52 Ancestors: A Random Fact Happy Dance Story!

Posted by: Eileen A. Souza

I did the genealogy “happy dance” several times this week, and it all came about due to a random fact. Searching my Pennsylvania death certificates to select one for a blog post, I noticed that one of them listed the place of death as Fort Sam Houston, Bexar County, Texas. I had never noticed this before, and I wondered if this individual was associated with the Army. The certificate recorded the death of my first cousin once removed, Rita Viola [Gunther] Kinard.

I had heard a family story about Rita. The story has Rita going into the convent but leaving before her final vows. That story was all I knew about Rita until now.
According to the death certificate, Rita Viola Kinard was the daughter of John Albert Gunther and Esther E. Chamberlain. She was born on 24 November 1919 in Ranshaw, Northumberland County, Pennsylvania and she died 22 October 1973 in Fort Sam Houston, Bexar County, Texas at the age of 53. I decided to pursue the military connection first.

I found her immediately on Ancestry in the collections, U.S. Veterans’ Gravesites, ca. 1775-2006 and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010. These references stated that Rita V Kinard was a 1st Lieutenant in the US Army during the Korean War. Her service started 11 June 1951 and ended 26 April 1953. She is buried in the Ft. Sam Houston National Cemetery at 1520 Harry Wurzbach Road San Antonio, TX 78209. She is buried in Section 2b, Site 2185. Most of this information is also documented in the death certificate, so I was able to confirm that this is the same person.

First happy dance!

I then searched various historical newspaper sites to see if I could find any local news relating to her military service. I found an article that she and two others from the Shamokin area were completing basic military training at Medical Field Service School, Fort Sam Houston as members of the Army Nurse Corps. Upon completion, Rita was assigned to the Army hospital at Camp Gordon, GA. The best news—her photo was in the article. In another article, her brother Louis enlisted in the Marines, joined in military service by his seven older brothers (J. Albert, Lawrence, Roy, Leo, Andrew, William, and Theodore) and one sister, Rita. Imagine, my great-grandparents had nine of their twelve children serving in various wars and services.

Second happy dance!

Rita Gunther & Marguerite Gunther

Rita Gunther & Marguerite Gunther

Finally, I found an article in the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, dated 12 Mar 1938, about 17 young women who took vows at the Villa Saint Teresa Chapel at the Provincial House in Dallas in the order of the Sisters of Mercy. It listed Miss Rita Gunther, Ranshaw who would now be known as Sister M. Justin. The 12th of March 1938 is the day Rita became a postulant. The family story must be true, or later she would not have been able to marry. According to her high school yearbook, this event was only two years after she graduated high school in June 1936. She would have been around 19 years old. I wonder if she received her nurse’s training from the Sisters of Mercy?

Third happy dance!

I have more to research on each of these events. I also hope to find a record of Rita’s marriage to Ulysses G. Kinard and maybe some additional information on her time in the convent and when she left. This experience proves to me that you need to analyze every bit of information since you never know where a random fact will lead you.

The 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge, initiated by Amy Johnson Crow, is a series of weekly prompts to get you to think about an ancestor and share something about them. The guesswork of “who should I write about” is taken care of. This week’s theme is Random Fact.


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4 Responses to 52 Ancestors: A Random Fact Happy Dance Story!

  1. Sharon Murphy says:

    Great storyline. Like opening doors to see what’s next
    Like it!

  2. Antoinette M Rossi says:

    My mom just mentioned Rita to me on the phone! I thought she meant Marguerita. She said Rita had or was to have taken vows, not sure the rest but I will ask again. I know we had some photos in the family bible, and some we do not know who they are.

    • Thank you. As the article shows, I proved that Rita did enter a convent and what her religious name was. She left the order before taking her final vows. She then married Ulysses Kinard but I do not have a marriage date yet.

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