Wood Sisters

Charles Lawrence Ritts

Charles Ritts about 4 years old

Left and Clockwise: Robert Vinsil, Nora Irene, Charles Lawrence, James Albert, ca 1895

Charles Lawrence Ritts was born November 11, 1891 in Sparta, Randolph County, Illinois to Barney Vensil Ritts and Anna Elnora Martin and was the third oldest child of six children. Charles was raised mostly in Sparta and attended school there during the winter months. He had two older siblings and three younger siblings. Nora Irene was the oldest, born on Oct 6, 1887, then Robert Vinsil, born on Aug 1, 1889. James Albert, born Jan 10 1894, was 2 years younger than Charles. Then a second sister was born on April 15, 1896, but died the same day. Finally, Louis Alfred, Charles’ youngest brother, was born sometime in 1898. This picture was taken probably about 1895 in Sparta when Charles was about 4 years old.

Charles’ older brother, Robert, died when he was 8 years old on Jan 30, 1898. In a letter written by Thelma Snyder Scott (Charles’ niece) that is in Thelma’s daughter's collection:

Quote from Thelma

This was truly a tragic and horrible event for the Ritts household and no doubt had a significant impact on the two older children, Nora Irene and Charles Lawrence. I have not found any reference by Charles about the death of his older brother, Robert.

Charles’ father, Barney, was an oil well driller and frequently was contracted to work in Kansas and Oklahoma. In the summers Charles and the rest of the family would join their father in the field and lived in a two room tent [ref Thelma]. They spent some time near Coffeeville, Montgomery County, Kansas where this picture was taken, probably about 1900 when Charles was approximately 9 years old.


Irene, Louis, Charles, and James

L to R: Irene, Louis, James, Charles


In another devastating blow to the family, Charles’ mother, Anna, died on Jan 25, 1901 probably in Sparta but my records for some reason list Quay, Pawnee County, Oklahoma. I am not sure what the cause of death was (I need to research the coroner’s reports or death records for Sparta). Since Irene was 13 years old at this time, she assumed the burden of helping raise her younger brothers.

I have not been able to locate Barney and his family in the 1900 and 1910 federal census records for IL, KS, or OK. Sometime between 1901 and 1905, Barney married Rebecca Vail probably in Kansas. The children did not get along with her at all and “hated her” [ref Thelma]. One of the family stories passed on by Charles was that he and his brothers had thrown stones at Rebecca because of their dislike for her. Consequently, the kids would live with the McIlroy sisters, Mary, Agnes, and Lizzie per the 1910 Federal Census of Sparta, for part of the year while attending school. Irene married John Snyder from Sparta, in Paola, Miami County, Kansas on October 30, 1904 just after turning 17 years old. Charles and his two brothers then moved in with Irene and John in Sparta.

From a letter and a diary by Thelma (Snyder) Scott (daughter of John and Irene) in Thelma’s daughter’s collection:

Thelma Letter Thelma's Diary

In 1905 Barney and his wife, Rebecca, were enumerated in the Kansas State Census in Poala, Miami County, Kansas near Kansas City. His children were not listed and were most likely living with Irene and John.

Charles completed his secondary schooling and entered the Sparta High School in the fall of 1906.


Charles' Grammar School Diploma
Charles' Grammar School Diploma



Charles then graduated from the Sparta Township High School May 25, 1910 along with Alice Juanita Stephenson his future wife.

Charles Ritts' High School Graduation Class, 1910
1910 Sparta High School Graduation Class - 50th Reunion May 28, 1960
Charles 3rd from left in front row. Juanita 2nd from left in back row.

Charles Ritts' High School Diploma
Charles Ritts' High School Diploma, May 25, 1910


The following two pictures show Charles and his siblings probably in 1910 and 1911. The second includes their father, Barney.

Charles and his siblings
Clockwise: Irene, Louis, Charles, James About 1910

Barney and his children
L to R: Charles, Louis, Barney, Irene, James About 1911

Alpha Rho Chi Crest

Architecture Fraternity Crest
Alpha Rho Chi

Both Charles and Juanita attended the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois where Charles studied and received his BS in Architecture on June 14, 1916. They were the first of both families to attend a university. On April 11, 1914 Charles, and others at U of I and University of Michigan, were charter members of the Architecture Fraternity, Alpha Rho Chi.

Charles was a member of the Cadet Brigade and achieved the level of 2nd Lt. and then Captain of his company.

After graduation Charles took a new job and lived in Moline, Illinois.

On December 20, 1916 Charles and Alice Juanita Stephenson were married in the First Presbyterian Church (now called Westminister Presbyterian) of Sparta, Illinois by Pastor A. B. VanderLithe.

Charles Ritts Juanita Stephenson
Charles Ritts and Juanita Stephenson Wedding, December 20, 1916


Wedding Certificate
Charles' and Juanita's Marriage Certificate


This painting was created by Charles to commemorate their honeymoon. I suspect he made this prior to their marriage but obviously after their engagement. This painting is really well done, but interestingly I have not found any other paintings created by Charles.

Charles' painting
Honeymoon painting by Charles, dated 1915


More to come!


Sources