The Eccard Family Tragedy Explained

From The Lima News (Lima, Ohio),
14 Oct 1915, Thu • Pg 10, Col 4


One of the more outrageous family stories I share with my genealogy students is the double suicide of my 3rd great-grandparents, the Eccards, in 1915. I had used their tragic deaths as a way to illustrate how to be prepared for finding sad and unexpected events in your family tree.  But now, in light of new evidence, I can use them to illustrate how family lore can absolutely be wrong and why you need that paper trail to corroborate (or disprove) things you’ve been told.  Such is the case with the Eccards.

When I first found their death certificates in the process of doing my DAR application, I turned to my great Aunt Rosie, the Eccards’ great-granddaughter.  If you’ve read me before, you might remember Aunt Rosie was also interested in genealogy until her death this past year, so I turned to her a lot with questions.  So, when I asked her about the Eccards, she shared that her grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Eccard Jones, was very pregnant at the time so she wasn’t able to attend her parent’s funerals.  She also said that she heard two theories about why they committed suicide – one was that they were swindled out of their farm by a sleazy lawyer and the other was that the wife, Mary Alice Drake Eccard, was terminally ill and her husband Gideon couldn’t bear to live without her and they had a “suicide pact” of sorts.

As part of my regular search, I did check into the land transactions to see if some lawyer did swindle them and I found nothing at all to indicate that they were ever land owners.  In fact, in every census that the Eccards were married, they rented so that theory seemed to be debunked.  As far as Mary Alice being terminally ill, that was harder to discount or disprove but her death certificate gives no mention of a secondary cause or illness – just the carbolic acid caused her sudden death.  Even 103 years later, I think that would be hard to actually disprove with all certainty, but it doesn’t feel like she was suffering from any terminal causes.  (especially in light of my newly found evidence)

In the newspapers online, I found just the tiniest mention of their double suicide.  No details, no motives, and most notably, no obituaries.  I didn’t find that out of place or abnormal really because it wouldn’t be the first time a family has opted not to publish an obituary.  Given the grim circumstances surrounding their deaths, I understood maybe there just wasn’t one out there to be found and let it go at that.  I had a small mention in the paper that corroborated their death certificates, so I was satisfied enough to move on.

However, this past month, I’d been working on “bushing out” my tree branches on the Eccard line and while working on their daughter, Carrie Belle, I couldn’t find her obituary either.  I was in the process of writing to the local library for Carrie Belle’s obituary and while typing the letter, I decided “Heck with it. I’m just going to ask them if they have the parents’ too.”  Happily, the librarian got back to me very quickly!

The librarian had found Carrie’s obituary and even provided me with the death certificates for her and both her parents.  (I was appreciative, of course, but I already had those.)  However, she sent me something so unexpected and amazing!  It completely changed the story as my Aunt Rosie had told me. I feel like I hit the genealogy jackpot.  She sent me the joint obituaries of Gideon and Mary Alice, along with an article about the circumstances of that day.

The Eccard obituaries & sensational details into their deaths.

To summarize the article (and you can click it to enlarge and read more), it appears that Gideon and his wife, Mary Alice, went out that day to town and picked up shoes and peaches.  After they drove their horse and buggy home, a little grandson ran out of the house and startled the horse.  Apparently, there were heated words exchanged between Mary Alice and her daughter-in-law.  Shortly after their argument, Mary Alice went to the barn and drank a vial of carbolic acid and dropped dead.  She was found by Gideon, who called out to his daughter Carrie Belle and the daughter-in-law, who came running to the barn. They found him crying, and in his grief, he ran over and drank a bottle of aconite. The doctor was called and when he arrived, Gideon was still able to talk and was trying to explain what had happened and why.  The doctor administered medicine to make him vomit but unfortunately the poison ended up being too much, and he died anyway.

*BOOM*  Mind completely blown. 

In addition to having this demolish the stories of what my Aunt Rosie had told me, I was also left with a boatload of questions!  I know Gideon was devastated so I get his grief was motivation for drinking aconite but what kinds of harsh and hurtful words were exchanged that day to cause Mary Alice to go and drink poison like that?  That seems so rash of a response.  I can only imagine that there was some other source of contention going on there as well.  Maybe some long standing resentment or problems within the family circle? 

I’m also left with a puzzle.  I had no idea that Gideon witnessed the events at Gettysburg but I’m oddly not sure how he did.  His parents were both from Maryland and lived there their entire lives.  I did not find any service records for Gideon nor his father Noah. Gideon’s grandfather Peter did serve in the War of 1812 but I think he was old at the start of the Civil War. Gideon was there in Maryland all his life, still in 1870 even, years after the war and then suddenly, he pops into Ohio by 1880.  So how would he have seen Gettysburg?  Where does that fit in?  Accompanied uncles maybe?  I have yet to branch up and out that that far yet.  It’s an interesting detail for later research to be sure. 

I’m truly happy though now. I have a new way to talk about the Eccards in my teaching aside from using them as examples of what sad things can possibly crop up.  Now I can talk about them in regard to disregarding assumptions, continually looking for that paper trail, and how you still REALLY do need to do some old-fashioned letter writing to find things that aren’t online.  I stress it enough to them already, but now I have an even better example to show them of why you still have to do offline legwork as well. 

Dale Stewart’s 1930 Arrest

Dale Stewart’s 1930 mug shot, Montana State Penitentiary.

I don’t know what makes me return to certain relatives time and again even when I think their stories are “done.”  My 2nd great uncle Dale Stewart’s story was pretty cut and dry, I thought. I’ve written about discovering his mug shot from his 1930 arrest in Montana and I fairly thought his story was finished.  So why did I go looking for him again the other night randomly?

I can’t really say for sure other than it bothers me a bit that I know his sad start in life being raised in the children’s home system after his parent’s murder/suicide and his horrible, painful death by eating ant paste in a sanitarium in 1943 in LA.  But his “middle” has always eluded me, and I had assumed that since he was a merchant marine, his story was probably out at sea and there likely wasn’t much to find for him.  He never married, had no children that we knew of … so what was left to really find?  Likely nothing, but I returned to Dale like a moth to a flame, just drawn in by the look on his face.  

I have always felt like he and his older brother, my 2nd great-grandfather Glenn, had a really rotten deal in life. (They could truly be case studies in how your parents’ cruddy choices affect you all through your life.)  So anyway, I went looking for Dale again and stumbled upon a news article about his actual arrest. 

From The Hardin Tribune-Herald (Montana) 16 May 1930, page 5.

Dale and this Bert Stevens fellow he was arrested with somehow met in San Francisco while working on ships.  Dale was a porter on the steamer “Yale” and Burt was in the kitchen on the steamer “Nome City” according to their arrest sheets.  However, both were out of work by May 1, 1930, when they came to Hardin, Montana.  Bert seems to have had multiple run-ins with the law in Montana in 1928-1929 so I wonder if he didn’t convince Dale to come along to familiar stomping grounds. 

In any event, Dale and Bert robbed a mercantile company’s offices on May 10th, just 9 days after arriving, making off with just $15 and a gun.  That’s only equivalent to $229 today so that’s a pretty sad haul considering he traded a year of his life for it in the state penitentiary.  They were caught on the 11th being that they were”suspicious characters” and the cops found through fingerprints that they had priors.  (I’ve seen Bert’s extensive record but I can’t find anything prior for Dale.)  They plead guilty in court on the 15th, arrived at the penitentiary on the 20th, and their paperwork was processed on the 21st.  

As a weird side note, Bert was re-arrested on narcotic charges the very day they were released in April 1931.  Just bonkers!  I lose track of Dale again until his death in LA in 1943.  I know that’s not much more information on Dale but it just makes me crave to know even more about his life.  Now that I know he had a prior arrest somewhere, I want to find it.  I plan on using Bert’s arrest record as a way to eliminate places Dale might have been because I just don’t know how long they were associated.  They could have been traveling together for a while! 

I just thought this bit was interesting and wanted to share.  /shrug/

General James Clinton & I

I have said it before that my genealogical journey has always been quite serendipitous in nature.  Good things and wonderful people have just seemed to cross my path time and again.  With it, though, comes a great amount of weird coincidences that I could never have expected or anticipated.  Here is one of those “strange incidences” that happened as of late…

I am a member of the DAR and my patriot is John Wickham.  I’ve written about him before but just to recap for new readers, John was in the French & Indian War and was recruited as a drill sergeant during the American Revolution to teach others how to fight/shoot.  John was from Rhode Island originally, moved to New York when he was 8 (and where he served during the Revolution), and then moved to Ohio after the war, where he applied for a pension right before he died at 101 years old.

I grew up in Ohio, nearly two hours from where John is buried in Noble County but I never knew about John until I moved to New York and my family tree exploded.  Here’s part of where it gets kinda neat – I didn’t just move to New York.  I moved right smack into the thick of where my grandfather served.  My husband is stationed at the United States Military Academy at West Point which is 7 minutes and one left hand turn from Fort Montgomery where my grandfather served before it was taken by the British.  I was able to go to Fort Montgomery and walk the very ground that John did and stand on the same cliff overlooking the Hudson River that he did.  It was surreal, to be sure!

In John’s pension file, he names those captains and generals he served under.  He served under Arnold at Bemis Heights, which is super cool since I have a Woodhull family connection and if you watch the show TURN, you’ll know I’m so excited by that!  Then, I somehow magically forgot who John served under.  It was one of those details that just slipped my mind.  (Probably because I read General Arnold and THAT’S what sticks out.)  I got into the DAR some two years ago and then all those little details just faded into the back of my mind…. until today.

And here’s where it gets kinda funky monkey… a few months ago, my friend Colleen and I cleaned the headstones and monuments of the Clinton plot at Woodlawn Cemetery in New Windsor, NY for the town.  We needed practice for our headstone cleaning business and they needed a nice, clean showpiece for the cemetery since they’d just taken it over in recent months and this would prime the monuments for its grand re-opening this next spring.

You may be wondering by now why this is so awesomely weird for me?  It’s because of whose plot we cleaned – General James Clinton and his family. My grandfather John served under General Clinton at Fort Montgomery before it was taken by the British and it was actually General Clinton that gave him his discharge papers. (Before you history buffs point out there were, in fact, TWO Clinton generals on the American side at Forts Montgomery and Clinton -and there were- John specifically said James Clinton, not George, in his pension papers.)  My grandfather served him and now I have served him in my own way, too.  How round robin is that?  The coincidence is just astounding to me and made those two days polishing and scrubbing those stones even more special and meaningful.

Anyways, I thought perhaps you all might enjoy seeing the pictures of the stones being cleaned.  They were in wretched shape and covered with lichen.  They are flat table-top stones and they are weathering terribly to where some of them are just practically illegible, James’ probably being the worst and then Mary Little Gray, one of his wives.   The stone of James’ sister, Catherine Clinton McClaughry , was so thick with lichen, we didn’t know there was a poem underneath the edges of the stone until it had been cleaned completely off.  It was amazing to see the before and after on these stones and I feel completely honored to have been a part of extending James Clinton’s legacy by caring for his monument properly.  I like to think my grandfather John would have been proud.


Questioning Your DNA

I have been working on our Stewart/Steward family line for eons… truly …and I cannot break through this brick wall that ends with John Steward and his wife Minerva. You can see my pedigree over there to the right.

Now I’m not a DNA pro by any means but I get the basics.  I have had my DNA (my mom’s and that of my children) floating around on Ancestry, 23andMe, and GEDMatch with positively ZERO hits on our Stewart line.  Three years plus and no hits anywhere, no DNA circles, not even the generic email from a possible relative with a match looking for info… just NOTHING.  So, recently, I decided to go through our DNA circles again to take a closer look.  I have 101 circles with NO Stewart matches and my mom has 25 circles with NO Stewart matches either.  (My circles are much larger because my dad’s KY line is huge.)  Puzzled… I began to dig deeper into our tree.

Clark Children Reunite After 42 Years

Charles Lloyd Moore

A while ago, I wrote about my husband’s great-grandfather’s story about being sold at the Ohio State Fair and how he changed his name from Clark to Moore.  A Clark relative reached out to us recently on Ancestry to find out more information because we had so many matching names in our trees.  She was a grand-daughter to Cecil Benjamin Clark, brother to my husband’s great-grandfather, Charles Lloyd Moore.  I sent her a packet of papers and pictures along with giving her links to this blog.  However, in giving her links to here, I realized that I hadn’t updated my blog with the discoveries I’d make in the Clark/Moore line.  So here we are with an update to tell their tale…