Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Did a Father's Death Lead to Sons' Mental Illness?

When we discover mental illness in our family trees, it may raise a lot of questions. And there are just some things that genealogy won't be able to answer. Mental illness may run in families, so a parent may pass it on to children. However, it may also be triggered by a traumatic event, and a suicide would be considered awful enough to have an impact on any family. We can only guess at the cause of a relative's mental illness.

Jacob Steimer, the nephew of my 3rd great-grandmother Barbara Steimer Klein, was 44 when he shot himself in the back yard of his Carrick, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania home. His death appeared as front page news in 1915: "Steiner [sic] went home and found his wife preparing to go to the home of her mother. He asked for forgiveness. His pleas fell on unheeding ears, it is said, and Steiner [sic] obtained his shot gun and aimed at his wife. She fled when the trigger failed to explode the cartridge in the gun."

The Pittsburgh Post, June 14, 1915

Jacob and Anna Kramer Steimer were married in 1896 had two sons, Edward and Lawrence, who would have been teenagers when their father killed himself. Both of them appear to have struggled with mental illness during their lifetimes.

Edward Steimer's World War I draft registration card in 1918 shows him unemployed at the age of 21 and described as "mentally deficient."

World War I Draft Registration Card, Edward Steimer, 1918

Later, in the 1920 census, Edward was working as an elevator boy in an office building but, by 1930, he was a patient in the Pittsburgh City Home and Hospital at Mayview in South Fayette, Allegheny County. Edward was still there in 1940, and his brother Lawrence was now institutionalized with him. Edward's 1943 death certificate mentions nothing about mental illness but shows that he suffered with pulmonary tuberculosis for 2 years before he died of it at the Woodville State Hospital in Collier Township, Allegheny County.

The second son, Lawrence, was working in 1918 as a driver for the Pittsburgh Terminal Railroad & Coal Co. in Castle Shannon, Allegheny County, at the age of 18. By 1920, he was a coal miner. I haven't been able to find him or his mother in 1930 (when his brother was in an institution), but his 1940 census record shows that he was still in Carrick in 1935. Lawrence's 1941 death certificate shows that he died of tuberculosis of the lungs at Mayveiw State Hospital and that he suffered from syphilis and schizophrenia.

Pennsylvania Death Certificate, Lawrence Steimer, March 10, 1941

Edward and Lawrence are both buried in South Side Cemetery in Pittsburgh. I haven't found out what happened to their mother yet.

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