Family history is often uplifting, motivating, and inspiring. We tend to view our ancestors’ stories as triumphant, rags-to-riches, beating the odds success stories. We are impressed with their ability to seemingly overcome all sorts of harsh adversity to pave the way for us. Unfortunately, not every story in the tree has a happy ending. Some are just downright depressing.
While I am sure most of our ancestors led reasonably happy lives, I am always taken aback at the poverty, infant-mortality rates, short life spans, abuse, and tragic deaths that seem commonplace just a few generations ago. The hardships that the average person endured were very different than the world I live in. While their lives were simpler (my 5x great-grandmother did not have to memorize twenty log-in passwords or worry about her caloric intake), these predecessors dealt with hard realities. Knowing their plight helps us understand the remarkable triumphs in our tree and helps us appreciate some parts of modern life. Here are a few stories:
1) Myrtle Woods, my first cousin 4x removed, was born in 1892 in Lincoln County, Tennessee. Her grandfather, James Goodloe Woods, is my 4x great-grandfather. Myrtle’s mother, Mattie Nevels Woods, died shortly after Myrtle’s birth. Myrtle married Matthew Rowzee when she was fifteen years old. Her only child, Margaret, was born in 1909. Myrtle died at age 18 of tuberculosis, and her daughter died the following year around her second birthday.
Tennessee death record for Myrtle Woods Rowzee
2) Tabitha C. Hill is the sister of the 4x great grandmother of my wife’s double 1st cousin once removed. A daughter of Milton and Mariah Hill, she married A.F. Inman around age 13 on September 18, 1890 in Perry County, Arkansas. Ten years later, in the 1900 census, she is a widow working as a servant in someone’s house. She is 22 years old and has lost a husband and four children. The trail runs cold after 1900. In a nearby county, a Tabitha Hill (not Inman) marries in 1904. The groom is widowed by 1910.
3) Benjamin Cohee (1843-1903) of Clinton County, Indiana is my first cousin 5x removed. His father and my 4x great-grandmother were half-siblings. He served in the Civil War and fathered nine children with his first wife, Elma Hoover (1850-1898). He later married Lizzie Hurst and committed suicide a few months later. I imagine his war service, the loss of his wife, and his own infirmity led to his decision to end his life. Although suicide is not an indicator of a tragic life, it does suggest an unhappy finish. The Frankfort Banner ran a lengthy article on his death.
PLANNED HIS OWN DEATH: BENJAMIN F. COHEE SOUGHT RELIEF FROM PHYSICAL SUFFERING. Appalling Early Morning Discovery By Members of His Family-Tragic Close of a Well Spent Life.
The self-inflicted death of Benjamin F. Cohee, the splendid citizen and prosperous dry goods merchant, which occurred Sunday morning, was a crushing blow to his family and a decided shock to the entire community in which he has been so long and favorably known. Although he planned the taking of his life with a deliberation and caution such as a sane person would be expected to make use of, the fact that he had been in ill health for a considerable time, suffering from a malady that affected his brain, working disastrously upon his nerves and causing him to suffer the horrors of insomnia, it is but reasonable to suppose that the rash resolve was taken and executed at a period of acute mental derangement, or to end the sufferings which would not yield to treatment.
He arose about 7 o’clock Sunday morning and despite the fact he had not rested well during the night seemed to be in fairly good spirits. Mrs. Cohee, who is suffering from an affection of the ear, and who also had a wakeful night, was advised by Mr. Cohee to remain abed a few hours longer in the hope that she might get much needed sleep, he remarking that he would replenish the fire and get the house warmed up before calling other members of the family. The indications go to show that he very soon afterwards formed and carried out the resolve to put an end to his life.
Being unable to sleep, Mrs. Cohee arose shortly after the conversation had with her husband and in the course of time noted his absence from the house. She looked into all the rooms where he might likely be and inspected the out premises, but could discover no trace of him. Thinking that perhaps he might have gone to the home of one of his sons she telephoned to Bret Cohee and learned that he had not been there. The son seemed intuitively divine that all was not well with his father and hastened to the Main street homestead. He also made a through search of the house and grounds with no better success, until his attention was attracted to a door in an addition on the northwest corner of the house and which he found to be fastened, apparently from the inside. There are two apartments in this addition, one used as a store room, the other for a wood house. It was the door leading to the latter that was secured. After repeated efforts Mr. Cohee succeeded in forcing this door open to be met with the appalling sight of his father’s body suspended by a cord from an overhead beam. A step ladder which was resting against the wall told too plainly the means employed for carrying out the dreadful design. A cord such as used for suspending window weights, had been tied around the beam and the distance properly measured to prevent his feet from touching the ground. The door had been fastened by a stake which was securely driven into the ground.
When discovered the body was still warm, and hoping that there might be a spark of life remaining Mr. Cohee with assistance released his unfortunate father and carried him into the house and summoned a physician. Every effort was made to resuscitate him, but without avail. The cruel cord had done its work effectually. It was about 9 o’clock when the discovery was made, indicating that considerable time had elapsed between the performance of the deed and the hour that Mr. Cohee arose. Corner Brown came about ten o’clock and viewed the body, being in the county attending a patient when first summoned, and gave permission for its preparation for burial.
Mr. Cohee had been an invalid for several weeks and during the early stages of his illness was in a critical condition for several days. He suffered terribly from some ailment of the nerves and muscles of the back and neck which affected the brain. Superinduced by this affliction, he was a slave to that dread foe of health, insomnia. It had been noted, however, that he seemed much improved during recent days and the family had urged him to take a trip south, which he was considering, it being thought that a change of climate and relaxation from business cares would prove beneficial. Saturday he was quite cheerful and complained less than usual which was taken to be an encouraging sign and the family was wholly unprepared for the crushing sorrow which fell upon the hitherto happy household Sunday morning. The funeral was held from the residence, 358 South Main street, Wednesday morning at 10 o’clock. The services will be conducted by Presiding Elder C. A. Brooke and Rev. H. G. Ogden, pastor of the Methodist church. Internment at Bunnell cemetery.
Benjamin F. Cohee was a son of Mr. and Mrs. Jonathon Cohee and was born in Rush county, Indiana, Sept. 28, 1843. He grew to manhood on a farm and when the call was made for soldiers to suppress the rebellion he enlisted as a private in Co. D, 68th Ind. Vol. Inft., serving three years. At the close of the war, his father having located in Frankfort, Mr. Cohee came here and took a clerkship in the store then operated by his father and Wilson Cohee, an uncle of the deceased. In 1867 his uncle retired and the deceased became a partner in the business which then as now was situated on the southwest corner of the square. After the death of his father he was in partnership with his brother, W. H. Cohee, for a time, later acquiring full ownership of the prosperous business. As his sons grew to manhood they were admitted to partnership in the business and for many years the firm has been styled B. F. Cohee & Sons. He was one of the most familiar men of the county and the store which he helped to establish has grown to metropolitan proportions and is a monument to his thrift, enterprise and sterling character as a citizen and business man. On Sept. 20, 1868 occurred his marriage to Miss Elma Hoover, whose death occurred about six years ago. Nine children were born to this union, two dying in infancy, a third, Katie Cohee, passing away after the death of her mother. The surviving children are Albert B., Edgar M., Walter B., Rolland F., Edith and Velma. He is also survived by two sisters and one brother, Mrs. John W. Newhouse, Mrs. James F. Hoath and W. H. Cohee. Sept. 17, 1902, he was married to Mrs. Lizzie A. Hurst, at Elwood, Ind., who survives.
He was for a number of years a member of the city council and since the operation of the new reform law had been a member of the county council, having been re-elected at the last election. Mr. Cohee was not a member of any secret fraternity but belonged to the Methodist church and contributed liberally of his means to the support of that denomination. He was a man of spotless character, honest and just in his relations to his fellow man and true to his obligations as a citizen. It was in his home life, however, that his character shone in its brightest splendor. No man loved his home more than he and his thoughts were always for his children. In return for his parental regard they gave measure for measure in filial respect and esteem, loving their own firesides but never losing their love for the hearthstone of the family homestead.
(THE FRANKFORT BANNER, SATURDAY, JANUARY 17, 1903, PAGE 1, COLUMN 1 & 2, FRANKFORT, INDIANA)
The list of unhappy endings could go on and on. For information on one particularly ill-fated branch, read A Cougar and Her Cubs: the children of Martha Altic Aitkens. I hope this post has not been too depressing!