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.

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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.