Tragedies in the tree

I spent Christmas evening with my extended family on the Becker side. It’s the first time in a number of years that I could make it to this celebration, since most years I have to work at the newspaper in the evening.

I told some of my aunts and uncles about my research into the Becker and Chorosevic branches of my family tree. More than one of them joked about digging up “dirty laundry” from years gone by.

Truth is, it’s hard to really get close to these folks.

I find their names; oftentimes their dates of birth and death; maybe some physical description; maybe a home address; maybe a trade or profession. I can find this information from birth and death certificates, census entries, obituaries, and other sources.

These details give me a glimpse of the people, but it still feels like I’m far away from really knowing who they are or what they were like.

What I would love is to find newspaper articles that mention my family members. Stories with quotes, any sort of color that might give me more of a glimpse.

How do you find such stories? The Beckers were German immigrants. They were working-class people. They were not making regular appearances on the “society” pages of the Post-Dispatch. Without a searchable newspaper database or an index, you would have to have lots of free time to read through the paper, seeking your relatives.

But I’ve come to realize the primary stories I’m going to find in the paper are related to events I know the dates for — usually deaths.

As it turns out, I have found several instances where the Beckers pop up in the papers because of tragedies — and all within the same generation.

William Becker, my great-great-grandfather, died suddenly on the street while walking to a neighborhood store in 1936. For this, he received a brief write-up (one paragraph) in the paper. My uncle Jack was apparently with him when this happened, but he was only about 3 or 4 and doesn’t remember it.

This was the first story about the family I found in the paper. It came early on in my research because I already knew about the incident, and was looking for it in the papers. It took awhile before I found the next two incidents.

• William’s brother, John, was murdered in Chicago in 1917.

• Another sibling, Viola, was killed in a car accident in 1925 along with her husband, John Meyer.

I did not know about these latter two incidents. I “discovered” them after reading obituaries. In John’s case, he died young and in a city away from the rest of the family. This made me curious about the circumstances of his death. In the case of the Meyers, their obituaries were published one on top of the other and they were listed as having died at the same time; almost certainly some sort of accident.

I have found a lot of material related to John A. Becker’s murder. I will write about what I found (and how I found it) in detail, hopefully later this week. I am trying to pin down a little bit more information before I write.

By the way, here’s a quick diagram that traces my ancestry back to the William Becker who immigrated to the U.S. in 1852. It also shows all the siblings of the “tragedy” generation I am talking about above.

About Josh Renaud

I'm the Emperor of the Renaud Empire, which is to say that I'm the husband of a Boliviana and the father of three daughters and one son. When I'm not conquering lands and expanding borders, I'm a newspaper designer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Find me on Twitter (@Kirkman) or Google+.
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One Response to Tragedies in the tree

  1. anita says:

    I think it is so interesting to see how both sides of your Dad’s family carry the same first names down through each generation. It makes me wonder if we all have similar personalities to our namesakes. Thanks again for doing this research, Josh!