When, for "Place of Death," the death certificate reads, "Stairway to Roberts and Clint domino hall," you have an inkling what's going to follow, don't you? "Cause of Death: 32-caliber pistol."
This is that same branch of my family about which I blogged last September, where a death certificate ("Name of Hospital or Institution: Texas Department of Corrections") combined with a glancing reference to a newspaper article about a murder mentioned in an online family tree eventually led me to that newspaper article, which told me that this man had poisoned his wife and was sent to the penitentiary as a result.
Stories nestled inside stories like matryoshka dolls, one box opening to another. Stories yielding stories, just as one box with a doll inside yields another box with a similar doll.
It's hard to keep the story-boxes separate from each other in this branch of my family because family lines continuously overlap here. In one generation of my Lindsey family, two brothers married Brooks sisters. One of these couples is my ancestral line. A third Lindsey brother married a first cousin of the two Brooks women, another Brooks. Descendants of all of these families married each other for generations, yielding further tangles. Yet another brother of the three Lindseys who married Brooks women was in business with a brother of the two Brooks sisters who married Lindsey brothers.
Something happened (open the box, a story tumbles out) between the Lindsey man and his Brooks business partner. Brooks left Alabama for Texas in the 1830s, leaving his wife behind with his former business partner. They then went to Mississippi. A salacious few lines in a diary kept by a Presbyterian minister in Mississippi in the 1850s suggest that the "something" had to do with a love affair between Mr. Lindsey and Mrs. Brooks, who lived as husband and wife after Mr. Brooks absconded--but without benefit of clergy, the diary suggests, though how the gossipy parson whom the Lindsey couple had treated kindly when he stayed at their house as he traveled through Mississippi knew this is not clear to me.
Open the box, a story tumbles out: Mr. Lindsey and Mrs. Brooks (or Mr. and Mrs. Lindsey, as they may well have been) then went to Texas in the latter half of the 1850s, where the son they had raised, who evidently belonged to Mr. Brooks (more unsavory tidbits in the censorious parson's diary about this), married and began a family, only to have his life cut short by the Civil War.
One of his sons then became a judge in the city in Texas in which the family had settled, where an imposing Greek-revival house built in 1842 (some accounts give a date in the 1850s; documents suggest to me that 1842 is correct) by the Mr. Brooks who had absconded from Alabama in the 1830s is on the national historic register. Story opens to story: shortly after the turn of the 20th century, Mr. Brooks the judge shot another man to death in broad daylight on the streets of the city.
The act was judged to be acceptable, since insults had been exchanged and the two were considered to have had a duel. What else is one to do, when one's honor and that of one's family are at stake, except to shoot it out? This was east Texas, the deep-South part of the state.
And it is the son of the dueling judge who was shot to death on the stairway of a domino hall in the same Texas city some thirty years after his father drew his gun and fired on a foe. So that one has to wonder (box opens to box) whether the domino-hall shooting was reprisal for the shooting on the city's streets earlier in the century. . . . Just as one has to wonder what the ancestor these folks and I share, a high-principled Rev. Brooks born in Virginia in 1775, who was so committed to the teachings of John Wesley (and of the gospels) that he set free his slaves, would have thought of all of this folderol . . . .