Monday, January 30, 2012

Fleshing Out a Family Tragedy

Mary Mayer Kuck
This post is sort of a continuation of my last post about the almost lost legacy of the Kuck family due to a lost container of family heirlooms. As you know from previous posts, it was almost lost due to an entirely different reason when John Kuck's wife Mary and five of his seven children died in the space of a five months. When I started my research into this family, John's name wasn't even known but thanks to census records soon discovered. Eventually I was able to determine where he was buried and got my my first glimpse of a tragedy that took place within his family. I saw that five of his children had died within a period of two months and his wife a few months later. I was determined to find out.

Mary Mayer Kuck Death Notice

My first clue was the newspaper article above that I found in a scrapbook compiled by my 2nd great grandmother which transcribed reads:
Died in Charles City, May 31, 1879, of paralytic convulsions, Mary, wife of John Kuck, aged 42 years, 4 months 23 days.
It is said, "Afflictions never come singly." On the 14th day of December, 1878, John Kuck lost one child; by the 3d day of January following, four more had been taken, all by the same fatal disease. And now comes the reaper, and takes his companion. The death of the children undoubtedly had much to do with Mrs. Kuck's illness, as it seemed to weigh heavily upon her mind. Mrs. Kuck was a practical Christian, having been a member of the German M.E. Church for 25 years. She has left a devoted husband and two sons, Henry and George. The funeral was held Sunday at 3 P.M. in the M.E. church. It is a singular coincidence that just nineteen years before, on the same day and hour, this couple were married in Galena, Illinois. The funeral was very largely attended, over 75 teams falling into the procession.
It mentioned that the deaths of the children were due to disease but not what the disease was. Over the years I have spent lots of time scouring the internet for what it might have been and finally theorized that it was due to diphtheria which caused quite a few deaths in Charles City during that time frame. However diphtheria of that time was recorded as being on fatal 25% of the time and John Kuck had lost 71% of his children. So my theory remained just that even thought I never gave up hope of someday confirming it.

Emma Kuck Death Notice
The Kuck family lived in the NE corner of Iowa and I live in the SE corner, far enough away that a day trip with research time isn't feasible. So I bided my time until I might get some time to spend up there doing research and I'm still waiting for it to happen. In the meantime, I went to look at a state historical archive while getting some recall work done on one of our vehicles and was unable to find any microfilm of newspapers local to Charles City during that time frame. But I did find out that they do exist. So I turned to a resource I have used in the past, a retired fellow that runs down genealogical requests in the area for a donation to his gas and coffee fund. He was happy to oblige and came back with three newspaper clippings that further fleshed out the family tragedy. The one above reads:
Kuck - Saturday, Dec. 21, of diphtheria, Emma R., daughter of Mr. John Kuck, aged 9 years.Scarce a week had passed since the death of their elder daughter, when Mr. and Mrs. Kuck were called upon to suffer the pangs of parting with another of their household treasures. Up to Friday night she was not considered dangerously ill, but then came more alarming symptoms, which resulted in death on Saturday. Her last hours were not painful ones, and when at last the lamp of life went flickering out, those present scarcely knew the moment when "mortality put on immortality." She was buried, Sunday, beside her sister Anna. The sorrowing family have the heartfelt sympathy of all.
Edward Kuck & Lydia Kuck Death Notice

It confirmed my diphtheria theory. The second clipping reads:
DiedKuck:-Saturday night, Dec. 28th, Eddie, son of John Kuck, aged 2 1/2 years. Kuck:-Wednesday, Jan 1rst, Lydia, daughter of John Kuck, aged 12 years, 10 months.Four times during the past month has the dark angel spread his pinions over this fated household and borne away one of its loved ones. There are three children left, and two of these are sick, but, we are glad to state, are now considered out of danger. Truly, friend Kuck and his wife have borne their heavy cross. We trust that their trials are now over, and that the other homes of the elty may be free from such a sad visitation.
This article made me realize how closely my fate rested in this tragedy. The articled stated that either my 2nd great grandfather George or his brother Henry were also sick with the disease but survived it since two of the three surviving children were sick with diphtheria. The other one was undoubtedly John Kuck Jr. who though the article says was recovering died, two days later on January 3, 1879.

Mary Mayer Kuck Death Notice
The kind volunteer also looked for more information on Mary Mayer Kuck's death in hopes of perhaps discerning more about her ancestry, one of my research brick walls. Although he found a second death notice for her and one that I hadn't seen, it didn't yield any additional clues. It reads:
Died: - In this city, May 31, 1879, of paralytic convulsions, Mary, wife of John Kuck, aged 42 years, 4 months, 28 days.
Since last December the hand of death has been laid heavily on the family of Mr. Kuck. Five beloved children, in quick succession, were followed to the tomb, all taken away by that fatal disease, diphtheria. Two sons Henry and George, are all that are left of that happy band of young hearts. Once more the dark angel has visited the stricken household, and the mother, best beloved of all, is gone forever. Mrs. Kuck had been a member of the German M.E. Church for more than twenty years, and died in full and happy faith of a brighter home beyond the stars. The funeral was held at 3 o'clock, Sunday afternoon, and there was a very large attendance, about eighty teams joining in the procession.
While diphtheria is a respiratory tract illness caused by baterial infection of the mucous membranes that is all but non-existant in today's world with modern vaccines, I didn't know much about what paralytic convulsions were in the late 19th century context. I'm not sure I still know but after doing some googling, it might possibly have been a case of tetanus.

In conclusion, I am pretty confident in the diphtheria theory to say it is no longer theory but fact. It answers my questions begun so long ago as to what tragedy befell this family buried together in a cemetery in Charles City. The one avenue of research that I would like to pursue is Mary Mayer Kuck's affiliation with the German M.E. Church. I would like to track down to see if any records exist and if so, what they may offer of Mary's ancestry to perhaps knock down that brick all once and for all.


Vince said...

Practical Christian ??????

sage said...

It was nice you were able to find one interested in tracking down leads for you. Thankfully, those tragedies don't occur today (except for the auto accident that may take multiple members of a family).

Ed said...

Vince - That phrase made me wonder what it meant too. I'm guessing perhaps it might be similar to what we call a cafeteria Catholic or someone who only goes to church on special occasions.

Sage - It was very nice and thus I hope I generously rewarded his coffee and gas fund so that he continues.

R. Sherman said...

Not to make light of it by any means, but obituaries were a lot better written in those days.

Ed said...

R. Sherman - They certainly were. Back then, you never knew what to expect where today's obits seem canned responses.