Saturday, March 9, 2019

A Bachelor Uncle's Sad End

As often happens in our family history research, we find the beginning and end of a person's life but little about the events between those dates.  This is so with one of my bachelor uncles, Edward C. Meinzen,  one of my maternal grandfather's brothers.  Had I been interested in family history when I was younger, I might have asked about him.  But, in truth, I doubt anyone would have told me much because of the way he died.

Edward was the fourth child and third son of his parents, Henry and Elizabeth Meinzen.  He was born in on March 5, 1879, in Jefferson County, Ohio, where his family lived.  The little I know about him comes from census records, city directories, his death certificate, and two obituaries.

In 1900, the census records his age as 19, living with his family in New Alexandria, Cross Creek Township, Jefferson County, Ohio, and working as a farm laborer, probably on his father's farm.  Steubenville city directories between 1904 and 1909 tell me that he worked at LaBelle Iron Works.  In 1910, at the age of 28, he was still living at home with his family but by this time the family had moved into Steubenville.  That census gives no employment information.  Plenty can happen in ten years' time and, sadly, we often can't know details of events in the years between census records or even from one city directory to another, a fact that is so for Edward.

The next record for Edward is his death certificate.  He died on November 15, 1911.  His cause of death is noted as "opium poisoning, suicidal" with a contributory cause as a mental breakdown two years earlier.  I'm wary to take the doctor's word that it was suicidal, especially without family information to corroborate that allegation.  I know that opium (and its derivatives heroin and morphine) were were easy to obtain in the early 1900s.  In fact, the Bayer company sold heroin as a sedative for coughs.  Did Edward first try cocaine to relieve some physical condition?  Were users aware of the addictive properties of opiates?  The answers are lost in time.

Except for the census records and his death certificate, the anecdotal information I have about Edward's life comes from his obituaries where I learn that he had been in poor health for a year with a physical and nervous breakdown, and died of a complication of diseases.  He was a young man of good habits, industrious, capable in his work, and admired by many friends and respected by all who knew him.  He had worked at LaBelle Iron Works as a stationery engineer for 10 years.  He was a member of the Knights of Pythias, Schwabenverein, and the Third Presbyterian Church.

Gravestone of Edward C. Meinzen,
courtesy of Joyce & David Humphrey
In today's world we know the damage drugs can do and the addictions they cause.  It's possible, and perhaps likely, that Edward did not know.  Yet how I wish his life had not been cut short.  How I wish circumstances and his choices had been different.

Uncle Edward is buried in Steubenville's Union Cemetery, Section Q, Lot 203.

It is a sad end for a bachelor uncle who died at the age of 32.

This post was written for Amy Johnson Crow's 2019 version of 52 Ancestors.  The post topic for the week was "Bachelor Uncle."


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  1. How sad. He was so young when he passed away. What a tragedy. it really is amazing how those drugs were given so freely back then.

    1. Oh, I agree, Jana. I know doctors can prescribe opioids these days but it seems no one even need a prescription then! Amazing.

  2. Bachelor Uncle has turned out to be a really good theme. We have put men in the spotlight who might have gone unnoticed in our mad search to document the descendants of other ancestors. Your uncle’s story is especially sad because there are so many questions unanswered about his health.

    1. This has been a good theme, Wendy. And, obviously, none of these men are our direct ancestors. Strangely, Edward has been the subject of three others posts, one about suicide. Our family were non-storytellers so his name was not even mentioned when I was a child. How I wish his siblings had shared information about family!

  3. Arthur Conan Doyle painted his fictional hero of the late 1800s, Sherlock Holmes, as a genius who took cocaine to relieve his boredom between interesting cases. His friend and doctor, John Watson, disapproved and tried to discourage it, but the drug was available in fairly respectable ways then.

    1. I didn't know that about Sherlock Holmes, Marian. In a sense we've come a long way in understanding what drugs do to the body, but there are still so many people who continue to use them.


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