Simeon and Nannie Belle Ford – A Surprising Couple!

I found this picture of my 2nd Great Aunt and Uncle online and thought “What an adorable old couple!”  This is a picture of Simeon Walter Ford and Nannie Belle Phillips.

Nannie Phillips and Simeon Ford 1 001.jpg

The date of the photo is unknown but judging from what I found out about them, it probably is from the 1930s.

Nannie Belle Phillips was the daughter of my second great-grandparents, Oscar Fitzallen Phillips and Nancy Jane Burch.  Nannie was a sister to Cora Virginia Phillips, my great-grandmother, who married William Domman Swanson (see blog “A Fireman’s Story).  Oscar  and Nancy Jane Phillips had a total of 14 known children!  Nannie was born 3 February 1862 in Amherst, Amherst county, Virginia, the third child of Oscar and Nancy.  She married Simeon Walter Ford on 9 July 1882 in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Simeon Walter Ford was also born 12 April 1862, the son of Simeon Walter Ford (the first) and Caroline Agnes Phillips.  The surname of Phillips sent up a red flag!  Could Simeon and Nannie be related more than being spouses?  I found that Caroline Agnes Phillips was the daughter of Captain Benjamin Phillips which was a surprise because Capt. Benjamin Phillips was also the father of Oscar Phillips.  So Nannie’s father and Simeon’s mother were brother and sister, making Nannie and her husband, Simeon, first cousins!  However the death certificate listed his mother as Caroline Oliver, which contradicts other sources for his parentage.  A marriage record for Caroline A. L. Phillips lists her marriage to Simeon Walter Ford on 14 Dec 1849 in Lynchburg, Virginia (FHL 32235).

Caroline PhillipsThis is the photo I found of Caroline Agnes Phillips, daughter of Captain Benjamin Phillips and Mary Nicholas Cazey.   She married the first Simeon Walter Ford and was the mother of the second Simeon.   Now I had established the parentage of both Nannie and Simeon.   When they married, they were both 20 years old.  They went on to have 11 children that I know of and are listed below.




Percy Bertram Ford  (1882-1929)         Theodore Madison Ford    (1884-1961)

Bessie Caroline Ford (1885-1953)        James R Ford  (1887-   )

Simeon Walter Ford, Jr. (1889-1975)    Nannie Belle Ford (1891-1962)

Kenneth Malcolm Ford (1893-1969)     Lilian L Ford     (1895-   )

Mary Tansy Ford  (1897-    )                   William Harrald Ford (1899-after 1940)

Oscar Fitzallen Ford (1900-1966)

From the Census records, I discovered that Simeon was a carpenter and only had a 3rd grade education.  In 1900, they owned their own home with no mortgage in Richmond, Virginia and already had 10 children.  It seemed he was quite able to support his family.  By 1910, however, they were renting a house and Simeon was out of work for at least 20 weeks.  They must of had some hard times.  1920 found them living on 900 North twenty-seventh Street in Richmond.  The roaring 20s were upon them and prohibition was the law of the land.  This brought more trouble for the couple as I found out when I discovered this surprising newspaper clipping!

Ford, simeon and Nanny charges 001This sweet old couple were arrested for stashing moonshine!  I am guessing that the $500 they paid for Nannie’s bond was probably hard to come by.  This probably was not an unusual arrest at the time of prohibition but quite surprising as they seemed like ordinary upstanding citizens!  But, everybody makes mistakes!

By 1930, the Ford family was living at 505 25th Street in the city of Richmond, Virginia.  They own the home which was valued at $2500 at that time.  Simeon was working as a machine operator for a furniture company.  Things were going well until 1941.  Simeon, according to his death certificate, fell at home and died of shock on 13 October 1941.

Ford, Simeon Death cert 001

Ford, Simeon Obit and Funeral 001

On May 6 of 1945, Nannie Belle Phillips Ford passed away.

Ford, Nannie belle death cert

Nannie Belle and Simeon Ford were both buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.  Nannie was 83 years old at time of death and survived by their 2 daughters and six sons, 30 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren!  They had long lives and I found their story interesting as they were the first I have come across in my research that got arrested for smuggling moonshine!  Who knows what surprises can be found!

Rest in Peace, Nannie Belle and Simeon!


Newspaper articles: Richmond Times-Dispatch: Thursday, February 24, 1927; Thursday, October 16, 1941; Wednesday, October 15, 1941.

Virginia, Select Marriages, 1785-1940, [database on-line] Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014. and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1880 United States Federal Census Year 1880; Census Place: Elon, Amherst, Virginia; Roll: 1353; Family History Film: 1255353; Page: 188D; Enumeration District: 018., Virginia, Death Records, 1912-2014 ( Operations, Inc.)., Virginia, Select Marriages 1785-1940 ( Operations. Inc.)., Web: Virginia, Find A Grave Index, 1607-2012 ( Operations, Inc.).

1900 United States Federal Census, Year: 1900; Census Place: Madison, Amherst, Virginia; Roll: 1699; Page: 4A; Enumeration District: 0010; FHL microfilm: 1241699.

Additional United States Federal Census as follows:

Year: 1870; Census Place: Elon, Amherst, Virginia; Roll: M 595_1633; Page: 451A; FHL microfilm: 553132.

Year: 1910; Census Place: Richmond Marshall Ward Richmond (Independent City), Virginia; Roll: T624_1645; Page: 4B; Enumeration District 0131; FHL microfilm: 1375658.

Year: 1920; Census Place: Richmond Jefferson Ward, Richmond (Independent City), Virginia; Roll: T625_1910; Page: 8B; Enumeration District: 130.

Year: 1930; Census Place: Richmond, Richmond (Independent City), Virginia; Page: 7A; Enumeration District: 10093; FHL microfilm: 2342214.



George Lyons, Where Did You Go?

George Edward Lyons was my paternal great-grandfather and he was a real challenge to find information on!  I knew he was the father of Clarence Lyons, my father’s father, as the relationship was written down for me years ago by my grandmother, Cammie Swanson Lyons.  I still have the original information in her lovely handwriting!

Lyons pedigree written by Cammie L Lyons 001

My grandmother wrote that George was born in the state of Virginia but evidentially did not know where in Virginia!  Later the records I found put his birth on 24 August 1860 in a place called Walkers Creek in the county of Giles, Virginia.  His parentage was correct, George being the son of Joseph Cloud Lyons, a blacksmith, and Mary Lavalett Dudley.  George was born the 7th of 14 known children!  His father, Joseph Cloud Lyons was born in North Carolina and of the Cloud Family lineage and was a veteran of the Civil War where he served as a Confederate Soldier in the 4th Virginia Infantry.  Joseph was the grandson of Col. James Lyon, distinguished officer of the Revolutionary War and trusted conferee of George Washington!  Pretty impressive ancestry and I do wonder if George was named after our first President and after one of his father’s brothers named George.  Interesting!  George Lyons’ mother, Mary Lavalett Dudley also had an interesting lineage of Dudley’s in Virginia and England.

Lyons, Geo. birth 1860 001

In the census records, George was not listed in the 1860 census because the census was taken 2 months before his birth which added to my confusion in confirming his birth date.  However, in the 1870 census for the family, I found George as being 10 years old and in the 1880 census, he was 19 and working on a farm.  His mother, Mary, died of unknown causes in 1877 at the young age of 48 in Wytheville, Wythe County, Virginia.  George was 16 at the time and the youngest child Emma Locket Lyons was only 2 years old.  In 1880, his father was a widower with 9 children yet at home and he had buried not only his wife but also four children that died throughout the years.

So I had found where George Lyons grew up and a bit about his family and the next record was about his marriage to my great-grandmother, Susanna Virginia Ashlin on the 17th of December in 1884 in Smyth County, Virginia.   The marriage record lists George E Lyons as age 28 and born in Bland Co. VA and the son of Joseph C and Mary Lyon.  The county of birth was incorrect on this record and also his age was incorrect as, according to his birth record, he should have been 24.  Susannah Virginia Ashlin was born 12 October 1856 in Sugar Grove, Smyth, VA and was the daughter and first born child of Columbus Perry Ashlin and Mary Ann James Ashlin.  According to her birth information, Susannah would have been 28 at the time of marriage, not 24, as listed in the record.  Perhaps, their ages were transposed.  However, it seemed a lot of records of George Lyons had misinformation making the research a bit more difficult!

Lyons Geo and Ashlin marriage 001

George’s sister, Willie Anna Lyons, married Susannah’s brother, William German Ashlin (see blog on William German and Willie Anna Ashlin) which further confirmed for me that I had the correct George Lyons.

George and Susanna, living in Sugar Grove, had three children.  Their first son, James Columbus Lyon, was born 22 Jan 1886 and their daughter Mary Ann Lyon, named after Susannah’s mother, was born 24 Feb 1888.  Their last child was my grandfather, Clarence Edward Lyons, born 6 Nov 1891.   Clarence became the father of LaFon Lyons, my father.  Please note that some records used the surname Lyon and some used Lyons which added to the challenge!  Which is correct was, I assume, a matter of personal preference as Clarence used both surnames in different records while his brother and sister always used just Lyon.  Now that I got this far in my research, something happened to George – he disappeared!

Where did you go, George?  Somewhere between 1891 and 1895, George and Susanna separated!  In the 1900 Census for St Clair District, Smyth, Virginia, Susan V Lyons (Susannah Virginia) is now 44 and living in the household with her parents, Columbus and Mary Ann!  Susan is listed as divorced!  The three children, James, Mary and Clarence are with her also.  Columbus has a large farm and it was probably a great place for the children to grow up and their Uncle Samuel Ashlin also lived on the farm.  But where was George?  I searched extensively for divorce or other records but in vain.  In the 1910 Census for Lynchburg, Ward 1, Virginia, I found Susan, listed as using her middle name, Virginia Lyons, and living with 19 year old Clarence.  She listed herself as “widowed”  but there was no Virginia death records for George Lyons!

The next census for Virginia Lyons in 1920 in St Clair, Smyth VA listed her as married indicated that she never really divorced George.  Her widowed mother, Mary Ann, was living with her but passed away in 1921.  In 1923, Virginia moved to Michigan with her three children and their families.  In 1930, she was living with her son James, whose wife Lillie Almond Lyons, had died, and Susan Virginia was most likely caring for James’ children, Savannah, age 13 and William T., age 9.  Their home was in Royal Oak, Oakland County, Michigan.  In 1934, James died of a cerebral hemorrhage and the children went to live with James’ sister Mary Ann and her husband, Edward Bruehl.  Susan Virginia Lyons died in 1939 of lobar pneumonia and bronchialplegia and was buried in Grand Oakland Cemetery, Oakland County, Michigan.

Back to our question, “Where was George Lyons?”  It seems George was a bit of a rascal!  He did leave or desert his family around 1893.  He was hard to track down but was found in the 1900 Federal Census for Line Fork District 6, Letcher County, Kentucky with a new wife named Susan! This county abuts the Virginia state line.  The census noted they were married for 5 years so George had married again in 1895.  The age of George was listed as 38 which matches up with his birth date but he was listed as born in Kentucky which was an error.  Perhaps he gave the wrong information to prevent being found?  (I searched further and found the same George Lyons in the next census of 1910 which showed him born in Virginia!)  His new wife Susan was born Sept of 1879 and was 20 years old in 1900 which means she married 38 year old George at age 15 or 16.  They also had a daughter, Allie born Nov 1897 so Susan must have been about 18 when she had Allie.  George’s occupation was listed as farmer and he can read and write.  Susan does farm labor and cannot read nor write.

In the 1910 Census, they are living in Cumberland, Kentucky and have 3 daughters.  Susan’s parents were born in Kentucky as was Susan.  Their daughters were Allie M Lyons, age 14 and Mary C Lyons, 5, and Millie Sylvania Lyons, age 1 1/2.  George is still a farmer and rents his farm.  Fast forward to the 1920 Census and they live in Upper Poorfork, Poor Fork town on Fields Street.  This census was dated Jan 5-6, 1920 and listed George as age 71 which was incorrect as he was 58.  However, George’s place of birth was listed correctly and his parents places of birth were correct. His occupation is Deputy sheriff for a coal company.

One month after the census was taken, George passed away on 9 Feb 1920 in Poorfolk, Harlan Co., Kentucky.  Cause of death was mitral regurgitation.  On examining the death certificate, it confirmed that George was indeed the son of Joseph Lyons and Mary Dudley.  So I had found the right George Lyons after all!  I was surprised the death certificate listed his age as 71 which would have made him born 2 years before his parents were even married! Recall he was the 7th of 14 children.  He was really 59 years old.  The informant on the certificate was his wife Susan who, according to census records, could not read or write, so it is possible she gave the incorrect age due to her grief of losing her husband.

Lyons, Geo, death certt 001


I wanted to find the birth name of his second wife Susan (coincidence that both his wives were named Susan which complicated research!) so I researched their children.  I could only find information on one daughter, Mary C Lyons.  The 1920 Census for Upper Poorfork, Harlan Ky revealed Mary C was married to Millard Lewis.  Mary was 14 and wife of Millard, age 23.  They rented a home and Millard worked as a laborer for the railroad.  Kind of unbelievable that Mary married at 14!  The only other record found for Mary C Lewis was a death certificate that confirmed she was the daughter of George Lyons and Susan Creech – finally I had the birth name of Susan!  Mary Lewis died at age 76 on 24 Aug, 1980 in Wayne County, Indiana.  She was married to Millard Lewis and her occupation was cook in a truck stop.  Cause of death was cardiac standstill and myocardial infarction.  Mary Lewis was buried in Webster Cemetery in Webster, Indiana.

A Creech family did live in the area of Harlan, Kentucky and there was also a Creech mining company.  I do wonder if this was Susan’s family and if George worked as a Deputy Sheriff at that company.  Also, how did he meet Susan?  Did he meet her after he left his first wife?  Did he ever have any contact with the children of his first marriage?  I still have so many questions about my great-grandfather George although I have learned a lot about him in my research, some things I will probably never know.  All I have for a burial record is from the death certificate that he was buried in Poorfork, Ky.  I have searched cemeteries on line in the area of Poorfork and Cumberland, KY with no clues to where he really is buried.  So looking for his final resting place brings me back to my first question – Where did you go, George Lyons?


Virginia Births and Christenings  1584-1917, database, FamilySearch, FHL microfilm 2,046, 933.

Virginia, Compiled Marriages for Select Counties, 1851-1929 [database on-line], Provo UT, USA, Ancestry Operations Inc., 2000.

Virginia, Civil War Service Records of Confederate Soldiers, 1861-1865, database, FamilySearch, NARA microfilm pub. M324, roll 1050.

Find A Grave,, memorial page for Joseph Cloud Lyon No. 165301248.

United States Federal Census 1860, Post Office White Gate, Giles, Virginia, NARA pub. M653, Ancestry .com Operations, Inc.

United States Federal Census, 1870, for Newbern, Pulaski, Virginia, FHL 553,173.

Hockett, Thomas Jack and Hunt, Shelia Steele, transcribed, annotated and edited, Smyth County, Virginia Marriages 1851-1891 and the 1860 Census, 1999, p.. 106.

Certificate of Death for Geo. Lyons, Poorfork, Harlan, Commonwealth of Kentucky, File No. 4114.

Virginia, Births and Christenings, 1853-1917, Index, FamilySearch, FHL microfilms: 33,991 and 2,046,967.

United States Federal Census 1900, Gladeville District, Wise, Virginia, Enumeration District 124, sheet 9.

United States Federal Census 1900, Blue Springs Precinct, Enumeration District 9/87, Sheet 10, FHL microfilm 1,241,728.

Michigan Death Certificates, 1921-1952, Division for Vital Records and Health Statistics, Lansing: FHL microfilm 1,973,013. (James C Lyon)

Certificate of Death for Virginia Lyon, Michigan Dept. of Health Bureau of Records and Statistics, Macomb County, State Office No. 50-7848, Register No. 31.

United States Federal Census 1900, Line Fork Magisterial District 6, Letcher, Kentucky, Lines: 32-34, George Lyon.

United States Federal Census 1910, Magisterial District 4, Cumberland, Letcher, Kentucky, FHL 1,374,504.

Medical Certificate of Death, Indiana State Board of Health, Mary C. Lewis, State No. 80-034612; Local No. 535.

Pioneer Women – Intrepid Ancestors!

In my recent research, I discovered some real honest-to-goodness women pioneers!  I am talking about women who traveled by wagon train out west to find new homes and build a new life with their husbands and braving all kinds of peril on their arduous journeys!  In this blog, I will share some of what I researched and although they are “cousins” and not direct ancestors, I feel their stories have a need to be told.

Mary Thomas and her husband John Griffiths Williams departed Winter Quarters, Nebraska in January of 1847 to travel west with a company of covered wagons  (Company type is unknown).  Her journey must have been both adventurous and taxing and ended in Tooele, Utah!   John Griffith Williams was born in Penally, Pembrokeshire, Wales about 1804, the son of John Williams and Anne Griffiths.   Mary Thomas was born in 1808 in Washington County, Virginia and was the daughter of Abijah Thomas (1776-1819) and Martha McReynolds (1782-1850, died of consumption).  Mary Thomas was related to my 3rd great-grandmother, Susannah J. Porter, mother of Mary Ann James (see blog “Portrait of a Strong Woman”).  John Williams and Mary married in February of 1834.

Here is how the ancestry goes:  Susannah Porter James’ mother was Mary Polly Thomas (1801-1894) who was the daughter of Thomas Jefferson Thomas (1766-1838) and Freelove Cole (1773-1848).  Yes, his name was Thomas Thomas and her name was Freelove.  I am not making this up! By the way, Freelove’s mother was “Remember Cole!”  Definitely unforgettable names!   Thomas J. Thomas, my 5th great-grandfather, had a brother named Abijah Thomas who was the father of Mary Thomas.  Put more simply, Mary Thomas was a distant first cousin to myself.  I usually do not research distant cousins but I felt that Mary, being a pioneer woman, probably had a story to be told!

Thomas, Thomas and Freelove Cole gravestone 001
Gravestone of Thomas Thomas and Freelove Cole

Another member of their wagon train was most likely John’s brother, Daniel Edward Williams,  who is also buried in Tooele, Utah Cemetery.  From what I found, Mary died in April of 1864 in Tooele, Utah after surviving the long, perilous journey.  She did not bear any children that we know of and cause of death is unknown.  Her husband John remarried the same year to Margaret James and they had 3 children.  The second wife Margaret died in 1869 just after their 2 day old son, Daniel Williams, died on 16 Dec 1869 perhaps from complications of childbirth.

Pritchett, Lavinia Heninger 001
Lavinia Chadwick Heninger (Pritchett)

Mary Thomas Williams’ niece, the daughter of her sister Ann, also traveled west.  Lavinia Chadwick Heninger was born in Burkes Garden, Tazewell, Virginia on 17 Aug 1845.  She married Thomas Mitchell Pritchett on 16 May of 1865 in Scioto County, Ohio.  According to records, Lavinia and her husband also left the Winter Quarters in Nebraska in January of 1847 so it is likely that they were traveling with the same wagon train as her aunt and uncle, Mary and John Williams.

Pritchett, Thomas, Lavinia, Eunice 001
Thomas and Lavinia Pritchett with their only surviving daughter, Eunice Emily

Lavinia and Thomas Pritchett did arrive safely in Utah but much of their later story is tragic.  Of their 5 daughters, only 1 survived.  The first child, Lavinia Ann was born in Mt. Pleasant, Sanpete, Utah and lived only about a month.  The second baby daughter was born and died the same day in June of 1868. The third daughter, Eunice, born in 1869, did survive, lived a long life, and died in 1950.  The fourth daughter, Celestia was born in December 1872 and died in June of 1873.  The last daughter, Annie, lived only a month in 1877.  In 1880, the little family moved to Emery, Utah and Lavinia died in 1889 in Teasdale, Wayne, Utah.

Next is the story of Emeline Emelia Hopper and her sister, Irene C. Hopper who were kin of my 3rd great-grandmother, Lucinda Cloud Lyons.  Emeline was born in 1832 and Irene in 1827 in Illinois.  Their adventure began when they started west with their parents and possibly other siblings leaving from the Winter Quarters, Nebraska in June of 1848.  Their entire journey west entailed 109 days of travel.  Their wagon train was to join with another.  One this other train was Jasper Harrison Twitchell, a blacksmith and wheelwright by trade.  Jasper was traveling with his wife, Sarah Rutledge and small son, John Newton, who was born in 1842 in Illinois.  In 1844, Jasper had been appointed wagon master of one Mormon wagon train leaving Navoo, Illinois in 1844 and the train wintered in Iowa for several years before leaving in spring of 1848.  On the way, his wife Sarah died at Chimney Rock, Nebraska in July 1848 and he dismantled part of his wagon to construct a coffin for her.  Jasper and his 5 year old son arrived in Salt Lake Valley, Utah, that September.

Twitchell, Jasper and Emiline 001
Emeline Hopper Twitchell and Jasper Twitchell with baby.

Emeline Hopper, not quite 17, was on this same wagon train and married the widowed Jasper Twitchell on January 1, 1849.  Her sister, Irene Hopper,  then married Jasper’s younger brother, Sanford Lorenzo Twitchell, a few months later.  That spring, the Twitchell families and other relatives left for California.  Irene and Sanford’s first child, Celestia, was the first baby of European descent to be born at Sutter’s Fort, California (Sacramento).   Jasper and Emeline and other relatives settled in San Juan Bautista and Jasper opened a blacksmith shop.  They had 13 children and Jasper died in 1894 and Emeline in 1912.    Irene and Lorenzo had 9 children and Irene died in 1905.  Lorenzo wrote a journal of their journey which can be seen on

My last story of a pioneer woman is about Sarah Ann Richmond, born 20 Nov 1829, daughter of Thomas Richmond and Sarah Ann Burrows, both of England.  Both of their families emigrated from England and slowly made their way to Nauvoo, Illinois.  The families joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  Sarah married Henry Nelson in May of 1848 and in 1850, they had a son born at Council Bluff, Iowa and named him Henry Thomas Nelson after his father and grandfather.  They were in one wagon company at winter Quarters and suffered much cold and hunger during those trying days.  They departed Council Bluffs in May of 1851 when Sarah was but 21 years old and they traveled for 131 days with the David Lewis Wagon Company to Provo, Utah.  Their next child was born in Provo in Feb. of 1852.  All together, they had 13 children and finally settled in Buysville, Utah.  Henry died in 1897 and Sarah died in 1902.

Sarah Ann Richmond and Henry Nelson pioneers 001
Henry Nelson and Sarah Ann Richmond Nelson

One can only imagine the fortitude of these pioneer women who endured such hardships and perils on their travels across the west.  They experienced so much first hand that we only can read about.  They had to bury their children and loved ones and go on.  They left their homes and other family behind, probably never seeing them again.  It was not glamorous, but endless toil.  They packed their lives into a covered wagon and traveled hundreds of miles.   They perservered despite Indian attacks, droughts, storms, and just bad luck.  Their stories are compelling and sometimes heartbreaking.  I am honored to have them as ancestors!


Find A Grave, database and Images,, memorial page for Mary Thomas Williams, Memorial number 99526.

Utah State Historical Society, Comp. Utah Cemetery Inventory, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1847-2000 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc., 2000.

United States, Federal Census Mortality Schedules, Index, 1850-1880, [database on-line] Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc., 1999.

Virginia, Select Marriages, 1785-1940, FHL 34389, p. 465.


Are We Related to Jesse and Frank James?

Frank and Jesse James 001

This weeks prompt for 52 Ancestors is Family Legends.   Right away I thought of what  my Uncle Bill Lyons would tell us when we were young.   He said we were related to Jesse and Frank James, the infamous outlaws.  Uncle Bill was the oldest in my dad’s family and seemed to know the most about family history.  Still, it was hard to believe and as we grew up, we believed it less and less.  When I became interested in genealogy, I discovered that my 2nd great- grandmother was Mary Ann James, married to Columbus Perry Ashlin, so there was the James name.   However that did not prove any relationship and I really needed to investigate this James family.  I proved to be a gargantuan task as the James family lines are huge!  It will take me years of research to complete, for sure!

Wanted poster 001

While researching at the Mormon History Library in Salt Lake City a couple years ago, I found a whole book written on the James Family!  It is titled “Montgomery and James of southwest Virginia” by David B. Trimble (see Sources).  This volume of genealogy in one of four written as an expansion of Southwest Virginia Families, published in 1974.    The book basically gives the genealogy  and families of three brothers, Samuel, Thomas and John James who were born in Virginia in the early 1700’s.  I was able to establish my ancestry connection with Samuel James who was born 19 November of 1722 and married Mildred Taliaferro in 1740.

One of Samuel and Mildred’s sons, Spencer James (also known as James Spencer James), married Frances Davis and their daughter Phoebe Byrd James, born in 1797, married Chesley Harrison Ashlin.  Chesley and Phoebe are my 3rd great-grandparents, being the parents of Columbus Perry Ashlin.  So here I found my 2nd Great-grandfather, Columbus was also descended from a James as was his wife, Mary Ann James!  Mary Ann was the daughter of Thompson B. James and Susannah J Porter.  Thompson B. James was the son of Ezekial James and  Frances James, the sister of Phoebe Byrd James.  It all sounds confusing but my 2nd great-grandparents, Columbus Ashlin and Mary Ann James were actually distant cousins!  So now I established that there are indeed a lot of James ancestors in my tree!   But how did they relate to Jesse and Frank James?  I still had my doubts!

Then I stumbled on a web site entitled “Stray Leaves” by Eric James as I was researching the ancestry of Jesse and Frank James.  This web site was surprising and very well documented!  It is based on 10 years of research and uncovered 35,000 plus known James families and relations!  The Story of the James Family in American spans 350 years and started with John James, an immigrant from Carnarvon, Wales to Colonial Virginia arriving before 1650.  It also traced the James heritage back to William the Conqueror, Edward I “Longshanks”,  Edward II and Edward III of England.  There is much more on the James family ancestry that one can explore.  However, from what I could determine, some James family stayed in Virginia (which would be my ancestors) and others moved on to Kentucky.  Many were Baptist ministers as was Robert Sallee James, Jesse and Frank’s father.

This is a very extensive site but has a list of surnames that can guide you to check for anyone related to Jesse and Frank.  I checked the Ashlin name and was very surprised to find my second great-grandparents, Columbus Perry Ashlin and Mary Ann James listed as related to Jesse and Frank James!  Wow, according to this, my Uncle Bill was right!  However, I do need to continue studying the site and tracing both Jesse and Frank’s ancestry to see how they are related to our James’.  I do need more concrete proof.  But for now, if anyone asks if we are related to Jesse and Frank James, I can say “Quite possibly!”

stray Leaves 001

Jesse James, shall I say “distant cousin?”

Jesse James32 001


Trimble, David B. (David Buchanan), 1922-(Main Author), Montgomery and James of southwest Virginia, Austin, Texas: D. B. Trimble, c1992, 402 pages.

Wingfield, Marshal, Pioneer Families of Franklin County Virginia, Chesapeake Book Co. 1964, pp. 132-136.

(Stray Leaves)


“Executed by the State of Iowa, 1935”

One of the recent prompts was “Black Sheep” and I am certain we have more than one in our ancestry.  One can’t choose their ancestors, good or bad, but all of them had a story and their stories need to be told.  The “Black Sheep” I chose to research is Patrick William Griffin.  His mother was Susan Jane Lyons, the sister of George Lyons, my great-grandfather making Patrick Griffin my 1st cousin 2X removed.  So why did I pick Patrick?  When I found his death certificate on, I was shocked – the cause of death was “Death by hanging by State of Iowa!”   The Nature of Injury portion of the certificate just stated “Legal execution.”  Now this is not an usual way to die and I knew I had to find out more.  What happened and how did one come to such an untimely end at age 37?

Griffin death cert 2 001

Patrick’s mother, Susan Jane Lyons, was the daughter of Joseph Cloud Lyons and Mary Lavalett Dudley and she was born 07 March of 1855 in Pulaski County, Virginia.  On September 11 of 1890, Susan, at aged 36,  married John Griffin.  John was born in Michigan in either 1854 or 1849 to Maurice Griffin and Elizabeth Cunningham.  John’s parents were both born in Ireland, County Mayo, married there and immigrated to Michigan, later moving to Minnesota.

Patrick was born on January 7th of 1898 in Michigan.  When I found their 1900 Federal Census records, I was surprised to find that Patrick wasn’t their first child although he was the only child listed.  The Census listed that Susan had borne 4 children but only one- Patrick- was living. The family lived in Gladeville, Wise, Virginia where John was a “Day Laborer”.  They owned their home and had a mortgage.  From my other research, I see they lived in the same area as Susan’s parents at that time.  In 1902, another son was born and named Raymond Griffin.  By 1905, the Iowa State Census listed John, Susan, Pat and Ray Griffin living in Emmetsburg, Palo Alto County, Iowa.  That was quite a move- they moved from Virginia to Iowa in that 5 year period.

By 1910, the family moved again to Fern Valley, Palo Alto, Iowa and this Census stated that Susan had borne 6 children and only 2 were living.  It must have been a strain on the family to lose 4 children, but more tragedy was to come.  In 1914, John Griffin passed away.  Patrick was 16 and Ray was 12 when their father died.   The 1915 State Census for Iowa showed widow Susan and the 2 teenage boys living in Walnut, Palo Alto, Iowa and Susan was already 60 years old.  Patrick was employed as a painter and earned $300 in 1914.  He had an 8th grade education.  The family was listed as Catholic – not surprising as their father John was Irish.

By 1918, Patrick had to register for the World War I Draft at age 20.  His occupation was listed as “Thresher” and probably found work on a farm.  His personal information listed him as medium build and height with brown eyes and dark hair.  The 1920 Federal Census listed them still in Walnut and Patrick, 22, and Ray, 18, are laborers.  By 1925, Patrick moved out and lived in Graettinger, Iowa according to the Iowa State Census.  He was single and could read and write.  Ray stayed with his mother and they also moved to Graettinger and took in boarders to get by.   Susan, now age 76, was found in the 1930 Federal Census as a Lodger with the Eastman Family in Waterloo, Black Hawk County, Iowa.  No 1930 Census data has yet been found for Patrick Griffin.

The country was in the throes of the Great Depression by now and work was very hard to find.  Bread lines and soup kitchens were all over.  This was a bad time in our history.  If a man couldn’t get a job or support his family, what could he do?  How many turned to crime in desperation?  Did this happen to Patrick?  Of course it would be no excuse for the crime he did do but did it contribute?  We will never know.  Here’s what happened.

On Friday, December 16 of 1932, Iowa Deputy Sheriff William Dilworth of Black Hawk got a call when decorating a Christmas tree for his 6 year old daughter.  He was sent to a home belonging to Mrs. Frank Graves about 1/2 mile from town.  Deputy H. M. Mitchell accompanied him.  They were to talk to Patrick Griffin and Elmer Brewer about a statutory rape case.  The two had just come into town from Chicago.  Upon entering the shack where the two were hold up, Deputy Dilworth was shot in the head by Elmer Brewer and died instantly.  Patrick Griffin shot twice at Deputy Mitchell and the deputy was able to get away and drive to a nearby inn for help and was sent to the hospital.  Elmer and Pat took off into the woods despite the bitter cold.  The City Detective, Hugh Crumrine,  aided by R. V. Stealy who happened to be out in the woods hunting rabbits nearby, tracked and captured Brewer and Griffin who were about frozen and readily gave themselves up.  They were taken to the Black Hawk County jail.  They confessed their crime and stated they fled to Chicago after committing a robbery in Kansas, buying a new car and driving to the area.  They thought the deputies were coming to get them in connection to the robbery.

capture of brewer and griffin 001

griffin picture 001
Patrick Griffin

There is a wealth of newspaper articles that I researched on about the pair.  They give lengthy details about the capture, the trials and the executions of Elmer Brewer and Patrick Griffin.  In January of 1933,  Elmer Brewer was convicted of first degree murder of Deputy Dilworth.  “Patrick Griffin was found guilty of first degree murder in a verdict returned at 2:43 p.m. Thursday in Black Hawk district court.  The jurors recommended the death penalty…Altho evidence established that Brewer’s shot was the cause of Dilworth’s death, the jury held Griffin equally guilty of the murder…The jury, which deliberated only four hours, including lunch time, included 10 men and 2 women.” (The Courier, Waterloo, Iowa, 05 Jan 1933, page 1)

Both were given the death sentence and sent to the state penitentiary at Fort Madison to await execution.  Appeals were made to the State Supreme Court and Governor Herring but all were denied  and only served to delay the execution that was originally set for January of 1934.

Brewer and Griffin to pen 001

Two of Griffin’s childhood friends stood by him as he mounted the gallows on June 5th of 1935.  One was Rev. Leo McEvoy, pastor of Ruthven, Iowa Catholic Church who also administered the last rites.  The other was Attorney James Fay of Emmetsburg, Iowa who was also Griffin’s lawyer.  Patrick’s brother Ray also stood by him.  Their mother Susan had passed away in October of 1934 in the Black Hawk County Home at age 82.  It was probably a blessing that she did not live to see her son hanged.

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Patrick William Griffin, age 37, was laid to rest in Saint Jacobs Cemetery, Graettinger, Palo Alto County, Iowa.  May he rest in peace.


Virginia, Births and Christenings, 1853-1917, Database, FamilySearch, Mary L. Lyons in entry for Susan J Lyons, 07 Mar 1855; citing Pulaski County, Virginia, reference 13, FHL microfilm 2,046,959.

Virginia, Marriages, 1785-1940, Salt Lake City, Utah: FamilySearch, 2013.

State Historical Society of Iowa: Des Moines, Iowa; Iowa Death Records; Reference Number: 101821054.

Microfilm of Iowa State Censuses, 1856, 1885, 1895, 1905, 1915, 1925 as well as special censuses from 1836-1897 obtained from State Historical Society of Iowa via Heritage Quest.

Certificate of Death for Susan Griffin, Waterloo, Black Hawk County, State of Iowa, Registered No. 397, October 2, 1934.

United States Federal Census 1900; Gladeville District, Wise, Virginia; Page 18; Enumeration District: 0124; FHL microfilm 1,241,732.

United States Federal Census 1910; Fern Valley, Palo Alto, Iowa; Roll: T624_417; Page: 1A; Enumeration District: 0176; FHL microfilm 1,374,430.

United States Federal Census 1920; Walnut, Palo Alto, Iowa; Roll: T625_505; Page: 1A; Enumeration District: 200.

United States Federal Census 1930 for Waterloo, Black Hawk County, Iowa for Susan Griffin;; Ancestry Operations, Inc.; Provo, UT, USA. 2009.

United States, Selective Service System.  World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918; Washington D.C. NARA: M 1509; Registration State: Iowa; Registration County: Palo Alto; Roll: 1643218.

Find A Grave,; Patrick William Griffin, Memorial # 114182649.  Des Moines Tribune, Des Moines, Iowa:  05 June 1935, Wed., p. 4 and 17 Dec 1932, Sat., p. 1.;  The Courier, Waterloo, Iowa: 04 Jan 1933, p. 2 and 05 Jan 1933, p. 1 and 17 Jan 1933, p. 3 and 05 June 1935, p. l;  The Daily Times: 05 June 1935, pp. 1, 2.









More than One “Arthur”

This week’s prompt for 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks is “Same Name”  and in our family, we have “Arthurs”.  There are at least 4 that I know of!  My Great-Uncle Kalle Arthur Knihtila, my uncle Arthur Richard Knihtila, my brother Arthur LaFon Lyons and his son, my nephew, Arthur Paull Lyons.   I guess it would be easy to call them Arthur 1, 2, 3, and 4 but you never know when another Arthur will pop up in my ancestry searchings!

Recently I had the immense pleasure of meeting two cousins who were visiting from Sweden, Borje and Leif.  As we were discussing our common ancestry, I could see that it was confusing to them as to which “Arthur” I was talking about!   So I am hoping this blog will help clear up the “Arthurs” in the family for them!  I would like to focus first on my Great-Uncle Kalle Arthur Knihtila and then his namesake, Arthur Richard Knihtila, my uncle.

The First Arthur

Arthur K, brother of John 001

Kalle Arthur Knihtila was a biological brother of my grandfather, Richard Knihtila, and Emil Arvid Knihtila.   (Emil is the grandfather of Borje and Leif).  Kalle Arthur was born on 24 March 1888, in Simoniemi, Lappi, Finland and was the second son of John August Knihtila and Maria Kaisa Kestala (or Paakkari – some confusing records on Maria).   According to the grave marker in the Simo cemetery, their mother, Maria Kaisa Knihtila, died in 1899 at about age 37 or 38.  Kalle Arthur was just 11 years old, Richard was 13 and Emil was only 9 when their mother passed away.  Then sometime between 1902 and 1904, their father Johan August, who was about 43 years old in 1902, married Maria Evaliina Hepola who was 22 or 23 years younger than himself!   The new stepmother was only 5 years older than my grandfather Richard and 7 years older than Kalle Arthur.  I imagine there certainly could have been some conflict in the household!

By 1905, my grandfather Richard and a friend of his decided to immigrate to America and leave Finland and family behind.  They sailed to Portland, Maine and made their way to Calumet, Michigan at first to work in the mines.  (See former blog on “Sisu”)  The next year, Kalle Arthur decided to follow his brother Richard to America.  Kalle Arthur immigrated in 1906 with 2 friends, arriving in New York from Liverpool, England on March 10, 1906.  Arthur, as he was now called in America, was only 18 and arrived with $12 in his pocket.  His two friends that traveled with him were Matti Ristimaki, age 19, and Juho Mattila, age 18.  They traveled to Republic, Michigan to meet his brother Richard.

In tracing Arthur’s whereabouts, I found a postcard dated 1909 that my grandfather Richard sent to his brother.   Arthur was working in a mine and living in Ironwood, Michigan in Michigan’s western Upper Peninsula.   The 1910 Federal Census for Ironwood Ward 8, Gogebic County, Michigan, confirmed that he lived in a boarding house run by  Trace and Mary Walquist in Ironwood.  Arthur was 22 years old, single, not naturalized, and there were 29 boarders plus a servant listed in the boarding house.  At that time, chiefly because of the mining industry for iron ore and copper, these towns like Ironwood and Bessemer in the Gogebic Range were boom towns.  Many immigrants of Finnish, Swedish and other Scandinavian countries flocked to this area for the jobs.  Working in the underground mines was dangerous and unsafe without any electricity.  Miners wore candles on their hats for light.

By 1917, Arthur had to register for the World War I draft.  His draft card showed he was still in the Bessemer area not naturalized, and single.  He was 29 years old and living in Bessemer, Michigan.  He listed his occupation as a miner employed by the Colby Iron Mine Co. in Bessemer.  He listed his father as a dependent but claimed no exemptions from serving.  He was described as medium height and build with gray eyes and gray hair.

Sometime before 1919, Arthur had moved to Duluth, Minnesota where he got another job as a miner.  I think Arthur was probably a fun guy as he like to get his picture taken and one was with a western outfit on!

Arthur Knihtila as cowboy 001
Arthur on right about 1914

In 1919, Arthur became ill and needed an appendix operation in Duluth.  Unfortunately, on May 9, 1919, he died after the operation at age 31.  The death report mistakenly listed his name as “Arlo Knihtila” but the rest of the information did match Arthur.  His brother Richard had his body transported back to Bessemer when he lived and Arthur was buried in the Knihtila plot in Hillcrest Cemetery, Bessemer on May 10th.

The Second Arthur

Art K young 001

My grandfather Richard named his son after his brother Arthur.   My uncle, Arthur Richard Knihtila, was born on January 2, 1917.   He was the second child of Richard and his wife, Alma Tusa Knihtila.  The first child was Elma Marie Knihtila, my mother.  He and my mom grew up in Bessemer and the family attended St. Paul’s Finnish Evangelical Church in Bessemer, where both were confirmed.  He finished his first year of high school before going to work as a sawyer in a lumber camp.

On June 15, 1942, Arthur is inducted into the U. S. Army when he enlisted in Traverse City, Michigan.   While stationed in Russell, Georgia, he married Gladys Aileene Thomas and their son, James Richard Knihtila, was born on December of 1943 in Nashville, Tennessee.   Arthur spent his 1944 furlough in Bessemer with his parents before being shipped overseas to Europe.  In February of 1945, notice came to Alma and Richard that Arthur was wounded in action for the second time and was hospitalized in France for wounds received in January.  He had previously been wounded in France in July of 1944 and was sent to England for 3 months to recover before returning to action in October of 1944.  Pvt. Knihtila served with an infantry unit in the 3rd Armored Division for almost a year.

In April of 1945, Arthur is wounded for the third time in Normandy and very severely.  He was found on the battlefield left for dead but was still alive.  He had 16 machine gun bullets in his body.  He was sent to England on a C-47 Ambulance Plane and then to Scotland where they put him on a ship and he sailed for New York on the ship Queen Elizabeth. He was sent to the Hollaran General Hospital in Staten Island, New York and then to Schick’s General Hospital in Clinton, Iowa to recover.  He was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart and other citations for his service to the country.  He was discharged from the Army in November of 1945.


Art and Jim K 001
Arthur Richard Knihtila and his son, James Richard Knihtila


By this time, he was divorced from his wife Gladys and returned to Bessemer to live.    Eventually, he moved to Hurley, Wisconsin, about 10 miles from Bessemer and did earn his High School Equivalency Diploma.  He worked a lot of different jobs, some in Michigan and some in Minnesota, mainly in lumber camps.  He did buy a home in Ironwood and lived in it until his death on November 17th, 1997.   Arthur was cremated according to his wishes and buried in the Knihtila plot in Hillcrest Cemetery in Bessemer, Michigan.

Art K gravestone 001

I regret that I only have sketches of their lives but am happy to have known my uncle Arthur!  Bless them both!



New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,

United States Federal Census, 1910, Index and Images, FamilySearch; Ironwood Ward 8, Gogebic, Michigan, United State, citing  enumeration district 84, sheet 9B, family 133, NARA microfilm publication T624, Washington, D.C.; FHL microfilm 1,374,660.

U. S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 for Arthur Knihtila; Michigan, Gogebic County, Draft Card K;

Minnesota, Deaths and Burials, 1835-1990, index,, Arlo Knihtila, 09 May 1919; citing Duluth, St. Louis, Minnesota, reference 25665; FHL microfilm 2,218,039.

Obituary of Arthur Knihtila, Ironwood Daily Globe Archives, Ironwood, Michigan.

Newspapers,com.; articles from the Ironwood Daily Globe, Ironwood, Michigan and the Bessemer Herald, Bessemer, Michigan.

A Tribute to My Dad, LaFon Lyons


LaFon Art and me in boat 001
My Dad about 1950 with my brother and I ( who can’t stay still!).


This week on 52 Ancestors is all about Father’s Day and I would like to share some of my favorite old photos and a bit of a story of my dad, LaFon Camlyn Lyons.   He was born the 30th of August in 1917 in Lynchburg, Virginia, the third son of Clarence Edward Lyons and Cammie Lyster Swanson.  He was really named Camlyn LaFon Lyons but always used LaFon as his first name.  Now “LaFon” is not an ordinary name!  I was told that he was named after a neighbor who was a relative and in my research, I found that to probably be true.  His family had lived in Sugar Grove, Virginia near the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1916, the year before they moved to Lynchburg and my dad was born.  A cousin of the family, through marriage, also lived in Sugar Grove and their son, born in 1916, was Randolph Lafon Huff.  This is likely the neighbor that my dad was named after!  Only, my dad’s name had a capital ” F” in the middle of LaFon.

I don’t know a lot about my dad growing up, just bits and pieces.  He had 2 older brothers, Bill (William Lilburn Lyons) and Eddy (Edward McWayne Lyons) and 2 younger sisters, Dreama June Lyons Cranston Schultz, and Coralie Jean Lyons Hearn.  He also had a sister named Rosemary who died at birth.  The family lived and worked on a large tobacco and sugar cane farm at one time, possibly his grandparents farm.  When they moved to Lynchburg, his dad Clarence was a carpenter at Jno. P Pettyjohn & Co.

Big changes for the family happened in 1923.  When my dad was only 5, his family, his uncle’s family, his aunt’s family and some of the cousins all packed up and left Virginia to move to Detroit, Michigan.  Here, most found work in the Auto industry and his dad worked first at the Packard Motor Company and later at Aeroplane Manufacturing as a mechanic.  I have an old letter to my dad from his first cousin, Roland Gilley where Roland talks about growing up in Detroit near my dad.  In the letter, he said, “Remember the time you got hit with a brick at school and broke your arm?”   There must have been a good story behind that one!

Then, of course, times got hard during the Great Depression.  In 1930, the family owned a home at 357 St. Aubins Street in the 9th Ward of Detroit.  His dad was working part time because of ill health due to tuberculosis.  My dad did tell me once that when he was 14, he had a job driving a bakery truck in Detroit and that would have been in 1931.  Later, I know he drove Semi Tractors.  My dad and brother Eddy quit high school to work and help support the family when their dad was ill.  Dad was a truck driver and Eddy worked as a paint sprayer in an auto factory.  When Dad was 22 in 1939, his father Clarence passed away at age 48 from Pulmonary Tuberculosis and heart disease.  Cammie was a widow at age 46 and went to work and the boys helped support the family.   My dad did work in the CCC’s (Civilian Conservation Corps) before the war in Paradise, Michigan.

When World War II started my dad was drafted into the army and met my mom, Elma Knihtila, while he was stationed in Fort Sheridan, Illinois.  He served in the Aleutian Islands at Attu and Kiska while my mom waited for him and lived in Seattle, Washington.  They were married May 16, 1944 in Bessemer, Michigan.  This part of their story is one I am still working on and piecing together.  But I have many memories of this handsome, caring man who was my father and want to share some of my favorite old pictures of  him.  All the pictures were rescued from a decrepit family album!


LaFon, his mom and baby art 1945 001
My Dad and his mom, Cammie Lyons.  My brother Art is the baby that wouldn’t hold still! 1945.



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My Dad, Mom and his sister, Coralie by Dad’s 1932 Chevy, about 1945.


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Dad and Mom and brother Art around 1950.  Notice how Dad reaches around and holds my brother’s head to face the camera!


LaFon and Elma & fish, Deer Trail, 1950 001
One of their favorite things to do – fishing!  Deer Trail Inn in summer of 1950 after a long day on the lake!


dad loading boat 001
Of course fishing wasn’t all fun.  Dad had to load this wooden boat on the car first!  

There is so much more that I could write about this wonderful man – he was my hero as I grew up.  He was a hard worker, loving and devoted to his family.  But more of his story will wait for another day.  I hope you enjoy the pictures!


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Dad rescuing two baby bobcats he found in the woods.  Date unknown.


I found this picture on Ancestry of Randolph Lafon Huff, the neighbor and relative of my dad’s family whom my dad was named after.  He was born the year before my dad.  A great find!