107 Year Old Family Mystery Solved!

Posted by on Feb 25, 2016 in blog | 7 comments

How Can You Find Out About An Ex-communicated Family Member?

My grandmother refused to ever say anything to my mother about her grandfather, Ferdinand Bessert.  Not a word.  Ever. This bothered my mother a lot, but when she asked her father for the story, he was reluctant and told her, “That’s really your mother’s story. She will tell you if she wants to.”  But she never did.  She took the story to her grave.

Family Pictures 2 003

The Bessert Family in 1906.  Mary Ann Bessert (mother) in chair on the left. Ferdinand Bessert (the one my grandmother wouldn’t talk about – ever) in the other chair and my grandmother, Emma Bessert (the first standing daughter on the right, behind Ferdinand.)

In the 1980s, long after my grandmother’s death,  my mother, was contacted by a second cousin, working on family history and genealogy, who knew “the story.”  According to the cousin: One day great grandfather, Ferdinand, chased his wife, Mary Ann, around the dining room table with a gun. The gun went off, Mary Ann fell to the ground. Thinking he had actually shot her, Ferdinand went into the kitchen and shot himself to death.

My Goodness!!!!!  Despite the horrific nature of this story, my mother felt relieved that she finally knew what awful thing had happened. But did she?

I always thought that an event that horrendous would have turned up in a local newspaper but I wasn’t sure where my great grandparents (and their 8 children, one of them my grandmother) were living at the time. I always meant to try verifying the story but didn’t really know how.

Enter my friend Leslie Lang. Leslie lives in Hawaii and she emailed me that she was looking up old newspaper articles about her own great grandfather. She shared some of the interesting articles with me. So I asked her if she would try to find out about Ferdinand and Mary Ann.

By golly! She found the article! Apparently all it took was putting “Ferdinand Besset” into google with the words “murder” and “suicide.” Here’s what she found:


Ferdinand Bessert (1854 – 1908) – Find A Grave Memorial


Ferdinand August Bessert Attempts to Kill Wife
and Then Kills Self, Tragedy Ends Domestic Trouble

A terrible tragedy was enacted at the Ferdinand A. Bessert home four miles north of Winnetoon Tuesday morning about seven o’clock. A husband with an uncontrollable temper and a family quarrel, attempted murder of the wife and successful suicide of the husband tells the weird story.

Tuesday morning Mr. and Mrs. Bessert got in a dispute over what one of the boys should do during the day. Bessert became so enraged, he went upstairs, got his revolver and coming down threatened to annihilate the whole family.

The wife ran from the house to the gate, the husband following, as she passed through the gate, she stumbled and fell and at the same instant Bessert fired, but the bullet went wild. She was so frightened, she could not get up immediately and it was fortunate she did not.

Bessert supposing he had done his work well, passed out the gate over her prostrate body into the road, placed the muzzle of the revolver in his mouth and pulled the trigger. The bullet passed upwards through his head, death was instantaneous.

The neighbors were notified of the tragedy immediately and Coroner Kalar of Bloomfield telephoned for. He came immediately by auto and viewed the remains as he laid in the road.

Inquiry brought out the facts as above stated and it also developed that these family troubles were frequent and he had threatened to put an end to all of them many times.

He had an uncontrollable temper, was easily excited and when in this condition was to be feared by anyone who might cross his path.

Bessert was a prosperous farmer about 55 years old. A number of grown sons and daughters, besides his wife, survive him.

The funeral was held Wednesday from the home and burial made at Bazile Mills.
…The Creighton News 19 July 1908

My grandmother saved ONE picture of her whole family. That’s it above. We found it hidden under the newspaper lining the bottom of her heirlooms trunk. It is the only picture I have of my great grandfather Ferdinand. I looked at that picture for many years and wondered if we could bring him back into the family now after 107 years. How much time has to go by before we return a name to a family tree and a story to the family history? I think it is time for Ferdinand.

Family Pictures 2 056As for my great grandmother, Mary Ann… she lived a long and good life after Ferdinand’s suicide in 1908.  Here she is holding her granddaughter (my mother) as a small child in the 1920s.



  1. She looks much happier in the second picture! I’m glad things worked out for her. It was great to come across this information, as horrific as it obviously was back then.

  2. That is an amazing story. Although it is so tragic, still a gem of family history.

  3. A very powerful story Dhyan. It certainly is the question to ask: how long do we wait till we can talk about the dark parts of our family history?

  4. Dhyan, A few things occur to me on reading this!

    1. Google can be SO amazing.
    2. Ask EVERY person in your family, not matter how close their connection to you, if they have information to share. There’s more stuff close at hand than you might imagine.
    3. How careworn Mary Ann looks compared to her husband in the photo. Very telling. This was an an abusive situation and she must have been very, very stressed–protecting herself as well as her children from an angry man. (My own father had a violent temper. All five of us kids, as well as my mom, of course, were permanently affected by his inability to rein it in.)
    4. This kind of story is what makes personal history so priceless!!

  5. My brother, Steve, found 55 articles about a family story (a court case in early 1900s) that we had late in the century heard conflicting versions of. His source was Newspapers.com. I think the versions we heard contained information that supplements what we learned in the news accounts of that family story. Somewhere between the two lies the truth. The stories about the stories are sometimes as interesting as the stories themselves.

    Leslie Lang, do you do this kind of research for hire?

  6. Wonderful story. Yes, for good or ill, family members still belong on the family tree.

  7. Hi Pat – I don’t. I do it for my own family history research. It was on newspapers.comthat I found so much about my own ancestor. That’s what I was telling Dhyan about before I went hunting for her family’s story. Though I found hers, surprisingly, with a simple Google search. Since then I told another friend about all this and found an old story about his early ancestor that no one ever talked about, too! (Prison.)

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