It is Week 18 in the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks’ writing challenge. This week’s writing prompt is Where There’s a Will.
The first thing I thought about when I saw this week’s theme was all the William Williams ancestors there are in the family tree. However, as I had already covered some of these William Williams, specifically William Williams, son of Welsh Quaker immigrants, who was born in 1749, in Chester County, Pennsylvania, perhaps I should write about someone else.
What about some famous Williams? Well, I have already written about William of Longespee, William I of Scotland, William III of Aquitaine, and William IX of Aquitaine. Did I really want to feature another well-known William?
No, I would rather highlight an every day Will. Someone who would rarely appear in the pages of history. As I had already written about William Christian, William L. Goss, William Ferguson Taylor, William H. Taylor, James Bernard Williams, Philip Williams, and a slew of other Williams, would there be any left about whom I could write?
So I searched for all the Wills in our combined family trees. There are currently 549 of them. Wow, that certainly is a lot from which to choose! Sadly, most of these Wills are either so far back that sources are hard to find and/or confirm or are not directly related to me, my spouse, our in-laws, or our extended families. I was certain that there must be some more recent Wills on our branches about whom I have not written. Yes, there were several, but one who stood out to me was William Raymond Rhodes (my spouse’s step-great-grandfather).
William Raymond Rhodes was born on 25 February 1888. The son of Edward Rhodes and Hannah Leiby, William was their fourth known child, joining elder siblings Andrew Jackson Rhodes, born in 1877; Clarence Edward Rhodes, born 1 March 1881; and Susie Maranda Rhodes, born in June 1885.
The family resided on a farm in rural Columbia County, Pennsylvania, a 490 square mile area located in the northeastern quadrant of the state. Most of the county consisted of fertile farmlands and mountains of the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians, with the southern tip being part of the coal region. The north branch of the Susquehanna River, the longest river on the East Coast and 16th longest in the country, flows through Columbia County, eventually draining into the Chesapeake Bay.
Four years after William’s birth, brother Walter Monroe Rhodes was welcomed to the family on 1 November 1892.
In this time of joy, great heartache came to the Rhodes family. On 9 February 1893, just three months after Walter’s birth and two weeks before William’s fifth birthday, mother Hannah (Leiby) Rhodes died, possibly from complications of childbirth. She was only 33 years old.
Left with five children to raise and a farm to tend, Edward Rhodes needed a helpmate, as well as a companion. About two years after Hannah’s death, Edward remarried on 15 December 1894. His bride was Ida Savilla Gable, the widow of Swiss immigrant Frederick H. Suri, who died on 29 September 1892. With their marriage, young William Raymond Rhodes gained three stepsiblings: Edward Cornelius Suri, born 7 October 1889 (who eventually took the last name Rhodes); Carrie E. Suri, born 15 September 1890; and Stella R. Suri, born 28 November 1892.
On 18 December 1897, brother Clarence Edward Rhodes married Ida Fields, daughter of Elijah Fields and Catherine S. Hower.
On 25 October 1898, half-brother James Victor Rhodes join their blended family.
Two years later, on 7 June 1900, the Rhodes family was enumerated in Franklin Township, Columbia County, Pennsylvania. Residing in the household were father Edward, a farmer, age 43; stepmother Ida, age 30; sister Susie, age 15; William Raymond (going by Raymond), age 12; stepbrother Edward, age 11; brother Walter, age 8 Pennsylvania; stepsister Stella, age 8; and half-brother James Victor (called Victor), age 2.
Circa 1900, brother Andrew Jackson Rhodes (who went by Jackson) wed Carrie A. Berninger.
On 8 June 1907, sister Susan “Susie” M. Rhodes married Ira P. Rider in Columbia County, Pennsylvania.
For some reason, on 2 May 1910, when the rest of the Rhodes family was being enumerated in Cleveland Township, Columbia County, Pennsylvania, William Raymond Rhodes was not residing with them, even though he was still unmarried. He might have been working as a farm laborer on another farm; however, no evidence of this can be found. William Raymond Rhodes seems to be missing from the Columbia County or any adjacent counties’ 1910 Census records.
However, he does appear in records again when on 2 February 1914, William Raymond Rhodes married Cora May Rider, both 25 years old, in Columbia County, Pennsylvania. Cora was the daughter of John Wilson Rider and Emma Salinda Yost.
Meanwhile, approximately 5,000 miles away, tensions were brewing throughout Europe. Alliances between countries were becoming strained, due in part to the political instability in the Balkans region (Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Serbia). Then, on 28 July 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his wife Sophie were gunned down by Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian nationalist determined to end Austro-Hungarian rule over Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Austria-Hungary blamed the Serbian government for the attack, using this tragedy to justify why Serbia could not self-rule. Russia sided with Serbia. On 5 July 1914, Germany pledged its support to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Then, on 28 July 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. By the first week in August, Russia, Belgium, France, Great Britain, and Serbia had lined up against Austria-Hungary and Germany. The Great War (World War I) had begun. The United States remained neutral.
Meanwhile, back at their farm in the small town of Catawissa, Pennsylvania, life for William Raymond Rhodes and his wife Cora was blessed. On 13 January 1915, the couple welcomed their first child, daughter Ruth Ida Rhodes.
Despite the fact that the United States was neutral, German U-boats repeatedly torpedoed American vessels. Public opinion quickly turned, and on 6 April 1917, the United States joined their allies (the British, French, and Russians) on the battlefield.
Two years later, daughter, Margaret Emma Rhodes, was born on 4 May 1917.
A month after his second daughter’s birth, William Raymond Rhodes registered for the World War I draft on 5 June 1917. Living at R. D. (rural delivery) #4 in Catawissa, he was recorded as William Ray Rhodes, age 29, a married farmer with two children. He was medium height and stout build with dark brown hair and light brown eyes.
The war raged on. More than two million Americans enlisted, joining their allies in the trenches of western Europe. After four years of bloody stalemate along the western front, America’s well-supplied, fresh forces were a welcome boost to the war effort. When the war finally ended on 11 November 1918, with Germany’s surrender, approximately 50,000 American soldiers had lost their lives on the battlefield.
Meanwhile, in the last days of war and in the first days of peace, a new menace struck humanity on a global scale, a virulent disease dubbed the Spanish Flu. The conditions of the war (overcrowding and global troop movements) hastened the rapid spread of this influenza.
What made this strain of flu even more deadly was the fact that even healthy young adults seemed susceptible. Because of the lack of vaccines and proven treatments, this flu quickly escalated into a public health crisis. Sadly, no one was safe. Soldiers who had survived the horrors of the Great War were felled by this microscopic force. During October 1918 alone, this virus killed an estimated 195,000 Americans, including William Raymond Rhodes who died on 10 October 1918, on his remote farm in the small town of Catawissa, Pennsylvania. He was only 30 years old.