A Voice from the Past

It started out with a phone call.

“Do you have any Richards Family memorabilia?” The woman had a soft Southern accent and a quiet voice.

My immediate thought was that this was a parent looking for help with a child’s local history project. I told her we didn’t really have anything, but we did have the pictures of E. Ira and Lucy Richards.

“I think I’m related to the Richards Family,” the quiet voice explained. Bells went off in my head and I remembered a genealogy book we had on the Richards Family in our local history collection.

“Hold on. We have a genealogical book about the Richards.”

When I came back, the woman started giving me names and I browsed the book. Then she said her father was Michael Richards and there in front of me was a picture of Michael and Anne Richards. And next to that, a picture of their three children.

“You’re in this book!”

The woman, Renee Richards Grace, went on to explain to me about her grandparents E. Ira and Grace Richards. The book, An Informal History of Several Families by R. Draper Richards, had pictures of both, and an obituary for Grace.

Renee was thrilled and said she would stop by to look.

renee and tim graceLittle did I know that Renee and her husband Timothy Grace live in Chattanooga, Tennessee. They were on a trip to find out more about her family. Originally this fall her family holds a reunion in South Carolina, but due to her mother’s health and Hurricane Irma, they decided to cancel.

Renee’s father was Michael Richards, 2nd son of Ira and Grace (Meurer) Richards, grandson of Ira and Lydia (Reynard) Richards and great-grandson of Josiah and Harriet (Draper) Richards. This library is a memorial to Edmund Ira and Lucy (Morse) Richards and Josiah was E. Ira’s brother. Their father seems to have been the first Ira Richards.

Wednesday afternoon, after I had left early, Renee and Tim stopped by. Marjorie Johnson showed them what we had in the local history room and found a copy of the original deed for the library, and the Selectman’s thank you letter. She printed out a copy of Elizabeth Mansfield’s A Centennial Celebration 1894-1994.” Marjorie suggested the Blackinton Inn as a B&B, and Meredith O’Malley suggested our two local restaurants, Table at 10 and Portobello, for dinner.

Renee and Tim also visited the old Richards House, now the Council on Aging building on Elm Street. There they found more papers from the family.

On Thursday when they stopped by, we shared the R. Draper Richards book with them as well as some memorabilia left to the library by Lucy “Bonnie” Richards Tweedy, the last of “our” Richards family. We found a copy of the Informal History book as well a copy of a Richards Genealogy book, Genealogical Register of the Descendants of Several Ancient Puritans by Abner Morse for sale on Abebooks.com so that they could have their own copy.

Frank Ward, the director, took Renee and Tim over to the Mount Hope Cemetery to show them the Richards grave.

Renee was full of stories about her family, even though she said her father, Michael, did not like to talk about his family. He was a rebel against the strict upper class upbringing of his father, Ira, who as a stockbroker had rebuilt the family fortunes. Once at dinner Michael mentioned Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his father punched him. Michael had a checkered school career, but ended up as professor of Shakespeare at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Renee related one of his eccentricities: if he didn’t like a paper that a student produced, he’d stick it to a tree and shoot a hole in it. Despite this, or maybe because of it, he was named an Outstanding Professor while he was there.

There seems to be a mystery about the death of Josiah Richards. According to the Informal History and the Attleboro newspaper report of July 10, 1890, Josiah and his grandson Ira were coming back from a shooting expedition designed to amuse the 10 year old Ira. The guns were in the front of the carriage with the muzzle under the armpit of Josiah. Unfortunately the gun was still loaded. Somehow the gun went off and Josiah was shot just below the arm. He eventually bled to death after the first doctor said there was nothing he could do and left to catch the train. A 2nd doctor on the scene arrived to pronounce him dead. Renee explained that the family had passed down a slightly different version in which young Ira’s toes had become caught in the rifle and accidentally fired the gun. This same Ira is the one who “had no use for work and spent his life successfully spending his inheritance.”

This whole episode was a wonderful experience for everyone.

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