I do a lot of genealogical research, and have found some interesting and exciting stories about many of my ancestors. I've found Revolutionary War soldiers, Confederate soldiers, English and Welsh royalty, and many rogues and scoundrels in my family tree.
But yesterday, I received the greatest surprise of all. I did a simple Internet search of my paternal grandfather's name (you can often get some great leads that way), and found an interesting item in the Dallas Daily Times Herald, dated March 7, 1911.
Seems Grandpa murdered his first wife. When he was 22 years old and she was 18, he shot her in the chest with a shotgun in the living room of their farmhouse in then-rural Dallas County, Texas. His story was that his wife had committed suicide, but even in those pre-CSI days, the deputy sheriff realized that the shotgun, with a three-foot barrel, was too long. The poor woman would not have been able to reach the trigger.
I have no idea what happened after his arrest. The newspaper article stopped there, and all I know is that six years later, he was married to my grandmother. If he spent any time in prison, it certainly wasn't much. I'm going to see if Dallas County has any records of the disposition of the case, so I can get the rest of the story.
I am completely surprised by how upsetting I found this news. I never knew my grandfather. He died in 1933, when he inhaled poison ivy dust in his feed mill, while he was grinding grain for cattle feed. I have always felt sorry for him, imagining what a horrible death that must have been, in the days before the use of steroids would have enabled the doctors to reduce the swelling in his lungs and save his life. He left a widow and six children, the youngest of whom was my two-year-old father.
The family lived a desperate life through the Depression, and the effects were long-lasting. Only my Aunt Shirley managed to have a traditional, normal life -- husband, children, grand-children and a normal life span. My four uncles all died early, after lives of drinking heavily, smoking Pall Malls, and chasing the wrong kind of women. My father died at the age of 42, shot to death by his fourth wife. He richly deserved it, and I have never mourned for him. I have been thankful for the last 36 years that he hasn't been around to cause our family any more grief than he did while he was alive.
I was struck by the irony of the whole thing. Grandpa murdered his wife, and my dad was murdered by his. And it made me rethink the entire basis upon which I've viewed my dad's past. I have come to feel some sympathy for him since his death, based upon his hard childhood. Now, I wonder whether he was better off to have lost his father, if the guy was a murderer.
I have no contact with my Aunt Shirley, or any of my cousins. We used to try to stay in touch, but our only topic of conversation seemed to be how awful our fathers had been when they were drunk, and how difficult it has been for all of us to drag ourselves up from the horror of our childhoods. Not a pleasant family reunion situation. So we have gone our own ways. Now, I have an extreme desire to talk to my Aunt Shirley, and find out if she knew about this. But I don't feel I have the right to contact her after over 30 years of silence, and reawaken what would no doubt be a difficult memory for her. So, I'll leave it alone.
So, what's the moral of this story? I'm not sure. Perhaps this is just a cautionary tale for those of you who like to poke around in the past. Our ancestors were real people, with all their tales to tell, good and bad. Just be prepared for some surprises.