Eight of My Grandfather’s Siblings – All Broken Branches. Premature Death, Never Able to Bloom and Grow into Adulthood. 52 Ancestors, Week 25: Broken Branch.

Broken tree branch on a headstone.

The 52 Ancestors writing theme this week is Broken Branch. This is the meaning of a broken tree or broken tree branch in family trees and on headstones; a tree represents life, a broken tree, or a broken branch, symbolizes death, or more specifically a life cut short. This symbolism is usually used on headstones, to signify a break in the family tree, someone who died an untimely or premature death. Usually seen on a younger person’s gravestone, an alternate symbol is a broken flower bud, or rose stem.  A broken tree at the trunk usually represents the loss of a family patriarch. (1)

Broken flowers engraved on headstone.

Most commonly the hanging flower bud is used on headstones of children who died an untimely or premature death.  The broken rose or flower bud or stem represents the flower that did not bloom into full blossom, the life that was cut short before it had a chance to grow to adulthood.  The three leaves on the rose stem represent the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (2)

My grandfather Durward Edward Cole was the son of Joseph Edward Cole and Anna Cora Prindle. He had three siblings that lived into adulthood and married, although only one of his siblings, Jesse Cole, had children, so my Mom only had three Cole first cousins.

My grandfather had a total of eleven siblings, but I can only find records on eight of them. Eight of his siblings are broken branches on the family tree. These eight siblings died young.

This is what is known about the eight siblings who lives were cut short before they could grow and bloom into adulthood. Three of them, I can find no records about them. On the birth certificate of Carl Cole, the last child born to Anna Prindle and Joseph Cole, it is listed that she had given birth to a total of twelve children, with eight living at that time.

The first broken branch of his siblings is Mabel. The most is known about her. Mabel R. Cole was born 10 February 1896 in Dekalb County, Indiana. Her parents separated and divorced by 1910. She is found in the 1910 census in Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan, living with her maternal aunt Ona Belle Prindle and her aunt’s second husband Charles Danner, and her first cousin Helen J. Danner.

The House of the Good Shepherd, Detroit, Michigan – 1910.

Within a year after she is found in the 1910 census she is living in The House of the Good Shepherd (aka Sisters of the Good Shepherd Girls Reformatory). The Sisters of the Good Shepherd opened their Detroit house in 1883. The House was located on Fort Street West and the property took up an entire block. Although orphans were sent here, it was mostly a girl’s reformatory school. The home was not endowed, and the Good Sisters depended on their work and the charitably disposed for maintenance of the house. In 1920 the Sisters were looking after 500 girls. 

Mabel’s childhood was one of dysfunction with alcohol abuse within the family, she had to deal with her parent’s drama and fighting (which was at least partly chronicled in the local newspaper in Indiana), their divorce and her mother leaving her younger children with family members. As well as the fact that she was a teenager, which at any time in history can be a difficult time.

Mabel’s final resting place at Mount Elliott Cemetery in Detroit, Michigan. She has no headstone, but a grave marker tells us she is buried in this section.

According to her death certificate she died at The House of the Good Shephard on 5 September 1912 at the age of sixteen of Acute Nephritis which can come on quite suddenly. Nephritis is an old word for what is called Glomerulonephritis today. The causes are often a viral or bacterial infection, especially streptococcal bacteria. Easily treatable today, that was not the case in 1912. Symptoms Mabel would have experienced include blood in the urine (red or brown pee), fluid buildup in the tissues which engenders swelling around the face, eyes, ankles, legs, and belly, high blood pressure, headaches, nausea and vomiting. (3) Not a pleasant way to die.

I am a cradle Catholic that had a good experience with the religious Sisters that were my teachers, but I am not naive, I know that homes like this one would have had a large population of girls in comparison to the number of Sisters and other workers to take care of them. Abuse and neglect also happened. Some of the girls were prostitutes, others just considered problem children and teens, others were orphans, and often they were not believed if they said they were ill until it was too late. Mabel was under the care of a physician for only one day before her death. Whether neglect and/or abuse played a part in her death is information lost to time, but it is quite possible, along with lack of treatments available for her ailment at this time.

Divine Comfort by artist Heather V. Kreiter.

The second broken branch was a baby boy that only lived one day. He was born on 11 May 1898 in DeKalb County, Indiana, he died the next day on the 12th of May. He was not named and his place of burial in DeKalb County, Indiana is unknown.

Gladys Cole is on the right, her Prindle 1st Cousin Neva North is on left. Ashley, Dekalb County, Indiana.

The third broken branch is Gladys Cole. The photo above is the only known photo of Gladys Cole. She is on the right, her Prindle 1st Cousin Neva North is on the left. Gladys was born on 1 November 1902 in DeKalb County, Indiana. She died on 8 May 1910 at the age of seven. I was told by my Uncle George Cole that her death greatly affected the family, especially her father, for Gladys was his favorite. Her place of death is not known but was probably in DeKalb County, Indiana. I have been unable to find her mother Anna Cora Prindle Cole in the 1910 census. Her father is found in the April 1910 census of Detroit, Michigan living with his twenty-two-year-old son Jesse Cole. They are both listed as lodgers. Gladys is not living with him. Gladys may have been living with extended family and died before the census was taken in that area. Her final resting place is unknown. But if she died in DeKalb County, Indiana, she was probably buried there. There are numerous family members and ancestors buried in cemeteries in DeKalb County.

The fourth broken branch is Ida Cole. She was born 20 November 1906 in Allen County, Indiana. She died prior to 1910, so would have been under age three with she died. She died in Indiana; her final resting place is unknown.

Birth certificate of Carl Cole.

The fifth broken branch is Carl Cole. He was born on 19 February 1909 in Fort Wayne, Allen County, Indiana. He died at age 6 1/2 months in September 1909 in Indiana. His final resting place is unknown.

The sixth, seventh, and eighth broken branches are unknown. They were born between the censuses, and no birth or death records have been found for them, all three would have died young, possibly shortly after birth.

I wanted to take this week’s writings to remember my three grandaunts; Mabel, Gladys, and Ida, and my two granduncles; Carl and an infant baby boy, and three others that all died young. Broken branches in my family tree.

Gone but not forgotten by me, your grandniece. My hope is that family members and others reading this, in doing so will remember these little ones taken before their time, leaving the earthly plane before their lives were fully lived. May they always have an angel by their side in heaven.


  1. Meaning of a Broken Tree or Branch. City of Grove, Oklahoma website.
  2. Meaning of a Broken Flower Stem. City of Grove, Oklahoma website.
  3. Glomerulonephritis (GN). ClevelandClinic.org.
Broken Rose © 2011 Jens Schott Knudsen

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About Anna Kasper, ACDP

I am an avid Genealogist. I am currently a student at Phillips Theological Seminary (one of the few Catholics!). I am an ACDP - Associate of the Congregation of Divine Providence (Sisters of Divine Providence of Texas). If you are unfamiliar with what a Religious Associate (also called an Affiliate, Consociate, Oblate, Companion) is exactly, visit my about me page for more information. In community college, I majored in American Sign Language/Deaf Studies, and Interdisciplinary Studies when at university.
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2 Responses to Eight of My Grandfather’s Siblings – All Broken Branches. Premature Death, Never Able to Bloom and Grow into Adulthood. 52 Ancestors, Week 25: Broken Branch.

  1. Barb LaFara says:

    Such sad stories of lives cut short. It is a reminder of how fortunate we are to live at a time of modern medicine and better options for children and families in crisis. Thanks for remembering these young lives.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautifully written remembrances for lives cut short. Thank you for sharing these young people.

    Liked by 1 person

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