The Life of a Telegraph Operator

Francis Joseph Wells, (abt 1871-aft. 1926), was a telegraph operator.

In spite of a reasonably long list of data about the man, my great-great-grandfather remains something of mystery. In his turbulent life, his career seems to be the constant.

Among all the farmers and laborers in my family tree, Francis Joseph Wells stands out as the lone a telegraph operator.

A Model of Success

Frank J. Wells is the exception to the rule in my family tree. Among so many branches of farmers and laborers, he was one of the relative few to pursue a different profession. I believe this began from his childhood in Tidioute PA.

In the 1860s, Grandin & Neyhart were very successful producers and shippers of crude oil, and in 1874, Jahu Hunter and H. H. Cummings’ oil discovery in Armstrong county financed their very fine homes in Tidioute. (Read more about the Pennsylvania Oil Field here.) Growing up in a town flush with oil money would have exposed young Frank to a certain model of success. After his father’s death in 1885, he likely began casting about for a solid way to support himself from a young age.

Any business boom brings a swell of tributary businesses and jobs. Oil meant railroads, and railroads needed telegraph operators.

On the Move

Frank moved his family frequently, but still managed to maintain his career almost everywhere he went. In 1900, Frank was a telegraph operator in Olean NY. He and his family moved to Bolivar NY by 1905, and in 1910, Frank worked for the gas company in Lafayette PA.

He registered for the draft in Trumball county OH on September 12, 1918, indicating that he was employed by the Tide Water Pipe Co. in Warren county OH. And in 1920, the Wells family was enumerated in Cleveland OH.

Still Searching

As always, I still have questions.

Were the constant moves merely the pursuit of greener pastures? Did they ultimately fracture his marriage when his wife Anna and my great-grandmother, Orilla, returned to the Olean area in 1921? Since I’ve never been able to locate a death record or date for him, where did his job carry him, and for how long?

And the unanswerable question: did he ever find what he was searching for?


Thanks for reading! You decide what’s next–

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