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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Suicide while temporarily insane

Otto V. Mueller is often on my mind these days. I recently requested copies of the inquest record created after his 1912 suicide. I can't help wondering what caused him to feel such despair that he chose to take his own life.

My path to Otto started with my paternal grandparents Harold Clarke Mueller and Frances Lois Mangels who were married in August of 1930:

The 1930 census was taken shortly before my grandparents' wedding, and Harold was enumerated (on line 84) with his parents and younger brother:

My dad remembered sliding down the load when Harold made deliveries in a coal truck, so the occupation listed in column 25 concerned me at first. When I mentioned to my grand-uncle Charlie that my grandfather had been a truck driver, he said, "Really? I remember him banging gold." Bingo - we have a match!
In the 1920 census Harold, his parents and grandparents lived together. Seeing the Clarkes explains where Harold's middle name originated:

Here's the family in 1910:

...and in 1900:

The list of family members is continued on a second page, including Alfred's sister Alma E. Note her occupation, then take a look at Otto's. Could Alma work in Otto's office? This becomes more evident (and more confusing) when we travel back and forth in time.

Here's the family in 1880. In those days, Mueller was spelled Müller. See how the census taker tried to correct his misspelling? Wish I knew if he was attempting to squeeze in an "e" or trying to add the umlaut.

The census taker's fumble helps explain another indexer's version of Jacob's surname. Jacob's marriage certificate was indexed under Mutler. But the marriage license clerk's attention to detail provided wonderful clues. Jacob's new wife is Mrs. Elizabeth Biedenham (actually Bidenharn, but let's not quibble about details). This helped me find Elizabeth and Otto in 1870.

Otto is consistently listed as Ohio-born. Remember the 1880 census and the 10-year difference between Otto and Alfred? Both facts make more sense after seeing the marriage record above. It suggests Otto isn't Jacob's biological son. An 1870 Ohio census confirms that hypothesis (see line 9):

Learning that Otto was Alfred's half-brother made me wonder if I should  continue to research Otto. I mean, it's not as if he's a direct line ancestor. And heck, he only shares 50% of my DNA. Hmm. But then I do have that manila folder with his name on it...

I'm glad I chose to gather just the basics on Otto, file them and move on; 'cause that's when things got interesting.

I couldn't find Otto in the 1930 or 1920 censuses. He didn't appear with Jacob and Alma in 1910. As it turns out he lived on the same street with his wife and daughter:

I couldn't find Otto and Alvina in the Chicago marriage index. More searching revealed their marriage had taken place on the other side of Lake Michigan in Berrien County Michigan, a quaint location known for elopements. I blinked hard when I read the new Mrs. Mueller's maiden name. Schmitt is Otto's mother's maiden name too. Coincidence? Except there was something familiar about a Schmitt and Kauffman couple in Ohio with a daughter named Alvina. Did Otto marry his first cousin? Time will tell. Here's the marriage record (entry 752):

So where was this family in 1920? I hadn't been able to find Otto. But I did find Alvina and Edith (bottom two lines)...

who live with Alvina's widowed brother (line 1):

Alvina is listed as a widow. But was she? Not according to Otto's sister Alma:

What happened to Otto? Before all the ugliness, things seemed to be going pretty well for this husband, father and successful businessman. Articles referencing him appeared in several newspapers; his participation in an annual cycling race as a member of the Englewood Wheelmen, and public congratulations and admiration after his promotion to city engineer.

Why is Otto's death certificate so um, I don't know, weird? Look at his place of birth, his birth date, even his date of death - on or about the 16th of April. How long did he lay dead in his garage? Alma was the informant; was she distraught? Distant? Estranged? If she lived with Otto and worked at his insurance agency years before, why didn't she know more answers?

She was right on the money regarding her parents' names (especially Elise rather than Elizabeth) and their places of birth. It's quite puzzling.

Which is why I ordered inquest records for this collateral ancestor. I sent a letter to the Cook County Medical Examiner's office requesting Otto's file on October first. A letter from them arrived the 13th saying there are five pages of written testimony. (FIVE PAGES!!) Copy costs are five dollars per page. I mailed a check the 14th. Then I started pacing in front of my mailbox. After two weeks I called the ME's office and spoke with a very nice woman. She said she had indeed received my check. She reminded me the pages had been tri-folded for nearly a hundred years and said they were working to unfold them. Once that is done, they can copy the pages and send them to me.

Honest to goodness, I have dreams about getting these papers! I want to know who testified and what they said. Don't you?


Nancy said...

I do! I have several ancestors who committed suicide, too, and wonder what happened to bring about that decision for them. I'm also waiting for papers (Civil War service records, hoping that will provide some insight). But I never thought about inquest records. I suppose there was not always an inquest but I think I should check it out. Thanks for the idea.

Laura Aanenson said...

Hi Nancy, I feel your pain - the wait is terrible! A county clerk once told me any death that falls outside the "norm" has an inquest hearing. One of my ancestors had a heart attack on his niece's front lawn and an inquest was held. Wasn't five pages of written testimony, but it was interesting. I hope you'll share the information in the Civil War records!

Laura Aanenson said...

They cashed the check! They cashed the check! This means the papers are on the way to me!

Jenny Lanctot said...

Say the word, and I will be there for the vigil in front of your mailbox. I can't wait to hear what those pages have to say!!!

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