Year in review: 52 Ancestors challenge

I didn’t do such a great job of keeping up with the 52 Ancestors challenge, but I did make it more than halfway through the year. (Things got a little bit crazy in August once classes began at the university where I teach and life got busier.)

I wouldn’t exactly call it a failure but it wasn’t a great success either since I only manage 30 weeks of posting.

I will be continuing with the 2015 challenge based on themes. Perhaps this time I’ll make it past the 30-week mark.

And, as a good exercise for follow-through in the coming year, I’m setting some goals to keep myself on track with my genealogy research. Here they are:

I’m pretty sure I’ll be in over my head if I go to some of these sessions, but I’m a member and it’s unlikely that the meeting will be this close to me for some time to come. The timing isn’t great for my work and personal life (it’s really busy around her in May with the end of a college semester when you’re teaching) but I’m going to get creative and see if I can’t make it work.

  • Finish my First Families application on Jonah Clymer. (I’ve been working on this for about a year now, and while I don’t know everything I want to, I think I have enough to see this classification from the Missouri State Genealogical Association.)
  • Take some of the free online courses through the National Genealogy Society.

There’s probably a lot of information here that I need to review and would find useful to my searching for records and documents.

  • Continue to add information to the Powers family tree for my husband’s side of the family.

When I hit a roadblock in my own family tree ( and there are plenty of them) I often do a little digging on another tree just to give me something fresh to look at.

  • Trace the Johnston line of my family tree and see what other information I find on Carl Johnston and his wife, Grace, who I believe are the parents of my paternal grandfather.

These are only a few of the many things I need to accomplish in my research for the coming year, but I think they’ll be challenging enough and still attainable. And, I can set new goals as the year progresses.


52 Ancestors: Mystery of my grandfather’s first wife solved

Since I was a teenager, I have known that my grandfather was married twice and lived with a woman without marrying her for what amounted to his longest relationship. Apparently, my grandfather was married briefly before he and my grandmother married in 1953.

I’ve known the name of his first wife for some time: Frances.

It probably wasn’t until he died that I discovered the wedding photographs among his belongings. It took a little longer for me to discover the small, yellowed newspaper clipping announcing the divorce of Frances from Harold L. Simpson tucked behind the photographs.

Harold and Frances Simpson

Harold and Frances Simpson

That’s all I knew about this woman whom my grandfather once loved.

My mother didn’t know much else: Maybe the reason for the divorce was that France had had a child with another man and my grandfather suggested that now that they were married, the raise it. Maybe there were other reasons.

So, there’s been this photograph of a mysterious woman named Frances among all the other family heirlooms I inherited. I  know that Harold L. Simpson and Frances were married only a short time and divorced by 1950.

Quite by accident, I discovered Frances’ surname earlier in the week. While searching for other papers (that I couldn’t find) about my great-grandfather, I found a file folder marked “birth and marriage certificates” on the label in my grandfather’s handwriting. It turns out the marriage certificate was there all along.

Lutye Frances Williams and Harold Leroy Simpson were married by Erich E. Leibner on April 11, 1947, in St. Louis.

I believe, after doing a brief search online, that Lutye Frances Williams later remarried, possibly twice, lived in California and Florida. She died in 2001 in Jacksonville, Fla.

I know she’s not technically an ancestor of mine, but finding this information does open a window into my grandfather’s world. I’m hoping to find the divorce decree in court records so I can possibly learn more.

52 Ancestors #14: Griffith Joseph James

Griffith Joseph James was born on March 4 in either 1864 or 1865, in Washington County, Missouri, the son of Lewis Linneus James and Mary Teresa Reynolds James.

He married Winifred Pashia on April 11, 1894, at Fredericktown in Madison County, Missouri. They lived in Washington County for most of their marriage. The couple had six children.

The 1900 census lists his occupation as a merchant, but I know nothing about what he might have sold. I have a hunch that he was a fur trader, but I can’t be certain. (There’s a book recounting one ancestors days with fur traders and Native Americans, but I can’t remember if it’s him — my dad has the book.)

Griff James lived in Washington County for most of his life. He died May 3, 1923. Because I can’t be certain of his age, there also are some discrepancies about his age at the time of his death. He was about 58, depending.

Like most of my paternal ancestors, the story of Griffith James isn’t one I know much about. I do have the basic facts because those are the documents I can find online and in quick searches. The details are lacking because I’ve not dug deeper and connected with him as the head of a family group — more work ahead, I suppose.


I’m finding that the more I write these weekly blog posts, the more I want to spend time getting organized  — outlining my research goals for each family group and determining what I want to accomplish next. My biggest priority right now is learning more about how to properly cite my sources. (I’m working my way through Elizabeth Shown Mills’ book “Evidence.)

Another challenge is to write a case study for James Clymer as one of Missouri’s First Families. I’ve received documents from the National Archives about his Civil War service and simply need to spend time organizing what I have and tracing my connection to him, which shouldn’t be difficult since I know quite a lot about his children and grandchildren, who include my great-grandmother.

I’ve also got a stack of genealogy resource books that I need to read and begin to apply to my research.

52 Ancestors #3: Emma Chandler Simpson

For at least part of her life, Emma Chandler lived by the land.

She could easily have been born into farm life in southern Illinois — I have no idea. But I do know she lived as a wife and mother on a farm at Grays Point, Mo., near the banks of the Mississippi River.

I imagine she worried, as most people would have who lived in the vicinity, about rising floodwaters in the spring. She was aware of the change of seasons, how much rain was needed to make the crops grow and how much would soak them too heavily. She likely canned her own food and put up enough to feed the family during the winter.

She and her husband, Joseph Joel Simpson, farmed in both Illinois and Missouri. He raised crops, notably popcorn, that was sold to the movie theater in Illmo. Some old family records show his logs for the farm, where he marked expenses and receipts.

I have no idea how much Emma was involved in the farm operations, but I imagine she knew a little about hard work. She married at age 23, and raised six children  — three boys and three girls.

She was born Oct. 3, 1872, at Grand Tower, Illinois, a small community situated on the banks of the Mississippi River. Census records show she lived there until at least 1900, moving to Missouri by 1910 to be counted there in the census.

My records search has found only census documents, which help fill out a bit of her story.

Emma Chandler Simpson

Emma Chandler Simpson, year unknown

She and Joseph Joel Simpson were married in 1894; their first child, Aaron Lloyd (my great-grandfather) was born a year later.  (His obituary states that the couple married in January 1895 and they moved to Missouri in 1910.)

Her last child, Robert, was born in 1908, making him just 12 years old when his mother died.

Emma died Wednesday, Dec. 29, 1920, at her home. Her obituary stated that she was age 48 years, 2 months and 25 days. Her obituary notice published the following day in the Jimplicute newspaper. In part it reads:

“The deceased was a most excellent woman, kind hearted charitable and loved by all who knew her, and her death caused sadness to many hearts.

The Jimplicute extends sincere sympathy.”

I’ve been unable to find an actual death certificate for Emma Chandler Simpson with the Missouri Archive. I might renew that search again because I’m curious about the cause of death since she was so young.

I’d like to share the story of her life one day with my daughter, Emma, who is named after this relative. And it would be nice to have a bit of back story to go with the photograph that’s been passed down for generations.

52 Ancestors Challenge #2: Flu pandemic of 1918

I’ve been preoccupied with getting my daughter a flu shot this week after seeing media reports of young people dying from the H1N1 strain.

This reminded me of a family story about a female relative who died young, leaving behind a young child and husband. For a long time, all I knew about Mary Elizabeth Chandler Schlifckin was that she was buried in Lightner Cemetery in Scott County, Mo., near her sister, Emma Chandler Simpson.

When we went to the cemeteries to visit graves, my grandfather would often share the stories of the deceased’s life. Of course, when telling the story of Mary Chandler Schlifckin, my grandfather mostly emphasized that she married a man of Russian and Jewish descent. He left out the part about how she likely died during the 1918 influenza pandemic.

Mary Chandler SchlifckinIt took me a long time to figure out that her death at age 27  is most likely linked to the pandemic. And a lot of that help came from those shaky leaves and hints on It turns out that those hints helped me find a cousin who knew much more about Mary Chandler’s story than I’d ever been told.

According to this cousin, who was the grandson of Mary’s other sister, Minnie Mae Barber, Mary died in 1918 during the influenza epidemic. She had an infant daughter, possibly born near the time of her death. The child’s father was Russian (my grandfather did have that detail right) and wanted to take the baby back to Russia.

Apparently, Mary’s family “hid” the infant from him. The baby girl, known as Mary, was later adopted by an aunt, whom I believe is May Manning Chandler, and raised in California.

One part of Mary Elizabeth Chandler’s life that I haven’t figured out is whether she also had a son, Boris Schlifckin, Jr. The last census records that I can find for her indicate she was still unmarried and living with her parents at age 19. She died a short eight years later.

This story reminds me of the powerful ties families have — I’m sure that one of the reasons I even know about Mary Chandler is because her sister, Emma, wanted to keep her memory alive. Emma was the oldest child and first daughter in the family and Mary was the last, so I can only guess there was a strong connection between them. Emma Chandler Simpson, my great-grandfather’s mother, had her first son about four years after Mary was born.

I don’t know how much truth there is to the part of this story about the family hiding the baby but I recognize how sensitive the Chandler family might have been to losing connection to this child. Mary’s death came during the height of the influenza pandemic and at the close of the Great War as it was often called then. Grief abounded.

My great-grandfather —  Emma’s son and Mary Chandler’s nephew — fought in France during World War I and was gassed. His family received an initial telegram telling them he had died. I can empathize with their fear and loss at Mary’s death and the thought of losing their only connection to her — an infant daughter — so shortly after what they had believed to be another casualty.

I know little about the baby’s life or what happened to

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.