David's Reformed Church Congregation

David's Reformed Church Congregation
Congregation of David's Reformed Church, Montgomery Co, Ohio, Circa, 1900

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Black Sheep Sunday ~ From Golden Goose to Black Sheep in One Afternoon

The gentleman pictured above is my 2nd cousin, 3 times removed, Charles Edward Swadener. I "discovered" Charles about a month ago, while I was spending a couple of hours searching for information on random last names in my family tree.  On that particular afternoon, I had decided to research the maiden name of my maternal great great grandmother, Clarinda Swadner, using the various ways it has been spelled throughout the years.  Using the "SWADENER" spelling, I began to search a newspaper resource.  I first discovered an article about Charles' father, Michael Swadener, whom I learned had once been the sheriff of Montgomery County, Ohio.  Feeling a sense of pride in the fact that one of my ancestors had been an early "lawman" in my hometime, I began to search for more information about Michael and his family.  Almost immediately,  in the 1882 Beers History of Montgomery County, Ohio, I found a biographical paragraph about Charles Swadener, attorney at law.  What a shining story it was!  Charles has been born in Dayton in 1853 and had attended the St. Mary's Institute and had been determined to study law.  He was accepted into the bar in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1874 and had formed several law partnerships in the city of Dayton.  He had married Leila Duel, a holder of Bachelors and Masters Degrees herself.  The final line of the biography states  "In his profession he is noted for his devotion to his clients' interests and this combined with his comprehensive knowledge of the law and correct application of its principles has carried him into important professional relations."  After reading this, I was feeling quite smug about my family member; especially since I had been writing recently about so many family scandals.  I saw my next blog post in my mind, "Charles Swadener, Attorney in the Family".  If my research had ended with that biography, that post would have probably been written.

 But, then I found the small article printed on page two, column 1 of the 18 December, 1895 edition of The Cleveland Plain Dealer.  It began  "RUIN AND DISGRACE".

You've got to be kidding. I couldn't believe what I was reading. The article began with the facts that Charles had been disbarred, was "shorn of all his former fortune, disgraced socially, his wife and children in want" and that he was a "physical and almost mental wreck".   Charles Swadener, my 2nd cousin, 3 times removed, just two years before the date of this article, was worth over $200,000, was a prominent and well respected citizen of Dayton.  Now, I was discovering that because of poor real estate investments, he had gone deeply into debt and to try to hide this debt he had begun embezzling the funds of his clients, to the tune of $90,000.  According to the article, he had to sell everything he had and even his family gave up some of their own belongings to try to pay his debt, but he still owed thousands.  His plea of guilty led to a sentence of one year in the penitentiary.   Oh shoot. There went my bragging blog post.

I was curious what happened to Charles afterwards.

Interestingly enough, on the United States Census form of both 1900 and 1910, Charles is listed as living in Dayton, with his occupation listed as "lawyer" and "attorney".  He is living with his wife, daughter, and servant, Sadie.  Obviously, Leila must have truly loved Charles since she stood by him and waited for him to come back home to her and it seems that he was able to come home and pick up the pieces of his life and become an attorney again.  I hope the victims of his crime were able to do the same.

According to his Ohio death certificate, Charles died on 9 September, 1910 from interstial nephritis with contributory arterio sclerosis. He was buried in Dayton's historic Woodland Cemetery.  Lela lived until 9 January, 1927, when she died in Chicago, Illinois.

I learned many things during that afternoon of work; not the least of which was to make sure I have researched everything I can about a subject BEFORE I start to write.  But, I guess I could still brag about the "lawman" in my family!


  1. Ouch, poor guy. He must have felt trapped and thought it was the only way out. Although he listed lawyer on the later censuses, I wonder if he was really practicing?