World Mental Health Day

Today is World Mental Health Day, which has the “objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health.”[1] Though there is more room for improvement, we’ve come a long way in the awareness, acceptance and support of the treatment of mental health issues. But what about our ancestors? Many of us have come across ancestors who may have been dealing with mental health issues.

Gerhard Linnemann was my great-great grandfather and for a long time I didn’t know a lot about him. His daughter, Elizabeth, was the only grandparent that my father knew as a child. He’s told me many stories about her. My father knew that she was born in Germany and had two brothers that lived nearby in Monessen, Pennsylvania. But that was it. My father never knew that Elizabeth’s parents had lived in Monessen too.

A couple of years ago, I was digging deeply into the Linnemann family and other ancestors in Monessen. In searching Monessen’s The Daily Independent newspaper on, I came across a notice that the funeral of Gerhard “Lineman” had been held the day before.[2] I assumed that this was Elizabeth’s brother, also named Gerhard. I went to search the editions from earlier in the week and they were not digitized or on the site. Those gaps in record collections – ugh!

Several months later, I traveled to Monessen with my father, brother and sister for a family history trip (so much fun!). We went to the Monessen Public Library and spread out to start researching. I went right to the microfilm machines to search the newspapers and this is the front-page news that I found for 9 June 1918:


linneman2Gerhard Lennemann committed suicide yesterday afternoon around 4 o’clock in a bedroom of his home, corner of Schoonmaker avenue and Tyler pass. With a strap drawn tightly about his neck and tied fast to the foot of a bed, the victim of his own rash act was found.  

He unbuckled his belt from his waist, circled it about his neck and after tieing himself to the bed dropped to the floor where he was found when dead. At the time of the tragedy there was no person about the place. Members of the family had gone out for a Sunday afternoon walk and had asked Mr. Lennemann to accompany them, but he said he preferred to remain at home. It is stated that there was no hint at suicide and no member of the family thought of such a thing. 

The deceased was about 60 years of age and leaves a widow and several children. About six years ago he was injured in a coal mine and at times he seemed to feel irrational as a result of that trouble. He would take spells of anger and brooding, and it is thought that in a despondent state of mind he decided upon a short route to death. The widow and children survive. [3]

This was not what we were expecting! I called my father over to read the headline – he was shocked. His grandmother had never mentioned her father, let alone his suicide.

The good news, genealogically speaking, was that I had discovered a date and cause of death. Yet I was left with so many questions. At this time in 1918, Gerhard was about 56 years old, and had four grown sons (three in the Monessen area) and a daughter Elizabeth (my father’s beloved grandmother). Elizabeth had just given birth to her second child only a month earlier and lived just a few blocks away.


I was able to find a death certificate and coroner’s report for Gerhard “Lenemann,” as he was named in the newspaper article. The coroner’s report was witnessed by Chris and George Lenneman (his sons), and Mike Walko, [?] Laird and Lieut. Abright, with a “decision” of “Suicide by hanging.”[4] The death certificate confirmed the family’s address, his occupation of coal miner, cause of death as “Suiside by hanging to head of bed”, and his place of burial in Grandview Cemetery.[5]


Gerhard Linneman arrived in the United States in 1903, followed by his wife and children in 1904.[6] I have not been able to locate Gerhard in the 1910 census in either Pennsylvania or West Virginia (where they may have also lived), nor found any coal mining records for him as of now. If he was injured 6 years before his death (around 1912), he most likely would not have been in Monessen, so more research is needed to see where the Linnemanns were before their arrival in Monessen (around 1915-1916).[7]

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Gerhard. Was his “anger and brooding” and “despondent state of mind” due to the coal mining accident? Or was there a mental health issue of depression or anxiety or something else? There are so many questions, and I will most likely never find those answers to these. This part of researching my family – wanting to know so much more about the actual person, their “whys” – can be agonizing.

And then there was the rest of the family … Gerhard’s widow, sons and daughter. One son was serving in World War I (when did he find out about his father?), and another would enlist in the next month.[8] His daughter had two young children (one was my grandmother). And his widow. The losses she had already endured before her husband’s suicide were numerous. I’ll save her story for another post. How did this family cope after Gerhard’s death? Was it expected? Did they visit his tombstone? Or were they embarrassed by the stigma of mental health issues? I can only imagine …


Back to the research trip with my family … my father, shocked, had never heard anything from his family about Gerhard or his death. He never even knew that Gerhard had left Germany. Again, my father’s grandmother Elizabeth (Gerhard’s daughter) was the only grandparent that he knew — in fact, he had lived with her as a child in Pittsburgh, and later she with him New Jersey. In all of that time, she never once mentioned her father or his suicide. Was she still hurt and sad? Or embarrassed? Or had she just moved on, as so many of our ancestors were required to do to survive?

Some family events stay hidden and aren’t passed down to children and grandchildren. Until they are unearthed by a great-great-granddaughter almost 90 years later.

Have you found an ancestor with possible mental health issues?


[1] “World Mental Health Day – 10 October,” World Health Organization ( : accessed 3 October 2018).

[2] “Local Notes” and “Card of Thanks,” Daily Independent (Monessen, PA), 13 June 1918, p. 1, col. 5; digital images, ( : accessed 29 September 2017).

[3] “Man Tied Belt Around Neck and Strangled Self While Family Is Absent,” Daily Independent (Monessen, PA), 9 June 1918, p. 1, col. 1; microfilm, Monessen Public Library, Monessen, PA.

[4] Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, “Coroner Record Dockets,” database, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania ( : accessed 29 September 2017), entry for Gerhard Lenemann, no. 273, 9 June 1918.

[5] Pennsylvania Department of Health, death certificate 69108 (1918), Gerherd Lenemann; Bureau of Vital Statistics, New Castle.

[6] “Baltimore, Passenger Lists, 1820-1948 and 1954-1957,” digital image, ( : accessed 2 October 2018), manifest, S. S. Oldenburg, Bremen to Baltimore, arriving 18 December 1903, p. 10, line 8, Gerhart Linnemann; And manifest, S. S. Cassel, Bremen to Baltimore, arriving 31 August 1904, p. 11, line 2, Elisabeth Linnemann; citing National Archives microfilm publication T844, RG 85.

[7] “Woman Found Dead in Bed,” The Monessen Daily Independent (Monessen, PA), 30 July 1935, p. 1, col. 2; digital images, ( : accessed 29 September 2017).

[8] “Pennsylvania, Veterans Burial Cards, 1777-2012,” digital image, ( : accessed 2 October 2018), cards for “Gerhard Lineman” and “Charistian Linneman”; citing Pennsylvania Veterans Burial Cards, 1929-1990, Series 1, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.