Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Two Tragic Deaths in the Same Family

A few years ago I found some newspaper items that described the tragic deaths of my gg-grandmother and one of her daughters. In the newspaper my gg-grandmother, Mary, is identified as only "Mrs. John Williams." Her death reminds me of just how difficult and dangerous everyday life was only 100 years ago.

Mary Richards was born in 1845 in Wales. She married John Williams in 1867 and they lived in the town of Aberdare, Glamorgan. John Williams traveled to America in 1872 and found work in the coal mines. When he had earned enough money to send for his family, Mary and their three children, Margaret, David and Janet, joined him in 1875. Their last child was my great-grandfather, Thomas, who was born in Pennsylvania in 1876.

In 1906, their daughter Janet, known as "Jennie," was married to Isaac Lewis by the Reverend R. T. Roberts of the Welsh Presbyterian Church. By all accounts Jennie was popular girl who was described as having a lovely contralto singing voice. So the entire community was shocked and saddened when she died just six weeks after her wedding of "lung trouble," from a combination of rheumatism, croup and pneumonia. My grandmother was named "Janet" in honor of the aunt she would never meet.

Just three years after Jennie's death, on the morning of April 21, 1909, her mother, Mary Richards Williams, fell while carrying an oil lamp up the stairs, which set fire to her clothing. It's easy to imagine the scene: Mary is climbing the stairs; she is wearing a floor-length skirt, and carrying an oil lamp; she might also have been carrying objects, like clothing or blankets in one arm while holding the lamp with the other. She may have been home alone with no one near enough to hear her screams for help.

Mary was burned severely and must have endured tremendous suffering over the next 36 hours. She finally passed away on the evening of April 22, 1909. Once again, Reverend Roberts was on hand, this time to comfort the grieving family.

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