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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What To Do When There's No One Around to Ask

Katie asked Olive Tree Genealogy about finding out information on her family tree when there is no one around to verify what she uncovers.

I am really lost....There is really no one to verify this information.

My Father was Royden E Simms 11/23/1942-6/5/2007 Cincy, OHIO
My Grandfather was Royden E Simms 8/5/1912-3/28/1989
My Great Grandfather was William F Simms born about 1886 in West Virginia (to Frank and Kate Brannon/Brennon according to his marriage cert.)

I cannot find info about Frank and Kate. I have found some info about a man named Frank with a father named Willis, but some research I have found points away from this. Can you help???
The first thing I did was have a quick look in the Ohio census for Royden born 1912. The 1920 census on confirmed that his father was William F. born W. Virginia about 1886. It also showed his parents being born in W. Virginia.

If William was born circa 1886 he should appear with his parents on the 1900 census. This is a way to confirm family groups. Sure enough, the 1900 census for Carthage, Hamilton Ohio reveals a William Simms born June 1884 in West Virginia, with his parents Frank born Aug. 1856 in Indiana and Kate born March 1861 in W. Virginia

Census Records Have Many Clues

This 1900 Census shows that Frank and Kate had a total of 7 children. This is important because you can search each of these children to find more information on their parents. For example, a birth, marriage or death record for one of the children should reveal Kate's maiden name. It may reveal more, the only way to know is to start looking.

Look For Migration Pattern

Each of their children is noted as being born in W. Virginia. If this is correct you now know that sometime between 1897 (the youngest child's birth year) and 1900, the family moved.  So before 1897 you will want to hunt for them in W. Virginia records.

But moving on, you now know that Frank born ca 1856 should be found with his parents in 1860 and probably 1870 census records. You may as well start with Indiana since that is given as his birth location. Don't believe absolutely that Frank was born in 1856, when searching you need to allow a couple of years on either side of that date given in the 1900 census.

Vital Records Can't Be Beat!

You can also hunt for Frank and Kate's marriage record. I found one in Cabell, W. Virginia for Frank O. Simms and Catherine Brannan in March 1883. We can look for verification that this could be your Frank and Kate by finding what year they say they were married (you'll find that in the 1900 census) and by verifying Kate's maiden name in a birth, marriage or death record for one of their children. It does agree with your William's marriage certificate information. It also gives you a possible middle initial for Frank.

Frank's birth in the marriage record is shown as 1860 in Harrison Co. Indiana while Katherine is listed as 1860 in Cabell County. The image is available for free at but sadly the columns for parents' names are blank on this page of records. You can search births, deaths and marriages on this site

The 1900 census states Kate's parents were born in Ireland and she has been married 20 years. It doesn't match exactly but it's close enough that you should keep it as a possibility and look for more evidence to either prove or disprove that the 1883 marriage is correct.

Census Records Aren't Always Accurate

Frank's mother is noted as being born in Kentucky, his father as unknown. Keep in mind that census records are not always correct. Ages might vary and birth locations can be recorded as different in each census. That is because we don't know who gave the information to the census taker and thus we don't know how correct it is. Perhaps a neighbour gave the answers! Perhaps a young child. Keep that in mind as you research.

Search the Children's Records Too

I had a very quick look at each of Frank and Kate's children from the 1900 census - and found a couple listed in the Ohio death records. You could send for the complete record to verify Kate's maiden name.

Also I found a birth registration in Cabell, W. Virginia for Clarence 1 Sept. 1889 to Frank Sims and Elizabeth K. Brannon (no doubt Elizabeth K. is Katherine from the 1883 marriage and Kate from the 1900 census) This birth record give Frank's birth location as Kentucky so you need to make note of this discrepancy. But Clarence born in 1889 in W. Virginia matches the 1900 census listing for Clarence born Sept. 1890 in W. Virginia. It's looking more and more like your Kate is Elizabeth Katherine Brannon.

Doing more research on Clarence, his WW2 records indicate his middle name is Francis. Don't overlook the fact that "Frank" is often a nickname for "Francis" or shortened from "Franklin". 

There are other children born to Frank and Kate in the W. Virginia birth records found on Ancestry - Kate 6 Jan 1888; Eddie/Edward, 4 Apr 1891; Clara 4 April 1893; daughter 1894 (note that for this child Frank's birth is given as Missouri); Maggie 22 Feb 1896 plus two children with no first names given. You can check these for yourself at or view the actual images at

Finding Frank's Full Name on a Death Certificate

Now here's the really good news - I took my own advice and searched for death records for Frank and Kate's children. The bingo moment was finding Maggie's in 1935 in Ohio. Her death registration gives her father's name as Franklin (remember how I pointed out earlier that Frank can be short for Francis or Franklin?) Owen Sims born Indiana and her mother as Catherine Brennan born W. Virginia. The image is on under her married name of Margaret Brown

Now you have something a bit more concrete to go on with researching Frank! I also found John Sim's death in Ohio in 1923. His death registration gives Frank's birthplace as Albany, Indiana. Do you see why it's helpful to search all the children to glean bits and pieces of vital information?

It Just Keeps Getting Better

Armed with the married name of Frank's daughter (Margaret Brown) I had a hunt in census records and found her living with her father Frank O. Simms in New Albany, Floyd, Indiana in 1930. The location fits with Frank's place of birth as per his son John's Death Certificate. The middle initial "O" fits with the middle name of Owens as per Margaret's Death Certificate. Frank is shown as divorced and father born Kentucky.

More Census Finds for Kate

Carrying on with some methodical census searches (searching for each of the children of Frank and Kate Sims) finally turned up a 1910 census for Kate. She had remarried to Joseph Casey and will be found as Katherine in Cincinnati Ohio with children James (Jim), John, Clarence, Sannie? and Margaret (Maggie) Simms.

Your Turn to Have Fun

I suggest you carry on and attempt to find each child, Katherine/Katie and Frank in all census records from 1870 to 1940. That will take you some time but the rewards of clues and information you should find in each census will be well worth it.

One last thing - there is an 1870 census record in Indiana for Frank O. Sims age 10 born Indiana, father Willis F. Sims, 37 born Kentucky, mother Sarah, 36 born Kentucky. This fits with other information gleaned from some of the records I found so I would definitely continue looking for more information on this family group if I were you. Hint: Check the 1860 census for Harrison, Harrison, Indiana for Willis and Sarah.

I also found a marriage record in August 1917 in Floyd Indiana, for Frank Simms born 12 Aug 1859 in Corydon Indiana, son of Willis Simms and Sarah Ellison. Frank was marrying Tillie Deppeus [sic]. I suggest this is your Frank marrying his second wife after divorcing Kate.

Did I say only one more thing? I have more... the death of Willis at the age of 69 is found in Indiana Death Indexes on FamilySearch for 14 Jan 1893 in Corydon, Indiana. The source notations reads "The source of this record is the book CH-25 on page 9 within the series produced by the Indiana Works Progress Administration." Perhaps if you access the complete record you will find his parents' names.

So there you have it. I had some fun but I left you lots to do too. My sources for all my findings were, and West Virginia Vital Records