Lena Wheeler – Update October 2018

Previous post: Lena Wheeler – woman of mystery

I have learned a bit more about Lena Wheeler since I last posted about her in 2015. At that time the earliest marriage I had for her was to Charles Snyder. Her father was listed as (what looked like) W Comstock.

Since that time I have learned that she was previously married to Nathan Comstock. The marriage license was issued 21 December 1882 and recorded 2 January 1883 in Harlan County, Nebraska. The marriage was apparently performed 1 January 1883 in Harlan County.

She is listed as Mercelena E. Woodworth and he is Nathan E Comstock.

By the 1885 Harlan County, Nebraska census Nathan E Comstock (N. E.) is listed as widowed/divorced. He died 12 October 1886 (date from Find A Grave website).

Lena married Charles R. Snyder 23 December 1886 in Phelps County, Nebraska. The marriage license lists her father’s name as what looks like W Comstock, but closer examination reveals that it is probably N Comstock (her previous husband’s name). Her name is listed as Etta (or Ella) Comstock, age 20. Charles is listed as age 19. She was definitely not 20 (probably 23-24). And she was probably 4-5 months pregnant at that time.

The only way to trace this tangled web of marriages was to find Lena’s marriage to my great grandfather, Bernice O. Wheeler, discover they were both divorced, order Lena’s divorce records from Charles Snyder, discover the marriage date on it, then search for that marriage in Nebraska. And from that figure out that she had been married to Nathan E. Comstock 1883.

I have no idea of where the Woodworth name came from. Was it a previous marriage, her actual birth name? Good questions. I have found no record of her as Mercelena Woodworth beyond this.


Roy Rhea

Roy RheaMy maternal grandfather, Roy Rhea, died when I was about two and a half years old. Most people cannot remember anything from that age so it surprised many of my adult relatives when I told them the few things I did remember about him. And they verified that I was remembering correctly.

I remember being at a house in the woods, there were trees all around and they were really tall, way over my head. My dad and my grandfather decided to go out looking around the property for something – maybe rock collecting. I decided to follow them and got lost. I remember the tall, tall trees. I remember calling out for my mom and dad – quite calmly. Actually, everyone says I was screaming my head off, but that’s not what I remember. Years later during a visit to Redding my parents showed me the general area I got lost in – and those little tiny manzanita bushes. I tell you, they were much more giant when I was two.

Another time I went with my grandparents and my Uncle Terry to the mountains near Redding. We stopped at a little tiny store, my grandfather went in and bought something while we waited in the car. As we drove away, he commented that this whole area was going to be covered in water when they built the dam the government was planning. I was horrified because there were people living there! Houses! Roads! Trees! Livestock! Everyone would drown!  They were all quite entertained by my misconception and explained that everyone would move out before they flooded the area and the houses would be torn down. Even so, every time I swam in Whiskeytown Lake I always pictured those houses and trees under the water.

Roy Rhea was born 24 July 1908 in Silverton, Briscoe County, Texas and died 28 November 1956 in California, he was 48 years old. He was the third child of Pleasant Valentine Rhea and Lillie Porter. His family moved to New Mexico where he met my grandmother, Mildred Bedinger and they were married on her 18th birthday. Roy and Mildred had eight children, including my mother.


I don’t know very much else about him other than genealogical facts – when and where he was born, when and where he died. His children say he liked to read, he was very smart. Despite his intelligence he was forced to quit school when he finished 8th grade.

My Grandma Fischer and my other Fischer Grandma

Iona Hoppes Fischer

I have a Grandma Fischer and another Grandmother Fischer – the one I grew up with and the one who was my father’s mother.

When I was born in 1954 my parents were living with my Fischer grandparents (William and Iona) and my two aunts (Pat and Barbara). My brother was born while we lived there in 1956, but I think we had gone off to live somewhere else in between (Arizona maybe?). I always had a strong attachment to both my Grandma and Grandpa Fischer, I have even wondered why I always felt such a strong attachment to my Aunt Barbara who grew up and moved far away before I was seven – baby bonding is a powerful thing.

I loved to go spend Christmas vacation at their house in Redding. I even loved it when I reached my teens and was bored by going outside. Grandma had all kinds of weird books, even Harlequin romances – the kind that were nice and proper, not the kind they have now. I read them all. The Bobbsey Twins were boring, Nancy Drew was not, Cherry Ames, Student Nurse was terrible. Grandpa had an interesting workshop with a dirt floor and all kinds of interesting tools. He also had a cast iron wood-burning stove that I just loved.

When I was about sixteen years old I made the terrible discovery that my Grandma Fischer was not my grandmother at all! She was my father’s stepmother. My mother claims now that no one was trying to keep it a secret, but that’s what happened. No one ever talked about it all. No one ever talked about Grandpa’s first wife. No one talked about the fact that Aunt Gwen and Dad had a different mother than Aunt Pat and Aunt Barbara. Or if they did, they did it when I wasn’t around or listening. So, it was effectively a secret if not intentional.

Once I found out I was on a mission to find out more about my father’s mother (what do I call her – certainly not Grandma Fischer because that’s reserved for Iona Fischer, I’ve mostly settled on “my father’s mother” or Grandmother Fischer). My father thought her name was Nina Whittier – not true. She might have had a sister Helen in Wyoming – true, and a sister Grace somewhere – not true, Grace was Iona’s sister. Grandpa did not want to talk about her. Being a grandparent myself now, and looking back on our conversation his reluctance may have been because he didn’t want to badmouth her admittedly dysfunctional family to a teenage girl.

Grandma Iona Ruth Ellen Hoppes Fischer married my Grandpa Fischer in 1936 in Utah. He was working on the building of Hoover Dam at the time. Apparently my Grandpa Rhea also worked on it. Grandma had a daughter from another marriage who was a baby. Grandpa had a six-year old son (my dad) living with Aunt Bertha who would finally be able to come live with him.

Unfortunately, my dad had become very attached to his Aunt Bertha and she to him. He even was starting to call her mama and would miss her terribly. I think they were also Mormons and my Grandpa was pretty opposed to that.GrmGrmpBobPatBarb copy

The Fischer family eventually moved on to California so that Grandpa could work on Shasta Dam (dams seemed to be the only work available in the Great Depression). Grandma and Grandpa had a daughter and named her Barbara. They bought land outside of Redding and lived there the rest of their lives.

My Grandma Fischer died in November 1972 at the age of 59, I was devastated by her death. She may have been my dad’s stepmother but she was definitely my grandma.

Mina May Wheeler Cone Fischer – my unknown grandmother


Mina May Wheeler Cone Fischer was my grandmother. She died when my father was nine months old, so I don’t know much about her.  I thought my dad’s mother was my Grandma Fischer – the one I had known all my life. And to me, she was my Grandma.

When I was about 16 years old someone told me Grandma Fischer was my dad’s stepmother. Thus starting my desire to find out who my father’s mother was. My father told me her name had been Nina Whittier. It turned out that for some reason she like Grandpa to call her Nina (pronounced Nie-nah) and Whittier was her father’s mother’s maiden name.

Almost everything I do know about her comes from vital records, census records and newspapers. Dad didn’t know her maiden name, my grandpa told me, “her family was not nice”. And, indeed, they did seem to have problems.

Her sister, Helen Harriet Wheeler Baber Hoevet Saul, got herself into lots of trouble and seems to disappear after 1942. Her brother, Edward died young in 1924, all my searches for a death certificate have been fruitless. Her mother, Mercelena, had her own share of problems.

Mina was born to Bernie and Lena Wheeler in Case, Colorado 12 November 1898. This is a town that has disappeared into what is now Irving in Douglas County, Colorado. She had an older brother Edward (or Edmund) Robert Wheeler and an older sister Helen Harriet Wheeler, as well as an older half-sister Anna Bertha Snyder (Bishop).

The family is enumerated on the 1900 census, Sedalia, Douglas County, Colorado with Lena’s daughter Bertha Schneider (Snyder) and Bernie’s cousin Ulric Sturtevant. The enumerator was Bernie’s uncle – Washington Irving Whittier.

Between 1900 and August 1905 the family apparently moved to Lamar, Prowers County, Colorado where Bernie died of typhoid 24 Aug 1905. He is buried there in Riverside Cemetery.

Sometime before 1910 Mina and her half or full brother Leroy were adopted by Bernie’s uncle Oscar H. Whittier, they are enumerated with him in the 1910 census in Husted, El Paso County, Colorado.

By 1913 Mina had moved to Denver to live with her mother Lena Wheeler. And this is where she seems to have gotten into trouble. A young man who had met her in El Paso County followed her to Denver. According to newspaper reports she may not have wanted to be involved with him, or she did. Anyway, her mother apparently sent her to the Industrial School for Girls to get her away from him.

He arrived in Denver because Mina was being returned from the school to her mother’s care. While waiting, he and a friend attacked a man, stole his money and his shoes and returned to Lena’s  home where the police found them in the kitchen with Mina’s sister, Helen and her friend Nina. All were arrested. The girls were apparently arrested as witnesses and were released within a few days. Mina had not arrived home yet so was not involved, other than the robber was interested in her romantically.

Searching for information about the Industrial School for Girls I find that it was apparently a reform school and Mina was apparently sent there for the crime of having a bad boyfriend. This information comes from the newspaper articles about the young man who was arrested for robbery and I don’t know how accurate that was. There are two articles from two days after the event and I can find no other mention of her after that.

Mina subsequently got pregnant by a neighbor, Ernest Cone and then married him. Ernest was 27 years old and Mina was just turned 18. She had a daughter by Ernest and then filed for divorce on the grounds of physical cruelty and drinking.

By the 1920 census Mina was living with her young daughter, Gwen in her mother, Lena’s house as a divorcee. Also living with them was Helen Baber (her sister), also divorced, Helen’s daughter, Leona Baber, Edward or Edmund Wheeler (her brother) and Roy Whittier, her half brother.

Shortly after the divorce in 1920, she married my grandfather William Fischer and lived with him and his widowed mother, Barbara. According to my Grandpa, Barbara apparently did not like or approve of Mina and spoke only German in the house even though she could speak English. Barbara died in 1922.

By 1930 William and Mina had my father, born that year, and were listed in the 1930 census living in Echo City, Utah where my grandfather was working on the building of Echo Dam. They lived in a tent in an encampment of workers. When my Grandpa told me about her death he mentioned the tent. Since she died in December I was astounded that they could be living in a tent in Utah during the winter. He explained that it was built of half wood walls with an a-line tent roof, there was a wood burning stove inside. My dad was apparently born in that tent the previous March.

On my father’s birth certificate it asked how many children Mina had given birth to and how many were still living. Her answer was, two living (my father and Gwen – his half-sister) and one born alive but now dead.

So, by the time my father was born in March 1930 Mina’s mother, father, brother and one child had all died. She had been adopted, returned to her mother. She had been sent to the state school for girls. She had been married, abused, divorced once, married again and lived with a mother-in-law who did not like her. She had a child who was born alive and then died.

Mina died during a flu epidemic, my Grandpa said it was like the 1917 flu epidemic, only not nearly as bad. I have not found any record of 1930/1931 being a flu epidemic year, perhaps it was more localized. Her death certificate cites asthma as the cause of death, she was only 32 years old.

My grandfather was left with a 9 month old son and a 13 year old stepdaughter. For a while Gwen tried to take care of the baby and the household chores but it was too difficult and eventually my father was sent to live with his Aunt Bertha Bishop, Mina’s older half sister.

So, I know several facts about my grandmother but not much about her. What did she like to do, what did she like to think about? I don’t know and the people who did know her all died before I was born or old enough to think to ask questions other than that one day when Grandpa told me they lived in a tent, she died of the flu and her family were not nice people. He was very reluctant to talk about any of it, but my impression was that he didn’t want to tell me my ancestors were drunks and bad guys. Keep in mind that I was seventeen years old when this conversation happened.

The only photo I have (above) was sent to me recently by my Aunt Pat, Dad’s stepsister. Aunt Pat found it in my grandfather’s papers. Mina looks like she is about 14-16 years old, but I can definitely see the family resemblance to some of my siblings.

Pleasant Vincent Uriah Jackson Harris(on) Glenn Rhea – Who’s Your Daddy?

And who’s your mama?

PV Rhea, my great, great, great grandfather, was born 27 July 1821 in Lincoln County, Tennessee. You can find that much information on his cemetery headstone and in a family bible owned by descendants. But prior to 1850 he’s a mystery.

I have not found any records where he used all those middle names, he usually called himself Pleas, Ples, PV or even Pat. But almost every single one of his children passed down some version of the many middle names to his descendants. I first heard the story when I was about nine years old at my Grandma Rhea’s house. I cannot remember who told me – just all those wonderful names. Some of the different descendant lines have variations on the names such as Eli or Neri for Uriah, for instance or Harris instead of Harrison.

Several stories stated that he was illegitimate, one even said that his mother told his father she was pregnant and he tried to get out of the responsibility by saying the baby wasn’t his, it must be the child of Uriah or Jackson or Harrison (or Harris) or Glenn. She was so ticked off that she named the baby after the father (Pleasant Vincent Rhea I) and then added in all those other boys names just for good measure. There were Jackson, Harrison and Glenn families listed in the census of 1820-1850 in the neighborhood. So that could be true. Or as many family stories go in genealogy – not true.

Most researcher’s assigned him as a son of John and Sally Rhea of Lincoln County, Tennessee. I have spent the last twenty years trying to convince people that is very unlikely because they already had a son Pleasant Vincent Rhea born in 1803 and died 1864. Why would they name two sons the same name when both were still living? That just doesn’t make sense. And yet, you can still find family trees all over the internet listing my ggg grandfather as the son of John and Sally Rhea.

Several years ago I begged one of my Rhea uncles to do YDNA testing. We proved that our Rhea’s are not descended from Matthew Campbell Rhea “the Rebel” – no DNA match. We proved we were not descended from the Ray family of Lincoln and Bedford counties in Tennessee. We found we matched some Rea families and even a Ray from elsewhere. But there we were – nobody had a good paper trail to tell us how,  or a connection to Lincoln County, Tennessee.

I had always suspected that our PV Rhea II was the illegitimate son of the older PV Rhea I born in 1803, especially since descendants of Pleasant Vincent Rhea I had a story handed down that he had had an illegitimate child in Tennessee before marrying and moving to Arkansas. Finally, I tracked down a descendant of PV Rhea I, convinced him to do a YDNA test and there was a match – a 67 out of 67 marker match!

Of course, this does not prove that our PV was the son of the older PV. He could have been a son of John Rhea, although naming a second child Pleasant Vincent Rhea, even an illegitimate one does not make sense. He could have been a son of John Rhea’s brothers or nephews, if he had any. But there were no other Rhea families in Lincoln County, Tennessee in 1820, except one that was not a YDNA match either. The only other Rhea sons of John and Sally Rhea, William and Brice were only seven and three years old in 1821 when Pleasant Vincent Rhea II was born.

So, given the DNA evidence, the stories handed down in both families, the lack of another reasonable suspect as father, I’m going with Pleasant Vincent Rhea I as the most likely father.

To make things even more intriguing I matched a descendant of one of John and Sally Rhea’s daughters through autosomal DNA (Family Finder). That does not mean that we match through the Rhea family, however, we could just as easily match on another line that we don’t know about.

So, who’s his mother. That is a complete mystery so far. Some stories passed down claim that she was given a mill by the Rhea family, some say in Arkansas, some say in Tennessee. Some stories claim she was Indian or Native American and PV Rhea I wasn’t allowed to marry her because of that. I have not found any evidence at all for her, except that PV Rhea II existed and had to have had a mother. I’m hoping autosomal DNA testing through Family Tree DNA will eventually help us find who she was.

Oh, those Wheelers!

When I first became interested in genealogy I asked my dad about his mother. He had the wrong name for her and I spent years trying to track down a Nina Whitaker. Considering that his mother died when he was nine months old, he was raised for the next 5-6 years by his maternal aunt, then taken away by his father and raised for the rest of his childhood by his father and stepmother in a different state, it’s no surprise he didn’t know.

But one day I had an epiphany – birth certificate information is usually filled out by the mother. My father’s mother was definitely alive in March 1930 to do that, so why not order my father’s birth certificate and find out his mother’s maiden name. And sure enough – there it was Mother: Mina Wheeler. No wonder I couldn’t find her!

Then I found Mina May Wheeler on the 1900 census with her parents, my first sighting of my great grandmother Lena Wheeler – the brick wall.

One time I asked my grandpa about my grandmother and he said she was nice but her family wasn’t. And that’s all he would say. And I can kind of see why he didn’t want to tell a teenage girl what I was to find out much later.

Lena had an interesting life, her husbands all had interesting lives, most of her children had interesting lives. There were out of wedlock babies, babies born too soon after marriage, divorces, drinking, spousal abuse, deadbeat dads, bigamous husbands, babies born who were the wrong coloring, just about everything you could imagine.

Leana Comstock married Bernice “Bernie” Oscar Wheeler in 1895. Their marriage license states that both were previously married and divorced, including where and when. This means you can order divorce proceedings from the appropriate agencies.

Bernie married Hattie when he was 18 and she was 13 (!!) in Vermont. They had a daughter, Ethel. Bernie, Hattie and little Ethel all had blond hair and blue eyes. Three years later Hattie had a baby boy, with black curly hair, dark brown eyes and darker skin. Bernie suspected there might have been some activity he was not involved in and apparently Hattie confessed she had relations with an Italian guy who worked on the farm.

So, Bernie divorced her, left his daughter with his parents, suspecting she might not be his either and went to his uncle in Colorado. His parents believed Ethel was Bernie’s daughter and raised her. She seems to have had a reasonably functional life as far as can be told by her vital and census records.

In the meantime, Lena, calling herself Etta (or Ella) Comstock married Charles R. Snyder in Nebraska. He gives his age as 19 and hers as 20 on the marriage license application in 1886. Given her various birth dates she was 24, 22 or 20 at the time. He filled out the application so his guess or belief was that she was 20. They had a daughter, Anna Bertha Snyder, four months later.

Lena and Charles moved to Denver Colorado. According to the divorce papers, Charles had stopped supporting his family sometime in 1893 and he had started consorting with a married woman, eventually moving in with her. In order to get a divorce in Denver at that time there had to be a trial, with a jury – a jury of twelve men. Charles was arrested for adultery, papers were served to him in the jail and the trial proceeded. Eventually the jury decided to grant the divorce, give her custody of her child and restore her “former name”, Comstock.

It’s interesting that they call it her former name and not maiden name, perhaps Lena’s Comstock name came from another marriage. Keep in mind this is Colorado in the late 1800s, the Comstock Lode was still big news and the Comstock name was prestigious. So, I wonder.

Finally Bernie and Lena met, married in 1895 and had three children in three years. Sometime after the 1900 census they apparently moved to Lamar, Prowers County, Colorado where Bernie died in 1905 of typhoid, leaving Lena widowed with three children under ten years old. The youngest of those three children was Mina May Wheeler, my grandmother, only six years old.

About 1900 a child was born to Bernie and an unnamed woman. LeRoy Bernice Wheeler Whittier listed his father as Bernice Wheeler and his mother as “unknown”. He and Mina May Wheeler were formally adopted by Bernie’s uncle, Oscar Whittier after the death of Bernie and were enumerated with him in the 1910 census.

Lena and Bernie’s oldest daughter, Helen Harriet Wheeler, married Barney Baber in 1913, four months later he sued for divorce with grounds of cruelty. More than a year after the divorce she had a daughter who was named Leona Baber.

After the divorce Helen married a man named George W. Schell who was quite a bit older than her. I believe Helen got pregnant and subsequently gave birth to her daughter Leona during this marriage, but that is only guessing from the newspaper stories. After a short time George’s sister tracked him down and they had a reunion after many years of no contact. This story was reported in a Denver newspaper which caught the attention of a the original Mrs. George Schell who had been abandoned by her husband many years earlier. As she was still alive, George was arrested for bigamy, convicted and sent to jail. Helen’s marriage was then null and void. Somehow Leona became Leona Baber, as her mother was no longer Mrs. Schell, but Mrs. Helen Baber, divorced woman.

Mina returned to live with her mother by 1913. By 1917 she had gotten pregnant and then married Enest Cone, a man nine years older than her. They had a daughter, Gwen,  and Mina subsequently divorced him based on physical abuse and cruelty.

Also in 1917 Lena Wheeler married Thomas W. Budd, a divorced father of two boys. His first wife had divorced him for drunkenness, cruelty and lack of support. Lena apparently did not live with him long, By 1920 she was calling herself Lena Wheeler, rather than Lena Budd, living with her daughters Mina and Helen (divorced), her two granddaughters, Leona and Gwen, her son Edward (or Edmund) Wheeler and Roy Whittier – her “adopted son”.

In 1920 Mina met my grandpa William Fischer, married him and went to live with him and his German speaking mother. They eventually moved to Utah where my father was born and Mina died in 1930.

I did eventually figure out where the name Nina Whitaker came from. My Grandpa told me he called Mina Nina because she liked it better and I think Whitaker was mixed up with Whittier.

I’m sure I’m not done finding out more stories about these Wheelers, Mina’s sister Harriet has a quite shocking history herself. I can see why Grandpa didn’t want to tell these stories.

I’m thinking a lot of alcohol was involved.

Lena Wheeler – woman of mystery

My great-grandmother, Lena Wheeler is one of my genealogical brick walls. She married my great-grandfather Bernice “Bernie” Oscar Wheeler 3 February 1895 in Rock Ridge, Douglas County, Colorado. In the 1900 Census in Sedalia, Douglas County, Colorado her birth month, year and place are listed as May 1864, Michigan. Her Denver, Colorado death certificate and headstone list her birth as 7 July 1862.

On the marriage certificate both Bernie and Lena (Mrs. Leana Comstock) are listed as divorced, with the divorce dates listed. This enabled me to order the divorce records for Lena and her previous husband, Charles R. Snyder, which was finalized 27 January, 1894, Denver, Arapahoe County, Colorado after a jury trial. She was awarded custody of their minor daughter Anna B. Snyder and her “previous name” was restored.

The marriage date and place for the marriage between Lena Snyder and Charles R. Snyder was listed, although off by a year – possibly because daughter Anna B. “Bertha” Snyder was apparently born four months after the marriage.  The actual dates are typed (23 December 1886, Holdrege, Phelps County, Nebraska) and then crossed out, substituted with a marriage date a year earlier in the divorce records. Considering that Lena had to appear in court before a jury of twelve men and a judge just to get a divorce from her husband who had abandoned her and her daughter to live with another woman, I’m not surprised she may have felt that she had to look as “respectable” as possible.

Ordering the marriage certificate for Charles R. Snyder, his bride is listed as Etta (or possibly Ella) Comstock, daughter of W. Comstock, she is also listed as age 20. This would make her birth date around 1866.

This marriage certificate is the earliest document I have found for Lena. She seems to have consistently used the name Lena after her marriage to Bernie O. Wheeler. Her daughter, Bertha, stated her mother’s maiden name as Mercellena Parker on her Social Security Application. Other documents have her as Mercylena.

Her age is 47 on the 1910 Census, Colorado Spring, El Paso, Colorado making her birth year about 1863. Her birth year according to the 1920 census is about 1862.

After the death of her husband Bernie, she married Thomas Budd in 1917 in Denver. She apparently left him and resumed using her previous married name Wheeler shortly after.

So, Lena, Leana, Etta (or Ella), Mercellena, Mercylena Parker, Comstock, Snyder, Wheeler, Budd, who were you and when were you born – 1862, 1863, 1864, 1866?