"It's dark as a dungeon and damp as the dew,
Where the danger is double and pleasures are few,
Where the rain never falls and the sun never shines,
It's dark as a dungeon way down in the mine."
- Merle Travis
The landscape of America is dotted by ghost towns: mining towns that sprang up out of nowhere when veins of ore were discovered then vanished back into the dust as quickly as they had come when the mineral deposits dried up. If you had an ancestor who worked in a mine or lived in a mining town, where can you find record of him and his experience?
On the website of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) of the U.S. Department of Labor, you can find an index to mining museums and miners' memorials for thirty of the fifty states. If your ancestor was a miner in Kentucky, you can find record of him on Kentucky Coal Miners, a site dedicated to preserving the memories and stories of miners. Many photos have been posted there, and the site also links to county websites and even the family websites of coal miners and their descendants. For Pennsylvania ancestors, you should be sure to check out the Virtual Museum of Coal Mining in Western Pennsylvania, which lists every mine for every county in Pennsylvania, as well as any resources available for researching that mine.
Of course, one of the greatest resources at your disposal is US GenWeb, which has projects related to miners in many different localities. The Mining in Wyoming page is helpful, as is West Virginia Coal Mining, which has family histories, links to mining museums, and miners' obituaries.
Ironically, you are most likely to find your ancestor in mining records if he was involved in some kind of mining accident. These were reported in newspapers, and you can also find record of them on sites like Life in the Mines or the Iron Range Research Center, which also includes mining company newsletters and a survey or women in industry taken in 1919. If your ancestor was a miner in West Virginia who was involved in a mining accident, you can find him in the annual chief inspectors' reports, listing miners who were injured or killed for each year. You can request these records from the Archives and History Library of West Virginia, or you can view them on microfilm at the Family History Library on the film entitled, "Index of Fatalities in WV Coal Mines 1883-1926." The information listed on these records includes: the name of the company and mine; the name, age, and occupation of the man killed; how he was killed, the date of injury, and the date of death; his nationality; how many years of experience he had in the mines; whether or not he left a widow; and how many children he had. These records can be priceless for digging back into your family tree.