Cecil and Mary Rose Rittenberry
Rittenberry Project 2017
By Don Taylor
At first, I thought they were twins. Two children, Cecil Rittenberry and Mary Rose Rittenberry, born on the same date, December 7, 1909, to the same parents, Dee and Effie Rittenberry. The two records were entered by the same clerk one week apart seven months after the children’s births. Cecil was a boy and Mary Rose was a girl. It seemed clear to me. Then I started to get confused.
The 1910 Census shows Dee and Effie “Writtenberry” with their daughter “Merry” and no son. I thought ‘aww’ – The son, Cecil, must have died as an infant.
The 1920 Census really adds to the confusion as it doesn’t show Mary, but rather it shows Cecil as the correct age but as a daughter.
Other records follow Cecil through her marriage to Berry Willoughby her early death in 1945. In every record other than the birth record Cecil is always a female. Likewise, other than the birth record and the 1910 Census Mary has no other records.
I think the key to the facts in the case is in the 1910 Census. It shows that Effie had had three children and three were living. The three were Ethyl Lee, Evelyn M, and Mary Rose/Cecil Rose.
What I think happened
With a healthy dose of speculation, I believe the child of Dee and Effie born on December 7, 1909, was registered with the County Clerk’s office initially as Mary Rose. After the registration, someone went back to the County and registered the same child as Cecil and the clerk got the sex wrong but everything else correct, including the surname. Whoever responded to the 1910 Census was the family member who called the child “Mary.” By 1920, when the child was 10 years old, everyone knew the child as “Cecil” and that name stuck the rest of her life.
This is the first time I’ve encountered two birth records for the same individual recording different names and different sexes. As I said, I initially thought Cecil and Mary were twins. Now, I’m fairly sure that they are one individual. I’ll hold that view unless I find some compelling reason to believe otherwise. I am reminded to hold all records with some level of skepticism.