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 #15: Aaron Lloyd Simpson

Aaron Lloyd Simpson 1896Aaron Lloyd Simpson was born on a farm in Grand Tower, Ill., the oldest son of Joseph Joel Simpson and Emma Chandler Simpson.

He lived on the family’s farm until the early 1900s, when the family moved across the river to Illmo in Scott County, Missouri. The family lived for years near Grays Point, Mo.

He registered for the draft on June 5, 1917, in Illmo, Mo., at age 21. This would have been about three months after the U.S. entered the war.

He was enlisted on April 26, 1918, at Benton, Mo., and served in France and Europe during the “Great War,” as it was known then. It appears that he served as a corporal-quartermaster corps in the Army in June 1919, according to copies of his military records.

I do know that he was awarded a Purple Heart after being wounded in the war, likely suffering the after-effects of mustard gas somewhere in France. Copies of his enlistment record indicate that he was gassed on Aug. 8, 1918, but no location is listed. (Because I don’t know what unit or company he served with, I can’t be sure of the location or his mission and role.)

AL Simpson,France 1919

Aaron Lloyd Simpson, taken in France 1919.

The story goes that a lovely young French woman nursed him back to health and that he wanted to marry her but didn’t. I can’t be certain about how much of that story is factual, but I do know that he saved a photograph of a French woman because I found it recently among some old family photos and his Purple Heart tucked into a box. Perhaps she was his nurse.

Also in the box was a postcard he wrote on March 19, 1919, to Ruth Duckworth, who would later be his wife.

“Hello Ruth,

Best wishes from Sunny France. Why have I not heard from you in last six months?

Yours ever,


He was honorably discharged on July 17, 1919, at Camp Zachary Taylor, a military training camp in Louisville, Ky.

After the war, Lloyd returned home and attended Kansas State Agricultural College. (I’m hoping to find out soon if he graduated and get a copy of his transcript.) He saved a copy of his book rental receipt showing what amounts to pennies as the cost for an English workbook and text for the semester.

He and Ruth Duckworth were married Jan. 21, 1922, in Manhattan, Kansas. He was 26 at the time; she would have been 20 in the year of their marriage. I have a faint copy of their marriage certificate but I don’t believe it lists any witnesses. Since the wedding was in Kansas, I can only assume it was because he was finishing up a degree before they moved back to Missouri.

Lloyd, as he was known by most people, spent most of his life farming like his father before him. Even after he and Ruth moved into town, he still leased land down by the Mississippi River bottoms. Some of his farm ledgers survived, showing the price for the popcorn he sold to the movie theater in town and the loss of a mare or cow.

Ruth Simpson at ALS grave 1978

Amy Ruth Simpson at her husband’s grave marker, 1978.

He continued to farm until his last days. My memories of him include playing on the front porch at his house in Illmo, and waking him from naps on the daybed in the living room so he could join the family for Sunday lunch. I couldn’t have been more than 3 years old since he died in 1976.

He later moved to the Veterans Hospital in Poplar Bluff and died there Nov. 25, 1976. He is buried next to Ruth, who died a more than a decade later, in Lightner Cemetery in Scott City, Mo.


  • U.S. Census records, 1900-1940
  • U.S. World War I draft registration cards, Honorable Discharge papers, U.S. Army record, form No. 152-A.G.O., Edition, Aug. 16-17.
  • Marriage certificate, issued by State of Kansas.
  • Grave marker,  funeral cards
  • Personal papers, Aaron Lloyd Simpson

52 Ancestors #13: Betty Sue Coats Simpson

I got a bit off course in the last week of March so this post is more than a week late. But I’m going to keep at it and write something short about my grandmother to finish out the Women’s History Month series about females in my family tree.

Betty Sue CoatsBetty Sue Coats was born October 22, 1933, in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas. I believe she was the oldest child of Fay and Mabel Loveland Snider, but I’m not certain of her birth order exactly. Her siblings were Elmer and Dinah. I do know that Dinah was the youngest of the three.

She was married to Harold Leroy Simpson on April 18, 1953, in Pocahontas, Arkansas. I believe the pair met in St. Louis, but again, I’m not sure.

She and my grandfather eventually separated and divorced. She moved from St. Louis to Irving, Texas.

She died of complications from diabetes on March 4, 1987, at age 53.

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.

My favorite Ancestry.com 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 Ancestry.com, 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 Ancestry.com 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.