My Mother-in-Law is Your Mother, Right?

This started out in an attempt to find Minerva Strobel in the 1870 census.

It is worth noting that Gwendolyn provided the information for the Oliphant household and that Harry is listed as absent (the “ab” to the right of his name). At this point, I was not certain why Minerva was living with the Oliphants.

However, the birth place of Wales was one I knew I had seen before while searching census records for Minerva. None of the biological members of Minerva’s family was born in Wales and, given that it is a small area, locating that other person might assist in determining what was going on with the 1940 enumeration.

Sure enough the 1900 enumeration of Minerva Strobel’s family contained a household member with a Welsh birth place in their background. Gwendolyn Strobel, daughter-in-law of Minerva, indicated her mother was born in Wales.

It was the Gwendolyn Oliphant in the 1940 census with Minerva who indicated that she was born in Wales. Places of birth can easily be incorrect, but it seemed highly unusual that two Gwendolyns associated with Minerva had a Welsh background.

A little time on FamilySearch located two references that seemed to answer the question of Gwendolyn Strobel and Gwendolyn Oliphant:

  • “Iowa, County Marriages, 1838-1934” on FamilySearch indicates that a Gwendolyn Strobel (born about 1879 to Richard and Mary (Williams) Martin) married Harry Oliphant in 1913 in Van Buren County, Iowa. Harry’s parents are Joel Oliphant and Almyra Curtis.
  • “Iowa, County Marriages, 1838-1934” on FamilySearch indicates that a Gwendolyn Martin (born about 1878 to Richard and Mary (Williams) Martin) married George Herbert Strobel in 1899 in Wapello County, Iowa.

Based upon the transcriptions of the marriages, the working theory is that the 1940 and 1900 Gwendolyns are the same person and are, in fact, Gwendolyn Martin Strobel Oliphant. More work in additional records need to be conducted, especially a determination of what happened to George Herbert Strobel, but the information located thus far is consistent.

But…why is Minerva Strobel listed as the “mother” of Harry Oliphant? Is Minerva a mixed up version of Almyra?

I don’t think so.

What I think happened is that when the 1940 census taker came to the door that Gwendolyn indicated that Minerva was her mother-in-law, because that it she was and that the census taker concluded that Gwendolyn’s mother-in-law must be her husband’s mother. In this case, Minerva, was Gwendolyn’s mother-in-law by her previous marriage to George Strobel.

George Strobel pre-deceased his wife. The relationship between Gwendolyn and Minerva may have been different had Gwendolyn and George divorced.

After all, isn’t that the easiest explanation? And whose going to care in 75 years anyway?

It matters who answers questions when a census taker comes to the door and it is important not to jump to conclusions. One may initially conclude that Minerva was married more than once. She wasn’t. Gwendolyn was.

But why Minerva was living with Gwendolyn in 1940 is another question entirely.


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