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  • Kristin Wenger

Shooting for the Stars – the Extraordinary Life of Miles Rock (#52Ancestors week 45: Bearded)


What did I know about the humble beginnings of Miles Rock?

  • He was born eighth in a family of ten children in rural Ephrata, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania [1]

  • His father died in 1845 when Miles was just 4 ½ years old [2]

  • His oldest sister (my 4x great grandmother Caroline) was married while still in her teens to an alcoholic, abusive husband and often did not have food for her children. [3]

It was certainly not an upbringing of privilege or opportunity. The majority of men of his time and place were farmers who never left the county in which they were born. Miles Rock defied the odds and steered his life on a path so incredibly different from the norm that his story begs to be told.

Miles Rock (1840-1901) [4]


In what I can only guess is a nod to “No-shave November,” this week’s #52Ancestors prompt is “Bearded.” There is really nothing special about this dapper dude’s beard, but this photograph proves he did sport one during his lifetime. Hence, I’m seizing this opportunity to share his intriguing story.


Peter and Mary (Graver) Rock had ten children. Born in October 1840, Miles was their eighth. [5] After Peter’s death in May 1845, the children were essentially “farmed out” as apprentices or farm labor to live with other families. In 1850, Miles lived on the David and Barbara Shirk farm in West Earl Township. [6] While education beyond 8th grade was extremely rare in 1850's Lancaster County, Miles somehow managed to attend two colleges, launching him into a fascinating international career.


I have found numerous records that validate the facts contained in the following biography, and it provides an interesting summary of the life of Miles Rock. [7]





A captivating trajectory, wouldn’t you agree? I’d like to share a few more highlights I discovered in my research.


Photo of Miles Rock in his Civil War uniform [8]


After attending Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Miles enlisted as a private on 4 June 1861, serving in Company B, 30th Infantry Regiment Pennsylvania. [9]


Following the Civil War, Miles enrolled at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, becoming one of the members of the very first graduating class of 1869. [10]

Photo of Miles Rock (center) and his Lehigh classmates [11]


Here is an interesting snapshot of what Lehigh University offered to its very first students:

When Lehigh opened in the fall of 1866, the school offered six courses of study: civil engineering, mechanical engineering, analytical chemistry, mining and metallurgy, and general literature. During students’ first two years of study, however, they all had to take the same courses, regardless of major. Core courses included Latin, Greek, French, German, physics, mathematics, chemistry, English, drawing, anatomy, and physiology. [12]

In his first year out of college, Miles had already accepted a position that would take him overseas.

“A Lancasterian [sic] Goes to South America” [13]


Before that June 1870 departure, he married Susan Clarkson on 26 May 1870. [14]

Throughout his career as an astronomical engineer, Miles’ work took them to several nations in Central and South America. In fact, their first child, Amy Cordova Rock, was born in the Argentine Republic in 1872, with her middle name representing the city of her birth. [15] They also had a son, Alfred M. Rock, born while back in the United States in Washington D.C. in 1877. [16]


Both Amy and Miles followed in their father's footsteps as high achievers who attended college and traveled the world. Their lives were a stark contrast to those of their first cousins, including my 3x great grandmother, who lived their entire lives in one place, often lacking education, money, and opportunities.


Amy filled out the passport below while she was a student a Bryn Mawr College. It even includes her physical description and signature. [17]


She married a well-known geologist, but made her own mark on the world, as evidenced by her biography in the Woman’s Who’s Who of America. [18]



Meanwhile, Amy's younger brother Alfred attended the prestigious Harvard University and became a geologist. [19]

Alfred's 1901 passport application, completed at the U.S. Consulate in Guatemala [20]


Alfred died a bachelor in Mexico before his thirtieth birthday and bequeathed some out-of-the-ordinary items to his mother and sister in his will. [21]


I’ve uncovered some fascinating details in my family history research, but for the most part, my ancestors who were born in Lancaster County played the traditional roles of their time and place: farmers, factory workers, and housewives who never ventured too far from home. Miles Rock and his two children broke that mold. From a poor, fatherless boy to a globe-trotting, college-educated astronomical engineer, Miles Rock lived his life to shoot for the stars.


Obituary for Miles Rock [22]



Read more #52Ancestors stories


Sources:

[1] Kristin Wenger, “Josh Alexa Nathan Wenger Tree (work in progress),” accessed 02 November 2018.


[2] Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 02 November 2018), memorial page for Peter Rock (5 Nov 1803–26 May 1845), Find A Grave Memorial no. 55225136, citing Kemper-Landis Graveyard, Akron, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, USA ; Maintained by Dan Gwinn (contributor 47066752) .


[3] Kristin Wenger, “Caroline Was a Rock ( #52Ancestors week 10: Strong Woman),” Roots and Wings Research Blog (https://www.rootsandwingsresearch.com/blog/caroline-was-a-rock-52ancestors-week-10-strong-woman : accessed 2 November 2018).


[4] Miles Rock photograph added by Dan Gwinn, Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 02 November 2018), memorial page for Miles Rock (10 Oct 1840–29 Jan 1901), Find A Grave Memorial no. 39416848, citing Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, District of Columbia, District Of Columbia, USA ; Maintained by Dan Gwinn (contributor 47066752) .


[5] Kristin Wenger, “Josh Alexa Nathan Wenger Tree (work in progress),” accessed 02 November 2018.


[6] "United States Census, 1850," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M4HP-86V : 12 April 2016), Miles Rock in household of David Shirk, West Earl, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, United States; citing family 117, NARA microfilm publication M432 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).


[7] William Eimbeck, “The Late Miles Rock,” Science vol. 13, no. 338 (1901): 978-80; digitized at JSTOR (http://www.jstor.org/stable/1628639 : accessed 1 November 2018).


[8] Photo: “Miles Rock in Civil War Uniform,” added by Dan Gwinn, Genealogy.com (https://www.genealogy.com/ftm/g/w/i/Dan-Gwinn/PHOTO/0007photo.html: accessed 2 November 2018).


[9] Ibid.


[10] “Miles Rock (1840-1901),” Lehigh University (https://omeka.lehigh.edu/exhibits/show/laying-down-the-tracks/bayer-galleria/page-1 : accessed 2 November 2018).


[11] Osborne and Malthaner, “Group Portrait of Miles Rock and Others,” 1869, Lehigh University (https://omeka.lehigh.edu/exhibits/show/laying-down-the-tracks/item/2912 : accessed 2 November 2018).


[12] “Early Documents and Curriculum,” Lehigh University (https://omeka.lehigh.edu/exhibits/show/laying-down-the-tracks/lehigh---s-early-curriculum/lehigh-textbooks : accessed 2 November 2018).


[13] “A Lancasterian [sic] Going to South America,” The Harrisburg Telegraph (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 28 March 1870, page 3, column 2; digitized at Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/clip/1448371/harrisburg_telegraph/?xid=637 : accessed 1 November 2018).


[14] “Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Church and Town Records, 1669-2013,” database with images, Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=2451 : accessed 2 November 2018), path: PA-Philadelphia > Philadelphia > Episcopal > St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church (Francisville) > image 395 of 1527, marriage of Miles Rock and Susan Clarkson, 26 May 1870.


[15] “U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925,” database with images, Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1174 : accessed 2 November 2018), path: Passport applications 1795-1905 > 1895-1898 > Roll 452, 20 Jul 1895-31 July 1895 > image 146 of 520: application of Amy Cordova Rock, 22 July 1895.


[16] U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925,” database with images, Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1174 : accessed 2 November 2018), path: Emergency Passport Applications (issued abroad), 1877-1901 > 1900-1901 > Volume 028: Egypt to Portugal > image 300 of 600; application of Alfred M. Rock, 6 September 1901.


[17] “U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925,” database with images, Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1174 : accessed 2 November 2018), path: Passport applications 1795-1905 > 1895-1898 > Roll 452, 20 Jul 1895-31 July 1895 > image 146 of 520, passport application of Amy Cordova Rock, 22 July 1895.


[18] John William Leonard, editor, “Ransome, Amy Cordoba Rock,” Woman’s Who’s Who of America: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and Canada: 1914-1915 (New York : The American Commonwealth Co, 1914), 672; digitized at Google Books (https://books.google.com/books?id=GvwUAAAAYAAJ&q=amy+#v=snippet&q=amy&f=false: accessed 2 November 2018).


[19] “U.S. School Catalogs, 1765-1935,” database with images, Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=2203 : accessed 2 November 2018), path: Massachusetts > Harvard University > 1905 > image 198 of 246; Alfred Mayer Rock, A.M., 1903.


[20] U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925,” database with images, Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1174 : accessed 2 November 2018), path: Emergency Passport Applications (issued abroad), 1877-1901 > 1900-1901 > Volume 028: Egypt to Portugal > image 300 of 600; application of Alfred M. Rock, 6 September 1901.


[21] “Washington D.C., Wills and Probate Records, 1737-1952,” database with images, Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=9083 : accessed 2 November 2018), path: District of Columbia > Wills, Boxes 0323 Hansen – 0332 Rochan, 1907 > image 3 of 790; will of Alfred Mayer Rock, 1907.


[22] “Death of Miles Rock,” The Allentown Leader (Allentown, Pennsylvania), 4 February 1901, page2, column 5; digitized at Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/clip/1448964/the_allentown_leader/ : accessed 1 November 2018).