By Dr. Donald C. Rhoads
Origin of the Mystery:
As a child, ones concept of family is limited to the familiar: mom, dad, siblings, grandma, grandpa, aunts, uncles and cousins. That there may be a longer and more complex family history does not enter into the young mind or, if it does, it appears to be too remote and complicated to engender much interest. Even so, at a young age of perhaps 12 or so, I remember grandpa Rhoads telling me that the original family name was NOT Rhoads but rather Roth and that the early history of the family was someplace in Pennsylvania. This was very interesting to me---to think that my family name was, in fact, inaccurate! Why was it changed? Who were the Roths? When did it change? This was my first exposure to this interesting mystery however, grandpa Rhoads could not supply more detailed information and so the mystery has prevailed with little or no illumination until recently.
KEY TO THE LOCK:
to unlock the mystery is related to two events.
First, uncle Mervin sent me a partial genealogy of the Rhoads family
that Mrs. Judi Swanson of 10011 Bladensburg, Rd.,
opportunity took place during two business trips from
In retrospect, it is clear that prior to the “Information Age” grandpa Rhoads would have had a difficult time tracking down this family mystery. Now we have the tools and the extensive database to efficiently pursue and solve such family mysteries. I do not intend here to produce a comprehensive family history; rather I will focus on tracking the name change from Roth to Rhoads. It does serve, however, as a good start for an extended and more comprehensive genealogy that you may wish to pursue on your own (?). I have appended a family tree so that you can follow the ancestral line through time and place.
The following text is a summary of genealogical search based on military records, pension affidavits, Judi Swanson's genealogical work including newspaper clippings from the Fremont Gazette, data supplied by Ancestry.com, Rootsweb.com, Genealogy.com, and Familysearch.org The national census of 1850 was also helpful. Relevant documentation from primary historical sources is appended to this text.
REUBEN ROTH'S MILITARY RECORD (1862 to 1863):
record of Reuben Roth is short as he died six months after being drafted into
Co. “G” of the 176 Pennsylvania Regiment (Infantry). He was drafted into duty in Lehigh Co. on
The history of the 176th
Regiment indicates that they were part of a contingent serving under General
Foster who was sent to reinforce the Union Army at
THE WIDOW MARY AND SONS:
in the census rolls of 1850 (August) was living with nine other Roths in the
household of George and Elizabeth Roth.
Reuben was then 25 years old and is listed as a tailor. He married Mary Sevan (a French name??) soon after this
census record in the winter of 1850 and began a family in South Whitehall,
Lehigh Co., PA.. . In the years between
1850 and 1863 Reuben and Mary had five sons.
The death of Reuben must have been a blow to the family with 5 young
boys to raise.
Oscar was born in 1862 and so was an infant at the time. Oliver was only 4, William Francis was 7,
Joseph was 9, and Albert (A.J.) was 12.
It was likely that A.J. and Joe had to pick-up many of the chores for
Mary. Because Mary was a widow of the
War of Rebellion, she qualified for a pension as did her sons. The pension records documenting her
applicability are particularly insightful and a few of them are appended to
this text. Numerous affidavits by her
neighbors, clergy, and friends validate her applicability. Her pension started retroactively on
In 1867, Mary
Roth was remarried to a John Kratzer.
They apparently lived in Catasauqua Co., PA. at
that time. In remarrying she lost her
pension. John Kratzer died in 1894 and
Mary found it necessary to reapply for pension.
The reapplication (Nov. 8, 1902) required filing more affidavits with
the Pension Office. She subsequently
went back on pension with “inflation” raises of $12/mo (Nov. 1902) and $20/mo (Sept.
1916). Mary Roth died in 1919 at the age
of 91 and so her pension stopped at that time.
In fact, her son Oscar drafted the notice of death and sent it to the
Bureau of Pensions from Catasauqua on
documents drafted on
THE NAME CHANGE:
We know from
the guardianship documents that, as of
In addition to the surname change,
religious affiliations also shifted. A.J. was confirmed in the
Where did the name RHOADS come from?? It seems to me that the most likely explanation was that he adopted the surname of Walter P. Rhoads, a Roth family friend. His name appears and reappears as a witness in affidavits and declarations drawn up for Mary and the boys to receive pension payments. This is the same W.P. Rhoads who was appointed the guardian of A.J.'s brother, Joseph Peter Roth. Of the four Roth brothers alive at this time, A.J. was the only one to drop the Roth surname and assume the Rhoads name. I can find no evidence that this change was ever legal, i.e. recorded as an official name change. The reason for the change in the surname is still a mystery and may never be known. Perhaps W.P. Rhoads served as a mentor to the fatherless A.J. (?). It is clear that A.J. held Walter P. Rhoads in high esteem as he named one of his sons after him (i.e. Walter Parker Rhoads (1882-1972)). As you read on you will see that Walter P. Rhoads may well have descended from the Roth “root stock” because the names of Roth and Rhoads have changed back and forth from the early 1700's to late 1800's.
An Even Earlier Roth to Rhoads Name Change !:
Up to this point in my search, I
thought the mystery was solved----wrong!
I sent the results of my initial discovery to Judi Swanson and she
informed me that she had a document that indicated that the Roth to Rhoads
change had occurred much earlier than “A.J's” metamorphosis. According to Charles T. Raber's 1853 history
of the Roth family (focused on Reuben's brother Daniel and descendents), the original family name of Roth can be traced back to
Back to Roth !:
Wait---the tale even gets stranger! If this was the entire story, the whole ancestral line from Judge Peter onward would have carried the name of Rhoads but it reverted back to Roth within two generations. Judge Peter (Roth) Rhoads had a son John who married Magdalena Groff (Germanic surname). They had a daughter named Maria Rhoads who, as we know, was a genetic Roth. Well, she married back into the Roth family (her husband was John Henry Roth). They were hopefully “kissing cousins”. They had 10 children (all named Roth). One of those children was Reuben Roth, the father of “A.J.” who was the one who elected to change his name back to Rhoads!
genetic line is definitely German speaking Swiss with additions of German,
English (and perhaps French if Mary Sevan is, in fact of French derivation??)
through the female lines; The Roths were homesteaders in eastern
Hope you enjoyed this little genealogical adventure as much as I enjoyed (partially) solving the mystery. I am too old to anticipate changing names but if I were younger, I would be tempted to change my legal surname to Roth-Rhoads to accurately reflect the ancestral line.
Donald C. Rhoads,
Great-great grandson of Reuben Roth