Gene Notes

Some random and some not-so-random thoughts on family history.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thriller Thursday - Dr. Herbert D. Percival

Imagine it is the mid 1890's in Los Angeles, California. You're a doctor, born in Lafayette county, Missouri in 1859. Your parents have both passed - your father in Arkansas in 1863 as a lieutenant in the 5th Missouri Cavalry, CSA; your mother passed in 1886 in Missouri.

After your mother remarried, you and your younger brother were farmed out to relatives. You attended medical school at the Ohio Medical College in Cincinnati, across the Ohio River from Covington, Kentucky where you lived with your Uncle Jabez Percival and Aunt Kate. You have a cousin, William, who graduated with honors from Ohio Medical College in the same class. His parents were wealthy, you're a poor relation. In order to graduate, you have to borrow $25.00 from your brother John Henry Percival, known as Henry to friends and family. $25.00 is a lot of money to your brother, but he lends it.

In June 1884 you married Kate Gray in Covington. For a while, you were employed in Devil's Lake, North Dakota. The following June your wife presented you with your only child, Robert Hemingray Percival, who unfortunately only lives just over 6 weeks.

By the early 1890s you are ensconced in practice in Los Angeles. Perhaps you practice with your cousin William Percival, whose parents and other siblings all moved to Los Angeles in the mid 1880s.

You took your fees in cash and goods. You were never comfortable collecting fees from your patients, but despite that you went out one day to collect fees from your patients, because you too had bills to pay and accounts to settle. But you were never seen again. Were you accosted and robbed and killed for the fees you had collected?

Family lore has it that foul play was suspected. Your family never knew what became of you. Your widow, Kate, married your widowed cousin Dr. William Percival. His first wife died in 1892. You disappeared about 1893. Your widow and your cousin were married in 1897. Did they have you declared dead?

Did you brother ever try to search for you? By the time of your disappearance, Henry had married Nellie Maitland and they had one son, John Stearns Percival, named for your father and grandfather. Their daughter, Mary was not born until 1895. Unfortunately, except for one letter written by you to Henry in 1884 from Devil's Lake, North Dakota, there are no clues as to your relationship with your only sibling.

I am so curious to know what Herbert's ultimate fate was. There are three possible scenarious that I see.

1. He was killed, and body disposed of while collecting fees - the family lore.
2. He ran off. I think he may have felt that he was always second to whatever cousin William did. William was top in his class at Ohio Medical College; William had four children who survived into adulthood. William was the son of wealthy parents; Herbert was the poor relation.
3. This supposition is really insidious - William & Kate conspired in the death of Herbert. Maybe Kate decided she wanted to dump her husband for her hubby's more successful cousin. William's wife Susie died in March 1892 from septicemia. Possibly from a miscarriage?

Sadly, I'll probably never know exactly what happened or even when he died. He's my family's mystery man.

Copyright 2010, ACK for Gene Notes


  1. What a great book this story would make! So Henry and Nellie's son was Grandpa Percival, right?

  2. How interesting. I have a couple of those mystery men and women in my family.