Poppy & Mommy 1959, about 71 years old.

Poppy & Mommy 1959, about 71 years old.

I don’t know a lot about my great grandmother Lottie Mae Wills but her family line has proved to be one that’s more documented than any of my others.  There are interesting stories and a lot of historical records to read.  Her lines trace to revolutionary war soldiers. She seems to have lead a quiet life as a mother to eight children. All I know of her documented history can be found in reading the biography of my great grandfather Honzura Rider.

The kind of things I do know about her aren’t found in the county records.  They come through the mention of this event and that by family members who knew her and are able to describe a few of life’s little stories.  In Lottie’s case I’m sorry to say they aren’t flattering remembrances from the perspective of my particular branch of the family.  Through the years Lottie was the center to the kind of strife common to families that live a bit too close for comfort.  My grandmother talked often of feuds with her mother-in-law and other in-laws. Lottie wasn’t happy that my grandfather chose Helen Boka Rider as his wife.  My grandmother was Hungarian, a child of immigrant parents and it caused her a lot of pain to be married into a family with deep southern roots who didn’t necessarily welcome people they saw as outsiders.

Human nature being what it is, there is no stretch believing my grandmother wasn’t welcomed in with open arms but more likely just barely tolerated as part of the family.  This could also be why I don’t remember much about my great grandparents even though they lived just up the hill from my grandmother.  My grandfather would have been the common thread and he’d died by the time I came into the world.  By then Helen had been part of the family for 30 years on paper but the kind of resentment she described has a way of living well beyond calendar years.

It would be easy to say one side as well as the other could have caused the rift except for one thing.  My grandmother Helen mostly lost her mind in her last years.  She’d often sit and relive moments from her past, talking to people who were back there somewhere as though they were sitting right there with us. It was painful to watch her relive some of those moments.  Crying over names she’d been called, things that were said about her that weren’t true. To see her pain first hand, well, it was just ugly.  To know it came from other parts of my family is especially sad.

As I learn more about my ancestors I am amazed that Lottie’s line ever connected with Honzura’s line. I’m also surprised my grandfather ever connected with my grandmother.  A few simple turns of events and entire generations are moved in unlikely new directions.  The more I dig around in the past, both mine and general world history, I am surprised over and over that any of us made it.  So many amazing survivor stories, things that seem to be truly nothing short of miracles.  If any timing was off just a tad, everything might have turned out in entirely different ways.

The sad footnote to Lottie is that all I have of her are negative stories.  I try to picture her as the loving and protective mother she must have been since she felt so strongly about who her children married.  I know she was consumed by grief when Ivan died.  Driven nearly mad with grief over his loss that summer of 1936 when she wasn’t even 40 years old. Maybe some of her pain had something to do with the bitterness she aimed at my grandmother.  The wedding was almost one year after Ivan’s death and I don’t know the story of my grandparent’s courtship or when they met.

Lottie died on May 31, 1975 of a stroke according to her death certificate.  Her father is recorded as John Harvey Wills from Virginia and her mother as Mary Elizabeth Barker.  Notable events that spanned Lottie’s lifetime are covered on Honzura Rider’s biography since the two of them were about the same age, just under 3 months separating them.


Your Ancestor - Featured!

Join our Genealogy of the Virginias Community Newsletter and we'll feature your Virginia (or WV) ancestor on our blog!

Genealogy of the Virginias

You have Successfully Subscribed!