#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: On the Farm

I mentioned last week that farming is in my blood. Loads of my ancestors owned farms or worked on farms. Recently, I learned that my Great Grand-Uncle Isaac Pittman Jr. died on a farm. He was 15 years old.

I had never heard of Uncle Isaac until I found him on the U.S. Censuses for 1900 and 1910. Then I found his death certificate from 1911. Well, not really the death certificate, just the index on FamilySearch. (“Alabama Deaths, 1908-1974”, database, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:JDZK-PXY : 30 November 2020), Isaic Pitman, 1911.)

Of course, I asked my mom about him. It was a very confused conversation on the phone because she had never heard of Uncle Isaac and kept getting him confused with his dad Isaac.

Isaac Pittman Jr. was born on 23 June 1896, according to a handwritten list tucked into his sister Mollie Pittman Stevens’ Bible. Mollie got married in 1907. Her oldest daughter Willie, my grandmother, was born in 1909, so she may not have really remembered Uncle Isaac. According to my mother, Mollie never talked about her brother Isaac or how he died. Just a few days ago, when I received Isaac’s full death certificate in the mail, mom remarked again how strange she found it that Grandma Stevens never talked about her brother, and she added that Grandma never really talked about her daughter Nellie Mae, who died before my mom was born, either. Maybe that was Grandma’s way of coping with the loss.

For five years, I wondered why Isaac died so young. I had a theory that he had drowned, and that’s why Grandma Stevens never would let Willie go down to the creek to play with the other children.

That was wrong. His death was – in my mind – much more horrific.

The death certificate says his death was an accident the describes that he was “caught in line shaft of machinery.”

Example of the belt and pulley system of a line shaft. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Wtshymanski)

I had to look up “line shaft farm” to see what it was. I found a video that includes old photos and a demonstration of how the system works. It sounds like the farmer could install one motor and, with a system of belts and pulleys, use it to operate different equipment.

I don’t know what the line shaft was used for on the Pittman farm. I do know that in the 1910 Census, Isaac was listed as a laborer on “home farm,” which I assume means he did farming at his own home. His oldest brother, Medrick, was listed as a farmer at “home farm,” while another brother, Tom, was listed as a farmer “working out.”

The death certificate says he is to be buried at the Pierce Cemetery. Isaac’s Aunt Mary Elizabeth Pittman married a Pierce. I can find no reference to a Pierce Cemetery on FindAGrave, so perhaps it no longer exists or was given a new name. FindAGrave suggests that Isaac was buried in the Pittman Cemetery, which does still exist, but there is no marker and no documentation to prove he was interred there.

It’s sad to me that for so many years, Uncle Isaac, who died so young, was forgotten. While my heart hurts that he did such a terrible death, I am glad to have paid a small part in recording his short life for future generations.

About Taminar

When I grow up, I want to make movies and write books. Now in my 50s, I wonder if I'll ever really accomplish the dreams of my youth. I have made two short films, one for a college film-making class, the other for an MTV-sponsored contest. I have written short plays that have been produced, and a few short stories and reviews that have been published. I also perform and direct for community theatre. My working life has included stints in local TV news, public relations, retail management and cashier, and for a couple of years, I made the rides go at Walt Disney World. I have two cats and a husband.
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4 Responses to #52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: On the Farm

  1. Eilene Lyon says:

    Farming is/was such dangerous work once all the machines got involved. Sad tale, but good that you were able to uncover the story for posterity.

  2. Barb LaFara says:

    Such a sad and tragic story for a young man. It is too bad his family did not preserve his story, but, as you say, coping with death is different for everyone. I wonder if there was a report of his accident in the local paper, perhaps it would shed more light on what occurred.

    • Taminar says:

      Barb, I have searched the local paper, but the issues around the time of his death are not online. I’m thinking they may not exist, because newspapers.com has surrounding issues, just not the ones I’m looking for.

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