Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Sad Side Note

When Luther Kite signed his name—with a flourish—on the draft registration card in June, 1917, he claimed an exemption from military service owing to his responsibilities to support a wife and child.

That wasn’t entirely correct.


It wasn’t until October 20, 1917, that Luther and Chevis Kite welcomed their firstborn daughter into the world—or at least into Erwin, Tennessee.

They named her, according to the Davis family Bible, Hazel Caroline Kite. I’m sure she was an adorable baby girl—at least until the summer leading up to her second birthday.

Then, suddenly—within the passage of only twelve hours—her body was wracked with a fever so severe, it destroyed her tiny life. She had succumbed to cerebrospinal meningitis.

The family—most likely it was Chevis’ mom, Martha Cassandra Davis—had entered her date of passing as June 17, 1919, but now that we have so many digitized documents available to us through online resources, I see the official date of death was given as July 3 of that year.

Even that would be doubtful, however, if you note the details on the death certificate. Notice the doctor asserted he attended the child from July 3 through July 3. Then the second date was struck out and replaced with the corrected July 4. Within that span of time, as the doctor indicated two lines below, “death occurred, on the date stated above,” at 1:00 a.m.

Wouldn’t that be 1:00 a.m. on July 4?

It is what it is, however. The document recorded it that way, and that’s the way it will be for anyone in the future seeking what became of little Hazel Caroline.

She was buried not in Unicoi County, where the young couple lived, but in Carter County, the home of Luther Kite’s family. Perhaps her burial arrangements were taken up by Chevis’ in-laws because, like many recently married couples, the young parents were hard pressed to scrape together the resources to handle such an unforeseen tragedy.

A tiny headstone for a tiny coffin proclaimed,
            Hazel Carolina Kite
            daughter of
            F. L. and Chevis Kite
            1917 – 1919

Little Hazel was buried in the Patton-Simmons Cemetery. Perhaps, remembering what I just wrote about Luther Kite’s mother, you may have, like me, perked up upon hearing the name of that cemetery. I couldn’t resist taking a look to see how many others of the Kite (or Kyte) family might have been buried there. I thought perhaps Hazel would have been buried with her grandparents, but there was no sign of that, at least according to the partially-transcribed records posted at Find A Grave.

There were, however, plenty of Simmons family members represented. Among them was a gentleman, having died October 12, 1890, by the name of Josephas F. Simmons. Just in case Josephas F. Simmons was not the Flavius J. Simmons I suspected he might be, I took a look at his entry at Find A Grave—which showed his wife’s name to be Mary William Simmons, aligning nicely with the information provided on their daughter Maggie’s own death certificate, and whose 1876 death explained why she hadn’t appeared in the Simmons household for the 1880 census.

Also included in the other Simmons family members at that cemetery was Josephas’ own mother, Mary Kessler Simmons, who died in 1887. A walk through that cemetery—admittedly a small one, with less than two hundred burials—was a walk through family history for anyone claiming to be part of Maggie May Simmons Kyte’s family.

Suffering the loss of a young child will always be a disruptive experience in family life. While that was an occurrence more familiar to those in previous centuries when medical advances we take for granted were not available, it has always been a tragedy with repercussions in the immediate family’s relationships.

Whether that was part of the difficulties tearing apart the marriage of Luther and Chevis, I’ll never know. But I do know the family had more than just that to be concerned with, that summer: they had a four month old baby whom they hoped to guard from the ravages of the bacterial assault that had so quickly claimed the life of her older sister. Emma Lee had taken her place in the family constellation on March 2, 1919, and the loss of another child was, no doubt, the last thing her parents would want to experience.


  1. Documentation is so important, it is a shame that people cannot record information correctly. :(

    1. It certainly puts me at a loss as to how to properly record it. I find myself not wishing to fight the official record, though, and just make up for it by making a few grouchy notes in my own database.

  2. I wonder if the cerebrospinal meningitis came back with a WWI soldier.

    In any event - it sounds like a horrible way to die - and so sad when it is a such a young child - one never knows what she might have achieved in her life - if she had but the chance.

    1. Yes, it is a devastating disease. Who knows how it gets to be where it surfaces. I remember the sheer terror that tore through the families whose children were attending the day care center where my daughter once went, when one unfortunate child was struck with that same illness. While he, thankfully, survived, it was an incredible battle involving serious doses of the best medical care plus many fervent prayers.

  3. The name of the cemetery certainly expanded your Simmons repertoire.

    1. It sure did, Wendy! Instant expansion of one whole branch! Those roots back there grow deep.


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