Monday, June 21, 2010

Amanuensis Monday: Hereditary Insanity

I've done transcriptions before but this is the first "Amanuensis Monday" post I've done.  It is a popular meme that has its roots over at TransylvanianDutch.

Awhile back I wrote about my great-grandmother's second cousin, George Washington von Schmidt, who was a half orphan.  I learned then that his father, Alfred Waldemar, had been in an insane asylum in Ukiah and I wondered whether Alfred had a history of mental illness and what had happened to him.  I quickly found this article from the San Francisco Chronicle (dated 6 Nov 1909):


"MENTAL WEAKNESS RUNS THROUGH ENTIRE FAMILY

That criminality is a taint in the blood, likely to be handed down by one generation to another, was demonstrated anew by a case decided in Judge Morgan's court yesterday.

Alfred von Schmidt, aged 21 years, was before the Court, charged with being of unsound mind.  It appeared from the testimony that six years ago he shot his brother, and that six months ago Judge Morgan had committed von Schmidt's father to Ukiah.  Other curious and unsound traits in the family menality were disclosed.

Ten years ago Edward von Schmidt, and uncle of the defendant, killed himself and his wife in Alameda.  The grandparents of Alfred von Schmidt, it was said, were both insane, and a thirteen-year-old grandson of this couple is now in a home for the feeble-minded.  The family is well known in Alameda and quite wealthy.  Major C. L. Tilden is related to the defendant by marriage.

Judge Morgan decided that Alfred von Schmidt should be sent to the Glen Ellen Home for the Feeble-Minded."

At the same time the San Francisco Call ran this story:

"VICTIM OF HEREDITARY INSANITY COMMITTED

Man's Father and Grandparents Were Unbalanced

An extraordinary story of hereditary insanity was revealed to Judge Morgan yesterday in committing Alfred von Schmidt aged 20, to the asylum at Glen Ellen.  The young man's father, Alfred von Schmidt Sr., was pronounced insane and committed to the Ukiah institution six months ago.

Both the grandparents are inmates of insane asylums and a brother of the grandfather is also mentally unbalanced.

George von Schmidt, 13 years of age, a brother or Alfred von Schmidt Jr., is an inmate of the Boys and Girls Aid Society, having been declared irresponsible.

Tragedy of the darkest kind has attended the unhappy family.  At Watsonville six years ago the young man committed yesterday to Glen Ellen shot and killed his own brother.  Edward von Schmidt, his uncle, killed himself and wife in Alameda 10 years ago."

After this find, articles came pouring in about murders, suicides and insanity among other things.  From what I've read it seems like schizophrenia affected the von Schmidts (periods of incoherence, extreme violence, and intermittent lucid spells seem to be the hallmarks of whatever affected the family) .  Frances Everalyn Mott (my connection to the von Schmidts; she was the sister of my third great-grandmother and the mother of the Alfred von Schmidt who was sent to Ukiah) had a brother who had "dementia" and spent the last while of his life in the Stockton Insane Asylum and died there as a young man in 1880.  This is the only occurrence of insanity I've come across with the Motts, though I'm wondering now if Frances Everalyn Mott was one of the von Schmidt grandparents mentioned in the articles who was supposedly unbalanced.  She died in 1875 and I have yet to find any articles on her. 

It should be noted that Frances Everalyn Mott's (as well as my third great-grandmother, Mary Gertrude Smith Mott) parents were first cousins (their mothers were sisters).  Whether any of this is connected to the mental illness of  the von Schmidts, I do not know.  I also don't know much about the early von Schmidts, so it is entirely possible that whatever affected the family came from that side.

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