52 Ancestors 2015, ancestor story

Ancestor Story – An Unusal Death – 52 Ancestors

MAFFIT SETH KDR 6 AUG 1904 P1_cropSeveral years ago my sister mentioned that she had come across this newspaper article about our 3rd great grandfather Seth Potter Maffit.  I recently acquired a digital image of the article which reads:


Old Resident of County Dies of Injuries.

Seth Maffit died at Emergency hospital Friday morning from injuries received on the railroad last Tuesday.  Deceased was asleep on the C. & E. I. tracks from Papineau to St. Anne, when he was struck by a train which reported at St. Anne as having killed a man.  A party sent back found Mr. Maffit lying on the right of way with one foot cut off, his skull fractured and covered with cuts and bruises.  He was removed to Kankakee, but never regained consciousness.  Deceased leaves six grown children.  His sister, Mrs. John Plummer, resides on Maple street, this city, and a brother, Charles, is a farmer in Aroma township.  He was 69 years old and well known in the eastern end of the county, where he resided many years.  One of his sons is a physician, practicing in Chicago.  He came to Kankakee on notification of his father’s case and had charge of the injured man.”

Hmmmm…  Who sleeps on railroad tracks and why?

No matter the reason, what a terrible, painful way to die.

I am interested in the line that states he has six grown children.  I only know of five.  Newspaper mistake?  Another child?

So far, this is one of the more unusual deaths I have found in my research.  Anyone else have ‘death by train while sleeping on tracks’?  😉

37 thoughts on “Ancestor Story – An Unusal Death – 52 Ancestors”

  1. No, can’t say as I’ve run across that cause of death in any of my relatives. Makes me wonder if something other than sleep caused him to fall on the tracks. I mean did they get out of the engine before they got him to verify he was sleeping? He could have been unconscious from a number of different medical reasons.

    Frankly I don’t know how one could fall asleep on railroad tracks. Brings up all sorts of questions, besides the extra child mentioned. You have yet another mystery on your hands!

    Did his wife predecease him? What year was this published? Wondering how long it took son from Chicago to reach him in Kankakee? To live after he got hit, transported to hospital, and then have his son in charge of the case?? That’s a miracle. Wonder if he ever gained consciousness after entering hospital? So many questions…

    1. This article is from 1904. His wife died before the 1900 census. She isn’t found on the 1880 census, neither is he. I think she died after the birth of her son Seth in 1875. There is a family note that says she died in 1876. I haven’t found anything about her death yet.

      I wondered many of the same things you did. It’s certainly a curious situation!

  2. Sadly this reminds me of a recent event here in Massachusetts when a 22 year old young man was run over by a police car while asleep/passed out on the road. The policeman never saw him, and there is still no official explanation for why the young man was lying in the middle of the road.

    I haven’t had this cause of death, but I’ve had more suicides and deaths that might have been suicides than I ever expected. Very sad.

    1. I haven’t run across any confirmed suicides in my tree – so sad! I imagine that is heartbreaking to discover. I want to think that my family members who came before experienced joy alongside the everyday challenges of life. I hope that the joy always outweighed the sorrows. I know that isn’t always the case though.

      1. I am not so sure how much joy as we know it people experienced in the 19th century or before. Life was so hard, so many children died, so many adults died young. My impression is that people endured more than they felt joy. But maybe I’m am too jaded after reading all the sad stories!

  3. Hi. Is it possible it just looked like he was sleeping but may have been in another state? Could he have suffered a stroke and passed out? A heart attack? A convulsion or fit that rendered him unconscious? Now that you have the exact date and place of death the best way to put this to rest is to see if there is a death certificate available. I lost a relative in a train related event but it was not caused by anyone sleeping, It’s a painful memory.

    I’m sure you must be very interested to find exactly what caused your Great-great-great Grandfather to experience such a sad ending to his life. I hope you get the answers.

    1. Hi EmilyAnn. I also wondered if something else was going on aside from sleep. He was a widower and fought in the Civil War. I have wondered if he struggled with mental health challenges or alcohol abuse. I don’t believe he worked for the railroad. I have ordered the film to get his death certificate. I hope it will tell me something more. I might make it over to BYU today to look it up – here’s hoping!

      I’m sorry to hear you experienced a tragic, train-related loss in your family.

      1. Hi there. Please pray for my beloved departed relative, that is the best thing and I will pray for yours. I hope you find the answers in the course to your research. Thank you for your kind words. Keep us all posted on the findings.

  4. I have two collateral ancestors . . .

    1. One blown up in a train explosion; he was the engineer

    2. One threw herself from a 4th floor window (suicide) at the Philadelphia Strawbridge and Clothier Department Store, located on 9th and Market Streets. There was a Coroner’s inquest and the newspaper carried both the story and the obituary.

      1. I have not yet contacted the Philadelphia Coroner’s office, it is on the ‘To Do’ list. However, I do have the death certificate and the Coroner’s finds from the inquest (2nd page) of the death certificate.

  5. Not a death, however, my great aunt was crossing multiple train tracks while cutting across a train yard near her home and had tripped and fallen, an oncoming train cut off her leg below the knee between 1900 and 1910. As an amputee she went on to become an x-ray technician and married. No one in the family was sure why she was cutting through the rail yard.

    1. Ouch! I’m glad to hear she survived the accident and went on to lead a productive life. I bet the question of why she was cutting through the train yard was asked several times.

  6. I also have a couple of relatives that died in train related accidents, they both worked for the railway. One in Billingshurst, England who apparently got too close to a moving train and he was killed. The other in Illinois who was between two train cars when one backed up and he was pinned between the cars.
    My mother always told a very detailed story of her and her brother walking home from the movies, sometime in the 1920s and witnessing the town drunk falling in front of a moving train and his head rolling away in front of them. Ghastly! That was in Kewanee,not Kankakee:) I wonder if there were any follow up articles to this and do you have the death certificate? Also, any record of him having any of the conditions mentioned in other comments? Good luck finding your extra person.

    1. Ghastly for sure!

      I don’t know about any conditions. I have wondered if he struggled with mental health issues later in life. He fought in the Civil War and was widowed about a decade after he returned from the war. I have ordered the microfilm with his death certificate. I may be going to BYU later today to look it up – I hope. We’ll see how the day goes. Either way I will have it soon.

  7. We have a rather…how should I say this?…distasteful, yes, that’s a good word for it…distasteful running joke in a certain branch of the family: “I have an uncle who was killed by a weasel.”
    Really? Killed by a weasel?
    “Yes, he was walking down the tracks and he didn’t hear the weezel” (best told with a German accent).
    Sadly, it’s kinda true…and the uncle was only 4 at the time 🙁

      1. Back then, I’m afraid it was more likely to lose a child than to see them raised into adulthood. I don’t know how people went on so well

  8. What a sad story! This isn’t the same as the story in the obit., but I know that years ago people often “walked the rails” when the roads were muddy and that more people were hit by trains back then.

  9. I am sure you are also aware that Grandma Estelle had a brother who died while riding on top of a train. Seems they went through a tunnel and his back was turned. I think it was Orville, but would have to verify. Ironic that his Dad was also named Seth Maffit.

  10. I had a relative who was deaf and didn’t hear the train coming, and was struck and killed. You would think there would be some kind of investigation by the railroad.

  11. In 1885, my second great grandfather was killed by a train. Most of my life I assumed that he worked for the railroad. But then I started doing genealogy and found a newspaper article that stated that he was walking home drunk and was struck by the train. I also have a distant cousin who was “riding the rails” and was run over by a train either while hopping on or hopping off, it wasn’t made clear. Here in the town where I grew up, a man was passed out drunk outside of a bar near the railroad tracks downtown and as a “joke” some guys laid him on the tracks. He didn’t die, but he lost both of his legs. You would see him making his way around town on a cart that he powered with his arms. He had the biggest biceps I’d ever seen. I think that train accidents and deaths are/were pretty common. You should be able to find something about it in a local or regional newspaper.

    1. I have three train related deaths in my tree that I am aware of – such a tragedy! Accidental deaths have always been around I suppose we just seem to shift the common types of accidental deaths based on our primary methods of transportation. Thanks for sharing your train stories!

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