Rewriting the Biography: When Did James Sims Die?

Many of my West Virginia cousins and genealogy acquaintances know my 5th great-grandfather James SIMS (1754-1845) of Nicholas County is one of my favorite ancestors to research. I worked with a group of descendants sixteen years ago and wrote a lengthy biography which is attached to hundreds of trees on Ancestry. It is now time to review the information I used in writing the biography and attempt to find more of the missing pieces.

One question which has not been settled is the year of death of James SIMS. The exact location of his grave in the Simms Memorial Church Cemetery in Swiss is in doubt as the original stone marker was displaced and lost many years ago. Two memorial plaques are in the cemetery.

James Sims, Sgt VA Militia, Revolutionary War, 1754-1838
Revolutionary Soldier, James Sims, 1754-1845

The marker with the year 1838 was secured from the Veterans Administration in 1979 by George R. Penick, Jr. Mr. Penick who compiled information on the descendants of James Sims spoke with some older family members who assumed James SIMS died in 1838. Mr. Penick did his research over 40 years ago and did not have the resources we have today. He likely did not consult the 1840 census as James SIMS age 80 thru 89 was enumerated with his wife, his youngest son George Washington Sims, and a younger male – perhaps a grandson who was helping on the farm.

I have not been able to find out who placed the marker with the 1845 year of death which is more likely as James was living in 1840.

In 1848 a bill of complaint was filed by attorney John Reynolds in the Circuit Supreme Court of Law and Chancery for Nicholas County with George H. Lee, Judge, seeking to have the court provide for the sale of the 125-acre farm near Beech Glen left by James SIMS when he died. The transcript names heirs who would have been living at the time and has also been referred to as a partition suit. The date of death of the deceased was given in the bill as 1836 which cannot be correct due to his being alive at the time of the 1840 census.

Although FamilySearch now has many records online for Nicholas County, I have yet to locate the original partition suit. The transcript was found by Willard E. Simms of Cozaddale, Ohio, in the DAR file of Virginia Bondurant Johnson and shared in a letter to John T. Simms, of Charleston, West Virginia, in 1947. Without a copy of the original record, I cannot be sure that the information in the transcript is correct.

When did James SIMS die?

FamilySearch now has many “new” browse-only record collections available for Nicholas County, West Virginia.

In the Order books, 1844-1928 I found four documents which mention James SIMS in the volumes for the years 1844-1871.

At a Court continued and held for the County of Nicholas on Wednesday the 13th day of November 1844 present William D. Cottle, Bernard Hendrick, John Mc Hamilton.

A power of attorney from James Sims to John McClung was presented in court and ordered to be recorded.1

This now places the death of James SIMS at after this date, 13 November 1844. Eight months later another record was recorded in the Order Book.

August Term 1845

At a Court held for the County of Nicholas at the Court house by the Justices thereof on Tuesday the 12th day of August 1845. present Bernard Hendrick, William Sims, James G. Neil, David Hanna, Jeremiah Odell & William D. Cottle Gent. Justices.2

James Sims Senr. is released from the payment of County & parish Levies in future.3

As we see here on 12 August 1845 James SIMS was still living. Was he exempted from paying the levies due to his age or infirmity? James was born in 1754 per his own declaration made in 1834 and would turn 91 years old on 8 October 1845.

The last two records found add a new date to the equation.

At a Court held for the County of Nicholas at the Court house by the Justices thereof on Tuesday the 10th day of March 1846 present John M. Hamilton, William D. Cottle, William Sims & James G. Neil Gent Justices & John McClung Gent Justice.4

On the motion of William Sims who made oath & together with Joshua Stephenson and Dryden Sims his securities entered into and acknowledged a bond in the penalty of Two hundred Dollars conditioned as the Law directs certificate is granted the said William Sims to obtain Letters of administration on the Estate of James Sims decd in due form.

On the motion of William Sims administrator of the Estate of James Sims Decd. George Hardway William Summers & John Morris are appointed appraisers of the personal Estate of the said decd. after being first duly sworn for that purpose and that they return the appraisment under their hands to the Court.5

Sometime between 12 August 1845 and 10 March 1846, James SIMS passed away. He did not leave a will and letters of administration and the appraisement of his estate were ordered.

His son William SIMS was one of the justices of the court. How long after his death would he have waited to start proceedings to have his father’s estate administered and appraised? Previously the court was held on 10 February 1846, 13 January 1846, and 12 November 1845? Could it be he died in 1846 and the year 1836 seen in the partition case was an error of ten years?

For now, I will list the death of James SIMS as between 12 August 1845 and 10 March 1846. Previously I had between 1840-1848 as these were the last census year he was found and the year the partition suit was filed. I am quite happy with the range I have been able to narrow down to.

The next question I have may not be as easily answered. If the estate of James SIMS was appraised6 then the appraisement would be found in the West Virginia Will Books collection at FamilySearch. Although I have not checked page by page, I found that at one point in the Nicholas County will book for the period there are records missing between July term in 1844 and 1865 with one will from the October term in 1857 serving as a placeholder between the 1844 and 1865 records. Are the records out of order? Where could the missing years be?

I asked this question in the Nicholas County WV Genealogy group on Facebook. One researcher has been to the Nicholas County courthouse several times to do research. She was told at least two wills books may be missing and was lead to believe they are unsure of what became of the books.

© 2018, copyright Cathy Meder-Dempsey. All rights reserved.


  1. Nicholas County (West Virginia), County Court, Order books, 1844-1928 (images), <i>FamilySearch</i>, (11 microfilm reels of original records at the Nicholas County courthouse, Sommersville, West Virginia), DGS 7617649, Film 1639161, Vols. D,E,D 1844-1871, p 3, image 37 of 840. 13 Nov 1844 Power of attorney from James Sims to John McClung,(https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-L9V1-FJ1R?i=36&cat=99534 : accessed 6 February 2018). 
  2.  Ibid., DGS 7617649, Film 1639161, Vols. D,E,D 1844-1871, p 40, image 54 of 840. 12 August 1845 James Sims exempt from levies (page with date court was in session), (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-L9V1-FJB1?i=53&cat=99534 : 7 February 2018). 
  3. Ibid., DGS 7617649, Film 1639161, Vols. D,E,D 1844-1871, p 41, image 55 of 840. 1845 James Sims exempt from levies (left page, last entry), (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-L9V1-FJB6?i=54&cat=99534 : accessed 7 February 2018). 
  4. Ibid., Vols. D,E,D 1844-1871, p 65, DGS 7617649, Film 1639161, image 67 of 840. 10 March 1846 date court was in session, (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-L9V1-FJY3?i=66&cat=99534 : accessed 7 February 2018). 
  5. Ibid., DGS 7617649, Film 1639161, Vols. D,E,D 1844-1871, p 69, image 69 of 840. Letters of administration and appraisement order for estate of James Sims decd, (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-L9V1-FJY6?i=68&cat=99534 : accessed 7 February 2018). 
  6. William Sims adm. of the Estate of James Sims decd. presented in Court an appraisment & Sale Bill of the Estate of the said Decd. which being seen and inspected by the Court is ordered to be Recorded.
    Ibid., DGS 7617649, Film 1639161, Vols. D,E,D 1844-1871, p 92, image 81 of 840. (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-L9V1-FJY4?i=80&cat=99534 : accessed 7 February 2018) 
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Author: Cathy Meder-Dempsey

When I’m not doing genealogy and blogging, I spend time riding my racing bike with my husband through the wonderful Luxembourg countryside.

14 thoughts on “Rewriting the Biography: When Did James Sims Die?”

  1. Nicely researched, Cathy. Well done! In addition to the great new data on James Sims, this was the first I’d heard about FamilySearch’s browse-only records. I’ve used their digital book collection to GREAT effect, but this sounds like a wonderful new resource to explore. Thanks for pointing it out!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great work as always, Cathy. I am curious—how many pages did you have to browse before finding these records? I haven’t done much with browse-only files because each time I have tried, I am just too overwhelmed and don’t know where or how to start.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Amy. I did not have to do much browsing once I figured out how the collections were filmed and what was available. These Order books have an index at the front or back (always look in both places) with the “main character” of each entry. Entries about road work, appraisals, commissioners, elections, etc. or cases of the commonwealth against a citizen are listed under R, A, and C. It pays to read the entire index before going to the time-consuming page by page search. But I may end up doing this for the West Virginia records as so many of the early settlers are relatives.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Cathy, congratulations on narrowing the date range. I have many ancestors whose dates on the beginning of probate are months after the death, so it would not surprise me if he died in late 1845 and the proceedings did not start until the following March. Surely would be nice to find out how that 1845 tombstone got placed, though, wouldn’t it? Or to find a family Bible.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hey Cathy, Great post! I picked up your browse only tip when we discussed Seaton Coleman several years ago. Since then, I have used it to my great advantage several times, finding wills and estates that I thought I’d never find. You’re the best kiddo!
    Brian

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Congratulations on narrowing the window for James’ death. Maybe when you pinpoint the exact date (holding out hope a record will surface and help you do that), you can add a third headstone? 🙂

    I ran into a similar problem reviewing West Virginia records. I found my 4th great-grandfather in the index of a local county’s chancery court records. He was said to be on page 138. I trawled through the microfilm counting the pages. To my severe displeasure, the images went from page 86 to 169. A lot of records, likely including these, I was told, were destroyed during the Civil War. Here’s hoping your will books turn up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Michael. You certainly know what to say to make a person laugh. A third headstone? You’re kidding.

      I was not happy to hear you ran into the same kind of missing pages or books as I did in West Virginia. The Civil War gets the blame for many missing records but sometimes I wonder….

      Like

  6. Great post, Cathy! I’m so happy for you that you were able to narrow the range. That always feels good. I have one person down to a 3ish year window and I still can’t find his death! It’s pretty recent too, the beginning of the 20th century in Scotland where the records are good. But he has a super common name and each record costs money so I’ve been trying to find every single record for each of his children and so far I’ve narrowed the window down a lot from where I started.

    I hope the books aren’t truly missing. I was told by many sources – MANY sources – that the plat books for Alaska were destroyed. But then at RootsTech last year, a land records expert shared that the claim is false and has spread everywhere. They were just moved to a more obscure facility and are not as easily accessed. It took several years for the move to be identified and thus the confusion. Maybe your books will have a similar story and be located one day. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. While going through the Nicholas County records I was finding records from neighboring counties which make me wonder if perhaps the missing records may be in one of those OR maybe with the West Virginia archives. Hopefully the missing records will show up or substitutes will be found. Thank you, Amberly.

      Liked by 1 person

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