Rewriting the Biography: Mary SIMS in the U.S. Federal Census

Rewriting the Biography is an ongoing theme for the rough draft notes of a new/updated biography of my 5th great-grandfather James SIMS (1754-1845) of Nicholas County.

Mary “Polly” SIMS

Mary SIMS, the second youngest child of James SIMS and his first wife Phebe, was found only once in the U.S. Federal Census. As Virginia is one of the states with a complete loss of the census schedules for 1790 and 1800, James SIMS and his family were not found. Tax Lists were used as a substitute when I wrote about James SIMS in the U.S. Federal Census in 1790 and 1800.

Mary SIMS and John FOWLER were married on 28 February 1808 by Edward HUGHES, a Baptist minister. The marriage lasted only seven months ending with the death of John FOWLER.

On 11 October 1808, Edward SIMS who may have been Mary’s brother (this is still under investigation) was named administrator of John’s estate as no will was left.1 Nearly a year later on 25 August 1809, Mary was standing once again before Rev. Edward HUGHES when she married his brother Thomas HUGHES, a widower with three sons and a daughter. At the time of the marriage, Polly was the name given on the marriage record.

The 1810 U.S. Federal Census

Mary SIMS and her second husband Thomas HUGHES, although married a little under a year at the time the 1810 census was taken, were not found under his name. The only HUGHES to be enumerated in 1810 in Kanawha County was his brother Edward HUGHES.

Personal Property and Land Tax Records

As a substitute for the missing 1810 census, I searched the Land book 1791-1838 for Kanawha County which very recently become available online on FamilySearch. This collection includes personal property and land tax lists.

Personal Property Tax Lists for this period included the name of the person chargeable with the tax, the number of white male tithables over the age of twenty-one, the number of white male tithables between ages sixteen and twenty-one, the number of slaves both above and below age sixteen, various types of animals such as horses and cattle, and carriage wheels.
Land Tax Lists included the name of the person owning the land, number of lots, amount of acreage, rate, value of land, and tax on land. Some land tax lists included a description of the tract.

Thomas HUGHES was a 15 years old boy on the muster roll of Capt. John MORRIS’ Camp at John JONES’ in 1791.2 This places his birth at about 1775-1776 and his possible first appearance on a tax list at about 1796.

Thomas (1 male white over 21 yo) was found on the Kanawha County Personal Property Tax list in 1796 along with his brothers Edward (1 male white over 21 yo and 1 horse) and Robert (1 male white over 21 yo and 2 horses) as well as the widow HUGHES (1 horse).3 Widow HUGHES was the step-mother of the brothers and widow of Thomas HUGHES Sr.

Thomas was found on the Personal Property Tax lists of Kanawha County4 for 1797, 1798, 1800, 1803, 1804 and 1805. He was also found on the Land Tax lists5 in the years 1801, 1802, 1803, 1806, 1809, 1810, 1811, 1812, 1813, and 1816. The 400 acres of land included Hughes Ferry on the Gauley River and was owned jointly by Thomas and his brother Edward. In 1814 and 1815 the land was listed only in Edward’s name. However, in 1816 an annotation was added to include Thomas’ name. By 1818 the land they owned became part of Nicholas County where they were seen together on the land tax list for the same 400 acres tract of land “including Hughes Ferry.”

1810 Kanawha County, Virginia, Land Tax List entry for Thomas & Edward Hughes

The tax records show Thomas was living and owned land in Kanawha County as early as 1796 until  1816 and was likely missed on the 1810 census.

The 1820 U.S. Federal Census

Married women are rarely found in the pre-1850 census. They can be inferred from the tick marks or count numbers in the columns for women in a man’s listing. Mary SIMS was found as a mark on the 1820 census in the household of her husband Thomas. Their children, as well as his children from his first marriage, were in the household. The enumeration was shortly before Thomas and Mary’s 11th anniversary, therefore, all children under 10 should be from this marriage.

Thomas and perhaps a son aged 16 thru 18 years were engaged in agriculture. The number of men counted in a household in the 16 thru 18 years column (set off by red lines in the image below) was repeated in the 16 thru 25 years column. This special count was only found on the 1820 census.

1820 U.S. Federal Census of Kanawha County, Virginia, for Thomas HUGHS (sic)

Tazwell, Andrew, and Elizabeth (seen in annotations below) were known children of Mary SIMS.

1820 U.S. Federal Census 6
Nicholas County, (West) Virginia
Page No. 205A, Sheet 153, Line 11
Enumeration Date: August 7, 1820
Name: Thomas Hughs
Free White Persons – Males – Under 10: 3 (Tazwell, Andrew, unknown)
Free White Persons – Males – 10 thru 15: 2 (sons from 1st marriage)
Free White Persons – Males – 16 thru 18: 1 (son from 1st marriage)
Free White Persons – Males – 16 thru 25: 1 (same as 16 thru 18)
Free White Persons – Males – 26 thru 44: 1 (Thomas)
Free White Persons – Females – Under 10: 2 (Elizabeth and unknown)
Free White Persons – Females – 16 thru 25: 1 (daughter from 1st marriage)
Free White Persons – Females – 26 thru 44: 1 (Mary)
Number of Persons – Engaged in Agriculture: 2
Free White Persons – Under 16: 7
Free White Persons – Over 25: 2
Total Free White Persons: 11
Total All Persons – White, Slaves, Colored, Other: 11

After the 1820 U.S. Federal Census

The 1820 census is the first and last in which we find Mary “Polly” SIMS. She died before 24 February 1825 when Thomas was seen marrying Nancy KINCAID in Nicholas County. [Thomas’ wives Mary and Nancy were both 4th great-grandaunts for me.]

Mary likely died during childbirth or soon after the birth of her youngest daughter Mary who was born about 1824.

The unknown daughter seen in 1820 was missing in 1830 and the unknown son in 1820 disappeared by 1840. They were likely deceased by the time their grandfather James SIMS’ partition suit was filed in 1848. In this suit only four children were living in 1848:

…also the children of Mary Hughes, formerly Mary Sims, to-wit, Tazewell Hughes, Andrew Hughes, Nelson Johnson and Elizabeth his wife; Johnson Foster and Mary his wife…

Thomas HUGHES died in 1853. His third wife and widow Nancy KINCAID applied for a land warrant in 1857 and obtained it for his service in the Indian War. She also applied for a pension for his service and due to some misunderstanding, it was filed for the War of 1812. This produced a packet of documents found in the War of 1812 pension records.7 Nancy filed a general affidavit in 1879 in reply to a request for information concerning where her husband lived at the time he applied for the land warrant. As the 78 years old widow Nancy HUGHES had applied, and not her husband, she wrote:

as to my Husband’s place of residence in September 1857, I hope it was in Heaven.

The next installment will be for James and Phebe’s daughter Nancy Ann SIMS, my 4th great-grandmother.

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

Rewriting the Biography: Mary SIMS in the U.S. Federal Census

  1.  Kanawha County (West Virginia), County Clerk, Record of deeds, 1790-1946 (images), FamilySearch, (126 microfilm reels of original records at the Kanawha County courthouse, Charleston, West Virginia), Film #460417, DGS #8152450, Deed books, v. C-D 1805-1817, image 181 of 582, page 335-336, 1808 administrator bond for the estate of John Fowler. ( : accessed 4 June 2018). 
  2. W.S. Laidley, History of Charleston and Kanawha County, West Virginia and Representative Citizens (1911), page 73.( : accessed 3 June 2018) 
  3. 1796 Kanawha County, (West) Virginia Personal Property Tax List, a transcription of the microfilm. This list is in a collection on FamilySearch which is not yet available online. ( : accessed 3 June 2018) 
  4.  Kanawha County (West Virginia), County Clerk, Land Book, 1791-1900. (images), FamilySearch, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah. Microfilm of original records at the State Auditor’s Office, Charleston), Film 468689, DGS 8218975, Land book 1791-1838, 1797 Personal Property Tax list, page 119, image 42 of 665, line 22. ( : accessed 3 June 2018). 
  5. Ibid. [Note: 17 more images of PPT and Land Tax lists were found from image 49 to 218. I am in the process of downloading the images, citing, and attaching to Thomas HUGHES in my database.] 
  6. 1820 U.S. Federal Census, (index and images), Ancestry, citing Fourth Census of the United States, 1820 population schedule, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C., NARA microfilm publication M33, 142 rolls, NARA Roll M33_130, image 389, Virginia, Nicholas, page 205A, sheet 153, line 11, Thomas Hughs ( : accessed 21 February 2018). 
  7. War of 1812 Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files, database and images, Ancestry (, citing National Archives Catalog ID: 564415, Record Group 15, Roll RG15-1812PB-Bx1378, National Archives, Washington, D.C.. Widow Nancy Kincaid’s pension claim file number 32072, service of Thomas Hughes (Capt. John Morris Co. VA Militia, Indian War 1791), page 26. ( : accessed 3 June 2018) 

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.

10 thoughts on “Rewriting the Biography: Mary SIMS in the U.S. Federal Census”

  1. Do you know why John Fowler died so soon after the marriage? Impressive work with those tax and land records. I am not sure I’d have the patience to wade through all those!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have no idea why he died so soon after the marriage. I would also like to know. I’m hoping as more records become available there might be perhaps court/chancery records which may mention him.
      As for the patience to wade through the land and tax records, there were also other ancestors in the area so I am not only looking for one person.
      Thank you, Amy.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Cathy, I like your technique of concentrating on one particular person at a time, as it allows the reader a better sense of who each person really was, even with as little information that is available. Thanks! Brian

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Cathy, you do so well extrapolating a story from those tax records. I have access to the 1790 and 1800 censuses for my area, but they just don’t seem to help, so I tend to avoid them whenever possible. I would love to see someone write a story about more effective ways to use those early census records and the point of view to take when looking at them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Is that a challenge, Janice? There is little information in the pre-1850 census if you only look at one person. Nearly two decades ago a researcher for a collateral line sent me a draft of his work. It was based almost exclusively on land and tax records. For years I have wanted to get my hands on these records and be able to do the same. Since they were done almost yearly they give a bigger picture when combined with the census. Thank you.


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