Unearthing unpleasant facts

It’s inevitable, when researching lots of extended family ancestors, that you’ll come across something you’d rather hadn’t happened. Today I was researching Hugh Strachan, grandson of a gggg uncle. I had a death date for him taken from someone’s tree on Ancestry, but not being willing to trust other people’s research I looked it up on ScotlandsPeople. Sure enough the date was right, but as he’d died at the age of 53, I decided to download his death certificate. I was wondering if it could be a mining accident, but when I opened the download what was where came as a shock – it said suicide.

After an initial intake of breath and hands on face, I made myself a cup of tea in order to recover. The death certificate didn’t say how his death had happened, so I went back and downloaded the corrected entry. It said he’d died at 1.45am on 30 November 1896, at his home in Dunfermline, of poisoning by carbolic acid. He left a wife and children, the youngest of whom was 11. There was no explanation of why the Doctor and the Procurator Fiscal were sure it was suicide, but the corrected entry didn’t say it wasn’t. Very sad.

You can’t ever know the circumstances surrounding such events. What was his state of mind? Had something happened recently that he just couldn’t cope with? It can only be conjecture. What you certainly learn from your family tree is that all of life is there, and life doesn’t always produce happy outcomes.

6 responses to “Unearthing unpleasant facts

  1. I just listen to a news report that said more Americans die as a result of a suicide then a car accident. I hope you find some good news in your research soon. I enjoy your blog very much and read it all the time.

  2. Thank you – I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog. Suicide is awful but yes, I suspect it’s more common that we may realise. You can’t edit the past, though, and a fact is a fact. However, that ancestor isn’t a direct ancestor and it was a long time ago, so it was the initial impact on seeing the word written on the death certificate was the shock.

  3. When I was doing my father-in-law’s Family History, I tracked down the sad fact from the Death Certificate that his maternal grandmother had committed suicide. She had been abandoned by her husband (the swine!), and left with several small children to care for, the youngest of whom was his mother at six years of age. Apparently, she just couldn’t cope any longer.

  4. I also found an unhappy story when researching my ancestors who lived in the Benslie. Margaret Love Frew, wife of Joseph Frew was killed by a mineral train on a branch of The Doura Railway near Kilwinning (March 12th 1872). Found an article about it in the March 16th, 1872, Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald. Librarian at Ardrossan told me people were often killed walking on the RR tracks at that time.. Have always wondered if it was suicide as she had been widowed early, lived on Poor Relief etc. etc.

    • That is sad. If there were a lot of deaths on that railway line then perhaps is was a way some people chose to end it all. If you’ve been to Ardrossan library, does that mean you’re still live in that area?

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