Gaining Wisdom from Family Tragedies


When researching your family tree be prepared to find sadness. Your ancestors will have suffered tragedies. However, bringing those to light can ensure their sufferings were not all for not. You will gain wisdom from learning their plights. And this wisdom can be used by you and future generations in positive ways.

Learning from Family Tragedy

My great-grandfather, Harry C.,  had thirteen sons and two daughters. One of the last born sons, Forrest, died at the age of 16 in 1940. Although I was unable to find any details in, I did find this entry at (this is a free on-line family history source sponsored by the Mormons), “Cause of death – Poisoning by accidental gasoline ingestion “.

That was what all I had. So, I went to the best source for any family history searching, family relatives that are alive. I have a cousin, once removed, Wes, that lives in South Dakota. His father was the youngest of the Harry C. children, Harry Homer.(In other words his father and my grandfather were brothers.)

Anyway…we had met online through our posts inquiring about mutual interests we had in family history. So, I e-mailed him asking if he had any information. He replied quickly and stated he would mail me paper copies of what he had along with other Harry C. children info.

That was 15 years ago. I still have the important manila envelope filled with documents he sent me. There is a stapled portion with copied funeral cards and associated newspaper articles. Within that information, I found the following newspaper article on Forrest:

Farmhand Dies of Lead Poisoning

Forrest Schofield, 16-year-old farm hand employed at the Ernest Nemec farm was found dead in bed Saturday morning.

On Friday morning while attending to his work about the farm he had syphoned some gasoline from a barrel for the tractor and in doing so swallowed some of the gasoline containing ethyl lead thinking nothing of it. The rest of the day he went about his duties as usual.

At supper time he mentioned not feeling well and complained of a headache and feeling quite tired. He retired early and next morning at 5 o’clock, Mr. Nemec went to his room to see how he was feeling. At that time he said he was feeling better but felt so tired he guessed he remain in bed for a while longer.

Mr Nemec did up the chores and at a little before 8 o’clock went up to his room to see him and found him (Forrest) dead and in about the same position as he had left him at 5 o’clock.

The coroner pronounced the death as due to lead poisoning.

This is quite sad. It makes you wonder if he had only gotten help the day or night before, could he have been saved. Also, to us now this sounds crazy. We would never syphon gas from anything with a tube and our mouths, right? Because many of us learned when we were young not to do it. But this was in 1940 and most likely the dangers of doing this were not as well-known and far spread. I would like to believe such tragedies as Forrest’s death helped to expand the knowledge of such dangers and stop the practice. So, at least his death was not in vain. As well as re-educate current and future generations on the dangers of even thinking about doing such a thing; no matter how much we need gas for our car!



2 thoughts on “Gaining Wisdom from Family Tragedies

  1. This is a very sad story, but it is true, you learn from family tragedy. I found it very interesting how you gathered all your information. You didn’t find much information online, but that didn’t stop you and you used the best resource there is, relatives who are still alive. I love listening to stories from relatives, and especially my grandparents. It is very sad that Forrest’s dad checked on him at 5 a.m. and was dead by 8 a.m. Yes, if only he had went and got checked, but back then I am sure that was not something that was common to do.

  2. This is truly sad. Especially at such a young age. There is some tragedies in my family’s past as well that my family has dug up. On my mom’s side there is an ancestor that was killed from being hit by a train. Like your relative there was an article about it, and so I agree that it gives the people who are still living a chance to learn from his mistakes. My great-grandfather didn’t live a very long life and died when my grandfather was 16, so I understand how it can cause great changes in a family. My grandfather was planning on becoming an accountant, but when his father died he was forced to take up farming to help support his family. So family tragedies definitely effect the family tree!

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