The cast of characters

If I start to think of my family tree as the cast of characters in a story, then perhaps it’s easier to start with some basic introductions. I’ve done the most research — and have the most documentation — on my mother’s side of the family so I’ll begin there.

Here’s the list of people you’re likely to meet in my family history story:

  • Robert Simpson who married Mary Wiles. She was his second wife, I believe, and her lineage is Irish.
  • Joseph Joel Simpson married Emma Chandler. They are the parents of my great-grandfather, Aaron Lloyd Simpson.
  • Aaron Lloyd Simpson married Amy Ruth Duckworth (she was raised by Clymers). They are the parents of my grandfather, Harold Leroy Simpson.

I’ve decided not to include my parents for the purpose of this blog and to simply start back a generation.

Many of these people have siblings, and I’ll certainly try to include information about them as well.

And, I do have information on the families of the women as well, so that’s a bit of a bonus.



Crafting the personal story

It’s Day 8 of the Family History Writing Challenge and I’m about five posts behind my goal to publish something daily.
I didn’t outline my plan/goals at the outset — or at least I didn’t write them down or commit to anything. What I did was just form a plan in my head to write something, at least 250 words every day. I told a couple people so that I could be held accountable, but so far I’m not making great progress.

Laura Johnston and her grandfather, Harold L. Simpson.

Laura Johnston and her grandfather, Harold L. Simpson.

I’m really finding it hard to start on the individual stories of the people whose history I do know. Maybe it’s because I feel as if these should be complete, fully-formed stories.

What I have instead are lists of facts, tidbits of information, some documents that I can use to backup a life event and photographs.
So, I’m taking my urging from another post over at Family History Writing Challenge and thinking of things as lists of facts on a timeline.

This might be the best advice I’ve read as I start on this project because it frees me from my urge to have a perfectly-crafted story ready when I sit down to type. And, it means that I can hit some of the highlights in my research.

I’ll be starting my ancestors’ personal stories with my maternal grandfather. Most of my research — or at least the best documented stuff — is on this side of my family so it makes some sense to start there. This side of my family didn’t tend to move around much, either, so much of their gravesites and homesteads are more familiar to me.

The next few posts are likely to be about individuals, and should help me catch up on my writing challenge.

My favorite story

After my grandfather’s death in April 2010, I spent the better part of the summer researching my family tree. It felt like the right thing to do as I worked through my grief — particularly since his death came only three years after my mother’s  — and tried to sort through his belongings.

What I discovered while sorting my grandfather’s papers were boxes of old, historic family pictures, documents and postcards. (I’ve not done a good job yet of preserving them but I’m working on that.) Because I knew my grandfather had been the family historian, I wasn’t surprised to find these old photos and papers. But they weren’t clearly organized — a sign of my grandfather’s Alzheimer’s disease most likely.

Regardless, I did what I could to log the photos and scan them as digital images. Many of them had markings or writing on the back, but certainly not all of them.

One set of photos came from my great-grandmother’s scrapbook or family album. These pictures, mostly of her brother, mother and father, were pasted onto black paper akin to construction paper in a bound volume, much like an old-time scrapbook.

Among these photos was one of a group of women with no accompanying documentation except their first names written on the back.

Duckworth sisters, ca. 1890s

Duckworth sisters from Posey County, Indiana, circa 1890s

I had nothing more than this photograph (shown at left) and their order from  left to right.

Using the search function in, I was able to determine quite a bit of information about these women. A few documents I found online helped me ascertain the approximate date the photo was taken — roughly in the 1890s. And, that’s primarily based on the collars and necklines of their blouses. Some census data also helped me put an approximate age on them.

But what was the most exciting part of this discovery is that it’s fairly likely that these women are the aunts of my great-grandmother, Amy Ruth Duckworth Simpson. And one of them is likely the person she was named after.

There’s not any real way of verifying this information about her namesake, but there are discrepancies in the census documents related to my great-grandmother’s early life. I know that her mother left her to be raised by grandparents; in one census she’s listed with a name other than Amy and my guess is that her name changed sometime after she moved in with Mam and Pap.

Again, I don’t know much about her parents except to know that they left her to be raised by grandparents at some point in time. And, I don’t know much about her connections with her brother Cecil either.

Regardless, I had great fun tracking down the names of these women: Harriet, Essie, Amy and Mariam (from left to right) and discovering a bit about their lives and connection to my Grandma Simpson.

Have you used and census records to trace an ancestor? Share your story or a tip in the comments section.

Getting started — a bit later than I expected

I meant to begin posting on this blog on Feb. 1 as part of the Family History Writing Challenge, but I’m a bit behind.I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to catch up, so I’m just going to move on and begin. I don’t have a clear outline in mind, but hope to be able to organize my thoughts and begin making sense of what geneaology research I’ve already completed.

JC Clymer family, 1900

JC Clymer family, circa 1900, in Commerce, Mo.

I don’t remember exactly when I got interested in learning more about my family history. Maybe it was sometime in fifth grade or so when I had to complete a family tree as part of a class project. Maybe it was sparked by the presence of the photograph at the left. This picture of J.C.  and Maggie Jane Clymer and their family used to hang in the hallway of my childhood home. It was accompanied by a few other family photos of relatives from years gone by.

J.C. “Jonah” and Maggie Jane Clymer, or Mam and Pap as my grandfather called them, are my great-great-great-grandparents. Although my grandfather, Harold Simpson, considered them more as grandparents than great-grandparents, they actually are the grandparents of his mother, Amy Ruth Duckworth Simpson, who is my great-grandmother.

Pictured here is the family: J.C. and Maggie (seated). I believe that my great-grandmother, Amy Ruth Duckworth, is the child on Maggie’s lap. Her mother, Bessie, is in the center. The toddler on J.C. lap would likely be Margaret or Mag, as she was known in the family. The boys are James, Herman and John Logan. Edna would be born about three years later.

I remember lots of times my grandfather would tell stories about going to see Mam and Pap on the farm. Yet, there are lots of facts about their life that I don’t know. I’ve done enough research to know that J.C. was married twice; Maggie is his second wife. His first wife and several of his children died earlier and are buried in a family plot on a farm between Kelso, Mo., and Commerce, Mo.

I’m sure to be posting more photos and stories about individual people whose lineage I have researched as this project continues.

And I’ll likely be posting more questions and research puzzles I’ve yet to solve so stay tuned.