When Monica Sheridan started looking into her family’s history, she never thought she would end up being related to a homicide victim in Portland, Oregon.
The Victoria resident began looking into her family tree seven years ago after her father passed away.
She was responsible for closing his estate and came across an old trailer full of family documents, papers and photographs. Her father was adopted when he was six years old and rarely spoke about his birth mother. But it was one picture in particular that fascinated Sheridan from the beginning.
“It’s a beautiful picture from the 1920s. She was a beautiful woman. She’s sitting on a set of stairs with this far away look in her eyes,” said Sheridan, vice president of the Victoria Genealogical Society. “I’d never really thought of [my dad’s] birth parents . . . As soon as I looked into her eyes, I knew I had to know as much about her as I could learn.”
The woman turned out to be her biological grandmother Ethel Anderson.
Sheridan began looking into Anderson’s high school and college records, old newspaper articles and medical records and found out she was born in West Virginia in roughly 1903.
She met her first husband in teacher’s college and had her first son in Ohio. Shortly after, they moved to California, where Anderson separated and had another child, Sheridan’s father James.
After James was born, her life went “downhill.” She became an alcoholic and one of James’ teachers adopted him when he was six years old.
“I feel very attached to her even though I never actually knew her,” Sheridan said. “My main wish was for my dad to know how hard it was for her to give him up. He struggled in life because of the damage that whole process did.”
After a series of relationships, Anderson made her way to Portland, Oregon. But on Sept. 19, 1947, at the age of 42, she was found beaten to death in a hotel.
The man who killed her, Rutherford Beer, claimed she tried to steal his wallet. He was convicted of murdering her and spent nine years in jail.
“It was hard to make it real to me that she was a real person. The more I’ve read since, it’s horrifying, to be beaten to death,” Sheridan said. “She started out with so much promise. She was very smart and because of something in her life, she just went down a very dark path and had such a tragic end because of it.”
Sheridan has since visited her grandmother’s grave in Portland and shares her family story during talks in an attempt to memorialize Anderson.
She is one of 283 people who are discovering their family tree through the Victoria Genealogical Society.
Merv Scott, project director with the society, said genealogy is becoming increasingly popular in Victoria.
“We didn’t start here. We came from some place else and there’s so many of us at a particular point in our life, we want to know where we came from,” said Scott, who has found many relatives in Scotland.
The society is hosting its largest annual seminar, Creating Connections Through DNA on Saturday, Oct. 24 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at St. Aidan’s Church (3703 St. Aidan’s St.) The seminar includes five sessions and three speakers who will discuss using DNA to find family members. For more information, visit victoriags.org.