My Journey to Find My Simmons  Roots

By Myrtis  Simmons Craft1

I want to talk to you about what I had to  learn and unlearn on my journey to my roots.

And my journey is far from complete. I have  only been able to trace my family back to South Carolina and I  cannot connect them to parents so I often refer to them as the  bastards of South Carolina. Now this is all my various lines  from my father and mother.

I am fully aware of how boring other  peoples family is if it has no connection to your life. I will  try to keep this short.

Today I am  going to tell my version of the Simmons family. I will gladly  give my cousins here today time for a rebuttal if they do not  agree with what I have to say.

I am sure all  of us would like to know the source of our family name. I have  checked several sources and none can give me a definitive  answer. I suppose the most readily-accepted source is that Simmons is derived from Son of Simon and through the years  it has gone through different spellings and is found in most  countries in one form or another. The other idea is that the  Simmons name evolved from the name Seaman. I personally  think this is the more likely source of my name as a high number  of people bearing this name lived near the southern coast of  England.

I was browsing  on the Internet one day and discovered this bit of information  about my name. In the states of South Carolina and Mississippi  one out of every 100 citizen bears the name of Simmons. In the  rest of the country one out of every 1,000 persons is a  Simmons. I really did not know there were so many of us.

There were 436  Simmons families on the first national census in 1790.  Twenty-four of these families were in the state of South  Carolina. As my ancestor Ralph Simmons who came to Mississippi  was about 4 years old at the time of this census, you would not  think it would be such a hard job to match him to one of these  families. But who knows, his family may have moved on to  Georgia by the time of the census?

Another thing I  am sure all researchers wonder about is what kind of person  these ancestors are, what sort of personality did they have? I  have been giving this some thought lately and I have decided we  should look at the family members we know and I think we can  surmise from their behavior what sort of fellow old great-great-granddaddy was.

My father was  the youngest of 4 brothers and these are the Simmons members  that I know the best. And this is how I would describe them  they loved a good story or dirty joke, a good strong drink, good  food, and a game of dominos or cards and winning at all cost (My  dad would even cheat to win while trying to teach us kids to  play) and please don’t mention that the fish are biting or  they would be off. Just how much is the grass going to  grow in one day? Forget about the farm work, time for a little  fun. And from the history of some of the younger members of  this family, pretty women were also of the top of the list. 

I called my  youngest brother -- who is really of a different generation from  me -- and asked if he would describe the family in the manner that  I did. He laughed and said I had it down pat; thought it  sounded like a Scot-Irish heritage to him. What I did not  mention to him was that this personality that I had described  must start at a very early age. When my baby brother was about  3 or 4 years old my Dad would take him with him to the country  store and such places where men gather and tell tales and swap  news. My little brother was absorbing all this and Dad had not  noticed. At the time his brother that lived next door was very  sick and Dad and my brother went up to check on him. My little  brother crawled up in a chair near the bed and began telling my  uncle all the stories and gossip he had heard. Needless to say  my uncle got a big belly laugh out of that.

Myrtis Simmons Craft (1927-2005)

Not every  Simmons descending from Ralph had the traits that I have  described. Some of them had the misfortune (or fortune,  depending on your point of view) to marry a woman that would  proceed to change them or else. I have noticed in my research  that who a person married could make a lot of difference in how  their life turned out. My mother always said there were two  kinds of Simmons, the drinking kind and the preaching kind and  would you know she would end up with the drinking kind.

One more  personal thing and I will get back to Ralph Simmons and his  Mississippi history. My baby brother has a Doctorate in  Psychology so I hope his remarks are based on good observation.  He stated that each member of our family (2 boys and 2 girls)  has the most domineering personality he has ever seen in one  family. And I had always thought I had the right to boss  as I was the first born! Do you suppose that has also  come down the gene line?

I want to state  right up front that I got into this family history business by  accident. A cousin was trying to do the research and lived in  California. I felt sorry for him and offered to help. I did  not know what I was doing and did not know how to cite sources  and all that good stuff we all should do. Lucky me, the first  source I decided to check was the Bethel church records, and  Mrs. J. P. Woodham, the clerk at that time, trusted me to handle  that old first record book of the church. She even trusted me  to take it home and transcribe the records. That way she could  have a copy to show researchers and not have to handle the frail  old record book. And through her I found out about Martha Waltman. Martha is a descendent of Ralph’s son Perry Simmons.  She had already started the work on the Simmons family and with  my knowledge of my line and much going to other descendants, we  put together a good record of most of the descendants. I give  Martha all the credit. My effort was mostly getting a program  and getting it into the computer.

Family legend  is that Ralph Simmons came to Mississippi with a brother the  brother went one way and he went another. The first record of  Ralph shows him and a James Simmons in the land grant records of  Amite County, Mississippi. This record was dated December 6,  1811. Road Books of Marion County, dated June 1812,  mentions Ralph Simmons. The tax records of 1813 show Ralph  Simmons with 300 acres and James Simmons with 199 acres, both on  the Pearl River. There was also a James Simmons, Sr., in the  area at that time and some of the researchers think he is the  father of James and Ralph. I do not think so, as when I was in  the Columbia, Mississippi, library I saw some record that showed  the James Simmons, Sr. had been in the area some time before  Ralph Simmons and the other James Simmons arrived. This is the  perfect example of me not knowing what I was doing. I should  have made a record of that source. Using the title Jr. and  Sr. did not mean they were of the same family. At that time  the Sr. was added to the older persons name and the Jr.  meant he was younger.

At the time the  southern area of Mississippi opened up for settlement, several  Simmons families came to the area and most of them from South  Carolina. Through the years I have corresponded with  researchers of these families trying to establish the  relationships of these people. To date we have not been able to  make the connection.

I found the  record of Ralph’s marriage to Elvira White, daughter of Wm. White in the marriage records of Marion County, Mississippi. The  date of the marriage was July 7, 1818 with Josephus Simmons as  bondsman.

Ralph Simmons was not listed on the 1817 census taken for statehood  and he was not on the 1820 census. I can only assume he was living  in the household of another family -- perhaps his in-laws. The 1830  census shows him in Lawrence County, Mississippi. Ralph and Elvira  were members of the Bethany Baptist Church in Lawrence (now  Jefferson Davis) County in 1822. I checked these church records on  microfilm at Mississippi College and found that Ralph had been found  guilty of drunkenness and was excluded in September 1825. In  October 1830 he was restored to full membership after all the  confessing and so forth that was required. He and Elvira were  granted letter of dismission in November 1836.

This must have been  the year he came to Newton County as land records show his  purchasing land in September 1836. The obituary of his son Henry  Clinton states that they came to Newton County in 1835. I would say  that date was just a guess of some family member.

Ralph and Elvira  had eight sons and two daughters. All eight sons and the two  son-in-laws served in the Confederate army with deaths and injuries  and captures and all that goes with war.

If you want to know  more about this family’s Civil War records you will have to read the  last issue of our journal [2].  I wont go into all that detail here.

What has been so  funny to me is that as a child in school and studying history I  would ask my Dad what his family did in the Civil War he would  dismiss it and say he did not think any of them got out of the state  of Mississippi. He must not have realized that so much of the  fighting took place in Mississippi. When the town of Newton held a  centennial program in 1965 they put crosses on the City Hall lawn  for the men serving from this area. I think it was 100 crosses and  ten of them were Simmons. I approached my Dad again about the  family history and he said he was sure they were family members but  seemed to have no knowledge of it all. I think I know now why it  was not a big thing in his family. His grandfather Henry Clinton  Simmons record showed that he was discharged with the note that he  had not a scratch on him.

When I was 12 years  old we moved back to Liberty community in the house that my  grandfather Henry Clinton Simmons, Jr., had owned. I noticed my Dad called everybody cousin and expected me to do so. He assured me all were related didn’t tell he how and to be honest, I did not  believe him. I just thought he was trying to make me a more  respectful child. I was known not to use the respectful Yes, sir  and Yes, mam good southern children were taught to use.

I have learned with  my research he was right. Mr. Lewis Simmons, son of Ralph’s oldest  son Charles, lived in the Poplar Springs community and had about 8  girls and they had married into many of the families in the area. I  once heard one of the cousins in the community say that every ones  grandmother was a Simmons.

Ed. Note: Myrtis journey ended here. She  will be dearly missed.

[1] Originally prepared for presentation  at the May meeting of NCHGS. Myrtis died before she had a  chance to present it. We present it here with only minor  editing.

[2] Remembering, April 2005.


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