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Finally telling the stories of those who died on the dam

 

An entry in Miller's Facebook group, www.facebook.com/groups/GCDfamily, where he has been publishing, and can accept, information on those who died during dam construction.

Arthur A. French, 39, of New Jersey, was crushed by a concrete block he was stripping in 1937 while working on the Grand Coulee Dam to help support his mother and siblings through the Great Depression.

Between the 1930s and the 1980s, at least 82 workers died at the Grand Coulee Dam site, and are now getting more recognition, thanks in part to the efforts of Jacob Miller, who works at the Visitor Center, and Susan Dechant, a researcher for the Northeast Washington Genealogical Society.

Miller, who started working at the Visitor Center in May of 2016, was surprised at the lack of information on those who had died working on the dam, something visitors asked about. He took it upon himself to start doing research later that year.

"First off, right off the bat, I found out that we did have a list of names, where they were from before coming here, and their death dates," Miller said in an interview last week. "With that information, I was able to go to Ancestry.com with my personal account and start researching the workers with just that small amount of information."

Miller contacted Dechant, who had originally provided that list, and had herself been researching those who had perished since 2006. "She came up here and gave me a huge wealth of information," Miller said.

Miller hopes to see a display at the visitor center someday that uses all the information he and Dechant have gathered, as well as a binder of the information, and he hopes his research helps lead to a monument in the area, as well.

In the meantime, Miller has been posting information and mini-bios on a Facebook group, which can be found at http://www.facebook.com/groups/GCDfamily.

In the bios, Miller includes as much as he can find out - sometimes more, sometimes less - and writes about where the workers came from, who their parents were, what brought them here, what they did at the dam, how they died, who they were married to, any children they had, newspaper clippings, and more.

"A lot of them didn't have children, and surprisingly a lot of them weren't married, but maybe it was because of the Great Depression," Miller speculates.

Miller and Dechant have gathered a lot of their information from old newspapers from Washington, Idaho, and Oregon, as well as U.S. Census data found on http://www.ancestry.com. "I was contacted by some relatives who were a great help in providing what information they had," Dechant said.

"Ironically, with the research I've been able to add at least one other person, so we are up to 82," Miller noted, on finding out about another person who had died during construction.

The workers who died ranged in age from young to old, Miller said, and in a variety of ways. "The biggest one is falls," Miller said. "Electrocutions, crushes, things falling on people - one was a 200-pound anvil. Drownings. Vehicle accidents. There were a couple of heart attacks. The first death was in 1934, caused by a heat stroke, someone laying up on a pole on a hot, summer day."

The numbers of types of death are as follows: 25 fell (mostly off of the dam), 18 were struck by an object, 12 due to vehicle accidents, nine were crushed, six drowned in the Columbia, four were electrocuted, three due to burns, two were buried in (land)slides, two died from heart failure, and one died from an explosion."

Jacob Miller, at the USBR's Visitor Center, has been compiling information on those who died during construciton of the dam. - Jacob Wagner photo

"I always love talking about it. They call me the 'Grim Reaper' guy here sometimes," Miller laughed, "the 'Grim Reaper Researcher.' I'm a history buff, so this is right down my alley of interest."

Dechant spoke about why she feels the project is important. "As a genealogist, I feel it is important to identify your ancestors, not only to know who they were but something about their lives, as many of them left families behind. These men gave their lives working on a project that benefits millions of people today and is considered to be one of the man-made wonders of the world. It was a tremendous feat for the time period involved. They should be remembered for their part in the project."

The Facebook group is open to the public, and people are encouraged to join. Those with more information can contact Miller via the Facebook group or call the Visitor Center at 633-9265. The Northeast Washington Genealogical Society has a website at http://www.NeWGS.org.

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