By Bob Belcher
CNHI News Service
CORSICANA, Texas — Fran Reynolds never met her great-grandparents.
But, chances are, she knows far more about them then the average great-granddaughter.
That’s because Samuel Beard Risien and his second wife, Emma Jane, died aboard the Titanic 100 years ago this week.
Reynolds, a professor at the University of Missouri at Columbia, has spent a lot of time tracking down stories and separating fact from fiction about the history of her great-grandfather.
Samuel Beard Risien was born in Deal, Kent, England in 1842. He took a bride in Mary Louisa Lellyett in 1868 in London, and the pair and one small child came to the United States in 1870. After the death of his
brother Joe, Risien and his bride eventually settled in the central Texas town of Grosebeck, about 100 miles or so south of Dallas.
He was soon joined by two brothers in Texas who made the trek from England — Alfred and Edmond.
Samuel and his bride did well financially, making much of their fortune in land dealings, and grew their family by two more children, including Charles, grandfather of Fran Reynolds.
There’s a mystery in the family story involving Risien’s wife, Mary Louisa, who sometime between 1883 and 1889 "disappeared," said Reynolds.
"We don’t know whether she died or they divorced, or what happened to her … it’s a mystery my sister and I have been trying to solve," she said.
Adding to the family dynamic, Mary Louisa’s sister, Emma Jane Lellyett, moved to Texas and in 1889 and Samuel Risien took her as his second wife.
The pair made several trips back and forth to England and South Africa through the coming years, keeping in touch with family.
Their final voyage would begin in 1911 with a trip to England and then South Africa and back before a return to the United States.
As fate would have it, a coal strike in England perhaps put them aboard the Titanic.
Risien and Emma Jane made the return to the United States as third-class passengers aboard the Titanic’s maiden voyage. Their station in life certainly afforded them higher accommodations, Reynolds said, and it’s believed a third-class passage was all they could obtain.
As mysterious as the disappearance of Mary Louisa was the obituary that appeared in the Grosebeck newspaper following the Titanic tragedy, she said.
"The headline is 'Mr. and Mrs. Risien victims of the Titanic disaster' ... and then the obituary is about Samuel. There is not one word about Emma Jane,” Reynolds said.
Details for this story were provided by Bob Belcher, a reorter for the Corsicana (Texas) Daily Sun. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org