More stories have turned up in my further research of the Fraser family. One story is from Scotland, the other from Greene County, Iowa.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Joseph Fraser, the half-brother of my 3x-great-grandfather Andrew Frasier (they spelled it “Fraser” in Scotland, “Frasier ” in America). Joseph lived in Kennethmont, Aberdeenshire in Scotland. He was a cattle dealer and flesher (butcher). He had recurring episodes of some type of mental illness. He showed signs of paranoia and acted out violently toward family and neighbors. When he was admitted to the lunatic asylum, the doctors noted that the condition was possibly hereditary and that Joseph had both an aunt and an uncle afflicted with the same condition.
My reaction to this was more than just the usual genealogy curiosity! A hereditary mental condition….!
I knew a little about Joseph’s mother – she was Margaret Beattie, the second wife of John Fraser. I also knew she had a brother named Joseph Beattie. Was he the one that was also ill? Or was it an (unknown) uncle on the Fraser side of the family? Inquiring minds want to know!
When I was in Scotland last year, I came across a reference to a record in their National Archives (NRS) referring to a Joseph Beattie, the schoolmaster in Leslie. I presumed this to be Margaret’s brother. Time ran out on my last day at the archive and I didn’t have time to look at the file. With this latest news, however, I decided it was time to follow up and find out why this particular Joseph Beattie merited a file in the Scottish archives. I contacted the same researcher who found the asylum records for Joseph Fraser.
(By the way, hiring researchers is surprisingly easy and cost-effective!)
Within a week they got back to me with photographs of the contents of Joseph Beattie’s 1852 file. I discovered that Joseph Beattie was indeed the uncle who was sick; turns out he was an inmate of the Lunatic Asylum in Aberdeen about thirty years earlier than his nephew Joseph Fraser. The file contained a petition lodged by his wife and children requesting permission to take over his affairs.
The Beattie family are not my blood relatives but there’s quite a bit of good genealogical information right here on the first page!
The file contains an inventory of Joseph Beattie’s assets and court orders appointing a guardian (“curator”) to handle his affairs.
As the parochial schoolmaster, Joseph Beattie had not only a salary but housing provided. The petition spells out some sort of settlement that the Beattie family had reached with the heritors providing for Joseph to step aside as schoolmaster but for Margaret to receive some consideration as well. Margaret would leave her house in order to make way for the new teacher that would replace Joseph. She was slated to receive a substantial bequest out of a charitable fund but would not receive his “retiring allowance” (pension?) money.
A search on Google Books turned up some inscriptions from the graveyard in nearby Insch. Joseph Beattie died in 1854, two years after he was relieved as schoolmaster, and his wife Margaret died in 1861. She was preceded in death by their son James, who was a surveyor and a Civil Engineer. I found his death record – he died of a brain disease (“ramollisement”) that is associated with dementia. I wonder if it was connected with the condition that also afflicted his father and his uncle?
Are you depressed yet? The next story is even sadder.
It concerns Annie Susan Fraser, the daughter of Alexander Fraser (Alexander being the brother of my 3x-great-grandfather Andrew Fraser).
I will write in more detail about Annie in a future post; her life story is quite fascinating. She had two children while living in Scotland. She came to America with her mother, her half-brother and her two children. She then married William McHugh and had four more children: Howard, Mary Anna, Elizabeth and William. They lived near Dana in Greene County, Iowa.
In the course of trying to figure out where Alexander died (in America or Scotland? I still don’t know…) I came across some newspaper articles from Greene County about one of Annie’s children.
Iowa has an amazing online collection of newspaper resources. The library archive for the town of Jefferson in Greene County has seven historical newspapers. Here’s an article from May 21, 1903:
Howard McHugh, a son of W.J. McHugh, of near Dana, was drowned in the Des Moines river near Ottumwa recently, the body being recovered the first of the week. It was thought the remains had been in the river about three weeks when found, and no clue is at hand concerning his possible death whether accidental or not. The remains were buried at Grand Junction Tuesday1.
Here is another article with more explanation (it’s hard to read; see transcription below).
Foul Play or Suicide?
On Monday of last week a man fishing in the Des Moines River near Knoxville discovered a “floater” or dead body of a human being in the river. He took the body from the water and notified the authorities. The reamins were taken to Knoxville and the only identification mark to be found on the body was a pawn ticket showing that Howard McHugh had pawned his watch at Ottumwa. This fact was stated in a dispatch to the Des Moines Capital [a newspaper].
On Monday, Mr Sanford Kersliner of Hardin township saw the notice in the Capital and knowing that the son of William J. McHugh, a wealthy farmer of Section No. 1, Hardin, had a son by that name who had left home last fall, and was last heard from at Ottumwa, he showed the paper to Mr. McHugh. The father left the field where he was at work and without stopping to change his raiment drove to Grand Junction, took the train and went to Knoxville. He at once identified the body to be that of his son, and on Tuesday brought the remains home for burial. The funeral occurred on Tuesday.
The case is a very sad one. Howard was a young man between 20 and 21 years of age, the oldest son of the family. The inquest developed no evidence as to how he came in the river, and the facts will probably never be known. He had been in the water nearly three weeks when found. There were no marks of violence upon the body and there seems to be no indication of foul play. Whether he became discouraged and in a moment of melancholy drowned himself, or fell into the water accidentally, it is impossible to say. The family, who are old and highly-respected residents of hardin, have the sympathy of a host of friends in their great trouble2.
How very sad for Annie and her family. The fact that he left home several months earlier and was not in regular contact with his parents, that he pawned his watch, and that no one seemed to have reported him missing all contribute to a portrait of a troubled young man.
1Page 1 of The Bee, published in Jefferson, Iowa on Thursday, May 21st, 1903
2Page 3 of The Souvenir, published in Jefferson, Iowa on Saturday, May 16th, 1903