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January 30, 2013

Pride Causes Death

When I research my ancestors, I also research their siblings and spouses on every generation. I do this because a) it's interesting and b) you never know when a record for a sibling will reveal information you haven't found on your direct ancestor.

Recently I was hunting for the obituary of a distant Peer relative and found a sad, yet intriguing notice about her in an Indiana newspaper of 1937.

Mary A. Peer was born in Berrien Michigan in 1857 and married Robert Curran in Michigan in 1883. At some point after her husband's death in 1889, Mary and her son Elwood Curran moved to the area of South Bend Indiana.

I don't know much about Mary but I did know she died in September 1937 so I decided to hunt on GenealogyBank for a newspaper obituary. To my surprise I found this item on page 1 of the Valparaiso Vidette Messenger published on August 19, 1937

The headline is WOMAN DYING, TOO PROUD TO TAKE CHARITY

"Because she was too proud to ask for charity, Mrs. Mary A. Curran, 82 [sic], is dying of starvation in Epworth Hospital today. She was found in bed in her shabby little shack where she lived alone...."

The article goes on to say that a neighbour decided to check on her because he hadn't seen her in three days.

"She had only a few potatoes and a sack of oatmeal in the home. She once applied for a state old-age pension but withdrew it on the protest she would have an income from her farm."

What is even sadder is that according to the article, her only son Elwood was in another hospital at the time. I am sure he would have taken care of his mother had he been able to. Mary must have lingered in her weakened state, because according to my records she did not die until September 10th, some three weeks after this article was published.

I could not find an obituary but do not have access to the South Bend Tribune where I understand there is one.  Thanks to crowdsourcing on my Facebook page, I learned that the St. Joseph County Public Library has an online index to obituaries in the South Bend Tribune from 1913-present. Researchers can pay a small fee for lookups, so off I went and sure enough there were 3 entries for Mary A. Curran. I printed the request form, filled it out and will mail it today. I hope to learn more of Mary's sad story from the notices.

Poor Mary, her husband died so soon after they were married, leaving her with a very young son. To die in such sad circumstances is indeed a cruel twist of fate.

8 comments:

  1. That's such a sad story - to have lived so long and to be an educated woman as well. I'm so lucky my mum has friendly, helpful neighbours (as I live at some distance from her) as I'm sure that stories like this aren't restricted to the past.

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  2. If her old-age pension application was denied because of income from a farm (sale? cash or share rental?), I wonder if there are land sale or municipal tax records that might shed light on why she was a pauper at her death. Did the money run out, someone fail to pay or was it another recession?

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  3. Susan McKay2:55 PM

    Not only would she have been a young widow with a young son but the statement that her son (at the time of the article) was in "Logansport Hospital" almost surely refers to the Logansport State Hospital (also called "Long Cliff"), which was a place lots of people ended up because their folks couldn't care for them for one reason or another, although ostensibly all were disabled by mental illness or retardation, as it was then called. It's possible she had been desperately poor for a very long time. Might be worthwhile to see if you could get any records from LSH...

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  4. Wow. What an incredibly sad story.

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  5. The newspaper article says she was starving when they took her into hospital so the degeneration was so bad it couldn't be reversed(?). Yet she lived for another three weeks. OR was she refusing food in the hospital? Hope you will tell us if you learn more. Susan provided another lead.

    If you're in the mood for a slightly relevant sad tale of a spouse, see http://brendadougallmerriman.blogspot.com/2013/01/mcfadyens-part-15-black-sheep-hector.html. I suspect there are more sad tales that we don't know about yet.

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  6. Brenda - I feel so sorry for Hector's wife! Seems like Hector was a "vagabond" who couldn't settle.

    But you're right, newspapers can often feel the gap even though their 19th century lurid headlines are so very dramatic.

    Love the story of Hector, thank you for posting it.

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  7. Susan - very interesting, thank you for the additional info on Logansport Hospital. I do hope to find out more about Elwood (his actual name was Robert Elwood) and what happened to him

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  8. bgwiehle thanks for the idea re tax records. I'll see what I can find

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