All things history and genealogy.

All things history and genealogy.

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Transcription: Biography of Ervin Thornton and his family, of Tappen, New York.

Transcription: Biography of Ervin Thornton and his family, of Tappen, New York.

[Tappen, 1878 – 1966]


Ervin Thornton family biography.
Ervin Thornton family biography.

On September 12. 1948 Ervin Thornton and Wynola Dewald were united in marriage in the Lutheran Church at Dawson. They were the first couple to be married in this church after it was moved there from Gackle. They made their home in Steele in a  home that was known as the “old Hi Maw House” from north of Tappen. Wynola’s father Christ Dewald moved it from Tappen to Dawson where it was for several years, then he moved it to Steele into the block next to the Archie Thornton home. This was their home for two years.

Ervin, son of Mr. and Mrs. Archie Thornton of Steele. was born in 1925 at Steele where he made his home and received his education. Ervin was the only boy in a family of four children. Rumor has it that at a very young age he was very handy with a sling shot. He could hit many targets but he was especially good at hitting a bent-over target. At the age of 16 he went to Portland, Oregon and worked on a housing project with his father. In 1944 he joined the Navy serving one ear in the states and one overseas in Japan. After his discharge he went into the trucking business for himself.

Wynola, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Christ Dewald, was born in 1930 in Napoleon. At the age of three she moved with her parents to a country store south of Dawson. She attended her elementary grades at a country school while living there. During her freshman year in high school, which she attended in Streeter, her  family moved to Dawson. Wynola graduated from Dawson High School in 1947. The following year she taught school south of Tappen in a country school near the Art J. Werre farm. After being married she taught one year north of Dawson and three years west of Steele.

In 1950 they purchased the Hoffer truckline and moved to Tappen where they are still living at present. Ervin and Wynola are the parents of four children: Donivan 15. Nanette 13, Bradley 11, and Wendell 9.

They are members of the St. John’s Lutheran Church in Tappen where Wynola teaches Sunday School and is a member of the Ladies Aid. In the fifteen years they have lived in Tappen they have found the people to be true friends and they enioy living there very much.


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Tragic gas poisoning deaths of Daniel and Isabella McDougall.


I have found myself fascinated by the stories of the trials, tribulations and tragedies of our ancestors, and this story about the deaths by gas poisoning of Daniel and Isabella McDougall tragically caused by their daughter, Agnes is no exception.


Story of Daniel and Isabella McDougall.
Fitchburg Daily Sentinal article of November 21, 1907 – deaths by gas poisoning. Story of Daniel and Isabella McDougall.

Sometimes I wonder if I was born too late as my disability, though hidden from others, is completely disabling to me and for the most part is attributable to dealing with highly stressful work, home, family and personal circumstances.

I’ve always thought of earlier times before the onset of modern technology as being quieter and more peaceful.

Then I read a story like the one I’m about to tell you and realize there are definitely some advantages to living in our own time. No wonder we live such long lives compared to theirs.

Then I think about the risks of the industry, technology and society of our day and realize that we live with risks as well, just not the same ones.

This story is about the family of a 19 year old girl, Sara Agnes (Agnes) McDougall, who was living at an inn / boarding house in the Boston area in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her parents, Daniel Martin (b. 18 Aug 1862 in PEI, Canada) and Elizabeth “Isabella” (Hume) McDougall (b. about 1869, also in PEI, Canada), while working in the area.

Daniel had been a schoolteacher and had lived in Morrell, PEI, teaching at the Church Street School until 1906.

On the fateful night of November 20, 1907, the coin operated gas lights had burned out and Daniel and Isabella McDougall retired to sleep, leaving the gas switch in the ‘on’ position. With these lights, once the gas ran out, it was necessary to insert another quarter to restore the flow of gas to the light.

Agnes returned home from a party and promptly inserted a quarter to light the room as she prepared to retire for the night. Once finished, she turned off the light, but still having time left on the meter, the gas continued to flow into her parents’ room as they slept. Daniel and Isabella died of gas poisoning.

The November 21, 1907 edition of the Fitchburg Daily Sentinel of Fitchburg, Massachusetts printed an account of the deaths as follows:


Cambridge, Mass., Nov. 21 — Mr. and Mrs. Daniel McDougall of 25 Market Street are dead, and their three children left orphans, as a result of the careless use of a quarter-in-the-slot gas machine at their home. Their daughter, Agnes McDougall, the unfortunate cause of the accident, has been almost prostrated since it occurred.

The bodies of Daniel and Isabella McDougall were returned to PEI by train from Cambridge, Massachusetts.

As recounted by family, Duncan MacDougall, Daniel’s brother, brought them home for burial in the Church of Scotland cemetary in Bangor, PEI. Duncan’s daughter, Violet, stated that the wake was held in Cambridge. Their daughter, Agnes was completely distraught, “wringing her hands and saying over and over, ‘Oh my goodness, I’ve murdered my parents.'”

Family members never knew Agnes had caused the tragedy until a newspaper article was found in 1996.


  1. “Couple Killed By Gas”; Fitchburg Daily Sentinel; Fitchburg, Cambridge, Massachusetts; November 21, 1907. (See above.)
  2. “Massachusetts, Death Records, 1841-1915,” database, ” target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow”> . (See below.)
  3. 1881 Census, Kings, Prince Edward Island, district Lot 61, Kings, Prince Edward Island; Roll: C_13164; Page: 55; Family No: 222, Page: 55, House 216; Family 222, Hume ; digital, . (See below.)
  4. 1891 Canadian Census, Lot 40, Kings, Prince Edward Island, Roll: T-6382; Family No: 2, district 133, Page: 1, Household: 2, McDougall ; digital image, ” target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow”> . (See below.)
McDougall, Isabella (Hume); Massachusetts Death Records, deaths by gas poisoning.
Massachusetts Death Records, deaths by gas poisoning.


1881 Canadian Census showing Isabella Hume.
1881 Canadian Census showing Isabella Hume.