The Obituary of Mrs. William Biederstadt

I rely on the internet so much that it’s easy to forget that there are other ways to get information. Sometimes all it takes is a phone call. Do you remember when we used to look up numbers in the phone book?

In this case, I happened to be browsing the web site of the Michigan City Public Library. Michigan City is in La Porte County, Indiana, right next to Porter County, my ancestral home. When I opened the “Genealogy” link on the web site, I saw that they have an obituary search index and decided to give it a try. I recalled that Margaret “Maggie” Casbon had married William Biederstadt and died in Michigan City. Maggie has always been somewhat of a mystery to me, so I’m always happy to find something new about her. I typed in her information and, lo and behold, this is what popped up.

Detail from Michigan City Public Library search.

The library had a copy of Maggie’s obituary on file!

I noticed that for five dollars I could get a copy of the obituary, and the phone number was right there, so I dialed the number and was almost immediately connected to the reference librarian. She took the information and promised she would get to it right away. A short time later an email arrived with the obituary. How easy was that?

The Michigan City Dispatch, 7 May 1903, page 8, column 6.

I really enjoy finding obituaries because they often contain a lot of information about the deceased and their families. In this case, we get a capsule summary of Maggie’s life. I’m not sure any of the information is new, but it is still interesting and is revealing for what is said and for what is left unsaid.

Although the date is not given, Maggie died on Thursday, April 30, 1903.[1] I already knew that she died of cancer of the uterus—such a shame for a relatively young woman (thirty-nine). It’s interesting that the obituary says she died “at the home of her husband.” Why doesn’t it say “at her home” or “at the home she shared with her husband”? It probably doesn’t signify anything, but still makes me wonder. Contrary to what is written, she came to the United States from England when she was six years old. Little mistakes like these are common—she wasn’t the one giving the information to the newspaper, after all. The statement that Maggie came to Michigan City “five or six years ago” is also interesting.  It has a certain amount of vagueness to it that matches my overall impression of Maggie. She has been hard to pin down. She had been married to William Biederstadt for less than four years. Why was she in Michigan City before that? We really don’t know.

There are some interesting omissions as well. Yes, her parents were both dead—father James in 1884 and mother Mary (Jackson) sometime before 1876. But her husband was not the only one to survive her. The obituary fails to mention her stepmother, Mary (Payne), who died in Boone Grove less than two weeks after Maggie’s death.[2] There’s an oral tradition that she did not have a good relationship with her stepmother. Nor does it mention her brother Amos or sister Alice, both of whom were married and living in Porter County. Does this signify some distance in their relationships, ignorance on her husband’s part, or simply the editorial decisions of the newspaper?

Maggie never had children, so there are no descendants to honor her memory. She had a tumultuous life and much of it remains a mystery. I would like to think that her almost four-year marriage to William Biederstadt finally brought some peace and stability to her life. But, I’ll never really know.

[1] Indiana, State Board of Health, Certificate of Death, Michigan City, La Porte County, record no. 54, Maggie Biederstedt, 30 Apr 1903; imaged as “Indiana, Death Certificates, 1899-2011,” database with images, Ancestry ( : 5 December 2017), Certificate >1903 >06 >image 2083 of 2771; Indiana Archives and Records Administration, Indianapolis.
[2] Indiana, State Board of Health, Certificate of Death, Porter County, no. 39, Mary P Carbon, 10 May 1903; “Indiana, Death Certificates, 1899-2011,” Ancestry (cited previously: accessed 27 April 2018), Certificate >1903 >10, image 339 of 2788.

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