"If you can't get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance"
-George Bernard Shaw

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Shocking Family Stories

Have you ever come across something so shocking in your research that it makes you say, “WHOA!” I think we all come across shocking family stories, but I think this one takes the award for the most shocking for me.

Recently I was researching and came across a Joseph and Maria Wood in the 1870 mortality schedule. Now if you don’t remember from awhile back, I found that Maria is the daughter of Eliakim Wardell (my 4th GrGrandfather. I had obtained Eliakim’s probate record from Ulster County, New York Surrogate Court. This is significant because I had information that Maria’s name was actually Mary. I can understand the difference of information with the name. From the same information I have, Joseph’s name is given as George. Maria and Joseph’s son, George Cornelius is my 2nd Gr Grandfather. Maria and Joseph had been a brickwall for me for sometime now.

So I had always know that George C. is found as a very young boy living with his Grandfather, Eliakim, and Aunts in the 1870 census. What puzzled me for a long time was why. My likely conclusion was that his parents had died. In the box of ‘stuff’ that my Great Aunt has (which I have referred to in the past) was George C’s obituary stating that he had lived with his Grandparents and Aunts as a young boy….but didn’t say why. It is also in the obit that his parents names are given as George and Mary. There was also a subpoena for George in the box of stuff for the reading of Eliakim’s will when he died in 1892. That is where I got the information to get the surrogate court file, which told me Mary was really Maria and that she was deceased.

So the other day I was searching on Ancestry and I searched for Maria Wood who died before 1870. I came across a couple Marias, but the one that struck me was the 1870 mortality schedule that lists Maria Wood 29 years old born in New York state died in October 1869 (seems the Schedule was done in June); her cause of death listed that she was murdered by her husband. The next line down was Joseph Wood age 45 years, born in New York state, occupation as a ship carpenter, also died in October 1869. Joseph’s cause of death is listed as suicide-cutting throat. I was a little taken aback and then felt bad for the people that are their family. I was curious though about this Joseph and Maria Wood. Perhaps they were some sort of relation after all. I made a post on Ancestry’s website to see if there was anyone who could help me as well as requested some research assistance through Random Acts of Genealogical Kindess (RAOGK).

A couple of weeks after posting to ancestry I got a search suggestion/help from another Ancestry member that had searched for Joseph and Maria on the Fulton County History website. Ok so I cut and pasted the search string "maria wife joseph wood october 1869 rondout", and searched……I found an article on the crime all right , but I got more than I bargained for!

Joseph Wood in a suspected fit of suspected rum induced jealousy killed his wife with a hatchet. His wife’s father’s testimony is given, his name Eliakim Wardell from Dutchess County, New York (WHAT?!) his testimony states that his daughter’s name is Maria Wardell (WHAT?! OMG!) She was the wife of Joseph Wood (I think you get what was going on in my head at this point). Later in the article it says that Maria and Joseph have one surviving child, a son named Georgie!

My GrGrGr Grandfather murdered his wife….my GrGrGr Grandmother. I immediately called my Dad and told him the story. WOW! I then called my Grandma (George is her Grandfather) and told her about my find. She told me she doesn’t think her Dad even knew about this. Probably not something that came up at dinner conversation.

I shared my find with some regulars on the GenealogyWise website chat room. Then drifted off onto more research which led me to a total of 4 articles about the event, one in the New York Times! Each one gives me a few details about my GrGrGrGrandarents that I didn’t have before. I have attached links to the articles online at the end of this post, but be forewarned, some of the details are rather graphic…even by today’s standards.

So I have some answers, but , of course, now I have more questions. Where are Maria and Joseph buried? Does the records from the Coroner’s inquest still exist? How do I get a coy? And of course some doubt that is this really my family…the evidence is hard to dispute here.

Links to the Articles:
New York Times "The Rondout Horror"
The New York Times "Crimes and Criminals"
The [Hudon] Evening Register "The Rondout Tragedy!"


  1. This really is a shocking discovery, especially since it appears there were no family stories that hinted at this.

  2. I know. I guess it was one of those things that no one talked about. I'm very curious to discover if they were buried together or not. It'll be interesting to find out.

  3. I had a surprise discovery, not really shocking. After my parents death and going thru papers I discovered that my mother was born three years before her parents married.

    It was not as shocking as the murder.