, secretary; Milton Bruce Younkin of Rockwood, PA, treasurer; and Nellie B. Wiley of California, PA, assistant secretary. Special stationery was printed, and Charley was using it for his letters by the end of the year. Daniel Martin Younkin of Rockwood received an award as "oldest present," and a daughter of Oakey and Gertrude (Shroyer) Harbaugh of Mill Run was the "youngest present." The news of the successful event was printed in local and even statewide newspapers, which said it "proved a most enjoyable affair."
Feedback from the family at large was very positive. Charley immediately wrote to Otto: "Let me tell you that I am mighty well pleased with the results. Have been very busy answering many letters. Only this morn I read a letter from Edward H. Youngkin, Easton, Pa., who read the news in the Phila. Pa. papers Sunday...."
The following year, in 1935, some 750 cousins and friends attended the event. Luella (Prather) Shepard of Kansas led singing, while Frank Younkin of Johnstown, PA led the "Get Acquainted Committee." Dr. Noble Younkin made a speech in Pennsylvania Dutch and classical German, and eight-year-old Martha Van Swearingen gave readings in Dutch, German, Italian and English. Attorney Frederick E. Younkin of Connellsville presented a family history. while J.O. Shepard, and Pauline and Harold Younkin, sang songs. The oldest members in attendance were Mrs. J.C. Forsythe and Colwell Younkin.
The event consisted of picnic meals and singing, orchestra music, speeches, comedy, dancing acts and ventriloquists. A booth displayed old heirlooms, letters, photos, records, titles and Bibles. Left-handed fiddler Fred Younkin, of Ashville, OH, became a regular fixture. The music was so popular that in 1937 the planners bought a piano "just to be used at this and following reunions."
Over time, the planners became good friends, and initially enjoyed each other's company. Cousin Carmie (Forsythe) Earle wrote to a friend:
We visited Charley last week and what a good time was had by all. Some time I am going to put up a tent in their yard just to sit and watch the boats. They have a wonderful view. We just et and et and talked Younkin -- did your ears burn? Would like to have you folks here on June 6 for noon dinner and more Younkin confab.
Yet all was not harmonious, given everyone's differing ambitions and expectations. Another Younkin reunion sprang up in Great Bend, Kansas, called "The Younkin Family History Society," spearheaded by Charles F. Younkin. Major Noble Younkin of Indiana was elected president, with Fred E. Younkin of Connellsville and Clarence L. Younkin of Miami elected vice presidents. Charley asked the group for genealogical information, and jockeyed for territory and position with his rivals. Charley wrote to Charles F. in 1934 and "sure gave him the lowdown from A to Z, 8 pages," he wrote. "I told him that instead of my tossing of data in his lap, that we here expected him to come to us with all he had, as I have been appointed to receive all data." Then in 1936, he reported in a letter that "There is some action to Younkin affairs in Kan. as they seem to have the get together spirit out there and during the Kan. Diamond Jubilee, they are at the same time trying to have a Younkin Jubilee. What the h*ll do you think of that?
In 1938, an incredible 1,500 people attended despite being in the chokehold of the Depression. A columnist for the Pickaway County News, OH, learned of the event and said it was "the largest family reunion of which I have any record..."
~ Countless Genealogy Letters ~
Charley's letter writing was prolific. In September 1934, preparing for the first reunion, Charley ordered letterhead to be printed for the new association. He and assistant reunion secretary Nellie B. (Younkin) Wiley were the primary users of the stationery.
He once wrote that "I myself am not a speaker, but my hobby is writing ... [and] to blow the Younkin horn long and loud." He considered it his "sacred duty" to help others discover their roots.
In one letter to an Iowa cousin, he wrote: "My heart is with all you fine Younkin folks in any move to help bind this great family more closely together."
Another letter promoting the reunion stated: "...anyone who misses this great affair will be missing a treat of their entire life." Another said that "there is not any charge for the little information we are able to give on your branch though we are always glad to receive contributions to help carry on as we in our research work are at considerable expense...."
~ The Original Younkin Family News Bulletin ~
Of all Charley's accomplishments, perhaps the one with the most impact was as editor of the Younkin Family News Bulletin. It was a six-page, five-column tabloid, at a subscription price of $1.00 per year. The first issue, dated Christmas 1937, was loaded with family stories and obituaries, a reunion wrap-up and letters.
"Dr. Noble Younkin has given a very friendly suggestion regarding a quarterly publication," Charley wrote in November 1936, "which I believe would be in line though it would cost a tidy sum. He offers to donate $5.00 towards this and I will match it." In July 1937, as the idea grew closer to reality, he wrote: "Had a very generous contribution from Ernest Younkin, $5.00 for both piano and news bulletin." That same month, while visiting his brother Frank, Charley "pulled his leg for $2.00 also pulled the same amount out of F.E. for news bulletin. Have about $25.00 already and more soon."
All told, he published eight editions -- Christmas 1937; April 30, 1938; August 5, 1938; December 20, 1938; August 10, 1939; March 15, 1940; Sept. 25, 1940; and June 30, 1941.
The newspaper served to take the Younkin research and reunion story to a select but nationwide audience. In an editorial in 1940, the editors of the Connellsville Daily Courier opined:
Of the numerous family reunions which run through the summer season in ever increasing numbers, that of the Younkins is one of a few which take on a national scale. According to Attorney Fred E. Younkin who has been vice-president since the organization was formed, they come all the way from California and Maine. The association has a national printed bulletin... The usual big gathering is anticipated.
To provide material for the newspaper, and to satisfy his own craving for historical details, Charley traveled widely to visit with distant kin.
In October 1934, he spent a day with elderly cousin Daniel Martin Younkin in Rockwood. Daniel's daughter Alice is thought to have been present and listened as her father told stories of his parents, grandparents and extended kin, and when asked, she said the old family Bible was in possession of a sister. Daniel asked his guests if they knew or were closely related to "to the Younkins that used to butcher in the neighborhood of Scottdale [PA]," Charley later wrote. "I believe if I am not mistaken that he asked me if it was my father. If we are able to see this Daniel may may find out more about these folks." Daniel also told the researchers that one of his uncles was William Younkin, and that a first cousin, John X. Younkin, "married a sister of Charles Rose."
In July 1935, he drove to Fultonham, Ohio, to see Mrs. Margaret (Younkin) Black, which was a "rather lonesome trip all by my self," he growled.
Later that same year, in October 1935, to "get a few matters straightened out" about how the Minerd-Miner cousins fit into the picture, he spent a night in the home of his aunt, Rosetta (Harbaugh) Miner in Hexebarger near Kingwood.
~ Amassing an Archive, Now Lost ~
The paper archaeology excavations that Charley was delving into produced rare printed material that ended up in his hands. Among these were old letters. He once wrote to Otto:
During the reunion a fine old man came to me ... David Youngkin of Mountaindale, Cambria Co., Pa. He turned over to me two old family letters, one of 1829, the other of 1832, and were written by his great-grandfather. And who do you think it was? Henry Younkin, brother of Jacob and Frederick, so at last the lost is found.
He constantly consulted rare historical books, and often borrowed rare volumes via inter-library loans. Among these were Archives of the State of New Jersey, and Annals of the Harbaugh Family (1856). Many old family Bibles were given to him, among these one inscribed by his great-grandfather Charles Younkin.
Following his death, it is said, his research files were thrown away.
~ The Beginning of the End ~
As the decade of the 1930s turned into the '40s, enthusiasm for the YNFB and reunions waned, and Charley's health began to falter. He received a letter from cousin Anita L. Eyster, a genealogist from Philadelphia, who stated that "I am certainly sorry to hear that you are laid up. I am afraid you have always worked too hard."
His hot temper likely soured many relationships with cousins he once considered close. In November 1936, he wrote: "Perhaps Mrs. Harvey C. Younkin will bawl me out again. You know how much I care. Really I do miss my weekly reminders from DeLong who has been mum since I blew up at him." In 1937, he said that "I had to give Mrs. Wiley a piece of my mind if she gets sore I cannot help it. If it was not possible to meet once a year at least I would resign. I told her in as many words."
And in September 1939, after a mis-understanding with Clarence Lincoln Younkin, who had driven all the way to the reunion from Miami, Clarence wrote to a friend: "A difference existing between Chas. & I ... owing to Charlie's attitude. He probably showed you my last letter to him in answer to his very vicious and unseemly letter. As I am a real Younkin I know how to take an insult."
Cousin F.E. Younkin wrote to Charley in March 1941, from Connellsville, saying that if "the present issue of the News Bulletin will be the last ever to be published strikes me with some pain and much concern."
The last known YFNB, dated June 30, 1941, contained a foreshadowing of war. Daniel Garfield Younkin of Mesa, AZ, wrote: "We are certain to be called upon to sacrifice much, to work hard and long with no thought of the dividends which might accrue...." At the time, Charley was age 61, and his longtime colleague and reunion president Otto Younkin was 53. That same issue tellingly contained the obituaries of several of Charley's favorite cousins who had become friends over the years -- David F. Younkin of Johnstown, PA; Nancy (Younkin) Forsythe of Connellsville, PA; and Clarence Lincoln Younkin of Miami.
The "great Younkin awakening" came to a halt during World War II. Because of rationing of gasoline and fuel oil, automobile trips to reunions were no longer feasible. Due to shortages of paper, publishing was out of the question.
Charles did not lost his interest, however, in continuing his landmark research efforts. He again purchased a listing in the 1943 edition of the Handbook of American Genealogy. In his listing, he wrote that he "specializes in Pa.-German pioneers" and was "Genealogist for Younkin family." He said ne wanted to correspond "with all of name Yonkin- Younken- Younkin- Youngken- Youngkin- Younkins -Junkin- Younker." Expanding his focus, he also offered to exchange data on descendants of Casper Harbaugh. Now a "Fellow" of the Institute for American Genealogy, he maintained his title as secretary of the Younkin National Family Association.
Otto Younkin and his wife Mildred and sons moved to Wooster, OH in the 1940s, removing him further from the reunion connections and relationships.
On Jan. 30, 1950, Charley died at his home in Charleroi at the age of 70. His remains were transported to the ancient family burial ground to rest beside his wife in the Imel Cemetery.
In Wooster, Ohio, Otto passed away in 1953.
Luella remained in Charleroi for five years after Charley's death, and lived a total of 21 years in all in the town. She made her home at 432 Oakland Avenue and was a member of St. Mary's Episcopal Church, the Ladies Auxiliary of Arden Calvert Post 167, Veterans of Foreign Wars; the Ladies Auxiliary of Charleroi American Legion Post 22 and the Iris Rebekah Lodge. Her son James O. Shepard also lived in Charleroi as an adult.
Suffering from congestive heart failure and hypertension, added to by what a physician called "excessive obesity," she died in Charleroi-Monessen Hospital on Feb. 16, 1955. Burial was in Charleroi.
In the decades following, many subscribers stored away their Younkin newspapers in shoeboxes and trunks, and passed their copies down to children and grandchildren. This printed record of a golden era in the family has directly led to widespread re-emergence of national interest in Younkin genealogy in the 1990s. In 2007, it was reprinted by the founder of this website, in booklet form, for donation to public libraries all throughout Western Pennsylvania, and for cousins who shared the interest.
Charley is pictured and mentioned in a lavishly illustrated, 2011 book about his uncle Ephraim Miner -- entitled Well At This Time: the Civil War Diaries and Army Convalescence Saga of Farmboy Ephraim Miner. The book, authored by the founder of this website, is seen at left. [More about the book]
~ Daughter Bessie Marie (Younkin) Todd ~
Daughter Bessie Younkin (1904-1929) was born in 1904. She married Albert Todd ( ? - ? ).
They had two daughters -- Margaret Jean Todd and Audrey Louise Todd. The Todds made their home in Midland, PA.
Tragically, Bessie contracted a fatal case of tuberculosis. After suffering "a lingering illness," said a newspaper, she died at the home of her parents in Charleroi in 1929. Following a funeral held at the First Christian Church, she was laid to rest in Smithfield Cemetery in Pittsburgh.
Albert later married for a second time, but his fate is unknown.
~ Son Clarence William Younkin Sr. ~
Son Clarence William Younkin Sr. (1907-1988) was born in 1907 in Connellsville, Fayette County.
At a young age he moved with his parents and siblings to Charleroi, Washington County, PA. On Aug. 28, 1930, Clarence married Mildred Robson (1910-2009) in the parsonage of the First Presbyterian Church. She was the daughter of John and Anna (Wells) Robson of Charleroi, with her father having been born in England, and her mother in Horning, OH.
Clarence was an employee of the former Kinder Mollenauer Store in Charleroi, and a mechanic for many years. Mildred was a practice nurse.
They had four children -- Clarence William Younkin Jr., Irene Cooper, Dorothy Gallagher and Doris Kusaj.
Clarence passed away in Mon Valley Hospital at the age of 82 on June 18, 1988. He was laid to rest in Monongahela Valley Memorial Park in Donora, Washington County. At the time of his death, he had eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Mildred outlived Clarence by two decades. She passed away in the Mon Valley Care Center, at the age of 98, on Feb. 15, 2009. By that time, the number of great-grandchildren had swelled to 10.
Son Clarence William Younkin Jr. (1944-2008) was married and had two children -- Carla Stefan and Terry Younkin. He was a U.S. Army veteran. Sadly, Clarence died at age 63 at home in Charleroi on April 23, 2008. He was laid to rest in the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies in Bridgeville, PA.
Daughter Irene B. Younkin (1931-2014) was born on Sept. 27, 1931 in Charleroi. At the age of 18, in February 1950, she married 21-year-old coal miner Henry Vernon Cooper. He was the son of John and Florence (Staup) Cooper, and a resident of Fallowfield Township near Charleroi. They had one son, Bruce Cooper. Irene was employed with Montgomery Ward Co. store in Charleroi, specializing as catalog manager and custom orders in the drapery department. She also was a member of the First Christian Church of Charleroi. Sadly, she outlived both her husband and son. She died at age 82 on June 17, 2014 in Mon Valley Care Center. Interment was in the West Newton Cemetery.
~ Daughter Emma Lou (Younkin) Gosney Zdancewicz (Zance) ~
Daughter Emma Lou Younkin (1913-1963) was born on Aug. 6, 1913 in Brownsville, Fayette County.
At age 16, in 1929, she married her first husband, 29-year-old William Ferry Gosney (1900- ? ), the son of Theodore and Minnie (Penn) Gosney. They were 12 years apart in age.
The 1930 census shows the couple living in the home of William's parents in Charleroi, with William working as a craneman in a steel mill.
They had one son, William T. Gosney.
Sadly, the Gosneys' marriage dissolved in the late 1930s, and Emma Lou sued for divorce, citing "cruel and barbarous treatment" as well as "indignities." The couple was divorced on June 29, 1940, by decree of the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County.
To make a living for herself as a divorcee, Emma Lou was employed as a cook in Charleroi, and made her home at 326 Lincoln Avenue.
Four years after her divorce, 27-year-old Emma Lou married 30-year-old pipefitter Edward Zdancewicz (shortened to "Zance"), who was residing in Monessen, and the son of Polish immigrants Konstanty and Mary (Roacknoi) Zdancewicz. The wedding was held on April 12, 1944 in the parsonage of the First Christian Church, with Rev. B.R. Mahan officiating. Said the Charleroi Mail, "The couple spent a brief honeymoon in Philadelphia, and are now making their home in Charleroi. The bride is employed in a local store and the groom at the Page Mill in Monessen."
Son William suffered serious injuries in an automobile accident in May 1950. The Charleroi Mail reported that he had a brain concussion, severe laceration of the right knee, fractured right ankle and possible right arm fracture, and forehead lacerations. He first was taken to Monongahela Hospital, but then was rushed to the U.S. Medical Hospital at Carlisle, PA for specialized treatment.
The Zances made their home at 600½ Maple Avenue in Charleroi.
Tragically, Emma Lou suffered for 5½ years with cancer of the cervix and uterus. She died at age 52 on June 25, 1963, in Charleroi-Monessen Hospital. Rev. Martin S. Longenecker officiated at her funeral, and she was laid to rest at Monongahela Valley Memorial Park.
~ Son Frederick Arthur Younkin ~
Son Frederick Arthur Younkin (1915-1991) was born in 1915 in Brownsville, Fayette County, PA.
At the age of 30, in 1945, he was employed as a truck driver in Charleroi, and lived at 405 Fallowfield Avenue. In November 1945, Clarence married 30-year-old Jean Rice (1915-1986), a resident of Roscoe, Washington County, the the daughter of Patrick and Jean (Young) Rice.
They lived in Charleroi and had two sons, Frederick William Younkin Jr. and Charles Edward Younkin.
Fred worked as a furniture warehouse man and was a member of the Moose Lodge, the Russian Club, the Turner Club and was a steward with the Western Pennsylvania Teamsters Union No. 872.
Sadly, Jean passed away in 1986.
After her death, Frederick moved to Dodge City, KS, where he attended the Lansing First Baptist Church, and had a significant other. He died on March 3, 1991, in Leavenworth, Leavenworth County, KS, just four days shy of his 76th birthday.
~ Son Harold H. Younkin ~
Son Harold H. Younkin (1920-1990) served in the US Army during World War II. His service included three years of duty in India and Burma. He was discharged in September 1945 and returned home to Charleroi, residing with his married sister Emma.
After the war's end, he married Rose Zurich ( ? - ? ), the daughter of Mary Zurich of Monessen, on June 29, 1946. At the time of marriage, Rose was a waitress in a local restaurant, and Harold was "employed in refrigeration work in Charleroi," said the Charleroi Mail. "Both Miss Zurich and her fiance are popularly known in the valley's younger set." They may have had a son, Harold David Younkin, who married Janet Kucia in November 1967.
Harold also worked for Corning Glass Works in the Mon Valley.
In February 1954 he was injured in "a spectacular automobile crash on Route 88 at Wickenham's Corners about midnight," said the Charleroi Mail. "The speeding automobile overturned and was demolished."
He died at the age of 70 on Nov. 4, 1990. He rests for eternity in Calvary Cemetery in Charleroi.
~ Daughter Pauline (Younkin) Bartack (or "Bartock") ~
Daughter Pauline Younkin married (?) Bartack or Bartock.
They resided in Buffalo, NY.
~ More ~
[Note -- Click here for the Younkin DNA study webpage.]
This article is based on "Charleroi Charley's Prolific Pen," in the 1994 edition of the "new" Younkin Family News Bulletin.