Monday, August 3, 2015

Seeking/Sorting the Wives of Alfonzo F. Gerner

This is how it happened:  After being away from family history research for a few months I wanted to start with something simple on a Sunday afternoon.  I went to FamilySearch FamilyTree with the intention of ensuring the children of some of my direct ancestors had been added to "my" tree.  I began with Fred and Elvira (Bartley) Gerner's 16 children.  (If I really wanted something simple I should have started with a family with one or two children.)  I found only 12 children in the family group.  Four sons were missing:  their oldest sons, twins Alfonzo F. and Alonzo J., born 25 July 1874; Edward G., born 16 July 1877; and John N., born 29 November 1882.

I first focused on Alfonzo F. Gerner.  FamilyTree showed a marriage to Hattie Slagle in 1896 (without sources attached) but her name didn't seem familiar.  When I looked Alfonzo in RootsMagic I saw his wife as Nona Covert -- also without notes or sources.  Hmmm.  (I'm good at keeping track of where I obtained my sources but I'm not yet good at keeping them in my genealogy program.)  Where did I get her name?  I pulled out my Gerner notebook and there, on the pages after Alfonzo's name, were the two sources for his marriage to Nona Covert.  Unfortunately, they are secondary sources:  his obituary in The Butler Eagle naming "the late Mona Cover" as his wife; and her obituary giving her name as both "Mrs. Alfonso Gerner" and "Mrs. Nona Alva Gerner."

The search was on:  Hattie or Nona or both.

Hattie was easy.  FamilySearch's Pennsylvania marriage records gave me an application for a marriage license, a marriage license, and the duplicate marriage certificate for Alfonzo Gerner and Hattie Slagle.  Alphonzo [sic] Gerner and Hattie Slagle were married by John A. Lavely, a Justice of the Peace, on December 17, 1896, in Petrolia, Butler County, Pennsylvania.  They were both 22 and both had been living in Bruin, Butler County, Pennsylvania.  He was a pumper, she was a housekeeper.

Who am I to argue with a civil marriage record, especially when the information was given by the individuals being married?  I'll let it stand until I find sources to contradict the information provided.

On to Nona.  It's easier to doubt an obituary:  I know the information is less likely to be accurate because it could have been given by someone who barely knows the deceased.  But obituaries often offer hints, at the very least.

From Alfonzo's obituary in the January 30, 1952, edition of the Butler Eagle I gathered this information:  "He was the husband of the later Mona Covert Gerner."  His parents, siblings, and children are named but no one else.  I assumed "Covert" was her maiden name.

Nona's obituary was somewhat more helpful.  It was published on page 2 of the July 31, 1950 issue of the Butler Eagle.
Mrs. Alfonso Gerner
     . . . . Surviving are her husband, Alfonso Gerner; five daughters, Mrs. Aldean Stoops of Petrolia R. D., Mrs. Ethel Serafine of New Kensington, Mrs. Irene Daugherty of Apollo, Mrs. Dorothy Jordan of Bruin, Mrs. Winifred Daughterty of Apollo; two sons, Arthur and Delbert Covert of Butler; a stepson, Ross Gerner of Bruin; two sisters, Mrs. Mabel Miller of Pittsburgh, Mrs. Velie Creighton of Cleveland, O.; a brother, Harry Mendenhall of Cleveland, O. . . .
Perhaps Nona's maiden name was not Covert but Mendenhall -- if her named brother was not a half- or step-brother.

I went to and searched for and found a Pennsylvania death certificate for Nona.  It gives her father's surname as "MandeHall."  The information for the obituary was provided by Alfonzo's youngest brother, Paul Gerner.

A search in FamilySearch's Pennsylvania marriage records showed neither Nona Mendenhall or Nona Mandehall marrying someone with the last name of Covert.  Nor did I find a marriage record for Nona Covert and Alfonzo Gerner.

I was nearly ready for bed but I hoped one last search for Alfonzo's wife/wives would help.  I searched the World War I Draft Registration records at both FamilySearch and Ancestry.  The results of that search gave me yet a third wife for Alfonzo:  "Meta or Geta Gerner." 

My brain was boggled and I just went to bed.  I knew I would think better after a good night's sleep.


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  1. In my family research, I have found many instances where a wife used her middle name and totally dropped her maiden name. I wonder if "Covert" was Mona/Nona's middle name -- perhaps her mother's maiden name.

    1. I think it was common for women then -- and sometimes now, too -- to drop their maiden names and use only their middle names. I think that's part of why searching for our female ancestors is so challenging. I've been working on the relationship between Nona/Mona and "Covert" today. It's become one of those instances where each document creates several more questions. If I were a sighing woman I would be sighing. Thanks for sharing your insights, Wendy.

  2. I'm a sighing woman -- I sigh all the time.

    1. I love sighers, Wendy. The last place I worked, reading and scoring standardized tests, I sat beside a lady who sighed. (I think most of us sighed at that job, though.) She would be reading along and I'd suddenly hear a big sigh. We wanted the students to have done well in their writing, and they might have succeeded until part way through the paper when it all fell apart. Sigh. Or sometimes the sighing was the result of indecipherable handwriting, or a variety of other challenges.

      I admit that I do sometimes sigh, usually when I'm tired and frustrated.


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