Friday, June 18, 2021

Bessie Leota Gerner—Under the Radar

As I continue to rename and update my source citations in RootsMagic, I sometimes come across an ancestor or relative with little information.  When that happens I usually do more research, looking for documents to substantiate the dates and names I have from family records.  That is the case with Leota.

Bessie Leota Gerner is one of my grandmother Beulah Mae Gerner Doyle's older sisters.  According to family records she was born in 1884 in Bruin, Pennsylvania, and, according to obituaries, died in 1973 in Canton, Ohio.  I know my parents and our family visited her and her sister, Brendice, but I have no memory of Aunt Leota, which is the name my father and our family called her in the 1950s and 1960s.

How can someone could fly so far under the radar that she is found only in only census records, mentioned in the obituaries of her siblings, and her own obituary during her adult years?  Below is a compilation of what I know about her and her family.

Family Records.  These are hand-written entries in a Family Bible with no documentation.
  • Birth:  "Bessie L. Gerner.   June 17. 1884."
  • Death:  "Leota Wiborg  January 29th 1973"

Husbands.  No marriage records--not a single one--have been found.
  • Jules/Juels Wiborg.  The obituaries of her brothers John and Paul, in 1970 and 1972, name her as Leota Wiborg.  Her own obituary gives her name as "Mrs. Leota Holland Wiborg" and states that she was the widow of Juels Wiborg.  
  • Fred Holland.  She is named as either "Mrs. Fred Holland" or "Mrs. Leota Holland" in the obituaries of her siblings (Alonzo in 1940; Alfonzo in 1952; Alma in 1952; Warren in 1957) and her mother (in 1943). 
    The Ohio Death Index records this information for Fred Holland:  born 1882, died August, 1958, in Youngstown, Ohio, residence Struthers, Ohio. 
  • Frank B. Riss.  Leota's father, Fred Gerner, names her "Mrs. Lotie Riss" in his 1926 will.  Leota married Frank sometime between 1910 and about 1918, based on the 1910 U.S. Census (where she is living with her parents) and the 1920 U.S. Census (where she is recorded as Bessie Riss, the wife of Frank B. Riss). 
    Frank's Ohio Death Certificate give his date of death as January 3, 1930, and name his wife as Leota Riss and his employer as John Gerner (likely Leota's brother).  Frank was 47 at the time of his death.

Census Records and Residences.
  • 1900.  Bessie L. Gerner, living with parents in Parker Township, Butler County, Pennsylvania
  • 1910.  Leota Gerner, living with parents in Fairview Township, Mercer County, Pennsylvania
  • 1920.  Bessie Riss, living with Frank B. Riss, daughter Beulah E., and sister Brendice C. Gerner in Poland Township, Mahoning County, Ohio
  • 1930.  Leota Riss, widow, living with daughter Beulah E. on Sexton Street, Struthers, Mahoning County, Ohio 
  • 1940.  Bessie F. (or L.?) Holland, living with Fredrick Holland and mother Almyra [sic] Gerner in Struthers, Mahoning County, Ohio
  • 1943.  Mrs. Fred Holland, Struthers, Mahoning County, Ohio  (Elvira Gerner's obituary)
  • 1952.  Mrs. Fred Holland, Oakland, California (her brother Alfonzo's obituary)
  • 1952.  Mrs. Leota Holland, Oakland, California (her sister Alma's obituary)
  • 1957.  Leota Holland, Oakland, California (her brother Warren's obituary)
  • 1970.  Leota Wiborg, Canton, Ohio (her brother John's obituary)
  • 1972.  Leota Wiborg, North Canton, Ohio (her brother Paul's obituary)
  • 1973.  Mrs. Leota Holland Wiborg, North Canton, Ohio (her own obituary)

Comments, Questions, and Challenges
  • Finding no records for any of her marriages is a surprise.  I thought that her marriage to Frank, probably about 1915-1918, would be available online at FamilySearch or Ancestry but haven't found it yet after searching in both Ohio and Pennsylvania.  I can understand that the more recent marriage records (probably 1930s and late-1960s) may be withheld until a later date.  It's possible that Leota met and married Juels Wiborg in California between 1958 and 1970.
  • Why is there not an Ohio birth record for Beulah E. Riss?  (The census records give her place of birth as Ohio.)  There could be a transcription error, of course, but there are other possibilities.  Was she born before Leota and Frank were married?  Was she adopted?  She seems to have disappeared after the 1930 U.S. Census and I haven't found a marriage or death record for her, either.  Leota's sister, in later years, told her daughter-in-law that Leota had a daughter named Evelyn.  A search for Evelyn Riss and Evelyn Gerner did not turn up any results.  Did Beulah grow to adulthood and marry?  If not, when did she die, and where?
  • There seems to be no information on Jules/Juels Wiborg on FamilySearch.  Unless he was born in 1913, which seems unlikely.  There would have been an almost 30-year difference in their ages.

How can one person, her daughter, and three husbands manage to stay under the radar, especially in the late 1800s and the early 1900s?  There don't seem to be leads for next places to search, either.  It's unlikely I'll spend much more time looking since Leota is a collateral relative.  As much as I like to find the families of my grandparents' siblings, I'm more interested in searching for my direct ancestors.  I'll probably come back to her in a few years and see if new information is available online. 

The Records.  All links are to FamilySearch records, viewable with a free FamilySearch account.
  • Fred Holland in Ohio Death Index here
  • Frank B. Riss's 1930 Ohio death certificate here
  • Leota and family in 1920 U. S. Census here
  • Leota and family in 1930 U.S. Census here
  • Leota and family in 1940 U.S. Census here
  • If you'd like information about the obituaries for Leota and her siblings, please contact me.


Copyright © 2021 Nancy Messier.  All Rights Reserved. 
Do not copy or use any content from this blog without written permission from the owner. 


No comments:

Post a Comment

I appreciate your comments and look forward to reading what you have to say. Thanks for stopping by.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...