SNGF: In May I Learned Nellie Jones was Helen Phelps

SNGF: In May I Learned Nellie Jones was Helen Phelps

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I have the perfect topic for Saturday Night Genealogy Fun.  I don’t even have to ponder what to write about.  My best find in May is learning that Nellie Jones was Helen Phelps…and Nell Phelps…and Lottie Phelps.

For a few years, I’ve been trying to figure out what happened to the descendants of John Charles Jones and Margaret A. Coffin. John was the brother of my great great grandfather, Thomas Augustine Jones.  I’ve written at length about the tragedies that beset this family.  For example, John Charles was bedridden when he died of asphyxiation.  His wife was under investigation for several months for murdering him.  She died of senility a couple of years later.  Son-in-law, Frank Ludwick Walther, died of apoplexy at Napa State Hospital at the age of 45.  It seem one sad event after another kept occurring.

John and Margaret had three daughters:  Jeanette, Nellie, and Maud. The only information I could find on them was about their marriages. I began to wonder if the line had died out.

I found a little bit of information on their daughter, Maud Ethel Jones, who married James Porterfield.  It gave me hope that I might be able chip away at the other two daughters.

Searches for Jeanette were not fruitful, so I turned my attention to Nellie Jones. Nellie married William H. Phelps in 1893 as shown in this marriage entry in the Morning Call Newspaper, 8 July 1894:

Marriage record Phelps Jones San Francisco
Morning Call, 8 Jul 1894, marriage of Nellie L. Jones to William H. Phelps.


I’ve written about the problems with Nellie’s name.  I had suspected for some time that Nellie was not her full name.  Census records showed a William Phelps married to Nellie, Helen, Lottie, and Eleanor.  I believed that I had one couple and not four.

While researching the Halstead Mortuary records, I found a possible entry for William H. Phelps.  An obituary was attached giving his wife’s name as Lottie.  There was a daughter listed as Helen McShea.  His last address was 1260 Broadway, San Francisco.

San Francisco Obituary William Phelps
William Phelps’ obituary gives the names of his wife and daughter

I found an entry for Helen (Phelps) McShea.  In her obituary, her mother was listed as Helen Phelps.  I now had some evidence that Lottie and Helen were the same person, unless, of course, I had two completely different Phelps families.  I needed more proof.

Obituary Helen Phelps McShea
Helen McShea’s Obituary was in her mortuary file

I found a death entry at for Helen McShea.  This only listed Helen’s mother’s maiden name:  Jones.  Ah, now we’re cooking!  Helen’s daughter, also named Helen (getting confused?) was the informant for the mortuary records.  I now know that she thought her grandmother’s surnames was Jones.

California Death Index Record McShea
Death index shows Helen’s mother’s maiden name as Jones


I went back to the census to see if I could connect the people to the addresses.  I knew from the mortuary record that William Phelps’ last address was 1260 Broadway.

Here is what I found:

1900 Census:  William Phelps, wife, Helen, daughter Helen at 930 Powell Street

1910 Census: William H. Phelps, wife Helen L., daughter Helen M. at 646 4th Street

1920 Census: William H. Phelps, wife Lottie at 134 Green Street

1930 Census: Wm., wife Lottie at 1324 Broadway Street

1940 Census: William H., wife Nell, at 1324 Broadway Street

Oh look, Nell is back (1940 Census, San Francisco)
Oh look, Nell is back (1940 Census, San Francisco)

Did you see that?  The census shows wives Lottie and Nell at the same address. I felt it safe to assume Lottie and Nell were the same person.  Since Nell could be a pet name for Helen and Eleanor, I felt that I was on the right track.Nellie, Nell, and Helen were all one and the same. Since Lottie appears in between census years and in the obituary it was either a nickname or perhaps what the L stood for in her middle initial.

Was I sure that Nell Jones and Nell/Lottie Phelps were the same person?  Given that Helen McShea’s death information listed her mother with the surname of Jones, I felt I was very close.  I wanted that little bit of “a ha, there it is” to finish off the task.

My last stop was to search online family trees to see if someone else had the answer I sought.  It took some work. Jones, Phelps, and McShea aren’t exactly the easiest surnames to research especially when three generations of females are all named Helen.

A family tree at lists Helen M. McShea, wife of George McShea.  Her parents are given as William H. Phelps and Helen L. Jones.

Nell, Nellie, Helen, Lottie (Jones) Phelps died 11 Dec 1960.  She is buried at Cypress Lawn Cemetery in Colma, San Mateo County, CA under the name Helen Phelps.  She shares a plot with her daughter Helen and her husband, George McShea.

Given the information from my own research on Nellie Jones and William H. Phelps, combined with the census, death index, mortuary, and obituary records, I feel that the family tree on confirms the connection.

To wrap this up, I did a little research in school yearbooks and found Helen (Phelps) McShea’s high school graduation photo from Lowell High School in Oakland, California, 1916.  Outside of my great grandmother and her daughters, this is the first glimpse of a Jones cousin for me.  Welcome back to the family Helen (Phelphs) McShea!  It is so nice to meet you and see what you look like.


Helen Phelps McShea graduate 1916, Lowell High, Oakland
Helen Phelps McShea graduate 1916, Lowell High, Oakland




2 thoughts on “SNGF: In May I Learned Nellie Jones was Helen Phelps

  1. What an interesting story–piecing that puzzle together. I only became interested in genealogy a few years ago, but now I’m hooked. It is so easy to lose an entire day tracing a single clue! Thank you for sharing your process. I couldn’t have stopped reading if I’d wanted to!

  2. Kathryn, It is funny how genealogy does that to you! You start out generally interested and soon you’ve got your head buried in old records. This mystery was a difficult one to research. I’m happy now to have uncovered Nellie Jones’ story.

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