Sins of the Father

27 Mar

Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.

The heartbreaking truth is that most of us don’t have to look very far into our family history to find trauma and tragedy. The majority of us can trace back to within a generation or two and find an ancestor who struggled with an addiction.  It has been said that certain crosses must be borne by certain families – alcoholism/drug addiction, depression and mental illness are but a few examples.

As I work through the genealogy of each particular family line, I always take note when I see that a certain addiction or illness seems prevalent among its members.  I often ask myself: “How did this person get so far off track”?  Does addiction run in families because a child learns to become an addict from his parents?  What role does the home environment play in the development of an addict?  Or alternatively does he become an addict because he inherited the predisposition genes from his parents?  Perhaps the addiction stems from a combination of these factors?  Researchers are conflicted – and so am I.

We have many examples of both scenarios in our family lines. Here are two:

Georgia Zimmerle by all accounts came from a loving and stable family home. Neither her parents nor her siblings were known to have issues with drugs and/or alcohol. She was the youngest and only daughter of William Riley Zimmerle and Sarah Agnes Patterson – born in the small west Texas town of Lawn, Taylor County, Texas. She was doted upon by her parents and older brothers. She met, fell in love with and married a baseball player by the name of Bill Shores. Bill went on to become a Major League player, playing for the Giants and the White Sox. Georgia traveled with him and lived in places far from her home in small-town Texas. Georgia and Bill had two beautiful daughters – two more little girls died in infancy. I don’t know if Georgia’s drug addiction and alcoholism played a role in the subsequent dissolution of her marriage. Georgia remarried a man by the name of Oliver Jennings Gibson. Not much is known about Georgia’s life in the ensuing years.

Georgia Zimmerle

The addiction that Georgia suffered from (some say prescription drugs – her death certificate indicates barbiturates and alcoholism) eventually took her life. Her family agonized with her through it all and tried their best to help her overcome the demon of addiction. Tragically, Georgia lost her battle on a summer day in August of 1951 at the age of 46. Her body was discovered many days after she had died at home in Dallas from a barbiturate overdose. Georgia was brought home and laid to rest in the small cemetery of Dewey in Lawn, Texas – back among her family who loved her. In this family line, Georgia’s addiction seems to have been an isolated incident.

Georgia Zimmerle - News Article

However, in some family lines the addiction seems to follow a generational (and predictable) pattern.

Tilman P. Curbow, in the spring of 1876, at the age of about 55 years, was charged with aggravated assault when he “cut” the bartender in a “barroom difficulty.” The article leaves many details to our imagination. Am I insinuating that Tilman Curbow was an alcoholic? No, but the story is intriguing nonetheless, particularly when you look at the lives of some of his children and grandchildren and then beyond.

Tilman’s son, Henry Harrison Curbow, died tragically young at the age of only 26 years old in Waco on 10 Jan 1885 of causes not known to me. He was apparently boarding and being nursed by a non-family member to whom he was paying room, board and nursing care. In his estate papers I found a notation that Henry owed the caretaker $3.00 for “three quarts of whiskey at $1.00 per quart.” Again, I am not jumping to a conclusion that Henry was an alcoholic, but it is an interesting pattern.

Tilman’s grandson (and son of Martha Isabell Curbow), William Franklin Bedwell was said to be an abusive alcoholic who died young at the age of 46. At the time of his death William was incarcerated in the Tarrant County jail on a drunk charge. While imprisoned there he was murdered by a fellow inmate. William’s brother, James Monroe Bedwell was said to also be a “drinker,” though not at the level of William and not abusive or violent. James’ daughter Floy Bedwell, when writing her life story, often laments about the addiction that ran through her family and how it adversely affected the lives of many of her siblings.

If you follow this family line, you will find many of its members who struggle with drug and alcohol addiction to this very day.

Again, the question must be asked – is this genetic or is this a learned behavior? As Jan Shafer (daughter of Floy Bedwell) so aptly stated: If we can learn anything from our genealogy as it pertains to addiction issues, it should tell us to be vigilant with our children. If the issue is openly discussed and recognized – early intervention could be the difference between life and death.

If you or a family member are stuggling to overcome an addiction – get help – now.  Alcoholism isn’t a spectator sport. Eventually the whole family gets to play – Joyce Rebeta-Burditt.


Posted by on March 27, 2012 in Curbow, Zimmerle


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8 responses to “Sins of the Father

  1. mickeybatin

    March 28, 2012 at 8:53 am

    Judy, I am constant amazement that you are able to find some wonderful and detailed information. You have truly done an excellant job with you side of the family. Thank you for the joy it brings in bringing these people to life, not just names and dates such as I have. Mickey

  2. mickeybatin

    March 28, 2012 at 8:55 am

    Judy the joy you bring in such detailed information truly is a gift. It is nice to see these ancestors come to life rather than just the mudane names and dates. With great respect, Mickey

    • Judy Curbow

      March 28, 2012 at 9:47 am

      Mickey – you’re so kind. I figured out pretty quickly when I started this that I wanted to know who my ancestors were – not just their names and dates. I think we can learn a lot from them.

  3. Susan Clark

    March 28, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    Judy – I’ve tried to leave three different comments. I’ve deleted them all. Let me just say this is beautifully done, and hits very close to home. One day I hope to do similar posts. It’s just not possible yet. But you’ve shown me how to do it with care and dignity.

    • mickeybatin

      March 28, 2012 at 2:30 pm

      Susan I absolutely love what you said, imparticularly about the part “with care and dignity.” I think if more people would do just that especially in every day life, can you only imagine the possibilities? As I found Judy by accident looking for some info on the Spencer clan, I don’t remember the last time I have enjoyed something quite so much.

  4. Susan Clark

    March 28, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    Judy, I tried to comment three times and deleted all of them. Let me just say that this post is beautifully done and hits close to home. I hope some day to do something equally honest, caring and dignified.

    • Judy Curbow

      March 28, 2012 at 2:03 pm

      Susan – thank you for your kind words. It’s a subject close to my heart. I have seen many of my family (and extended family) destroyed by alcohol and/or drugs. It’s a subject that is close to my heart.


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