“Mother’s daddy was Clay Simmons”

“Here’s my mother’s parents—Clay Simmons and Deedie Bailey.”  My father-in-law, Jerry D.,  paused before the granite grave marker at Mount Hope Cemetery in Wells, Texas.  Having just begun doing genealogy, I feverishly wrote the information in my notebook.  We visited multiple graves that hot summer day in the late 1990s. This post describes, in chronological manner, what I discovered about Clay Simmons and his family.  Throughout the post, I reflect on how my research practices changed.

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Clay & Deedie Simmons grave marker.  Mount Hope Cemetery, Wells, Cherokee county, Texas. Picture taken by Jerry L. Ellerbee, 11 July 2013. [1]

Jerry D. recalled only that his maternal grandfather’s name was Clay Simmons. [2]  He did not know the names of Clay’s parents.  So, Simmons ancestry became my focus of inquiry in January 2013.  A scrapbook, presented to Jerry D. as a Christmas gift that year, described my findings.  My husband and I traveled to east Texas in July 2013 to search further.

Start with what you know. I began with Clara Doris Simmons and her father,  Clay Simmons.  A file review yielded previous online searches and a Texas death certificate for “H.C. Simmons”. [3] An early record shows the name “Richard”, followed by a question mark.  Was Clay’s other name Richard or one that begins with “H”?

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Disclaimer: This work was done PGDO (pre Genealogy Do-Over). I did a lot of point-click-save genealogy.  As I found documents, I printed and placed in a folder.  I did not keep a research log or a list of what records I found. Fortunately, most databases also printed names and  dates on the page.  I did not recognize the value of thorough and systematic record-keeping until much later!

In January 2013, I printed an online gravesite index which listed his name as “Henry Clay Simmons”. [4] I still needed proof.   Note:  We again visited his grave, among others, at the Mount Hope Cemetery in Wells, Cherokee county, Texas during our genealogy field trip.

A marriage record index entry for H.C. Simmons and Dedie Bailey offered little new information[5]. We obtained a copy of the original certificate on our genealogy field trip.  The certificate is now scanned and  in an acid-free sleeve.

Using “Clara Simmons” as key word, I had previously found 1930 census record for the family. [6]

Simmons, Henry C., head, age 43. 
Deedie D, wife, age 40. 
Lester, son, age 20. 
Otha F, daughter, age 18. 
Morris C, son, age 14. 
Clara D, daughter, 14. 
Mildred, daughter, age 13. 
William J, son, age 8.

“Henry C. Simmons”?  Yes, this could be Clay’s other name instead of Richard.  Maybe the online grave index entry was correct? I don’t have any notes about my initial review of this record. Did I even recognize his name? Now, I mark or highlight the name and write a note or analysis in research log. Notes include comments about the consistency or inconsistency of information.

Back another decade to the 1920 census, same county (February 2013):  [7]

  • Simmons, H.C., Head, M W, 34, M[arried], born Texas, father born Alabama, mother born Mississippi.
  • __________, Deedie, wife, F W 29, M[arried], born Texas, father born Texas, mother born Texas
  • _________, Lester, son, M W 9, S[ingle], born Texas
  • _________, Opal F, daughter, F W 7, S[ingle], born Texas
  • _________,  Morris, son, M W 4 6/12, S[ingle], born Texas
  • _________, Dorris, daughter, F W 4 6/12, S[ingle], born Texas
  • _________, Mildred, daughter, F W  3 2/12, S[ingle], born Texas.

Yes, Morris and Dorris are twins (confirmed by Jerry D)!  Their full names are Clay Morris and Clara Doris.  Information is consistent with marriage record, death certificate and 1930 census record.  To summarize, I had found:

  1. Known as Clay by family and friends
  2. Death certificate for H.C. Simmons, buried in Mount Hope Cemetery, Wells, Texas. Known burial location for Clay and Deedie.
  3. Marriage record index: H.C. Simmons and Dedie Bailey.
  4. 1930 census: entry for Henry C. Simmons, Deedie, and children.
  5. 1920 census: entry for H.C. Simmons, Deedie, and children.

The search continued for additional documents with both names—Henry and Clay.  We found no new records during our field trip. Finally, Henry’s World War I Draft Registration card surfaced: [8]

Simmons_HC_b1885_d1946_WWI Draft regis_card

Richard can definitely be ruled out as part of Clay’s name.

I presented Henry Clay Simmons, a.k.a. H.C. Simmons, a.k.a. Clay Simmons  in a scrapbook dedicated to the Simmons family ancestry.  Jerry D. said that he had never heard his grandfather called “Henry” or even “H.C.”   After confirming the identity of  “H.C. Simmons”  from  the death certificate found years earlier, I traced the Simmons line from Texas to Georgia to North Carolina in the late 1700s. And, that is a story for another day!

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Reflection:

This year, I am reviewing and cleaning up files for families of  my in-laws.  As I pulled files for this story, I realized (again) how inconsistent my recordkeeping has been.  I do not always find chronological records in the exact sequence in which events happened.  In my opinion, keeping track of when you find a record is as important as placing that record within the person’s biographical timeline. Access to records change. Websites disappear or change names.  Records transfer from one agency to another.  Agencies move to another address.

What am I doing different?  Trying to be more systematic and thorough in approach.  I create research logs and/or fill out research checklists and individual worksheets more often.  I track the sequence in which I find records.

What I learned:  Reinforced previous experiences of person being called one name but having one or more additional names.  Keep complete records of all sources and include date on which you accessed the source. Take time with record and file clean-up process.

What helped:  Printed copies of sources and records in file.  Scrapbook done in 2013. Individual worksheets and research checklists begun in January 2017 but not complete.

What didn’t help: Incomplete record keeping and analysis.

To-do list:  Continue file clean-up.  Check scans of certificates. Place originals in appropriate BMD notebook.  Create Research logs for Clay and Deedie – DONE.

SOURCES: 

[1] Mount Hope Cemetery (Wells, Cherokee, Texas), Clay & Deedie [Bailey] Simmons; photograph by Jerry L. Ellerbee, 11 July 2013.

[2] Personal knowledge of [living] Ellerbee, shared with Susan Posten Ellerbee, daughter-in-law, ca. 2010-2011; handwritten notes in vertical file, Clay Simmons family, privately held by Ms. Ellerbee, [address for private use,] Yukon, Oklahoma. Mr. Ellerbee stated his grandfather’s name of Clay as a fact.

[3]. Texas Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, “Standard certificate of death,” digital images, Footnote (now Fold3) (http://www.fold3.com     : accessed, printed, downloaded 23 July 2011), entry for H.C. Simmons.

[4] Find A Grave, database and images (http://www.findagrave.com    : viewed 30 January 2013), memorial page for Henry Clay Simmons, Find A Grave Memorial # 88689404, citing Mount Hope Cemetery (Wells, Cherokee, Texas), memorial created by Eleanor Baker.

[5] Marriage record for Mr. H.C. Simmons & Miss Deedie Bailey, (18 February 1909), Cherokee County Marriage Records: ; County Clerk’s Office, Rusk, Texas; obtained 11 July 2013.

[6] U.S. Census, Cherokee county, Texas, population schedule, Justice Precinct 6, enumeration district (ED) 37-34, p.3B (penned), dwelling 62, family 62, H.C. Simmons head; digital images, Fold3 (http://www.fold3.com     : accessed, printed & downloaded 2011); citing National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C. microfilm publication T626, roll 2307.

[7],  U.S. Census, Cherokee County, Texas, pop. sch., Justice Precinct 8, enumeration district (ED) 35, p. 6A (penned), family # 103, H C Simmons; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com   : accessed & printed 22 March 2017); National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C. Microfilm publication T625_1787.

[8] World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1919,” digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed, printed ,downloaded 2 December 2013), entry for Henry Clay Simmons; citing United States, Selective Service System. World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C. microfilm publication M1509.

©  Susan Posten Ellerbee and Posting Family Roots, 2019

 

Cemeteries & caretakers

September, the beginning of autumn.  Harvest, pumpkins, a coolness in the air, brightly colored leaves.  A time of the earth preparing for the slumber of winter.  During the last two weeks,  I have continued to sort through the pictures and documents from our Pennsylvania trip.  Progress is slow and deliberate.   I am following several  leads and will report on findings in later posts.  I hesitate to post information here when I haven’t completed the research.  A rant about shaky and fallen leaves will wait for another day.

On our trip, we visited 14 cemeteries, some with as few as 20 graves and some with over a thousand.  My relatives are not buried in all of the cemeteries.   As we drove the twisting roads of the Pocono Mountains in northeastern Pennsylvania,   the cemeteries beckoned to us.  My husband wanted to find graves from the Revolutionary War.  I was intrigued by the appearance of the cemeteries themselves.  Most were well cared for. Others had been tended less often but showed signs of some care.

An overgrown cemetery next to an old barn was one of our unexpected stops.  The underbrush was so thick in places that a machete or a chainsaw was needed to get to some gravestones.  Names on the gravestones indicate that this was probably a family plot.  Our initial reaction was sadness – had these people been forgotten by their descendants?  But then again, maybe not.  Relatives may have moved away.  Perhaps the designated local caretaker has not visited in the past year or two.  IMG_0377Given the environment and weather of the area, it would not take long for the cemetery to be re-claimed by nature.    We took pictures of some stones.  A fairly new stone led to discovery of the name of the cemetery —  Orange Methodist Church Cemetery, Franklin Township, Luzerne county, Pennsylvania,  [1]  which contains 92 graves.   The fact that information about the cemetery is posted online reassured us that the people buried there have not been forgotten.  I can feel  a BSO approaching – discover the story about one or two of the people buried here, even though they aren’t my relatives!

Unfortunately, stories of these forgotten cemeteries appear frequently.  On a happier note, I would also like to report that most were very well tended, such as Friends’ Burial Ground in the heart of Stroudsburg, Monroe county, Pennsylvania.  WIN_20170815_12_05_15_Pro My paternal great-great-great grandparents,  Thomas Postens  (1782 – 1854) and Esther Brown (1790 – 1840) are buried there.  Thomas is the oldest Posten ancestor whom I have been able to positively identify.   Visiting their graves was definitely a highlight of our trip!  Burial in this cemetery means that they were most likely Quakers.  Esther’s stone appears to have been broken and pieced back together.  Her birthdate was new information to me.   This was an emotional reunion as my only prior contact with Thomas and Esther had been online and through documents.  WIN_20170815_12_00_05_Pro

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A cemetery caretaker shared information that was new to us.  Cemetery plot books usually show the name of the person who bought the plot(s) and what section the plot(s) are in. The plot book may or may not have the names of everyone who is actually buried there!  For example, a man buys plots for himself, his wife, their children and spouses.  One or two children move to another town, county, or state.  One child dies young; another child does not marry.  Other relatives are buried in the plots not used by the couple’s children.   The plot(s) themselves are registered under the name of the person who paid for them.  A list of those who are actually buried in the cemetery is often a different list than the list of plot owners.

In summary,  remember to thank the caretakers of cemeteries!  As they mow and weed,  the caretakers  watch over our ancestors.  The caretakers who we encountered were friendly and helpful.  Each one was familiar with the names of those buried in the cemetery or knew where to look for the information.  In one cemetery, the caretaker saved us hours by directing us to the exact location of my Fulkerson relatives.   His only question , “Fulkersin [with an ‘I’] or Fulkerson [with an ‘O’]?”  When I said, “Both”, he laughed and left his mowing to walk us down a hill to an entire row of Fulkerson/ Fulkersin graves.

[1] Find A Grave, database with images (http://www.findagrave.com  : accessed 14 Aug 2017), memorial #168124776   , Perry K. Coolbaugh (1890 – 1975), Orange Methodist Church Cemetery, Franklin Twp, Luzerne county, Pennsylvania: gravestone photograph by Debbie; gravestone also photographed by Jerry L. Ellerbee on 14 Aug 2017.

 

A tale of 3 cemeteries

Subtitle:  Where are my grandparents buried?

Subtitle:  Don’t trust everything you read on the Web.

My husband and I have just returned from a 6-day trip to northeastern Pennsylvania, where my dad was born and raised.  We attended a family reunion, visited my 90+ year-old aunt and some cousins (including cousins found through DNA matches), searched records at county courthouses and historical societies and tramped 14 cemeteries in search of family members.  This story is about the cemetery/cemeteries where my grandparents, John Ray Posten & Jennie Amelia Richards, are buried.

Cemeteries?  Yes, because online reports have placed John and Jennie’s final earthly resting place in three– yes, 3 — different cemeteries.  I needed to see for myself.  The first discrepancy was found several years ago.  On a cemetery locator website, John and Jennie were listed as being buried in Pittston, Luzerne county, Pennsylvania.  I didn’t think too much about it, except that my grandfather’s name was listed as John W. Posten – his name was John Ray Posten.  I thought it might have been a typographical error or that the person didn’t know my grandfather’s middle name.  I didn’t have a copy of my grandfather’s death certificate, so I requested it from the state of Pennsylvania.  John Ray Posten’s death certificate doesn’t give the name of the cemetery but does list his burial location as Falls, Wyoming county.

Jennie’s death certificate and her obituary were already in my files.  According to those records, she was buried in Roberts Cemetery, Falls, Wyoming county, Pennsylvania.  I spoke to my aunt, who confirmed that John & Jennie are buried in Roberts Cemetery.  I contacted the person who had posted on the  Pittston cemetery online site, explaining the issue.  He was very gracious, agreeing that a different John Posten was buried in Pittston and corrected the entry. There were no pictures of John and Jennie’s tombstone.  I knew that there was a tombstone because my parents helped pay for one after Jennie died in 1964.   John died in 1948, before I was born.

Several months ago, I was again searching for relatives using an online grave search website.  This time, John and Jennie were listed as being buried in Settee Cemetery, Falls, Wyoming county, Pennsylvania.  Still no gravestone picture.  Well, at least, the town and county are consistent!  I reviewed records and notes again.  Had I recorded the information correctly?  Yes, information on the documents pointed to Roberts Cemetery, Falls, Wyoming county, Pennsylvania.  But, the mystery remained.  And, with no gravestone picture, how could I be certain? Another consideration is that the name of Roberts Cemetery had changed to Settee Cemetery.

An annual family reunion of Jennie’s mother’s family (LaCoe) was another reason for this trip.  I have wanted to go for several years but work and family schedules just didn’t seem to coincide with the reunion date.  2017 is finally the year that we will attend this reunion!  And, I can find and photograph my grandparents’ grave!

The day after the reunion, we set out to find Roberts Cemetery.  Iphone location finder led us to a small, unnamed cemetery near Falls, Wyoming county.  No grave for John & Jennie there.  Did we have the wrong cemetery? We stopped at a nearby business to ask. The man only knew of the cemetery that we had just visited.  About a half mile down the road, an older woman was working in her flower bed. We stopped and asked her. Yes, she knew Roberts Cemetery and gave us directions.

Following her directions, we found another cemetery, also unnamed, which we almost passed by.  There are two sections.  One section consists of about a dozen gravestones for persons from the Fitch family.   I remembered seeing information online that several Fitch graves had been moved from their original location to Roberts Cemetery.  Cemetery found!!  Roberts Cemetery is on the opposite of the Susquehanna River than the first cemetery. Roberts Cemetery is on Sand Plant Road not Old State Road.  Both roads are off State Highway 92. Now, to find John & Jennie’s grave!  (Photo from http://www.mapquest.com)

Cemetery maps

There are only about 200 graves in the Roberts Cemetery, so it did not take long to find John & Jennie’s grave.  Mystery solved!  I began crying as I related the story to my grandparents.  John died before I was born and we had visited Pennsylvania irregularly during my childhood so I didn’t know Jennie (aka Grandma Posten) very well.

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Susan Posten Ellerbee with grave marker for her grandparents, John R. Posten & Jennie Richards Posten. Roberts Cemetery, Falls, Wyoming County, Pennsylvania. Photo taken August 14, 2017.

One more mystery still needs to be solved.  Why are they also listed in ‘Settee Cemetery’? Recheck online sources.  Apparently, Roberts Cemetery may also be known as Settee Cemetery and/or Swartout Cemetery.  To-do list:

  1. Post pictures of John & Jennie’s gravestone to Roberts Cemetery website with notes about the reported discrepancies and actual directions/ location of Roberts Cemetery- DONE.
  2. Contact person responsible for Settee Cemetery and ask about the cemetery names – DONE.  UPDATE:  She was also gracious and removed John and Jennie’s names from the Settee Cemetery list.

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Reflection:

This was a very emotional trip for many reasons.  Actually locating and seeing my grandparents’ grave was a tearful reunion.  I am proud that I was able to solve this particular mystery for myself and others.  We learned more about what to do and not do during a genealogy-based vacation.  Future blog posts will chronicle more of our experiences during this trip.

What helped:  technology, specifically Iphone location finder and a small computer with my family tree.  My husband’s patience and acting as official photographer. Advance planning, such as printing an alphabetical list of cemeteries to be visited with a list of people buried in each.

What didn’t help:  IPhone location finder taking us to the wrong cemetery, although the location was the one in the online system.  Online address for Roberts Cemetery was not correct.  Conflicting information posted online.

What I learned:  Don’t be afraid to ask for help and directions.  I tend to be independent and will usually try to figure things out on my own.  We met some awesome people, including cemetery managers, who were very helpful in locating graves.  Don’t believe everything you see on the Web– check it out for yourself!  Use water, a squirt bottle and a soft brush to clean dirt and moss from gravestones.