Question of the Week: Have you stumbled upon any strange deaths of your ancestors? Bizarre? Peculiar? Unusual?

+51 votes
Have you stumbled upon any strange deaths of your ancestors? Bizarre? Peculiar? Unusual? Share your story!!
in The Tree House by Deborah Collier G2G6 Mach 3 (39.7k points)
edited by Deborah Collier
One of the most distressing and hear-rending accidents befell a little 17-month-old child of Mr. and Mrs. Buck Russell, who reside in Speedwell township, St. Clair County, Missouri, on Friday of week before last. The little one walked into a 10 inch bored well, and before the mother could recover her presence of mind sufficient to jump and catch the little one, it began slipping down and continued to descend until it reached the bottom a distance of 47 feet beneath the surface. All efforts to fish the child out proved futile and for 48 hours the poor little child could be heard crying “mamma, mamma,” when death hushed its cries forever. Up until last Friday the remains had not been recovered.
Eileen, that is horribly tragic.
Amazing story Laura! Props to your great-aunt!

And Eileen, that is soooo sad.
Rebecca, there is a similar family lore of poisoning in my tree, my great-great-grandfather, but his death certificate says "food poisoning". So, maybe not an intentional poisoning? Interesting....
My Great-grandfather was a shoemaker. He would keep his shoe tacks in his mouth. While working one day. someone came up and hit him on the back and he swollowed what he had in his mouth. Two weeks later he died of an infection.


Joe Garcia
Good grief, I feel sure that if that happened in this country, the fire service would get the child out in a couple of hours.
Ellen, I love this story about "Death by Hiccups" that were probably typhoid fever. I actually contracted typhoid many years ago while traveling outside the US. Fortunately, it can be cured with a course of antibiotics in our modern world, so I never got so far as the hiccups, thank goodness. One thing left out of the article is the coughing. When I had typhoid, I had a terrible cough, so bad that it pulled muscles in my chest and was terribly painful. I'm so grateful to live in a world where diseases such as this one needn't kill people.
My 4xGt.Grandfather Richard Rowe, was hung for forgery in 1801, nothing strange about that bit, but as he was hanging - the rope snapped and they put him in  coffin and buried him. However, the crowd that had gathered for the hanging, weren't satisfied that he was dead, so they dug him up so's the crowd's scepticism could be mollified and then re-buried him!
That's awful!

54 Answers

+34 votes
He Was Still Smoking When They Found Him

"The worst wind storm in years swept through Chillicothe, Ohio, on the night of July 5, 1913.  At 9:30 p. m., Charles E. Watt, 56 years old, who lived on Sugar Street, was electrocuted while walking home.  The wind storm knocked a heavy limb from a sugar tree onto the electric wires.  This caused a light pole and its wires to fall, putting out all the electricity and street lights in that part of town.  The wires fell across the traction trolley's third rail.  Charles Watt stepped off the curb and into the hot wires.  He died instantly, as all of the heavy voltage from the streetlights and the traction trolley coursed through his body.  His body was badly burned and could not be taken from the street until the power at both the light plant and the traction supply station were turned off.  When found, Charles Watt still had his cigar clamped in his mouth, an umbrella in one hand and had his glasses on." (Scioto Gazette, Chillicothe OH, Monday, 7 July 1913.)
by Vic Watt G2G6 Pilot (366k points)

Had you not posted the newspaper reference I might just have said you were pulling my leg with Mr. Watt being electrocuted :)

He was my great uncle.
+21 votes

Clara Cathrine (Wenzlich) Edmonston's father Immigrant: Anthony Wenzlich...  Mysterious Death / John Doe identity in Albany, New York Hotel. Spouse: Catherine (Kesselring) Wenzlich also Unknown burial, died soon after husband. I found a Newspaper article at it says Clara & half brother hired a Lawyer to search for answers to Anthony's death. Inconclusive.

by Anonymous Vickery G2G6 Pilot (264k points)
How odd - this would just eat at me not knowing...
+29 votes
Not my ancestor, but while researching the family tree of Jerome Bettis, I found that his great-grandfather Bettis laughed his head off. Literally.

Apparently he was a miner in an Alabama ore mine, and was riding one of those carts along with the other miners going down into the mines, and he was laughing so hard that he failed to pay attention to the low hanging timbers and one caught him in the head and crushed his head, killing him instantly.
by Scott Fulkerson G2G Astronaut (1.5m points)
I have to say - this story caused me to shudder when I read it,,,
Me, too!
+17 votes
My 3rd great-grandparents were Martin and Margaret DuBois. Martin served in the Revolutionary War as a bugler in 1782. The couple migrated with their multi-generational family from NY to the Territory of Michigan in the 1830's. They lived in Saline Township through the 1840 US Census and it is believed they moved in with or were visiting a son or nephew in Ingham County around 1850 (they were then up in age). A family Bible page states the couples deaths as July 1850. The official US Government DOD is 14 Aug. 1850, which is confirmed in his pension file. All accounts are that the couple died the same day and are buried in a shared grave at Fitchburg Cemetery. No one though knows exactly what the causes of death were and that today remains a mystery. Please reply with any helpful leads.
by Rod DuBois G2G6 Pilot (197k points)
edited by Rod DuBois
+19 votes

Mostly just tooo many sad stories:

  • Deaths in childbed
  • "inflammation bowels" (now known as appendicitis, and treatable)
  • Husband and wife (or mother and several children) dying a day or two apart, probably due to an illness that couldn't be treated
  • Drownings (our long-ago ancestors generally couldn't swim)
  • Consumption
  • Slain by "Indians" attacking a European-American settlement (I'm sad for the Indians and also for my ancestors)
  • Accidents: Kicked by horse, hit on the head by a baseball, killed by collapse of building during a storm.
by Ellen Smith G2G Astronaut (1.6m points)
Beer barrel rolled off cart crushing him.
I think the unavoidable accidents are by far, in my opinion, the saddest...
For the forest farmers of Northern Sweden it was an occupational hazard to get slain by falling trees. I have at least one direct ancestor who was killed by the fall of a rotten birch, and in total I just don't know how many such deaths I've seen in the books.
In the year 1698 in Rättvik parish, Dalarna, Sweden 23 persons are noted in the death records as having died from starvation. Not my ancestors, but many were old or middle aged and may well have living descendants.
+20 votes
While perusing death records I have twice come across young men who were killed by swinging churchbells. One was a distant relative, the other no relation at all.
by Eva Ekeblad G2G6 Pilot (591k points)
+17 votes

The old expression "wrong place, wrong time" really holds true for my husband's Great Uncle Hascue who died at the age of 26 years old.  His 1927 death certificate reads: "Cause of death -Bullet thru head (he was dead when I saw him)".  Well, apparently the Commonwealth of Virginia didn't like that 'cause' so they requested to know if his death was "Accidental, Homicidal or Suicidal".  

The reply: "Accidental Shooting - a man shot at Roy Payne and the bullet went through both Roy Payne and Hascue Parsons - who was actually asleep behind Roy Payne at the time of the shooting and was an innocent bystander." 

by Deborah Collier G2G6 Mach 3 (39.7k points)
edited by Deborah Collier
+19 votes
While researching a collateral line, I came across the an in-law who was killed while working for the railroad. His widow had sue the company following his death. Included in the court record was his death certificate that stated no autopsy was necessary because the head had been detached from the body.
by Debi Hoag G2G6 Pilot (412k points)
another one that makes me shudder,,,
+17 votes
My great uncle "Billy" died in the civil war.  There is a monument erected for him in Emporia, Kansas by his family.  He died at the battle of Corinth Mississippi.  The family tale is that he ran away to fight for the union with an Ohio squad.  He has always been a family hero that sacrificed his life in the war.  Through my research I discovered that he had died of Typhus not wounded.  I always wonder if anyone was ever told this.  He was buried in Mississippi, so his family had no way of knowing the cause of death if they didnt tell them....
by Darleen Totten G2G4 (4.0k points)
You know, the diseases of camp life are just as much a hazard of warfare as are swords and bullets. I think he was no less a hero for his death in typhus.
Oh for sure!  He was definitely still a hero for going to fight for his beliefs at such a young age.  He was only 16 when he died.
+17 votes
I had a great uncle that we used to go visit all the time. I was shocked to find that he died in Mexico. When I found his death certificate, it had the address of his home, so I googled the house.  Sure enough, the same house we went to visit all the time was in Mexico.  It was surprising to find out that we had gone to internal Mexico repeatedly, and I never even knew it wasn't America.  I thought he lived in Arizona.

His death wasn't peculiar but the fact that he lived in another country and I didn't realize that is really weird to me!
by Darleen Totten G2G4 (4.0k points)
I feel you! Once I realized that those Sunday visits to Mimi over the beautiful water (the Detroit River) on that big bridge (Ambassador Bridge) was to a different country; I became totally mesmerized with geography!
+18 votes
As the story is long, I will shorten it somewhat.  With a certain amount of certainty I am related to a William Drummond born in Inverness Scotland.  He emigrated to the Amerricas  and became Aquainted  with Lord Governor Berkley of Virginia.  He was appointed first Gov of North Carolina  but support the Bacon rebellion and was hung for his efforts.  The story goes he was to be quartered and strawn to the four compass points but friends captured his body and buried him at his wives faters estate acrros the James river at Swan Point. As the story goes that is.
by Living Brooks G2G Crew (740 points)
Well, as they say, it's my story and I'll tell it the way I want to!
+17 votes
Conrad Marck -- was driving his wagon and fell down through the traces, crushed to death.

Alice (Martin) Bishop, hanged for murdering her newborn baby  :-(
by Living Schmeeckle G2G6 Pilot (107k points)
Oh John - these are both so sad...
+18 votes
In reading through my ancestry, my great-great-grandfather (Jeremiah Lenihan) murdered his father in law (Jeremiah Daley) by hitting him over the head with a block of wood. He was charged with wilful murder.

I just wish I could find out why he did it... Maybe they were fighting over ownership of the name Jeremiah!
by Rob Lenihan G2G5 (5.6k points)
Oh my goodness gracious - I bet there have been time MY husband has wanted to crack MY father over the head...
+16 votes
My great great grandmother, found in the river with a return ticket home (where her young son was waiting) in her pocket. The conclusion at the inquest was "no idea how she had come to be in the river". The impression I got was "who cares how it happened case closed". She was very unconventional for the time and had two sons out of wedlock. Her own father, a Wesleyen minister, shamed by her booted her out the first time she got pregant disallowing a marriage to the father as apparently he and my gt gt grandmother had a common ancestor. So she was thrown to the wolves.  The irony is in my research I've confirmed Jane's parents too had great great grandparents in common! I have my suspicions as to who the father of her second son, my gt grandfather was, but I'll never be able to prove it. The man in question was quite the rogue with a large family of his own. He arrived in New Zealand funding his way with his families silver! Stolen from his father who was part of a slave trader family and the owner of a sugar plantation in Jamaica. His mother was described as " a native", so she may have been the daughter of a slave herself. I can't help but wonder if Jane was pushed into the river that day ... by whom is the question.
by Living Blacklock G2G6 Mach 3 (30.5k points)
Nicky - how long have you been researching this? It's amazing to me that this story could be from almost ANY decade of my life! Sadly, while times seem to change...I can still feel the underlying bigotry from my older relatives towards unmarried mothers.
Hi Deborah :) So they say, (whoever 'they' are), the more things change the more they stay the same!  I've only been doing genealogy for about 5-6 years, so about that long. Jane has to be one of my most favourite ancetors thus far. I wish I had known her, I am so proud of her. At the moment I'm working through all my profiles here on wikitrree, having been inspired by wikitree to source properly, fixing them all up. I'm so looking forward to getting to Jane's! Nearly there ... paternal line done, working on my mother's paternal line atm, and then it's onto my mother's maternal line of which Jane is a part... I can't wait! One day when I can afford it I'll get her full inquest file from NZArchives. The info I have on the inquest has come from newspaper reports. They cite a witness who saw her that day who said she looked dazed? I'm looking forward to learning the name of this witness. From all other accounts by her friends she was of good cheer, and although she had been unwell (hence her trip into town that day to see the doctor) there was nothing any of them thought would indicate Jane would have jumped. It just doesn't add up to me, given how strong she was and how important her sons were to her.
+18 votes
Not of my ancestor but I came across a tale whilst doing a one name study. The person I was researching was a 19th century cricketer (fast bowler) and it relates to a death caused by him early in his career, not actually his own death. The batsman got knocked on the head by the ball and died a couple of days later. The fast bowler was found not to be at fault but was badly affected by the incident and changed the pace of his delivery thereafter. He went on to be very successful as a cricketer but died of tuberculosis in his 50's.
by Gillian Causier G2G6 Pilot (300k points)
+22 votes
No particularly weird deaths that I can think of, but I love this description of old age:

Hezekiah Cogswell ( lived "to such an extreme age, ninety-seven years, that he could not distinguish an apple from a potato".
by Leanne Cooper G2G6 Mach 3 (38.6k points)
I can only hope to get that old....
Ah hahahah that's awesome
+17 votes
My grandfather choked on phlegm - and died.  He had already been struck by lightening and survived...
by Darleen Totten G2G4 (4.0k points)
+17 votes

I found a grand-uncle that died in a shoot out with a police officer in Indianapolis 1899.

by James Birch G2G Crew (710 points)
+18 votes
My greatgrandfather was killed in a bizarre accident but there are two conflicting stories as to why it happened.  In one story, he knew two young teenagers were coming by and he decided to scare them by climbing into a tree and growling like a bear to scare them.  Unfortunately for him, one was carrying a gun and shot at the "bear".  The boys story was that they heard a rustling in the grass where he was supposedly fixing fence and thought it might be the bear that lived in the area and so they shot in case it was the bear.  The boys apparently were never charged with any thing but poor judgement.
by Beulah Cramer G2G6 Pilot (582k points)
+16 votes

My immigrant ancestor and  8th gr grandfather George Adams (died 10 Oct 1696 • Cambridge Farms (now Lexington), Middlesex, Massachusetts Colony) "killed by the fall of a rock, according to the verdict of Coroner's the Suffolk Court Files."  Seems to have been a hard luck fellow. Earlier in Watertown he was jailed for selling whiskey and firearms to native Americans (at the time he was a trader). With no money coming in, his family became destitute, his house and property were seized...

Hard luck seems to have run in the family as his grandson 6 generations later (my gr uncle) lost his arm in 1895 while working on the Lincoln Nebraska portion of the first RR to the West. I will spare the gory details which can be read in Norfolk (NE) News, Monday, June 17th 1895. "Report of Sat. accident when Bowman Newell Adams lost his arm.". Some of his other travails are mentioned in the article including his second wife leaving him when he refused to give up his 4 children...

by Marj Adams G2G6 Mach 4 (45.1k points)

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