Skip to main content

Uncovering Rhoda Harrison's Life History

I'm carrying on my mother's research into our family history. I've self-published some family memoirs & learned a lot about different eras.

Tracking an Ancestor's Wife

In working on the details of my great-great grandfather James M. Vining's life, I began obsessing about his second wife, Rhoda Dernell. She was in his life a very short time, but the paucity of details on her made me curious.

The place and time is Kansas in the 1860s. James Vining's wife, Almira Buckland Vining, died just 4 months before he married Rhoda Dernell (or Darnell). Both Rhoda and James had children from before their marriage. She was 53 and he was 54. Their marriage didn't last long.

Join me as I share what I discovered about the mysterious second wife of James M. Vining.


Was Dernell her Married Name?

The 1865 Kansas census shows:

James Vining - 55, Rhoda Vining - 54, E C Vining - 24, James Vining Junior - 16, Franklin Vining - 11, J A Vining - 9, J Harrison - 14. The census showed Rhoda being born in Alabama and J. Harrison being born in Missouri.

I latched onto the J. Harrison and searched that in combination with the Rhoda Dernell name. That led me along quite devious routes (member trees on Ancestry, various census records, marriage records) and finally I found a number of husbands for Rhoda. I think I've found her real name.

Places Where Rhoda Harrison Lived

  • 1811 - Alabama - Where Rhoda Harrison born: Alabama, USA
  • 1827 - Rutherford Co. TN - Rody & Gideon Harrison married here: Rutherford County, TN, USA
  • 1850 - Cedar, Missouri - Where Rhoda & Gideon Harrison lived: Cedar County, MO, USA
  • 1860 - Burlington, KS - death of 2nd husband - Thomas Woolsey: Burlington, KS 66839, USA
  • 1860 - Avon, Coffey Co KS - Rodah Woolsey living with 3 Harrison children: Coffey County, KS, USA
  • 1861 - Coffey county, KS - Rhoda marries Joseph Dermial: Coffey County, KS, USA
  • 1875 - Verdigris, KS - Rhoda Darnell living with son, Jefferson Harrison: Verdigris, KS, USA
  • 1880 - Fredonia KS - Roda Darnell living with son, Jefferson Harrison: Fredonia, KS 66736, USA

Rhoda's Husbands

I've yet to find the elusive Dernell or Darnell husband for Rhoda, but here are the most likely spouses for her. I suspect that Dernell if what family heard and wrote down but that it might actually be the Joseph Durmiel (3rd husband). I've not been able to track down any details about him yet.

The dates below are the birth and death dates of each man. Now, four husbands might seem excessive, but in that era, a woman usually needed to remarry to get support for herself and her children. A man with young children needed to remarry quickly too so the young ones were taken care of.


  • Gideon Harrison



  • Thomas Woolsey



  • Joseph Durmiel



  • James M Vining


There's a Rutherford County, Tennessee marriage license that I finally tracked down after searching on Rhoda's child, J. Harrison who was age 13 when she married James Vining. J. Harrison evolved into Jefferson Harrison with a father Gideon Harrison. The marriage license showed Gideon marrying Rody Harrison age 16 back in Alabama in 1827. I've yet to find out if they were cousins or why they both were Harrison.

Rody (or Roda or Rhoda) had 7 children together before he died in 1859. The 1850 census shows the family in District 17, Cedar, Missouri, USA. All the children were born in Missouri between 1830 and 1850.

There are an older man and older woman living with the couple in the 1830 census, but that census does not give the names beyond the head of household. I suspect that the older people are parents of either Gideon or Rody.

I don't have proof of Gideon's death.

The last record for him is the 1850 census. They were in Missouri.

By 1860, Rhoda and her youngest children show up in Kansas.

A Dress Like Rhody Might Have Worn after the Death of Her Husband


Next Husband - Thomas Woolsey

Rhoda was the third wife for Thomas Woolsey. He had lived in Missouri, Texas, and Arkansas before meeting her.

Thomas's second wife Rebecca died in 1850 in District 53, McDonald, Missouri. He had 5 sons and a 1-year-old daughter at that time. Perhaps this is when he met and married Rhoda. I don't have a marriage record for them yet.

He died at age 63 in April 1860 from "old age." The location was Burlington, in Coffey County, Kansas.

In the 16 Aug 1860 census, 49-year-old Rodah Woolsey is living in Avon, Coffey County, KS. With her are the 3 youngest Harrison children (Jas M, Nancy E, and Jefferson). Their ages are 16, 14, and 10. This surely is our Rhoda.

Also in that census, the three older Woolsey children are living together in one household. J W Woolsey age 25, his wife Exivia Woolsey age 22, John's sister Sarah Vestal age 22 and her children Harriet I Vestal age 4 and Wm T Vestal age 2, and Francis M Woolsey age 19.

Thomas Woolsey's Will Names His Wife Rody

The will is witnessed by Rhoda's son, Jesse Harrison.  It leaves 1/3 of his estate to Rody and the rest to his children named in the will.

The will is witnessed by Rhoda's son, Jesse Harrison. It leaves 1/3 of his estate to Rody and the rest to his children named in the will.

Marriage to Darnell

This might be Joseph Durmiel. I can't find anything about him but he is on a few trees linked to Rhoda. So, is Durmiel wrong or is Dernell or Darnell wrong?

Did they divorce or did Joseph Durmiel die?

On the marriage record for her next husband, James Vining, her last name is recorded as Dernell.

Marriage to James Vining

Roda Dernell married James Vining on 03 Aug 1864 in Coffey County, Kansas. They divorced on 18 Feb. 1867 or 1869. According to my mother's records, Roda left James and he filed for divorce based on desertion.

Sources Found on Ancestry Site about Rhoda


Back to the Darnell Name But No Husband in Sight

The 1875 Kansas census shows Rhoda Darnell, age 64, living with J.M. Harrison age 24 born in Missouri, Leola Harrison age 2 months and born in Kansas. They are living in Verdigris, Wilson County, Kansas.

What can we deduce from this? J.M. Harrison would be Rhoda Harrison's youngest son Jefferson, born in 1850. He's a farmer with property valued at $250. No mother in sight for baby Leola, so possibly the mother died in childbirth. Jefferson's 64-year-old mother, Rhoda (census says born in Alabama) is living with him, probably to take care of the baby. At 64, she's probably not able to live on her own anymore.

When did Rhoda Die?

We don't know that information yet. I'll try tracking her son to see if that provides some clues.

Are You Researching Your Family History?

© 2017 Virginia Allain