#52Ancestors, Blogging Prompts, Montgomery Line, Research, Simmons, Vital Statistics

Branching Out: Fixing My Genealogical Mistakes

Nearly nine years ago (!) I published a blog post here about my Simmons brick wall. I talked about my great-great-grandmother Mary Ann Belinda Simmons‘s mysterious parentage, how I had discovered from the 1850 census that her unknown father had died and that her mother Rachel had remarried a Charles Clark, but that I was still trying to trace that branch back another generation.

In the intervening years I have broken down that brick wall and branched out further with my Simmons ancestry – but only after realizing how dangerous assumptions can be. Here is the 1850 census record where Belinda Simmons appears:

Simmons, Belinda. 1850 United States Federal Census; Dodson, Highland, Ohio. [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009.

The 1850 census does not identify the relationships among those in a given household (this question was not asked until the 1880 census), and censuses prior to 1850 list only the name of the head of household, so there wasn’t the option to find infants Belinda and Charles in 1840. What I had to go on was a household of adults and children with differing surnames, and for reasons which I no longer remember, I leapt to the conclusion that Belinda and Charles were the children of a remarried Rachel and her deceased Simmons husband.

Years later I happened to look again at Belinda’s Find a Grave memorial and found that a maternal link had been added – but to an Ann Simmons, not a Rachel Clark. My first inclination was to assume there was a mistake on the Find a Grave site, but I dug a little deeper and found additional records that disproved my earlier assumptions and led to a few new branches on the family tree.

Ann’s headstone, conveniently, lists her explicitly as “Consort of Samuel Simmons,” and shows that she died in April 1839 at the age of 21. I also found a marriage record1 for Charles Clark and Rachel Matthews dated November 29, 1844 in Hamilton County, Ohio. Thus it did seem that the parents of Belinda were Samuel Simmons and his deceased wife Ann, rather than Rachel and her deceased Simmons husband. But then who were Charles and Rachel (Matthews) Clark, in whose house Belinda and her brother Charles were living in 1850?

Ann Simmons Gravestone, Memorial ID 100946394, Find a Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/100946394/ann-simmons.

None of the records I had found for Belinda named her parents, so I turned to Charles Simmons’s records instead. I found a death certificate2 for a Charles H. Simmons, born 26 April 1839 in Ohio who died of apoplexy on 6 September 1908 in Philadelphia. His parents, both born in Ohio, were Samuel R. Simmons and Mary A. Clark. So Mary A(nn) was also a Clark! Then finally I found a 30 July 1837 marriage record3 for a “Samuel B. Simmonds” and “Amil Clark,” further confirming this theory. According to Find a Grave and other sources, there also appears to have been a third Simmons child, Charles’s twin Samuel Benjamin, who was not living with Charles and Rachel in 1850. After this additional detective work, it seems plausible that upon Ann’s death, leaving three children under the age of two, her probable brother Charles and his wife Rachel took in their niece and nephew. I also noted Caleb and Mary Clark (ages 73 and 69) living next door to the family in 1850. It seems likely these could be the parents of Mary Ann and her brother Charles, and the grandparents of Belinda, Charles II, and Samuel.

More questions remain, of course. Various sources show Charles II’s birthdate as 26 April 1839 and Samuel’s as 24 April 1839. This would be strange enough, but especially when their mother’s headstone lists her date of death as 20 April 1839. There is obviously a discrepancy (or two) somewhere! My assumptions this time seem based on better evidence, but I still need further corroboration regarding all these connections. And then, as always in genealogy, the inevitable: can I trace this branch back even farther?


1 Marriage Record of Charles Clark and Rachel Matthews. Ohio, U.S., County Marriage Records, 1774-1993 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016.
2 Death Certificate of Charles H. Simmons. Pennsylvania, U.S., Death Certificates, 1906-1968 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. Original data:Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906–1968. Series 11.90 (1,905 cartons). Records of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Record Group 11. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
3 Marriage Record of Samuel B. Simmonds and Amil Clark. Ohio, U.S., County Marriage Records, 1774-1993 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016. Original data:Marriage Records. Ohio Marriages. Various Ohio County Courthouses.

Blogging Prompts, Cemeteries, Montgomery, Montgomery Line, Research, Simmons, Surname Saturday, Vital Statistics

Surname Saturday – the Simmons Brick Wall

Names are interesting. When I first started doing genealogy, I found it intriguing to realize how many surnames you “own” in your family tree. Sometimes the surnames become more and more familiar over time as more relatives are uncovered and researched.  Other times the connection to a surname is more tenuous – a link of one maternal ancestor, and then the proverbial brick wall.

My great-great-grandmother Belinda Simmons is one of these tenuous links.  Born May 14, 1838 in Cincinnati, she married John Montgomery on Christmas Day 1858 in Ohio. John and Belinda appear in the 1860 (Clark, Ohio) and 1870-1880 (Denver Township, Illinois) censuses with their growing family. Belinda died on Valentine’s Day 1908 and is buried in Pleasant View Cemetery in Olney, Illinois (in a grave my family and I failed to find on a field trip to Olney).

Belinda’s parentage, however, remains a mystery, as does her name itself.  Sources list her name variously as Malinda, Mary Ann, Mary Ann Belinda, Mary B., and Belinda. After much searching I did finally locate Belinda in the 1850 census, aged 12. The discovery, however, only provided half the story: apparently sometime before 1850 Belinda’s father had died, and her mother (Rachel – the half of the story the census revealed) had remarried a Charles Clark. Also in the household is Belinda’s younger brother Charles H. Simmons, aged 10. If Belinda had been born a little later, it might be easy enough to find a Rachel Simmons and her young children in an earlier census – but since census records prior to 1850 don’t list each individual in the household by name, it is trickier to confirm the identities of family members – especially when the head of household’s name remains unknown.

So…the search back in time continues…

John and Mary Montgomery Tombstone from Find-a-Grave