52 Ancestors #12: Marcella James

I vaguely remember meeting Marcella James, my great-grandmother, when I was a young child. She died the summer I was seven years old. I don’t even know that I’ve seen pictures of her, either.
My memory is of visiting her house, where she was lying in a bed. The room was very dark, and I don’t remember her saying much at all. I do remember people telling me that she made me a Raggedy Ann and Andy doll set (which I still have today).
Oddly, while talking to my dad and his older sister last weekend for some family history interviews, they shared a similar story of seeing their Grandma James, who would have been Winifred Mary Pashia James, days before she died in 1957.

Marcella James was born April 25, 1905, in Missouri to Griffith Joseph James and Winifred Mary Pashia James. She was the fourth of seven children, and the fourth daughter. She was raised in Richwoods, Missouri, on a farm, according to census records from 1920.

By 1930, she had married Lester Tyrey, and the couple were living in St. Louis. Their daughter, Kathleen, my grandmother, was born about three years later. I had always thought she was the youngest child, but now I’m not entirely certain.

Marcella died July 23, 1980. She was buried the next day in Sts. Peter and Paul Cemetery in St. Louis.

I know little about her life, but hope to learn after some interviews with her surviving daughter, Phyllis and Laura.



52 Ancestors #11: Mary Ann Wiles

In honor of St. Patrick’s day, when all of America is Irish, I’m taking a look at the woman whom family lore said came all the way from Tipperary.
Mary Ann Wiles was the mother of Joseph Joel Simpson, my second great-grandfather. She was the daughter of Joseph and Elizabeth Wiles, Irish immigrants, who settled in St. Louis.
The story goes like this: Mary Wiles was about 14 years old when she came to America. Her family owned the Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company in St. Louis.
Here’s what I actually know based on records and census documents:

  • She was likely born June 4, 1836 in Ireland, according to an 1880 census record I’ve found via Ancestry.com. A New York passenger list for the Orient, shows her arriving from Liverpool, England, in New York around 1855. It, too, lists a birthdate around 1834, so it could be her.
  • By 1860, she has married Robert Simpson, though I can’t find a marriage certificate in Missouri. They have several children together: Hartley (b. 1860), Sarah (b. 1861), Nora (b. 1865), Joseph Joel (b. 1868) and Beatrice (b. 1871). The family lived in Illinois and Missouri.
  • Her husband, Robert, and youngest daughter, Beatrice, both died in 1873.┬áRobert died March 31 and is buried at Grand Tower, Ill.┬áBeatrice died June 24.
  • She eventually remarries. Missouri marriage records show that she and Levi Warren were wed December 21, 1873 in Perry, Mo. They had two sons, Arch and Cyrus Warren.
  • There was such a place as the Loose-Wiles Biscuit Co. in St. Louis, but her connection to it isn’t confirmed that I’ve been able to find.
  • Mary died Feb. 18, 1898, at age 51, at Grand Tower, Illinois. She is buried in a cemetery there.

Like much of my research, I’ve clearly got holes to fill. Some notes I’ve typed up from past searches include these tidbits:

  • 1870 census lists her name as Ann, Wife of Robert.
  • In 1860 census, when she’s living with Robert in St. Louis, it appears that her sisters also are living with the family. I don’t know if she’s married to him yet or was helping him with the children from her previous marriage because census records indicate he has at least two other children before he marries Mary Ann Wiles.
  • In that 1860 census, I can find Bridget Leonard, 35, (b. 1825 in Ireland), wife of Frances Leonard (also born in Ireland) and they have three children — two of which were born in Ohio; third in Missouri.
  • Also Honora Wiles age 14 — census says she was born in Missouri, which means the family likely immigrated between 1825 and 1835 about the time Mary was born OR Bridget and Mary stayed back in Ireland while the rest of the family came here. See 1850 census of Joseph Wiles.

I remember my grandfather telling me the story of Mary Wiles and then going to see her grave at the cemetery. I thought it was cool to have an actual Irish ancestor and a real connection to the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. Of course, there are plenty of other Irish ancestors on my paternal family tree, but there stories will be for another day.

52 Ancestors #10: Amy Ruth Duckworth

For the next few weeks, I’m going to feature several women in my family tree. This week is my maternal great-grandmother, Amy Ruth Duckworth Simpson, who went by the name Ruth.

Ruth Duckworth

Ruth Duckworth, date unknown

She was born in 19 December 1902 in Campbell, Mo., the daughter of Felix and Bessie Pearl Clymer Duckworth. Her parents were 21 and 17, respectively, at the time of her birth, and I’m not entirely sure what happened during Ruth’s early childhood that she ended up being raised by her grandparents, but by age 7 she is living with Maggie Jane and J.C. Clymer in Benton, Mo., census records note.

She had one brother, Cecil Duckworth, born in 1906. There is no indication that he ever lived permanently with his mother’s parents like Ruth did.

She remains there, likely until her marriage, though I’m not entirely certain of this. She was living in Commerce in 1920, according to census records. She was 16 years old according to those documents, so there might be some discrepancy about her age.

She married Aaron Lloyd Simpson on 21 January 1922, in Lawrence, Kansas, where he was studying agriculture after the end of the Great War, which later generations called World War I. The couple moved back to Missouri, farmed and raised two children, Lloyd Norman and Harold Leroy.

She also helped to raised her grandchildren, my mom and aunt, when they were young teens.

Amy Ruth swing

Ruth Simpson on her front porch swing.

My great-grandmother lived at the other end of the block from me when I was a kid so we were at her house all the time. I remember playing around her front yard on warm spring and summer days. I also remember sitting on her front porch swing, listening to her sing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and having Sunday dinners of Kentucky Fried Chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans at her house each week when my grandfather came down from St. Louis.

I remember writing notes to her to remind her to take her medicines, and watching “Hee Haw” on her television on Saturday nights when I’d spend the night so I could walk to church with her on Sunday mornings.

She died 25 November 1984 in Florissant, Mo., where she’d been living in a nursing home. She had dementia.

She is buried at Lightner Cemetery in Scott City, Mo., next to her husband, and near several Clymer relatives.

52 Ancestors #9: Sharon Lee Simpson

LCJ & SLS, May 1995

Laura Johnston and her mom, Sharon Simpson, at MU graduation, May 1995.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my mom, Sharon Lee Simpson, this week because it’s getting nearer to the anniversary of her death. It’s still hard for me to believe that she’s been gone for seven years now.

I didn’t intend to write about either of my parents when I started this blog, but I’m reconsidering that stance after thinking about how much I wish I could still talk to my mom and ask her questions about her childhood and mine, her parents and grandparents.

In this post, I don’t intend to write her story but will just detail highlights from her life:

  • She was born Aug. 29, 1954, in St. Louis to Betty Sue Coats and Harold Leroy Simpson.
  • She and her sister, Linda, lived with her grandparents in Scott City, Mo., after her parents separated.
  • She graduated in 1972 from Illmo-Scott City High School.
  • She married Mike Johnston in September 1972.
  • She raised two children, Laura, born in 1973, and Aaron, born in 1976.
  • She died March 13, 2007.