Finding Coal Mining Accidents and Deaths
in West Virginia Coal Mines
One of the most often asked questions on the WV Coal Mines is how to find information about a man who had a mining accident or who died in a mining accident. There were many thousands of miners in WV and hundreds of mines throughout the state. Therefore, it is necessary to try to pinpoint all necessary information prior to doing the actual search. You will be the researcher unless you choose to hire a professional.
1. You will need to know the complete name of the miner. “Grandpa Jones” will not be sufficient. You will have to know his full name, such as Frank Jones of Frank Z Jones. Keep in mind that often foreign names were ‘Americanized’ in the coal camps and Giovanni Tredici would become John Tradci, as was the name of my Grandmother’s first husband. Give all the information you know on the name including any nicknames.
2. You must know the date of death of the person or at least know the year. Social Security came into being in 1932 and all coal miners at the time had to enroll in Social Security. Several web sites such as Ancestry.com and Roots Web.com have Social Security Death Indexes you can look up to find the death date of the miner if he was enrolled in Social Security. These indexes will give the SS number, date and place of death. Print the information off of your computer. You can then send for a complete application and it will include additional information including the names of parents, country of origin and often the birth location. The social Security death indexes, however, do not have everyone listed; so don't give up if you can't find him there. There will be a fee of $27.00 for the application file.
The Virginia Legislature decreed in 1853 that all births and deaths would be reported to county clerks. Compliance was often erratic, but improved with time. This transferred to West Virginia when it became a state in 1863. So it is possible to write to the Registrar/Clerk of the West Virginia county where you feel tht your ancestor died and receive a death certificate. You will need to give a possible year of death. There will be a small fee. Often you can do this on the website for the county. If you do not find it at the county you can contact the West Virginia Archives of Birth, Death and Marriage Records
They will do a search that covers the year you asked for plus the year before and the year after for a $5.00 fee.
3. Another way to find the name and place your ancestors lived is to check the Federal Census for the county of WV in which your ancestor lived. The Census was taken every 10 years, so you will search the one closest to when you think your ancestors lived in a particular county. There are numerous websites that can teach you how to use the census. You can access these census records from pay sites on the web such as http://www.ancestry.com or http://www.genealogy.com. The index is sometimes free. Or you can go to the nearest Latter Day Saints (Mormon)Family History Center (free) near you, or to the closest Federal Center near you to access the census. It may be that your local Genealogical Society or your local library has access to these records or can tell you how to find them locally.
Once you have a full name, and an approximate date and a location, you can proceed further. Here are several ways you can find the information you are seeking.
A. In Charleston, WV next to the state capitol building is located the WV State Archives and History Library of the State of West Virginia. They have birth, marriage, death, census and military records and newspapers of every county in WV. They also have an extensive collection of County Histories, published court records, census records, and cemetery readings plus much more. However, they do not have an interlibrary loan policy.
They DO have the records called ANNUAL REPORTS OF COAL MINES IN THE STATE OF WEST VIRGINIA USA. These records were made by the chief of mine inspectors and they list the names of injured and dead miners for each year. These records were made by the chief of inspectors and they list the names of injured and dead miners for each year.
You can request this information if you have the basic information, complete name of miner, injury or death, and county or mine name and the approximate year. That is why you have to have the previous information listed above. You can look it up yourself if you live in WV or you can send your request by mail giving all the information you have, along with your own name and full address and any fee asked for plus a long, self addressed stamped envelope(SASE) for the return reply. The address is
Archives and History Library
The Cultural Center
1900 Kanawha Boulevard East
Charleston, WV 25305-0300
You must enclose $5.00 to cover costs and only one inquiry per envelope please.
Please Note! The Library says, “We are unable to do more than a limited search through correspondence. Inquiries MUST be specific and provide full name, county of residence and approximate dates as well as documents wanted. If you have extensive requests they will send you names of researchers you may hire. You must pay for all copies.”
B. If you know which mine your ancestor worked and they were United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) members and you have the Social Security number you might be able to get their work records from:
UMWA Health and Retirement Funds
4455 Connecticut Avenue
Washington, DC 20008
Attention of Records Manager
C. Information is also found in the following two books:
“They Died in the Darkness” by Lucy A Dillon 1976 SBN 87012-230-4. This book covers mining disasters between 1886 and 1968 in WV. It gives a written description of the accidents and at the end is a list of miners names and nationalities.
“They died for King Coal” by Lucy A Dillon (I do not know much about this book) but I believe it continues the information found in the first book.
These books are out of print buy may be available at Amazon.com. They should be available in most major genealogical libraries and you might be able to access them through interlibrary loan.
“Raleigh County(WV) Mine Deaths 1891-2000 by Jim Woods. This book contains the names of 1,925 miners injured fatally in Raleigh County, WV mines. It tells when, where and how. Plus an additional 279 names of coal miners who were killed in accidents that could not be proved were work related, because either sufficient documentation could not be found or the mine was not identified. All information comes from official sources and newspaper reports. 218 pages, name index, illustrated, hard cover. Price is $20.00 plus $2.00 handling and postage. WV orders add $1.20 state tax. Purchase directly from Jim Wood, 1091 ½ Austin Ave, Beckley, WV 25801 or call 304-253-7361 or 1-800-553-3184.
D. The National Mine Health and Safety Academy also might be able to help you locate information about mine injuries and deaths. Send the full details mentioned above to: Melody Bragg, Technical Information Specialist at:
E. The LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake, Utah has an ‘Index of Fatalities in WV Coal Mines 1883-1926.” This information was extracted from Reports of the Mine Inspectors and was compiled and indexed by Helen S Stinson in 1985 and was microfilmed by the LDS Library. The report form lists: No, Name of Company, Name of mine, Name of person killed, Date of injury, Date of death, Nationality. Years of experience, age, occupation, Widow, Number of children, Number of dependents, How killed, If inquest was performed, Inside or outside the mine.
This publication is available to be ordered at your local LDS Family History Center or at Salt Lake. Call number is US/CCAN 975.4V2s. You can then read the microfilm at the local LDS Center. There is a minimal charge less than $5.00 and you can keep the film for some time at the center and go back many times to work on it. You can also access the website which tells more about this Index by going to: http://swcp.com/~dhickman/wvcmf/wvcmf.html.
If you have problems bringing it up just go to Googel and do a search on ”Index of Fatalities in West Virginia Coal Mines.” This site also gives a brief history of coal mining in WV that is excellent.
F. Other links to mine disasters on the web:
Coal Miner’s Daughter ,
click on Mine Disaster Stories
Coalfields of the Appalachian Mountains will show you the location of all coal mines within their’coalfield’ areas.Click on either Northern West Virginia or Southern West Virginia.
As you can see, finding where and when your ancestor was injured or died in a coal mining accident takes some research on your part. Most of us who are searching this information are mostly searching for people who aer from our parents or grandparents generation and it is likely that a query asking about a death that happened when most of us were small children will go unanswered. However, you can find the information IF you are willing to do the research yourself. Good hunting.