John M. Smith case study #2

While researching the family of John M. Smith, I came across a puzzle for his daughter, Mary Jane. My group sheet indicated that she had married Thomas Simpson on November 8, 1838 in Russell County[1]. I had Thomas’ parents as Reuben Simpson, Jr. and Martha Merrill or Merritt.

Russell County, Kentucky, Marriages v1 p15

I was working on my John M. Smith case study and was updating the sources for his children when I decided to dig in a little more on Mary Jane’s family to see if I could find anything on Solomon, her brother, because Russell County Deed Book D p200[2] had indicated that Thomas and Mary Jane Simpson were his legal representatives. I found that I had connected her Ancestry page to a Findagrave listing[3], but the listing didn’t quite match the information that I had. The Findagrave memorial has Thomas Simpson’s wife listed as Mary Ann Copenhaver, but her birth and death dates matched the information that I had in my records for Mary Jane Smith.

In Thomas’ bio, it said that Thomas had married Sarah Ray in 1842 and then Mary Ann (Copenhaver) Turner in 1845. My Mary Jane Smith had married Thomas Simpson in Russell County in 1838.

There was no photo of the gravestone, so I could not confirm if the stone had Mary Ann or Mary Jane. While at my library on a different mission, I decided to take a look at any books that might contain information to help. I found Cemeteries of Wayne County, Kentucky[4] which showed that the stone says “Mary J.” with the same dates that were given on Findagrave. Perhaps there was more than one Thomas Simpson?

Cemeteries of Wayne County, Kentucky

I went to FamilySearch and did a search for Thomas Simpson and Mary Ann Copenhaver. I did find the marriage record as well as the record for the marriage with Sarah Ray on the same page[5]. But that didn’t really help me. So I began working on collecting records for Thomas Simpson. What I found was confusing to me. (See the Thomas Simpson timeline I’m working on.)

The Findagrave listing for Thomas and Mary Ann had one son connected – William Andrew Simpson.

William was married to Louisa Shearer, which I also had in my records for Thomas and Mary Jane’s family. William’s memorial[6] had one sibling connected – Martha E. Simpson Bell. The only information I had in my group sheet for Martha was an approximate date of birth.

Clicking on MARTHA’s memorial[7], I saw an obituary transcription – yay! The last line of the obituary said, “Daughter of Thomas & Mary Ann Copenhaver Turner Simpson / Wife of Ira Garner Bell” – boo! So what was going on?

I looked to see if I had all of the census records for Thomas Simpson. While updating those, I found the 1880 Wayne County census for Garner and Martha E. Bell. They were living with Thomas Simpson!  But the 1850, 1860 and 1870 census records all had Thomas with wife Mary Jane. How could Martha be the daughter of Mary Ann Copenhaver if she was listed in the 1850 and 1860 census with Thomas and Mary Jane?

1850 – Russell County, Kentucky, Federal Census, District 2, Ancestry image 21

  • Thomas Sympson – age 37
  • Mary J Sympson – age 37
  • Lucinda Abbot – age 16
  • John R Sympson – age 10
  • William A Sympson – age 8
  • Lauretta E Sympson – age 7
  • Martha E Sympson – age 5

1860 – Wayne County, Kentucky, Federal Census, Not Stated, Ancestry image 186

  • Thomas Simpson – age 47
  • Mary J Simpson – age 47
  • John R Simpson – age 20
  • William A Simpson – age 19
  • Lauretta E Simpson – age 17
  • Martha E Simpson – age 15
  • Mary E Simpson – age 10

1870 – Wayne County, Kentucky, Federal Census, Mullen, Ancestry image 14

  • Thomas Simpson – age 57
  • Mary J Simpson – age 57
  • Mary E Simpson – age 19

1870 – Wayne County, Kentucky, Federal Census, Mullen, Ancestry image 14 (listed directly after Thomas and Mary J.)

  • Garner Bell – age 24
  • Martha E Bell – age 26
  • William T Bell – age 6/12

1880 – Wayne County, Kentucky, Federal Census, Mullentown, ED 107, Ancestry image 4

  • Thomas Simpson – age 67
  • Garner Bell – age 36
  • Martha E. Bell – age 36
  • Thomas R Bell – age 11
  • William W Bell – age 3

Could there be more than one Thomas Simpson with a daughter named Martha? Looking closely at the 1880 census, I could see Thomas (with the Bell family) at the top of the page. The next entry was for William and Louisa (Shearer) Simpson. Thomas and Mary Jane Simpson’s son, William, had married Louisa Shearer in 1860[8]. This just seemed like too much to be a coincidence.

I started thinking….what are the sources for Mary Ann Copenhaver being the wife of Thomas Simpson who was buried in the Simpson Cemetery in Wayne County listed as the mother of William and Martha? I had the Findagrave Memorial for Thomas Simpson and the obituary for Martha Simpson Bell.

Looking back at the obituary given on Findagrave, it said –

Wayne County Outlook

18 Mar 1915

Mrs. Martha Simpson Bell, aged 70, wife of Garner Bell, died at her home near Alex last Friday.

Deceased was a daughter of the late Thomas Simpson and was married to Mr. Bell on Oct. 2, 1868, from which union two sons were born, both of whom survive her.

She was badly hurt when their house was blown down in the cyclone two years ago and has been in bad health since.

The remains were buried at the family burying ground Sunday. Daughter of Thomas & Mary Ann Copenhaver Turner Simpson / Wife of Ira Garner Bell

As I looked at that last line, I thought that it didn’t have the same sentence structure that you would normally see in an obituary. Could it something that the transcriber added? Could I find the actual obituary in the newspaper?

The Wayne County Outlook is not available on Chronicling America or on Newspapers.com. The Library of Congress website did not have any location with a digital version of the paper. So I turned to my friends on Facebook. Did anyone know where there might be a copy of the paper that I could write to? And an angel answered me that the Wayne County Library had digitized versions of the paper and included the link! Two minutes later and I had found the obituary![9] And……the last line was NOT part of the actual obituary.

From the Wayne County Outlook, Monticello, Kentucky published 18 Mar 1915, p2.

So now, I have to assume that the owner of the memorial is adding information that hasn’t been proven. But how many other people are using it as proof in THEIR research? Lesson learned – always verify other people’s sources!


[1] Russell County, Kentucky, Marriages v1, p15, FamilySearch film #5686089, image 28.

[2] Russell County, Kentucky, Deed Book D, p200, FamilySearch film #007895641, image 118.

[3] Findagrave Memorial ID 67815762 – Mary Ann “Polly” Copenhaver Simpson, 4 Mar 1813 – 4 May 1879

[4] Coffey, Bennie, and Juanita Coffey. 1982. Cemeteries of Wayne County, Kentucky. [Place of publication not identified]: B. & J. Coffey. p831, accessed at the Allen County Library, Fort Wayne, Indiana, 21 Oct 2020.

[5] Wayne Co, KY, Marriage Bonds 1834 – 1846, p54, FamilySearch film #005773126, image 261

[6] Findagrave Memorial ID 67815745 – William Andrew Simpson, Dec 1840 – 1902

[7] Findagrave Memorial ID 58014218 – Martha E. Simpson Bell, 8 Sep 1844 – 13 Mar 1915

[8] Wayne Co, Kentucky, Marriage Bonds 1859-67, p133, FamilySearch film #5773127, image 84.

[9] http://waynecounty.advantage-preservation.com/viewer/?i=f&by=1915&bdd=1910&bm=3&bd=18&d=03181915-03181915&m=between&fn=wayne_county_outlook_usa_kentucky_monticello_19150318_english_2&df=1&dt=4