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 . 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.
 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.
 Remembering, April 2005.