Monday, March 11, 2013

Fearless Females: March 11 Unexpected Death

In celebration of Women’s History Month, Lisa Alzo of The Accidental Genealogist has presented 31 prompts to honor the “fearless females” in our family trees.

Today’s prompt:  Did you have any female ancestors who died young or from tragic or unexpected circumstances? Describe and how did this affect the family?

Anyone who spends any time researching family history will eventually find an ancestor who died either in childbirth or shortly after of “childbed disease.”  But death at the hand of one’s own child is rare.

That was the sad fate of my second cousin twice removed, Isabel Fannie Davis Shiflett.  It should have been a day like any other in the farming community of Beldor in Rockingham County, Virginia in January 1922.  Bernard Henry Shiflett had gone to work and the older children were in school.  Fannie was at home with the younger ones George (age 5) and Ruth (11 months). 

Fannie’s attention was fully on her baby girl who had somehow gotten a splinter in her foot.  No one could have anticipated that little George would find his father’s shotgun or that it would “suddenly discharge,” as reported in the newspaper. 

In that unspeakable moment when a mother preoccupied being a good mother to a suffering child meets unattended curious child, a family’s life was transformed.  Fannie was killed instantly, and the baby’s arm was so mangled that it had to be amputated just hours later. 

If you’d like to read the news account, I wrote about this same story before.  Click HERE.

Certainly this horrible chapter had to impact the family in ways we can only imagine.  If George and Ruth were irreparably traumatized, you wouldn’t know it based on what I was able to uncover.  For the follow-up story, click HERE.

Bernard Henry Shiflett family
photo from
Bernard Henry Shiflett far right
That's George next to his father.  Ruth is next to him.
Note Ruth's empty dress sleeve.

© 2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.


  1. What a horrible story. But I'm glad to hear that everyone, except for Isabel, was able to move on and live a long and productive life.

  2. Stories like this are so horribly sad, and if only one could have done something in a split second to have changed it all. Then I'm reminded of my mother's most favorite quote all through my life. Everything, happens for a reason. Clearly, I guess, and often we just never know the why for some "everythings" Like in this sad story. It is good that they can move on and live life to the fullest but still keep the loss in their hearts. Life's lessons are important.

  3. Such a sad story. My heart goes out to all of them, especially George. He's about the age my son is now, and I can't even imagine such an event and the change it would wreak upon a child's life. I'm glad that they were able to move on somehow.

  4. Wow Wendy! What an incredibly sad story. I read your two previous blog posts. I can only imagine how traumatizing this tragedy must have been for little George and the older sister who ran to tell her father what happened.

    But, happily it appears that the family was able to move forward and lead productive and happy lives, which I'm sure would be what their mother would have wanted.

  5. Yikes! I hadn't read that before so I read the previous posts. I guess back then when you married for forever, you didn't give up just accepted what was dealt to you and moved on. We could learn a lot by looking into our history can't we?!