Ryans in Tulare (Elgie in back right)

Ysola Chaves Ryan’s Sensational Will Contest

It’s no secret that I love a scandal in my family tree. These situations make for the best stories. I found this one involving my second great uncle Elgie Jerome Ryan earlier this week.

My second great grandfather’s first wife (my ancestor), Mary Parker, died in 1875. William Dennis Ryan re-married a year later to Mary Powers, and they had three children: Elgie Jerome, Glenn Alexis and Arch. William already had six children with Mary Parker: Alice, Frances, Mary, Julia, Laura, and Leo. Glenn and Arch died before age 30. Over the years, Elgie lived with his siblings in Merrill and Colorado before moving west to Tulare, California and establishing a very successful drug store.

Elgie’s first wife was Barta Holford, who was from Bloomington, Wisconsin, just a few miles away from the Ryan farm. Elgie married Barta on 22 Aug 1905 at the Eastern Star Lodge in Bloomington. Shortly after that Elgie and Barta were established in Tulare.

The following are photos of Barta and Elgie taken from a family photo album.

Barta Holford Ryan (left) with Allie Ryan (right)
Barta Holford Ryan (left) with Allie Ryan (right)
Ryans in Tulare (Elgie in back right)
Ryans in Tulare (Elgie in back right)

Elgie died on 28 Jun 1926 in Tulare. The following obituary appeared in the Bloomington Record on 7 Jul 1926. I suspect the obituary is in the public domain, but out of caution I have included only the parts necessary to my story. Notice anything about the obituary? There is no information about who his second wife was.


Until this week, that’s all the information I had. It wouldn’t be too difficult to get Elgie’s death certificate to find that out, but I hadn’t yet gotten around to it. Last time I spent much time researching Elgie, I didn’t have access to too many California newspapers. But I recently upgraded to the “Publisher Extra” service at Ancestry’s Newspapers.com web site, which includes the Los Angeles Times. On a whim, I’d searched for “E. J. Ryan” and the following article from the 2 Mar 1927 edition of the Times showed up:

Headline from article on suit over Elgie Ryan will
Los Angeles Times, 2 Mar 1927, section 2 page 11 col 6, Sensational Will Contest

Now that’s juicy! I’ve included only the headline under fair use. Additional information that the article gave me included his second wife’s name (Ysola Chaves Ryan) and that an autopsy found poison in Elgie’s body! The death was ruled a suicide.

That was enough information for me to track down their marriage record on FamilySearch. I’ve no idea why I wasn’t able to find it earlier. They got married on 22 Mar 1925 in Los Angeles. Other articles in the Times say that Ysola was a teacher in the Tulare schools at the time of her marriage, but she appears to have resided in Los Angeles most of the time. Her sister was Mignon Le Brun, wife of silent film actor Cullen Landis.

Even stranger, at the time of Elgie’s death, Ysola may have left him and returned to Los Angeles. She maintained that Elgie didn’t commit suicide, but instead consumed strychnine accidentally. Now, it seems odd to me that a druggist, even a despondent one in ill health, would commit suicide in one of the most painful ways possible (strychnine) rather than a relatively painless one such as an overdose of morphine.

Eventually though, the courts ruled for Ysola Ryan that she was entitled to the entirety of the $118,000 estate ($1.6 million in 2016), and Elgie’s death remained a suicide officially, denying Ysola the benefits of Elgie’s life insurance. From the 5 Mar 1927 edition of the Santa Ana Register:

Santa Ana Register headline on resolution of suit of Elgie Ryan's will
Santa Ana Register, 5 Mar 1927, page 12, column 4, Wife of Suicide Awarded Estate

Ysola doesn’t appear to have remarried, dying in 1964 under the name Ysola Chaves Ryan.

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