Shocking Family History Discoveries

Shocking Family History Discoveries

One of the most rewarding aspects of genealogy is uncovering stories about your ancestors that you may never have known — no matter how crazy — and preserving them for future generations. You never know what thrilling tales await you in the memories of past generations.

Death by Banana

Not long ago, a MyHeritage user named Becky Tweeted about a crazy story she learned about her great-grandfather:

Becky entered the information on her grandfather into her MyHeritage family tree. While she was browsing her record matches, this article popped up in her Record Matches:

It would appear that multitasking was not a strength of Becky’s great-grandfather’s. He lost control of his car and crashed through a rail fence while eating a banana.

Don’t snack and drive, kids.

“Wild indeed,” Becky replied when we Tweeted back. “I’d never have found it without you guys.”

Inspired by Becky’s discovery of her great-grandfather’s untimely and… fruity demise, we searched for more stories about unusual deaths in the family that other MyHeritage users have discovered.

Death by Guillotine

MyHeritage user Anja Toebat discovered that her 5-times-great-grandfather was executed by guillotine on November 2, 1803. Pieter-Jozef Cloedt was a member of an infamous gang of robbers in Bruges, Belgium.

“I think almost everybody in Belgium knows the history of this dangerous robber gang,” writes Anja. “They were all born in very bad circumstances and all tried to survive. Unfortunately, they chose a bad way to do so. They lived in forests and at night they robbed farmers.”

Comics were later created about this gang, called “Bende van Baeckeland.”

Comic of Anja’s ancestor

Comic of Anja’s ancestor

Order of Pieter-Jozef’s execution

Order of Pieter-Jozef’s execution

Struck by Lightning

One user, Dee Weingartner Bradley Grimsrud, discovered that her great-great-grandmother died in extremely improbable circumstances.

Dee’s great-great-grandmother, Karen Antonete Christonsdatter (Gryttebakke) was born in 1839 in Norway. She, her husband, her four young children, and her mother immigrated to Minneapolis in 1870. The moved into a shanty by the railroad station where Karen’s husband worked. There was a hole in the roof left by the pipe of a stove which had since been removed. Karen was standing under this hole during a thunderstorm, and a lightning bolt struck her through the hole and killed her instantly. No one else was hurt and nothing was damaged. It was like… well, being struck by lightning.

Here is the article describing the incident in the Star Tribune on July 27, 1870:

Fake Badger Fights

On a less tragic note, MyHeritage user Nora Bangerter reveals that her grandfather, William Ranson Miller (known by his nickname “Dragline”), did anything for a quick buck. His most famous scheme was his running fake badger fights in Ely, NV.

William Ranson Miller, a.k.a. Dragline Miller

William Ranson Miller, a.k.a. Dragline Miller

Apparently, he had his friends imitate badger noises with barking dogs and dared onlookers to put their hands in the badger hole.

Well… he sure gets points for creativity.

A Crime of Passion

MyHeritage user Margie Wirth found a story in her family history that reads like an old-fashioned crime novel. Her great-great-grandfather’s cousin was murdered by a jealous lover in broad daylight — and the killer was later acquitted under the claim that she had been overcome by “emotional insanity.”

The Janesville Gazette ran a series of articles reporting on the murder of George Schumacher in 1907, starting with the April 18 shooting and ending with his death on November 28 of that year. According to the newspaper, Florence Dugan shot George Schumacher in the back after exchanging tense words with him on the street. She claimed that they had once been married and that he had abused her, stolen from her, and eventually left her for another woman. George’s fiancé, Margaret Smith, was with him when Florence shot him and said that she had never heard of Florence until receiving a letter from her shortly before the shooting.

George survived the shooting itself but died months later from complications. Florence claimed in court that George’s behavior toward her caused a state of “emotional insanity” that led her to shoot him. The jury somehow found this convincing, because she was acquitted.

Many thanks to Becky, Anja, Dee, Nora, and Margie for sharing these amazing stories with us!

What crazy stories have you discovered about your ancestors? We’d love to hear more! Tell us in the comments.



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  • Charles Severs

    August 18, 2019

    My family has a legend about an ancestor who was a Hessian Soldier and William Severs DOB 1752 seems to be the only candidate. I have found a Hessian DOB 1751 who deserted in Savanna GA in 1782 named Joh. Wilhelm Siebert who was from Metzebach/ Melsungen in HessenKassel with a father Joh. Jost Siebert records in the Marburg Archives but have been unable to prove a connection,or produce any living male for a Y dna test. His area did the calendar change earlier than “The Colonies”. Was there a “standard adjustment” for persons born before the calendar change to calculate DOB and age afterward?? He did live to be 100 and did not seem to b in the Continental army even though his age was perfect to have been. Maybe just on the WRONG SIDE?

  • Thomas Putman

    August 18, 2019

    Long ago, my maternal grandfather grandfather told me that his brother Oliver was killed by police while running with Pretty Boy Floyd. He related an incident in which he and his brother parted ways because Oliver ran with a rough crowd, and my grandfather did not.
    I researched Floyd extensively and found no evidence that that was true. There’s lots of times when family lore turns out to be just that, lore. This seemed to be one of those times.
    A serious researcher should use every tool at their disposal and I do. One day, I ran Oliver’s name through “Find A Grave”. Attached to the photo of Oliver’s headstone was the story of his death in 1928, apparently from a newspaper clipping. It reads as follows:

    3/21/1928 POLICE GUN VICTIM DIES (Wednesday)
    Kirk Succumbs to Wounds; Wright Undecided On Filing Charges
    Oliver Kirk, 24 years old, 334 East Twenty-seventh street, south, died Tuesday night at a hospital here of gunshot wounds inflicted by police Monday night as he fled after frustrated in an attempt to steal an automobile tire near the Morrie Garden, 619 West Main street.
    Kirk, an employe of the Long Bed Lumber company, told J.K. Wright, county attorney, that he was forced to steal because his salary was not sufficient to support his family.
    George W. Sipes, 19 years old, who was with Kirk, was reported resting nicely. He will recover from wounds inflicted by the police, doctors said.
    Mrs. Kirk told police that her husband had started to a drug store to buy medicine for their sick children and that he had asked her to accompany him. When she declined, he took Sipes, his wife’s brother.
    Kirk admitted, in his confession, that he was attempting to steal a tire when J.W. Perkins and J.B. Ryan, city detectives, interfered. Kirk said he broke for liberty in his own car and was chased several blocks before being overtaken and forced to halt.
    Lucile Kirk, 2 years old, daughter of the dead man, and her baby sister, Betty Mae, 18 months old, are said to have pneumonia.
    Wright said Tuesday night that he was undecided as to whether charges will be filed against Perkins and Ryan.

    It seems a little extreme for stealing a tire, but this was 1928, back in the gangster days, and likely there was a little more to it than the papers reported, but who can say?

    Further research showed that Oliver’s daughters did survive, they grew up and had children of their own.

    The source:

    There are other stories…..maybe next time

  • F


    August 24, 2021

    While doing research on my maternal grandmothers fraternal side I found that my 3rd great grandfather Archibald Horner was a murderer and actually got away with it twice. His story is well published online and can easily be found by using his name and the name of the county it happened in which is greenup KY. Interestingly his son my great great grandfather Joshua Horner became a Quaker after the civil war and decided on a quiet life in northern Michigan where his descendants still live.