22 April 2011

Disturbing Discoveries

Over the years, most of my research discoveries have been pretty basic. I find names, dates, general census details, and in some cases I discover an ancestor's occupation or information about some local event he or she was involved with. Nothing particularly exciting to anyone other than me (and possibly some other genealogy enthusiasts), so I don't create posts about every discovery I make. It's just not interesting reading.

But every once in a while I find some information that's not only interesting, it's awe-inspiring or downright disturbing. I made such a discovery this week (the disturbing kind).

I decided to write about this because most people seem to like to think they will only find information that doesn't upset or bother them in any way. I guess most of us want to idealize our ancestors and imagine that they had pleasant, normal lives.

Certainly, no one wants to discover unsettling facts about their families, regardless of how many years ago something occurred (or how dysfunctional the family). The reality, however, is that bad things happen to people all the time, so why wouldn't we expect to find evidence of these things while conducting genealogy research?

I'm currently researching a couple of different surnames: Kendall and Stephenson. I've written previously about the Kendall line and how difficult it's been for me to find information about them. I haven't yet written about the Stephenson line simply because I haven't found anything that's interesting enough to write about (I'm not trying to put people to sleep). So, this post is about a Kendall ancestor, but it's not William C., which is who I've written about before.

The disturbing discovery that I made is about William C.'s son, William Earl Kendall. Up until this week, I hadn't been able to find out where he was born, which was a puzzle simply because I had birth certificates for his two younger siblings. I did, however, have a date and location of death for him, so I paid the Ohio Department of Health for a certified copy of his death certificate.

I've always thought it odd that he died at such a young age (23). Now that particular mystery has been solved. He committed suicide.

I found myself wondering what on earth could make a 23-year-old decide to do that?

No autopsy was performed because the cause of death was obvious (gunshot wound to the head), but could he have been terminally ill?

From his death certificate, I also found out that he was married at the time of his death, so I also have his wife's name and residence at that time (1962). I also know his occupation and Social Security number (I already knew his parents' names, but of course the death certificate is additional confirmation of that). And, I now know the state in which he was born: Indiana.

Both of his younger siblings were born in North Carolina, so there are still quite a few facts I need to uncover in order to completely unravel the mystery that surrounds this family.

Though most of us would rather not discover this type of disturbing information about an ancestor, finding it makes us take a closer look at the realities of our ancestors' lives and helps us to see them a bit more clearly. They aren't just names and dates that we add to our family trees; they were real people with real issues just like all of us today.

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