Monday, July 31, 2017

Saturday Challenge: The Case of Lead Poisoning

Randy Seaver's GeneaMusing's Saturday Challenge from last week:

1) The Family History Hound listed 20 Questions about your Ancestor, and I'm going to use some of them in the next few months. 2) Please answer the question - "What was the biggest surprise you found about an ancestor?"

John Tobias Gravestone

Perhaps the biggest surprise I encountered was when I discovered that an ancestor had apparently caused a case of lead poisoning as it might be delicately put. Less delicately, he committed murder followed by suicide.

One day early in my research, I was trying to find information about a fourth great-grandfather, John Tobias (1764-1830) and his wife, Polly (Gaffin) Tobias (1773-1830). He died the 16th of August and she the 17th and both are buried in a small abandoned cemetery in the town of Springport, Cayuga County, New York.

The cemetery is referred to in records as Great Gully Cemetery or Tobias Cemetery. It is in fact, either next door to or on the property of the house they owned and raised their family in. I haven’t found out yet whether John got this as Revolutionary Bounty land or if, more likely, he bought it from the recipient shortly after the lands were awarded. He was awarded some land as the heir of a deceased soldier, but that was probably a few miles away.

Although the property had long since been sold out of the family, in the last generations a family bought the property as part of their farm. At the time, they didn't realize that they could trace their ancestry back to these owners, the first ones to build a house on it. Accompanying these cousins, I have explored this cemetery and found the depression where the cellar of the house had once stood.
The remains of the homestead

Yet, the surprising part of the story occurred before I knew where they lived or were buried.

It was when first researching these ancestors that I discovered the reasons behind their deaths. I was reading an abstract of the cemetery records that had been done by women in the local Daughter's of the American Revolution (DAR) chapter in the mid-1960s. I knew that John and Polly had lived near Union Springs in the town of Springport. I was scanning those cemetery listings in particular in an attempt to find them. There, I found a listing for the Tobias Cemetery, and their names listed. [G4]

Excited, at first at finding their burial, I didn’t notice the remark. Then when I read it I couldn’t believe my eyes as I read and reread the entry. Written in ink along side the entry was a notation: “John shot Polly and then turned the gun on himself. Polly outlived him by one day.” My ancestor was a murderer!

This discovery occurred about thirty years ago. Since then I have, as I mentioned, explored the cemetery and found their markers. The dates confirm that Polly died a day after John. I have searched the newspapers that are still in existence around the date of this incident. But cannot find confirmation of what had happened. I do find advertisements in the settlement of John’s estate and his probate filed by the county. Did this case of “lead poisoning” by gun actually occur and why? It is still a mystery to us.

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