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Family heritage might never have happened

Susan Weaver never knew her great-grandfather, Richard Henry Rouse, but the 1973 Southwestern High School graduate likely learned in history class about the ill-fated voyage of the Titanic luxury ship in 1912 that sunk when bringing immigrants from England to America. He was among the more than 1,600 who perished that day.

By LUANN MASON - For The Shelbyville News

Susan Weaver never knew her great-grandfather, but she knew that if her great-grandmother and grandmother had followed him to America from England in 1912, family, as she knows it would have never existed.

Richard Henry Rouse was among the 1,490 to 1,635 people who perished when the Titanic sank the early morning of April 15, 1912 in the North Atlantic Ocean, four days into the ship’s maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York City.

“I tell people I almost wasn’t here,” 63-year-old Weaver said. “There’s a standing joke with the family that we could not have been here if they (great-grandmother Charity Weaver, and daughter, Gladys, who is Susan Weaver’s grandmother) came over with him.”

They had originally planned to accompany Rouse, but Gladys, an 8-year-old child at the time and the Rouse’s only child, had a coal cinder in her eye, according to Weaver. “The ship wouldn’t let her board. They thought she had pink eye because she had medicine for the eye.”

Charity Weaver would remain in England with their daughter, and Rouse would continue to board and head to the United States. He planned to later send for his wife and child to join him, said Weaver.

Rouse had been forced out of a coal mining job he had most of his life when miners went on strike. He worked temporary jobs as a bricklayer, a slaughterhouse worker, and a railroad man, none of which provided enough money for Rouse to support his wife and daughter. In time, he landed a job in Cleveland, Ohio, with the help of his sister-in-law who had already emigrated to the U.S. and was working in Cleveland.

While there are some discrepancies amongst family members, according to Weaver, she said she remembered hearing at some point that her great-grandfather “sold everything they had to get a ticket to come over on the Titanic”. Others, however, have said that a cousin might have given him the $38 needed to buy his ticket to come to the U.S. on the Titanic.

The Titanic was known as the largest and most luxurious ship of its day. Weaver said her grandmother, Gladys Weaver, told her that her mother, Charity, told Rouse when he was considering taking the trip to America, that the ship was too big and that she had a bad feeling about it.

Nonetheless, Rouse bid his wife and daughter farewell on April 10, 1912, boarded the train in Sittingbourne, Kent, a town in southeast England, on his way to the Titanic. Two days after he set sail, Charity received a postcard from him assuring her that all was going well and that he would contact her when he reached New York.

“When the Titanic disaster happened, my great-grandmother went to the corner store with my grandmother and the clerk asked her if she wanted a paper to read about the Titanic disaster,” said Weaver. “She asked ‘what do you mean?’ The clerk told her, it hit an iceberg and sank and there were no survivors. It took two weeks before she knew for sure that her husband died. His body was never identified.”

Three months after the disaster, Charity Rouse secured passage for herself and 9-year-old daughter, Gladys, to the U.S. on the Olympic, a sister ship to the Titanic. The White Star Line, the Titanic’s owners, made the opportunity available to widows of the Titanic disaster. The Rouse women settled in Fremont, Ohio. Years passed and in 1925, Gladys married Clarence Weaver, a tenant farmer from Shelby County, according to information about Richard Rouse in “Encyclopedia Titanica.” The two ultimately owned their own farm located between Shelbyville and Franklin. They raised six children.

“I was very, very close to my grandmother,” said Weaver. “She lived half a mile from our farm.” Yet, she never discussed family history about the Titanic with Weaver. “It may have just been my grandmother’s way. They just didn’t talk about tragedy.”

A large piece of the Titanic was brought up from the ocean floor in 2012. There is a museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, that houses information about the luxury liner’s disaster and has a half-scale replica of the original Titanic that spans across 30,000 square feet. Weaver purchased a lump of coal from the Titanic when she visited the exhibit.

It wasn’t until Weaver’s grandmother was 80 and living in Florida that she decided she wanted to go back and see the village in England where she was born. It seemed like it would be an easy trip, but she was stopped instantly.

She was not able to get a passport required for the trip because she was not a U.S. citizen. For 73 years she thought she was a U.S. citizen. Weaver said her grandmother voted, drew Social Security, paid taxes, but never drove.

According to Weaver, her grandmother wrote to her congressmen, senators and others to become a U.S. citizen. She then went through the process to become a naturalized citizen, took the test, and at 82 years old pledged her allegiance to the United States and became a citizen.

“If my grandmother could do this at 80, anyone can do this,” Weaver said about her late grandmother. “We all come from immigrants. It’s important to work and live here.”

When the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island, a small island in New York Harbor, was being restored, Weaver made a monetary donation in her grandmother’s honor to help with the restoration. Her grandmother’s name was etched into The American Immigrant Wall of Honor when a museum opened on Ellis Island in 1990.

Weaver traveled there to see it three years ago.

Ellis Island was the gateway for more than 12 million immigrants from 1892 through 1954. It was United States’ busiest immigration inspection stations.

“I stood on Ellis Island, and looked out the rippled window focused to envision what my grandmother saw and went through,” she said. “It gave me chills. It was very humbling what all the immigrants had to go through to get to this land.”