Saturday, July 12, 2014

It Runs In The Family

It has been well documented and accepted that suicide runs in families.  In recent years it has led to the identification of a gene that may be responsible for suicidal behavior.  In my genealogical research one thing that I do for verification of information is obtain documentation, as often as possible, through death certificates.  It was on one of those very same death certificates that I became aware of the suicide of Agnes' sister Margaret.  It was a shock to me since I was unaware, up to that point, of anyone closely or distantly related who had committed suicide.  I have been continuing my work on family history and today I discovered another family suicide.

One the 27th day of June 1911 Lucy Cole Logan, daughter of David Cole and Mary Jane McCauley, wife of Charles Logan,took her own life by consuming carbolic acid.  Lucy was a resident of Pittsburgh, Ohio.  She was a first cousin to Molly McCauley Moorehead.

Lucy Cole was born in Leechburg, Armstrong County, Pennsylvania on March 18, 1876. Her mother, Mary Jane McCauley was the elder sister of Agnes' grandfather Terrence Edward McCauley.  Mary Jane and her siblings came to the United States around 1875 to 1879.  Their parents Thomas and Anne, both weavers, appear to have died in Lancashire leaving them on their own.  Both Thomas and Anne were born in Ireland but their 3 children were born in England.

Mary Jane married David Cole or Coles, it's spelled both ways, their oldest child was born in 1875 and was born in Pennsylvania.  I have no way of knowing whether they married in England or Pennsylvania.  I'm still going through records to find out.  The children I have documented are:
Mary A Cole: 1875
Lucy: 1876
Willie: 1878
John: 1880

For the most part this family stayed in Pennsylvania with the exception of John.  John traveled to Ohio and his first child was actually born in Zanesville in 1905.  Her name was Lillian Estelle Cole.

This is Lillian in the 1920's.  It's actually startling how much Lillian and Peggy resemble each other.

Finally, Lillian became a life long teacher so that runs in the family as well.  She never married and died in Pennsylvania in 1988.
Lillian in the 1940's.  The smile of Lillian and Peggy is nearly identical.

John's second child, Olive Emily, was born in Newcomerstown, Ohio.  As a young child her photographs bear a striking resemblance to Agnes.

The upper photograph is Agnes and the lower Olive and they are about the same age in each picture.

John only had two children and they lived in Ohio until the 1930's or 1940's when they returned to Allegheny Pennsylvania.  My point is that these people likely knew Agnes, Peggy and their parents well.   It appears that at various periods the Moorehead family and parts of the McCauley family lived in very close quarter indeed.  Lucy Cole may have actually known Agnes and Peggy.  Peggy may have been aware that she had a cousin who committed suicide and how she did it.  Certainly it would have been communicated to the family that Mary Jane McCauley's daughter killed herself.  Edward McCauley would have been notified that his niece killed herself, without doubt.

The Genetics And The Theories
In March of 2011 the results of a study by Johns Hopkins gave evidence that genetic risk factors may influence the decision to attempt suicide. They identified a small region on chromosome 2 that is associated with increased risk of suicide attempt.  This small region contains four genes, including the ACP1 gene and the researchers found more than normal levels of the ACP1 protein in the brains of people who had committed suicide.  Genetics is not destiny but it certainly can set the stage for disaster.

Dr. Thomas Joiner has written at length about the "Interpersonal-Psychological Theory of Suicidal Behavior." The interpersonal-psychological theory of suicidal behavior proposes that a person will not die by suicide unless they have both the desire to die by suicide and the ability to do so.  The answer to the first question of who desires suicide is complex.  The theory asserts that when people hold two specific psychological states in their minds simultaneously and when they do so long enough the develop the desire for death.  The two states are perceiving themselves as a burden and social alienation/low self esteem. The answer to the second question is a development of a fearlessness of pain injury and death. It becomes something they experience vicariously, in some cases by becoming a health care professional, like a nurse.  Peggy was a nurse.  Coincidence, I think not.

Long story short, both genetics and psychology contribute to a person successfully committing suicide.  Peggy had both the genes and the psychology to be successful at it.

Peggy Moorehead had an unfortunate combination of circumstance and genetic predisposition that may have lead to her suicide but Agnes had the same genes and equally as devastating circumstances yet never attempted suicide.  Peggy was emotionally out of control and Agnes was in control of her emotions.  Agnes lived a very high stress lifestyle but never let it get the better of her and not even the death of her sister pushed her far enough of the edge for her to jump.

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