Martha Jane Rhea was no stranger to tragedy. Losing her husband in 1884, when she was pregnant with her ninth child, must have difficult. When you plan for a baby, whether it is the first or the ninth, it is a joy for the parents. When she found it was a girl, John was not there to share with her.
Joseph Andrew Rhea was their oldest child. He was born in 1866 and is in the 1880 census at the age of 14. Then he disappears. One researcher thinks he might have been her grandfather but it appears to be incorrect. There are some name differences in the research. My mother found a family Bible when she visited Sneedville in 1982 saying Joseph died young and never married. We don’t know if he was still living when John Rhea was killed. That’s as far as it goes for him. A fire destroyed the 1890 census, which would have given us a better guess for time of death, so we may never know. The National Archives article "First in the Path of the Firemen: The Fate of the 1890 Population Census" has additional details.
Luvena Finetta Rhea was the 5th child of Martha and John Rhea. Born in 1875, she died in 1913 at the age of 37. There is not a death certificate available on-line so I don’t know how she died.
Washington Floyd Rhea, the 4th child, died in 1929, a month before his mother. His death certificate is not legible so there is no cause for his death. Washington Floyd Rhea is not a footnote. He had a large family with seven children to carry on his legacy. In fact, one of his grandson’s is a sitting judge in Sneedville, Tennessee.
We tend to ignore the footnotes. Joseph and Luvena did not marry and did not have children. The day they died, their history ceased to exist. To some extend, that happens to all of us but we forget they were real people.
My grandfather played with his older brother and sister. Then skinned their knees and stubbed their toes. They played tricks on each other. They probably got mad and called each other names. They were happy and sad and everything else in between.
Their lives have meaning. Even after they were gone, they lived on in the hearts of their mother, siblings, and other family members. They had friends who cared about them.
Anyone who researches their family history runs across these footnotes. They are only asterisks in a list of family members. They are in everyone’s family.
My cousin Gary died when he was 14. He is a footnote. He never married and died young. There is no more history for him either. However, he is not a footnote to me. He was younger than his sister and I and a nuisance like any other little brother. He was a real living person who bravely lived his life. To think of him as just one of those who left no legacy is incorrect. When I document him on Ancestry.com, there will be pictures and stories so that future generations understand that he was a very real person who lived on in our hearts.