Friday, August 21, 2015

Alfonzo Gerner's Wife # 1:  Death or Divorce?

After finding a marriage certificate for Alfonzo Gerner and Hattie Slagle with a marriage date of December 17, 1896, and knowing that at the time of his death in January, 1952, Alfonzo was a recent widower of Nona Covert, I wanted to investigate further to see what I could find.  I wanted to know if Alfonzo remarried because Hattie had died or because there was a divorce.

I guessed she might have died but no searches for Hattie Gerner revealed a person of that name -- at least not in online records.  Newspaper searches at MyHeritage, Google Newspapers, and Chronicling America did not help me find Hattie Gerner, either. 

Alfonzo and Hattie did not appear together in the 1900 U.S. census.  Alfonzo was living at home with this parents, Fred and Elvira (Bartley) Gerner.  But where was Hattie?  On their marriage certificate Hattie identified herself as Hattie Slagle, 22 years old (therefore born before December 16, 1874), and she named her parents as Frank and Jennie. 

With those few bits of information I searched the 1900 U.S. Census for Hattie Slagle.  In the index I found "Hattie M. Slagle" living with parents Benjamin and Jennie.  Alfonzo's Hattie had no middle initial and her father's name was Frank.

When I went to the census image, I saw "Hattie B. Slagle."  She was born September, 1874.  And there, the last individual in the family, was Ross Gerner (indexed as Gemes), grandson to head of household, born February, 1897.  Hattie's marriage information is blank (whereas the marriage information for all others in the family is identified). 

There are two other females of marriageable age in the family, Nellie, age 23, and Jessie, age 17, but both are identified as single.

I believe this is Alfonzo's Hattie even though her father's name is Benjamin in the census and Frank on the marriage record.  Other information aligns with the marriage record, and there is the grandson.  Alfonzo's obituary names Ross Gerner as his son.  A search for Ross turned up nothing helpful.

Further searches for Hattie led me to  the following:
  • A brief note was published in the Titusville Herald of Tuesday, August 20, 1935, that read, "Miss Hattie Slagle, of Bruin, is caring for Mrs. Nancy Bunting who has been ill for some time...."  Titusville is about 50 miles from Bruin.
  • A death certificate for Hattie B. Slagle shows that she was born on September 6, 1874; that her parents' names are Frank Slagle and Jennie Fredrick; and that she was divorced.  Hattie died on November 18, 1952.

  • I've been unable to find an obituary for Hattie but Find A Grave shows that Hattie Slagle was buried in Allegheny Church Cemetery in Butler County, Pennsylvania.  (You can click to enlarge the image.)

I am certain Hattie and Alfonzo divorced but I'll probably never know why.  One wonders because they married in December, 1896, and Ross was born just two months later in February 1897.  It's possible Hattie or Alfonzo felt the need for a speedy marriage, or perhaps either or both of their parents felt the need and added some pressure to push the couple into marriage.  That's never the best way to begin a marriage.

I thought of searching for a divorce record but because Alfonzo is not a direct-line ancestor I probably won't.


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  1. You've gathered a lot of information to support your conclusion, Nancy. You would probably find Benjamin's middle name was Frank. Interesting he also named a son, Frank.

    1. Thanks, Dara. With a son named Frank, it makes me wonder if the son was also Benjamin Franklin (assuming the father was) or if the parents shortened the name to just Frank.

  2. I agree with Dara. Benjamin Franklin was a popular combination.

    1. Thanks for both of your comments, Dara and Wendy. My daughter (who's not really interested in family history or history) also suggested that his whole name was probably Benjamin Franklin. It certainly makes sense. I would research further if this were a direct-line ancestor.


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