By Guest Columnist Josh Rutherford
On East County Road 400 North, just before you get to Lake Santee, sits a small, forgotten cemetery known as Memorial Cemetery. Located in this cemetery are around twenty graves from the mid 1860s up until 1939. There aren't many war veterans or civil leaders buried here. Yet, because of story the Ray family, it remains one of my favorite places to take people. In the SW corner are three headstones that could be easily mistaken as a small family plot. However, closer inspection reveals a fraction of the hard life that Edgar Ray endured.
Josephine Boling Ray & William Ray
This headstone reads, “Josephine Boling wife of Edgar Ray. Born Feb 14, 1857. Died Mar 11, 1880.”
This headstone reads, “William F. son of E & J Ray. Born Feb 23, 1880. Died June 30, 1880.”
According to census records, Josepine was born to William and Hannah M Boling in Salt Creek Township, Franklin County. She shows up as the oldest child in the 1860 census. In 1870, as a 13 year old, she has five more siblings. Josephine and Edgar were married on September 12, 1875. It seems she died from complications of childbirth, and that William died shortly thereafter.
Margaret J Land Ray & Morris Ray
This headstone is a shared headstone and reads, “Margaret J. wife of Edgar Ray. 1867-1886. Morris Infant. 1886-1886”
Margaret J Land was born to Moses and Margaret Land in Salt Creek Township, Decatur County. According to the 1870 census, Moses was around 64 at the time of the younger Margaret's birth. Edgar and Margaret J. were married in Decatur County in August of 1884. One can only assume that, again, Edgar's wife died due to complications of childbirth. Three headstones, four tragic death for Edgar Ray, and all by the age of 35.
Edgar Ray was born with what appears to be a twin (Emit) in 1853 to Francis and Nancy Ray. He was one of 7 sons and a daughter. Death was not uncommon to Edgar Ray. His father died in 1858 after falling from a church he was building (Kingston perhaps). On October 14, 1894, Edgar married his third wife, Ida Johnson, daughter of William and Martha A Johnson of Salt Creek Township, Decatur County. Because the 1890 census was destroyed in a fire in the 1920s, I am unable to determine if she may have been married prior to Edgar. There is no marriage certificate that I can find besides Edgar's. Ida and Edgar finally lived a long life together. Ida died first in 1931, and Edgar followed in 1948.
However, tragedy still found Edgar. In 1898, Martha J. Ray is born and dies. Three years before that, in 1895, William Harrison Ray (pictured) is born. He survives childhood and enters military service on Aug 6, 1918. He is first listed at Fort Thomas, KY and then is transferred to Camp Sheridan, AL. It is there that he dies of pneumonia on Nov 12, 1918. He was laid to rest in Kingston Cemetery where Edgar, Ida, and Martha are also buried. William H. Ray can be found among the Decatur County soldiers lost in WWI. Another child born to Edgar and Ida, Cora E. Ray, shows up on the 1910 and 1920 census but disappears after that, though that may simply be because she married and had her last name changed.
William Harrison Ray
Photos from www.findagrave.com
There are stories similar to this that I have found in the cemeteries throughout Decatur County, and I hope to touch on a few more in the future. However, The story of the Ray family always seems to be a bit more tragic to me. Life in the 1800s and early 1900s was not easy, this is obvious. The story of the Ray family is probably more the exception and not the rule. But it is still a reminder of how far modern society has changed.