Uncovering Dark Secrets in Your Family Trees

Sometimes there are dark things in your family tree that aren’t talked about – things that when you stumble upon them positively blow you away.  Such a thing happened to me about a month ago when I was meandering down the Archer branch of my tree.  The deeper I dig, the more enthralled I become.

As a child, I knew “something bad” had happened to my great-grandfather, Glenn Archer Stewart.  My great-grandma Rosa May Stewart had lived with a man named Leonard Hochmuth for eons and while he loved me as a grandchild, I never called him grandpa as I just knew he wasn’t my “real” grandpa but I usually never gave it much thought.  When I was in my teens, I heard a relative talking about how my real great-grandfather killed himself.  It’s stuck with me all these years but I knew better than to ask further.  Naturally, when I began researching my tree, he was one of the very first I searched after.  I found him mentioned a record from the Ohio Boy’s Industrial School along with the name of his mother, Esther Iona Stewart.  I promptly sent away for a copy of his record and when it came, the details were scant at best but I saw a notation that he was “homeless”.  I saw his younger brother was also placed in the Boy’s Industrial School at the same time.  So I began digging into why they were homeless….

Ether Iona Stewart’s death certificate

I knew their parents had died on the same day (which should have been my clue something was afoot) but I didn’t have any inkling of what happened to them until Family Search brought up their death certificates.

BOOM!  A friggin’ bomb hit me.

“Shot from revolver in hand of husband.”

I was positively speechless.  This had NEVER been mentioned in my family.  I sat, mouth gaping, for several minutes as I then began searching for her husband’s corresponding death certificate to confirm hers.

William Harrison Stewart’s death certificate

It was right there on Family Search as well.  “Shot from revolver in own hand.  Suicidal.”

I just couldn’t understand and my head was positively swimming with questions.  There was only one surviving family relative that I might possibly turn to about this.  When I emailed her, she acknowledged that yes, this was right and these were the correct people.  However, if she knew the reasons why, she didn’t elaborate.

The story didn’t end there for me after talking to my family member.  In fact, the questions only grew in mind.  I wanted to know why he killed her and then himself.  What had happened between them?  Did they fight a lot?  Was he just unstable?

1914 clipping from the Cincinnati Enquirer

I found part of my answer on Newspapers.com in a tiny, little clipping from a 1914 Cincinnati Enquirer.  Apparently, they had quarreled while at work at the Columbia Hotel in Caldwell, Ohio, located in Noble County.  There is no mention of why or if police had investigating….just again, scant information.  It was one piece of the puzzle though.

The Columbia Hotel, circa 1910

I have since sent off for any possible records from the Noble County Sheriff’s Department.  Surely, with an incident like this, someone asked some questions of employees or family members.  Being that is was 1914 though, I’m wondering if any records still exist.  *fingers crossed*

It still does not solve the mystery of why their boys where homeless afterwards though.  The Archer family that Esther was born to is very large and most were settled in the same county where she was murdered.  The records from the Boy’s Industrial school also called the two children, Glenn & Dale, “incorrigible”.  I have a suspicion that might be part of the reason why family didn’t take them in.  Or perhaps they did and the children acted out, causing problems.  I also thought perhaps that since the Great Depression was approaching, the kids might have been seen as just more mouths to feed and were considered a burden to an already struggling farm family.  I’m sure I’ll never quite have that particular answer though.

There is still more tragedy attached to this story….but I’m going to save that for a later post after I receive some additional record copies for fact verification.

…to be continued…..

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