Several years ago, one of my friends was severely injured at another friend’s house. It was a chaotic situation as we worked to help and comfort him until the police, firefighters, and paramedics arrived. But what made a horrific situation even worse, was the media attention that we had received. Due to the nature of and circumstances around the injury, nearly every media source in the Twin Cities covered the incident. Even after surgery, when we knew that our friend would be okay, media trucks staked out the neighborhood, cameras were pointed into the yard, and reporters knocked on the neighbors’ doors, all in an effort to get the most sensationalized story. That’s when I began to see these ambulance-chasing news stories in a different light. What right do we, as a society, have to dig into the lives of people who are going through these tragedies? How much information do we really deserve? Not a lot, I had decided.
But as a family historian, that’s hypocritical of me.
When I was researching a set of 3rd great-grandparents, I found that one of their children, John, was listed as alive on the June 6, 1905 Minnesota census but had died the next day. Curious as to what could have happened to this 29 year old, I pulled his death certificate. This read “Suicide hanging” and it made me want to know more. So I turned to the newspapers and found this article:
This articles takes the reader through the actual happenings, and even the suspected events, that occurred during the last hours of John’s life. Another article stated that this was the second time that the couple was to be wed, after the wedding had been postponed in the prior year. Of course, even with all of the information in the articles, I wanted to know more. I wanted to dig deeper into their lives and understand why the wedding had not happened either time. Unfortunately for me, but probably fortunately for the family, this was never in print.
It can be easy to forget that the stories that we read in these century old newspapers are just like the stories that we read today. They are and were written about actual people struggling through personal emergencies. So perhaps it is best to remember that we must give these bygone delicate situations as much respect as present day struggles deserve.