A distant cousin, who also happens to be a historian/archivist in South Carolina, once told me, “some ancestors won’t let you find them until they are ready to be found.” After five years or more of looking, my 2nd great grandmother, Mary Jane Simril, was finally ready to reveal herself and her family this week. Great timing for another installment for Crestleaf.com’s 12 months of Fascinating Family Finds challenge.

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Mary Jane Simril was the first wife of my 2nd great grandfather, Major Brown Garrison. They were both born in Ebenezer Township of York County, South Carolina; he in 1844 and she in 1846.  He attended Ebenezer Academy, a school house that still stands and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is very likely she attended school there as well. They were married in 1866, after MB (as we refer to him around my house) came home from fighting in the Civil War.

In 1870, MB and Mary Jane loaded up a wagon and headed west to Arkansas.  They purchased 240 acres of wild land in Bradley County, and immediately cleared it for growing cotton. Their land holding eventually grew to 1,100 acres, and their family grew to include three children: Howard, Edward (my great grandfather) and Eula. In 1874, Mary Jane died after only 7 years of marriage.  Until now, this has been all I have ever been able to find out about Mary Jane.

I am not sure what possessed me this particular night to look at her on my tree again. Her last name has always seemed peculiar to me. I had searched in the DAR Genealogy Research System (GRS) database, but nothing matched that exact spelling.  Close, but not quite. So, I did it the old fashioned way- I Googled!

Immediately, a US Federal Census record popped up at the top of the search that listed her in her father’s house in 1860. I don’t know how I never located this before. Perhaps it is because her father’s name was difficult to read. She was 14 years old at the time of the Census.  I was so excited to finally have both her father and mother’s names! James and Violet D. Simril. James was actually listed on the 1880 Census on the the same page as MB and family, but I had never noticed before! (hint: always look through a Census page to see who may be living near your family.)

Excerpt from the 1850 US Federal Census
Excerpt from the 1850 US Federal Census

Another Google search led me to the Find-A-Grave website.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with Find-A-Grave, and think I am jesting about such a site, it is a largely voluntary platform where individuals take photos of tombstones and upload them to the website for people like me to search.  It may sound crazy, but it’s true! Anyway, the Find-A-Grave website was the key to unlocking the rest of the puzzle as the family lineage was completely linked.

James Simril (1807-1885) was married to Violet D. Garrison Simril (1807-1889).  (Yes, she was a Garrison. This means my Garrison line may not fork here!) James was the son of Francis Ross Simril (1778-1843) and Mary Herron Simril (1784-1848). Francis Ross was the son of James Franklin Simril (1735-1798) and Violet Barry Henderson.

James Franklin Simril was a patriot in the American Revolutionary War, serving in the cavalry.  He was given 1,000 acres of land in White Co., Tennessee in 1793 from the state of North Carolina for his service to the American Revolutionary Cause. There were some additional generations after James Franklin that were also documented and I can’t wait to further investigate.

Mary Jane Simril (c)

This photo was among my late grandmother’s keepsakes and I have kept it on my bedside table for years.  It was taken in Yorkville, South Carolina, by J. R. Schorb, a prominent early local photographer & artist of the period. While I can’t be 100% certain, I feel like it is most likely Mary Jane based on the location the photo was taken, the period of dress and the provenance of it arriving in Arkansas to be passed down through several generations of Garison’s before it came to me. When I look at this photo now, I have a greater appreciation of who she was as a person, as well as that of her family.

Copyright © 2015 Beth Wylie and Life in the Past Lane. All rights reserved.