I recently learned about a new relative and expanded one branch of my husband’s family tree. Out of the blue, he mentioned that one of his teenage cousins had killed himself years ago. I won’t go into details here, because the cousin still – as far as I can tell – has a living sister.
“I’ve always wondered about my cousin Mark,” my husband said, as we sat on the couch one evening. Mark was a few years older than Tim, and he lived in another state, so Tim didn’t know him well, but he had met him. He had heard the adults mention a few shocking details at the time, but nothing more. Tim recalled that several family members were upset with Tim’s dad because he had said he couldn’t afford to fly out to attend the funeral.
Tim wasn’t sure which of his uncles was Mark’s father, but a few minutes toggling between FamilySearch and newspapers.com soon turned up a funeral notice, which said Mark had died after a short illness. It named a cemetery, but FindAGrave doesn’t have any record of it, so I wonder if they never bought a headstone.
I feel that we need to record the details Tim remembers about Mark’s death, but I’m a little uneasy about it, too. I wouldn’t want to cause another family member pain. I don’t know where the information came from before it filtered down to my husband’s parents. Was it directly from Mark’s father or mother? Did it come via another relative? How accurate is it? Tim told me what he’d heard about the method of death, where the body was found, an item that may or may not be related found in his room, where that item supposedly came from, and a person who may or may not have had any direct involvement with Mark.
I added information about a suicide to a different relative’s profile on FamilySearch. I felt a little uneasy about that as well, but he was a couple of generations back. In that case, I recorded my mother’s memories of what she’d heard about his death.
In these cases, I’m sure the death certificate – which I do not have in either case – would confirm the suicide. I don’t know why family members would be told the deaths were self-inflicted if they were not. I do know that the stigma of suicide, even stronger in the past than now, might prevent some younger family members from being told the truth. I always fear creating a feud with a grandchild or niece/nephew who will be angry such a thing was suggested, if it’s something they were never told.
Mark’s obituary did fill in some blanks. I had not had any information about his father’s wife or other children. Adding their names led me to more records and more details about their lives.