Wednesday, February 3, 2016

I am from Gortnagullion, Drumkeeran, Fermanagh

This is my first ever blog post that's not really about people; it's about a place. That specific place is the townland of Gortnagullion, in the civil parish of Drumkeeran, in County Fermanagh, Ireland. This is where my ancestors Henry and Ann Gibson were living when their first two children were born, and presumably where they were living when they left Ireland and immigrated to New Brunswick, Canada.

Map of Ireland in Google Earth

County Fermanagh (pronounced fer-MAN-uh) is in Northern Ireland, two counties south of the tip-top of Ireland (Londonderry and Tyrone are above it). County Fermanagh is circled in black in the map above. Finding this out was really interesting, as Henry and Ann's son John married Catherine Cain, whose father was from County Tyrone. The Gibsons and Cains wouldn't have exactly been neighbors in Ireland, but they wouldn't have been that far apart either. I wonder if that shared point of origin played into their getting married?

According to IrishTimes.com, English and Scottish settlers moved into County Fermanagh in the early 1600s. I have to wonder if that's when my Gibson line moved to Ireland. The Gibson name isn't a native Irish surname, and when I looked at my grandpa's Y-DNA results at the 12-marker level, for those matches that list country of origin, most of them are in England. Interesting to think about, but because of the lack of records, ultimately unknowable one way or the other.


Civil Parishes of County Fermanagh

The civil parish of Drumkeeran is the northernmost in the County (it's number 10 on the map above). It was originally part of Magheraculmoney parish (#18 above) but according to one website was split off around 1770.

I'm still trying to find more info on Gortnagullion itself, as it seems it's not longer extant as a town or townland. The nearest settlement seems to be Drumskinny. I'll keep researching to find out what I can about Gortnagullion.

It still amazes me that I have a place in Ireland that I can point to on a map and say "the Gibsons originated here!" I'm looking forward to learning all I can about my ancestral homeland, and hopefully seeing it in person one day.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Ireland bound! Well, eventually

Ireland, I am coming home
I can see your rolling fields of green
And fences made of stone
I am reaching out, won't you take my hand?
I'm coming home, Ireland
"Ireland" by Garth Brooks
 

I've made a lot of discoveries in the last 16 years of genealogy research, but few as important to me as the one I made last week.

When I finally confirmed that Henry and Ann Gibson were John Gibson's parents, I went back to the County Fermanagh mailing list and asked for help in finding info on them in their (allegedly) native town of Pettigo. One of the suggestions that came back was to search the archives of the mailing list, as someone may have written about them already. So I did, and here's what I found:


Baptism records for two children of Henry - son William from wife Jane born in 1844, and another child with wife Ann born in 1845. This was hugely exciting for several reasons:
1. My Henry and Ann had a son named William, born in Ireland in 1844, listed with them on the 1851 New Brunswick census.
2. Henry and Ann had a daughter named Ann Jane listed with them in that same 1851 census.
3. The baptism records list the townland of residence for Henry and Ann - Gortnagullion in County Fermanagh, just a few miles east of Pettigo.


The confluence of names, ages, residences, and birthplaces all fits. I am convinced that these baptism records are my family! I have been searching and searching for this information for 16 years, and now that I finally have it, I can only think of one thing...

I'm going to Ireland!!!

Well, eventually. Probably not until sometime in 2017, giving me time to plot, plan, and most importantly, afford the trip. I've said for years that I wanted to postpone a vacation to Ireland until I knew where my people were from, so I could visit the place. But for now, even just knowing the name of village where they last lived before leaving Ireland, and the possibility that I'll be the first of their descendants to visit it since they left in 1846, is staggering and exciting. As Garth Brooks memorably sang, Ireland, I'm coming home!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Surname Saturday - Gibson origins

I blogged a while back about my great-great-grandfather John H. Gibson. I've pondered for years whether Henry and Ann Gibson were the parents of my John Gibson, and though I've looked for proof one way or the other, I've never really found any to answer my question. Until today. But first, a little back story.

I've had a thought in the back of my mind for some time that I needed to contact the New Brunswick Genealogical Society for help in finding info on my Gibson and Cain ancestors. I don't know much about the area, and getting help from those on the ground there would be invaluable. But I kept putting it off, and putting it off, until finally this week I decided to give it a shot. I sent two emails, one asking for info on John Gibson, and the other about the family of Catherine Cain, John's wife.

Within 24 hours, I got a response from someone at the society with info about the Cains, He has some Doherty ancestors that married some Cains, and had Cain godparents or witnesses for their children's baptisms and weddings. That sounded interesting, so I took his info down and looked at my own files. Turns out, his Dohertys appeared in my Cain records, as witnesses for their children's baptism! After searching for years for anything on these families, this is huge! We've emailed back and forth and are still trying to figure out where we might match up. I'm wondering if our people knew each other back in Ireland, or developed these relationships after they got to Canada. Exciting to think we may have more ties back to Ireland to look into and learn from!

While I was pondering on these connections, a thought occurred to me. While pulling up info on the Cains and Dohertys at Ancestry.com's huge database of Catholic records, I realized I've never looked in there for my Gibsons. I guess my assumption was that John was Church of England and Catherine was Catholic, so John probably put his foot down and raised his kids in the Church of England, and left Catherine the lone family Catholic. But what if that wasn't the case? What if Catherine had her kids baptized in the Catholic church? Time to go check!!


I went looking for Gibsons, and within minutes I found a baptism record for Thomas Louis Gibson, John and Catherine's son! I couldn't believe my luck! I went searching for more, and soon found the baptism for his older sister Anne as well. (Incidentally, I'd seen Anne listed in many records as Anne M. Gibson or Anne M. Condon, her married name, but nothing ever revealed what her middle name actually was. Her baptism record reveals it - Martha!)


But the biggest discovery of all was the third record I found. It was for the baptism of John Henry Gibson born in November 1881. I was expecting to find John Frederick Gibson, the name of my great-grandfather, who was reportedly born in January 1884. I did search the records for 1883-1885, and found nothing that could be John Frederick, which I thought was odd since Thomas and Anne were both in there. It seems unlikely that Catherine would have two of her children baptized but not a third. It's always possible that the record was missed, but the fact that the other two were in there, as well as John and Catherine's marriage, makes me think that that's unlikely. Plus it's not impossible that, with the passage of time, moving to Montana, and lack of necessity in maintaining an exact record of birthdates, that they either forgot or misremembered the exact day of his birth.

The hardest part to reconcile is the name - John Henry vs. John Frederick. It could be that they wanted to change it later, or that Fred was given as a nickname or pet name (I do have a relative named Donald Roscoe Wagner that went by "Bill", so it's not unheard of in my family). If John Henry is not the same as John Frederick, then they must have reused the name, and I don't know if Irish families did that. I've seen Germans and Norwegians do it, but haven't heard of the Irish doing it. I'll have to check on that.

But whether John Henry and John Frederick are the same or not, the biggest part of the discovery was the child's name itself - John Henry Gibson. I know that John and Catherine's last child was named David Henry Gibson, but seeing another child with the name Henry immediately reminded me of the Henry and Ann Gibson I'd come across years ago as possible parents for John. Why use the name Henry twice if it's not a family name, and probably a close family name? Also, John Henry was born in 1881, which would have made him John and Catherine's second child and first son. Thus their first two children were named Anne and John Henry, with David Henry following years later. This seems to me too much similarity to be just a coincidence. Maybe their deal was Catherine got to have the kids baptized Catholic if John got to pick the names. Either way, I feel much more confident now that Henry and Ann Gibson were in fact John Gibson's parents.

This is doubly exciting, because I already have statements from New Brunswick newspapers telling me where in Ireland Henry and Ann are from. So with that settled (unless future evidence proves otherwise), I can move forward in searching out information on their family in New Brunswick and back in the little town of Pettigoe. Can't wait to get searching!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Genes Day Friday - What I have learned so far through DNA testing

I thought it would be fun to recap some of the things I have learned genetic genealogy and DNA testing. Let me begin by saying THANK YOU! to the dozen or so relatives that have spit and swabbed for me. None of these breakthroughs would have been possible without your help.

1. Genetic genealogy and paper genealogy are in some ways very opposite. In paper genealogy, you start with a known person, and work outward from there, painstakingly creating family groups and pedigrees by searching through the records left behind by ancestors, friends, associates, and neighbors. You connect to people through chance and happenstance as often as known connections. In genetic genealogy, you are connected to other testees by the scientific confirmation of shared DNA, proving a blood link to that person. Sometimes (hopefully often) you can use paper genealogy to determine where and how that link was made. Sometimes you can't, and you're just stuck knowing that somehow you are related to that person.

2. Sometimes genetic genealogy helps you break through brick walls that would otherwise be impossible to penetrate. This was the case in my Grandma Blossom's maternal line. DNA testing led me to a relative who not only lives in Europe, but was intimately familiar with the area, history, and people. Within a few short weeks, he helped me put together nearly 300 years of family history for my great-great-grandmother Maria (Zitzmann) Hoffman, when I had long assumed I'd never get beyond her.

3. Sometimes you uncover things you never expected were there. Such was the case when I found out one of my ancestors was not James Harris, but in fact was William Vadnais. This discovery changed a significant portion of my genetic family tree, and has taught me to never assume that everyone listed in the paper trail is actually my ancestor by blood.

4. Everyone has two family trees - one that's genetic, and one that's genealogical. CeCe Moore taught me this. Not all of your paper ancestors will appear in your DNA - you only get half of each parent, who only got half of their parents, who only got half of their parents, etc. Within a few generations, ancestors will drop out of your genetic family tree because their DNA was simply not passed on to the next generation. That doesn't mean they aren't your ancestors though, just that they aren't represented in your DNA. Likewise, my paper family tree still includes Jim Harris because he raised that ancestor of mine and put his name on her birth certificate, even if he wasn't her biological father. His life and his family history influenced the way he raised my ancestor, so knowing about his family tree is just as important as knowing about the biological tree of William Vadnais.

5. You learn funky new words and acronyms like SNP, haplogroup, STR, endogamy, and centiMorgan. It's like learning a new language, but in learning it you learn how to discuss your family history in a whole new way. Not only do you think in terms of shared ancestors, you come to think of how much DNA you likely share with that 1C1R, or where your paternal ancestry comes from not just 3 or 4 generations ago, but hundreds of years before records were kept. It's fascinating and difficult, and I love it.

6. And the most particular thing I've learned over the last couple weeks - just because you share a certain percentage of DNA, that doesn't mean you can tell right off how closely you're related to them. If you trace your lines back far enough, you'll start to see some ancestors popping up in multiple places on your family tree. That's called ancestor collapse - being descended from the same person or couple through multiple lines of descent. This affects how much DNA you share with someone, because if you and your match have the same ancestor, but if one or both of you have multiple lines of descent from that someone, their DNA will be over-represented in your genome. You'll share more DNA than you would if you only had one line of descent from that individual, so it'll look like you're more closely related than you actually are. For example, if you're doing genetic genealogy on your French-Canadian lines, you really do need to push the lines back as far as you can because there was a lot intermarrying of families, which leads to having some ancestors pop up more than once in your family tree. That's something you need to know if you're going to try and pin down common ancestors with your DNA matches.

Have you thought about taking a DNA test to help you in your research? Or have you taken one already? What have you learned from it? Leave me a comment!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

My favorite family history documents

I recently saw a Tweet from FamilySearch asking people what their favorite family history document was. That was a really interesting question to think about, and the more I thought about it, the more favorites I came up with. It was impossible to narrow down to just one document, so here are my top five favorites, in no particular order.


1. The marriage certificate for Christ Hoffman and Mary Sitzman (Maria Zitzmann)
When I got started in family history, I was dismayed to find out my great-great-grandmother Mary Sitzman had left this world with sealed lips as to where she and her family came from. Her daughter Rosie said nothing, and her granddaughter, my grandma Blossom, knew nothing. Years of searching based on the few clues I did have yielded nothing. This marriage record proved the key to blowing that brick wall to smithereens. Mary gave her birth town as Rosshaupt, a tiny village in western Bohemia (now called Rozvadov and part of the Czech Republic), and that one clue led to many, many, many discoveries. I've now got information on Mary's ancestors going back to 1700s and even 1600s on some lines. All from one little marriage record! It taught me that seemingly insurmountable brick walls can be overcome, even with one simple document.



2. 1910 US-Canadian border crossing of Samuel and Helena Joseph
For years, all we knew about my great-grandmother Augusta (Joseph) Gibson's family was that they came from "Germany". They were Germans, spoke German, and came to Canada before moving to Montana. Records pointed to Berlin and "Toran", Germany, but those leads proved to be dead ends. Then a few years ago, at a Family History Fair up in Bellevue, I was going over my recent discovery of this border crossing Augusta's father Samuel Joseph and sister Helena made in 1910 (Sam and Helena are listed on lines 17-18). It lists a lot of great information - relatives in the country they are leaving, name of person and address they are going to, when they first came to Canada, name of the ship, and (best of all) birthplace. Sam's birthplace was listed as "Gitomar, Russia", and Helena's as "Ulanowka, Russia". I went to the display table for the SGGEE and asked their representative to help me figure out what these places were. She figured out Gitomar was actually Zhitomir, a pretty big city in the Volhynia region of what's now Ukraine. Ulanowka is a smaller village a few miles west of Zhitomir. Boy was I excited! That piece of info led me to other discoveries, allowing me to trace Sam's family back to his grandparents in Poland. This was the first time I'd ever traced a line of my family back to their point of origin in the old world, and it felt great! This was my first real breakthrough, and I still feel the deepest genealogical connection to my Joseph ancestors, largely in part to this discovery.

 
3. Bergstad family Bible page
Several years ago, I got a phone call from someone who said they were related to me. They'd gotten my cell number from an old genealogy website I'd put up, and wanted to send me some info on my/our Bergstad ancestors. I was really excited, but didn't want to get my hopes up too much, because she wouldn't say exactly what she was sending. The package arrived, and the contents knocked my socks off! Picture after picture after picture of my ancestors and their families, with people identified clearly; typewritten histories of various people; and this - a scan of a page from the Bergstad family Bible! This was the first time I'd ever heard of there being a family Bible on any of my ancestral lines. This page covers one generation, and I don't know whose handwriting it is, but it's all in Norwegian, and doesn't even mention the Bergstad name (which first appears as their surname in 1880). It was fascinating to see them listed in the old Norwegian patronymic style. It just drove it home in my mind that these were new Americans, still living their old culture in their new home.

 
 4. Harris family photos
When I was 19, I was serving a mission for my church in Japan, when I got a letter from my Grandma Sally Crawford. In it, she sent me a pedigree chart she put together of her ancestors, the first of any genealogy-related document I'd ever seen for my family. Attached to the unfamiliar names were actual photos, including the two above (Thomas W. Harris on the left, Frank and Charlotte (Scribner) Harris on the right). I'd never heard of these people or seen these pictures, and I had a sudden, intense desire to know more about them. I had to wait a couple years until my mission was finished, but when I got home, I delved right into researching my family tree, even making a presentation on the subject in college just a couple months later. It was fascinating stuff, and I'm even more captivated by it 17 years later.


5. John Gibson family - 1881 New Brunswick census
If I absolutely had to pick one favorite document, this would be it. This was my very first discovery in family history research. My mom told me my paternal great-great-grandparents, John and Catherine (Cain) Gibson came from Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, and that my great-grandfather John Frederick Gibson was born there about 1884. I somehow found there were records for the area for the 1881 census. I pulled out the microfilm for Saint John, sat down at a microfilm reader and started cranking. Within just a few minutes, I found them! I thought to myself "this genealogy stuff is easy!" If I only knew... I am glad that first discovery came so readily, because it encouraged me to start really researching my family history.

So there you have it, my top five favorite family history documents. Let me know what your favorites are and why.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Military Monday - Don't mess with a soldier's mom

One of the great things about doing genealogy is finding stories about your relatives and the people they knew. Sometimes in researching an ancestor, something about a relative of theirs that I'm not directly related to will catch my eye for some reason, and I'll suddenly want to know all about that person. Such was the case last night.

I was going through another email from MyHeritage, sorting through the latest batch of record matches. Most of these were for Robert George Seadin, the first husband of Elsie Craddock, my great-grandmother Edna Craddock's sister. One of the records was the obituary of Elta (Hanifen) Wenger. Elta was the daughter of Daniel Hanifen and Mildred Seadin, Robert's older sister. That would make her Elsie's niece by marriage. The obituary listed a large number of family members as her survivors - her husband, Private First Class Merle Wenger, her parents, her brother and his family, her mother-in-law Mrs. Silvio Castiglioni, grandmother Mrs. Seadin, the names of her aunts and uncles (including Mr. and Mrs. Robert Seadin), her husband's father (listed at the bottom of the list, whereas his ex-wife was at the top), and all of her husband's siblings and their families. Family was obviously a very big deal for this family.

It struck me that Merle's parents were listed so far apart in the obituary, and that his mom was only mentioned (as was usual for the time) as Mrs. Silvio Castiglioni. I wanted to find out her first name, if only to complete Merle's immediate family in my records, so I went hunting. I soon found out that his mom, Irene Lucile Gibson (no relation to yours truly) was married four times! Her first marriage was to Fritz Wenger, and he was apparently the father of all her children. They divorced around 1941, and Irene married Jack Morello. They were married for less than two years when Jack died in March 1942 of endocarditis. Irene married again in December of that year, to Silvio Castiglioni. I also found another marriage record for Irene, in 1947 to a Robert Lomas. In it, her previous marriages were listed as "divorced (1) widowed (2)". I couldn't tell if that meant her first marriage was the divorce and her second ended with her being widowed (which meant she was leaving out a marriage, which I've seen happen several times), or that she was divorced once and widowed twice. I also wanted to find out what became of Silvio, so I went searching. What I found startled me.

I found a death certificate for Silvio, giving his date of death as 2 January 1945. So it seemed her marriage info to Robert Lomas did indeed mean she was divorced once (Fritz Wenger) and widowed twice (Jack Morello and Silvio). But what startled me was the cause of death - "inquest pending - due to shock and hemorrhage". The death was also labeled a homicide. Having Bertha Beilstein's story still fresh in my mind, I wanted to find out exactly what happened. I went to MyHeritage, as their newspaper collection is awesome and easily searchable. I soon found out what led to Silvio's death.

Merle was serving in the US Army at the time, but was home on an extended furlough to get some medical attention. While he was home, he received a phone call from his mother, saying her husband Silvio was beating her, that he had left the house and she was afraid to be alone. He went over to check on her, and then left to get his wife and car. When they returned to his mom's house, the door was locked. Merle shook the knob and asked who was there. Silvio came to the door with a pistol, and pointed it at Merle. Merle went for the gun, and the two fought over it, destroying windows and furniture in the process. The gun fired twice, one bullet hitting Merle in the right foot. Merle was able to get the gun from Silvio, and yelled for his wife and mother to get out of the house. While he checked to make sure they were safe, Silvio ran to his bedroom and came back - with a shotgun. How Merle had the nerve and courage to do this I don't know, but he stood his ground, firing once over Silvio's head, and told him to drop the shotgun. Silvio refused, and started shouting and waving the shotgun wildly. Merle shot Silvio in the side, stopping him. Merle stayed there until police and an ambulance came, and explained to the officers what had happened. Silvio was taken to a hospital, where he died a few hours later. The incident was still pending the inquest when the death certificate was issued, though I'm surprised no one updated it a few days later when the matter was resolved. A coroner's jury (who knew there was such a thing?) exonerated Merle of blame for the shooting.

I have to say I was very impressed by and proud of Merle for his heroism and bravery. He stepped right in to help his mother, and when a gun was pointed at his face, he didn't back down. He fought on despite personal injury (and he may have still been recovering from whatever malady prompted the extended furlough to begin with), and did what had to be done to protect his family. I don't know anything about his military service and what he did in the army. But I bet the last thing on his mind during his furlough was a life-and-death struggle with his stepfather when he was supposed to be resting and recovering. They say the World War II generation is the "greatest generation", and when I read of stories like this, it proves to me why they have that name - they earned it over and over again.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Baffling and Tragic Case of Bertha Beilstein

My 3rd-great-grandfather Jacob Beilstein grew up in the home of his older sister Maria M. (Beilstein) Beilstein and her husband, John Frederick Beilstein (yes, a Beilstein married a Beilstein). Their father died when Jacob was a baby, and I still don't know what became of the mother. Jacob took after his brother-in-law and became a butcher. Jacob left the home when he married in 1873, around the time that Fred and Mary had their sixth child, a daughter named Marie. Fred and Mary's last child, Bertha, was born about four years later.

Things seemed to have gone really well for Fred and Mary's family for many years. He had a prosperous business as a master butcher (as his occupation was listed in the 1870 census), and real estate worth thousands of dollars. An older gentleman, David Reich, apparently an old family friend, moved in with Fred and Mary and lived with them. So close was he to them that Fred and Mary specifically provided in both of their wills that David was to be well taken care of, and when he died his burial was to be provided for out of their estate. All the six older children married and had children, leaving only Bertha at home with her parents and David by the late 1890s.

Then something tragic happened. Fred took sick in December of 1897. He apparently knew he wasn't going to survive, as he made out his will on December 15th, and four days later passed away. His death would have lasting consequences for the rest of the family. The newspaper accounts of the next several events vary on exactly why they occurred, but they are consistent in reporting that Bertha was very much affected by her father's death. She apparently just could not get over it, and it bothered her for months. Some reports say she sought out spiritual mediums while visiting relatives in Chicago, and that these mediums told her that her father was lonely in the spirit world, and desired Bertha and Mary to join him. Whatever the case, Bertha decided that the best thing to do would be to take her own life. However, apparently concerned over how her mother would react to her suicide, she decided to spare her mother the grief by killing her first, and then taking her own life.



The reports again vary on the exact course of events, but a few details are consistent - that the mother was shot in bed about 3am on October 2nd, 1898; that Bertha shot her three times; that Bertha then drank at least an ounce of laudanum (apparently a type of medicine of which opium was the primary ingredient) and then shot herself several times, once in the head and at least twice in the stomach. Mary's wounds were fatal, perhaps instantly so, but Bertha's were not. They were discovered later that morning by a brother, perhaps Edward, who found his mother cold and dead in bed, and Bertha lying and bleeding on the floor of another room.

Bertha was immediately patched up and given medical care, though physicians assumed she wouldn't live for more than a few hours (not an unreasonable assumption given the severity of her injuries). Within a day or so, David Reich (who was apparently not in the house at the time of the shooting) learned of Bertha's actions, became despondent, and went out and knelt in front of an oncoming train, and thus ended his own life. I haven't been able to find many records on him yet, so I don't know much about him, or why Mary's death or Bertha's actions would affect him so much, but he apparently cared deeply for Fred and Mary, who likewise returned the emotions as evidenced by their statements regarding David in their wills. But unfortunately the tragedies did not end with David's suicide.



When Mary was buried in the cemetery owned and/or founded by her son-in-law Nicholas Voegtly's family, Edward Beilstein, Mary's 4th child and second son, reportedly tried to throw himself into her grave. Failing in this, a few days later he went alone to his mother's grave at night, wrote a suicide note, and took poison (perhaps rat poison) and ended his life. He was married at the time to the former Margaret Grieves, and had two daughters, Erma (age 10) and Thelka (age 6). Margaret was so shaken by the news of her husband's suicide that several newspapers stated that her death would coming shortly as well. Fortunately, these predictions proved erroneous as Margaret went on to live another 41 years. So far as I can tell, she never remarried, and lived those 41 years a widow.

Once Bertha had had a few months to recover from her injuries, she was arrested and put on trial for her mother's murder. I can't imagine what the family was thinking and feeling at that point - having lost Fred in 1897, then Mary, David, Reich, and Edward in 1898, I cannot imagine how the surviving children and grandchildren must have felt to see Bertha arrested and taken away in a police carriage. The trial started in early May 1899 and lasted six days. While the papers don't go into great detail about much of the proceedings, they do state that Bertha was the first witness called in her own defense, and that she gave her testimony in a cool, clear voice the entire time she spoke. The defense's case rested on the proposition that Bertha was insane, at least at the time of the murder; that Bertha and her parents believed in "spiritualism", that it was possible for the living to make contact with the spirits of the dead; and that Bertha had been told by her deceased father that he desired Bertha and Mary to join him in death. Part of the prosecution's strategy was based on reports that Bertha had had "improper relations" with F. William Beilstein, a Chicago cousin of Bertha's, and that her mother had tried to arrange a marriage between Bertha and the cousin. Bertha reportedly rejected the arrangement, and supposedly killed her mother as part of a strategy to get out of it. The cousin apparently sent letters to Bertha written in milk, which she then read by applying soot to the pages to make the words visible. The cousin stated that his only purpose in writing the letters was advising her on ways to end her own life, and that the subject of killing her mother had never come up. The defense evidently made a more convincing case, as Bertha was found not guilty. She was briefly taken back to jail after the trial, and soon committed indefinitely to the Western Pennsylvania Asylum for the Insane at Dixmont (often referred to as simply Dixmont).

As I began learning about these events, at first I was focused on the immediate players in the family drama - Mary, Bertha, David Reich, and Edward. But as I began preparing to write this post, it occurred to me that Fred and Mary's children all lived in Allegheny county, Pennsylvania at the time of the murder and suicides. Between their six older children, Mary was grandmother to twelve children at the time she was shot (one more, a girl named Marie, would be born just a month later). That makes two dozen people - Mary's children, their spouses, and their children - that were directly affected. Then given the family's wealth and social standing (the articles repeatedly reference how prominent these Beilsteins were in their area) there were many others who shared in the shock and grief of these tragic events. It makes me wonder, given how many family members and friends the Beilsteins had, if there isn't a journal somewhere that records these events and their impact? But I digress. On with the story.

The articles that discuss her life at Dixmont are, like those that covered other parts of this story, somewhat contradictory. Several state that she was a model inmate, quiet if sometimes morose, not prone to causing trouble. Some articles say that she was still very much suicidal, though apparently she did not act on those tendencies even though she had time and means to do so. One article goes into great detail about how she would go out to a bridge, sit down, and stare at the water and sigh, just sitting there sadly for hours until it was time to go back inside. One thing that didn't make much sense was the statement in one article that because Bertha was apparently still so troubled, they gave her more freedom than other patients to cheer her up. If a patient had committed murder, attempted a very violent suicide, and was still apparently bent on their own destruction, how did they come to the conclusion that allowing that person more opportunity to roam freely about the asylum's grounds would be beneficial to her and the other inmates? It seems to me that such a person should be more restricted, in an effort to protect that individual and others. But then, I'm no psychologist.



In any event, Bertha stayed at Dixmont for the next seven years, when the unexpected happened. Accounts differ as to exactly what happened and how, but a few details are clear: Bertha seems to have had a sympathizer (or sympathizers) among the staff at Dixmont. She wrote and received letters (reportedly written in invisible ink) from relatives outside, and that through the help of those inside and outside the asylum, she escaped. Several articles state that she escaped down the fire escape the night of Sunday, September 23, 1906 to an automobile that was ready and waiting for her, which then sped her to freedom.

Dr. Henry A. Hutchinson, superintendent of Dixmont asylum, soon came under fire for allowing the girl's escape. He seems to have changed his story several times, stating at one point that she was abetted by two nurses, Zula Moore and Pearl Boston, who were briefly suspended from the institution. Dr. Hutchinson was investigated by the state board of public charities about the escape. He told the board he "always considered her a degenerate and lacking moral resolution but does not now think her dangerous or likely to do harm to anyone." Another article, one highly critical of Dr. Hutchinson, said that the doctor had kept Bertha's escape covered up for several days and did not intend to release the information, but that some hospital staff had accidentally let it slip that Bertha had escaped. Whatever the case, the board reportedly found no fault in Dr. Hutchinson and cleared him of blame.

One article stated Bertha was next spotted in Cleveland and had there given birth to a son, but the article also stated that the information could not be verified. Bertha seems to have made her way to Chicago, where her brother Frederick Beilstein was living. He and a former schoolmate named Edmund Wander (or Wanders) hid Bertha in Edmund's home, gave her some money, and suggested that she start going by the name Olga Miller. She made her way west to Los Angeles and found employment as a waitress in various hotels in the area.

While working in Los Angeles, Bertha (now going by Olga Miller) made a friend named Richard Hardin/Hardy. There is some suggestion that they were romantically involved, but Richard later stated that he and Olga were only friends who happened to live near each other. Olga became ill while Richard was away on a trip, and when calling on her after his return, found that she had been bedridden for several days. He helped her get to a hospital, and visited her there, but it was apparently too late. Just before Olga died on May 22, 1907, Richard was seen to have given her a glass of milk, which led to Richard's arrest on suspicion of murder. An autopsy showed no trace of poison, Richard was released. The autopsy further discovered a large brain tumor, and this was assumed to be the cause for her decision to murder her mother and suicidal tendencies.



It's not exactly clear how, but someone made the connection between Olga Miller of Los Angeles and the missing Bertha Beilstein of Pennsylvania. It may have had something to do with Richard Hardin's interview with a reporter from the Los Angeles Herald on June 7, 1907. Word appeared in newspapers beginning that same day, and soon the Beilstein family agreed to send Bertha's brother Frederick out west to confirm her identity. Bertha's body was put under armed guard until Fred's arrival, due to apparent threats or rumors that members of the family (none are mentioned by name) had threatened to steal Bertha's body, perhaps in connection with how Fred and Mary's estate had been divided as one newspaper suggested.

Fred made it to Los Angeles in early July (he had attempted the trip in June and made it as far as Albuquerque before turning back for unknown reasons) and confirmed that Olga and Bertha were the same person. Bertha's body, which was still under armed guard, was shipped to the Equitable Trust Company of Pennsylvania, who also confirmed Bertha's identity and then released the body to the family. Bertha was then cremated and buried near her mother.



The last event I found in connection with all these horrid events, though not directly related to them, was the death of Bertha and Fred's oldest brother, Charles Beilstein. It happened on December 3, 1907, only 7 months after Bertha's death, and completely by accident. His death certificate gives his cause of death as "accidental falling of step Lader and falling wth his head on meat counter crushing his head Killing him instantly". It almost makes you say enough with the tragedies already, give the family a break!

The more I read about the Beilstein family tragedies, the more disbelief and shock I felt. To quote one of the early articles, "the misfortunes which have overtaken the Beilstein family of Allegheny, Pa...reads more like fiction than an actuality." It seemed impossible to believe that so much tragedy and so many unusual events could happen one after another after another. I still have a lot of questions about the whole ordeal, some thing may never be answered. I've learned a lot about this family, and found more of my cousins and their descendants. It makes me wonder too what other stories are still out there, waiting to be discovered by a random Google search or Ancestry.com hint. I hope there are no more murders and murderers, but whatever there is, good or bad, it's my family and family history and I'm eager to learn it all.