Finding Frances P

Recently I have focused much of my family history research on my paternal grandmother’s SIMMONS line. Primarily because my she is the only grandparent I have who is still living and I like to show her the things I find. It is from the Simmons line that I have also managed to solve something that has long been a mystery to me – what happened to Frances P SIMMONS, the first born child of James SIMMONS and Eliza WENTWORTH?

When I started putting a family tree together a couple of years ago, I spent some time talking to Nan about the families of her father, Victor Rex SIMMONS and mother, Eliza EVANS. She had more details and memories of her father’s family, simply because her mother was English and so most of her family lived in England.

Nan told me that her father had had 4 brothers and 3 sisters. I still have the first list I jotted down of the names she could remember and this is where the mystery of Frances P began, and also where I can see my note-taking can improve!The note above actually includes 3 instances of trying to piece together who Victor’s brothers and sisters were. I had done a NSW BDM index search and found the following children as most likely being born to ‘my’ James and Eliza SIMMONS:

  • Frances P
  • Frank W
  • Ruby
  • James
  • Mary B
  • Raymond
  • Rupert
  • Victor R

Those then are the names on the left hand side with years next to them. This information however did not match with what Nan remembered, and this was probably my biggest mistake – I did not place a great deal of weight on Nan’s memory. Nan remembered their being Frank, Ruby who married Alf TROUGHTON, Raymond who married Gertie BRUCE, Beryl who married Len EVANS, Rupert, Milton and Pearlie. You can see from my scratchings above I tried to piece it all together. Eventually I matched most of the names, primarily using a letter in Milton SIMMON’s war record written by his eldest brother Frank which named all the siblings and their ages, in 1917 – this was were I made my second mistake. This information can be seen listed on the right hand side of the above, and below in the letter.

At this stage I was fairly confident, (without having purchased birth certificates for all the siblings which I will do one day when I win lotto), that Victor had had the following siblings:

  • Frank Wentworth (Frank W in NSW BDM index)
  • Ruby May (Ruby in NSW BDM index)
  • Milton (or James as he was named on his birth certificate and is listed as such in NSW BDM index)
  • Beryl May (Mary B in NSW BDM index)
  • Raymond (Raymond in NSW BDM index)
  • Rupert (Rupert SUMMONS in NSW BDM index)
  • Victor Rex (Victor R in NSW BDM index)

So I had a match for everyone except for Pearlie who Nan insisted on a number of occasions was one of her aunts and had married a man with the surname RANKIN. As these conversations and pieces of research all occured over a period of time and I had pretty much discounted Nan’s memory of an aunt called Pearlie, I did not connect Pearlie with the first-born child of James and Eliza who is listed on the NSW BDM index as Frances P. The P really should have been a hint shouldn’t it, especially considering 2 of the other siblings were known by names other than the ones on their birth certs. Sadly it did not twig with me and I decided that Frances must have died very young and I still had to find her death records.

All that changed when I was doing a search about a month ago on some newly-added articles to Trove from the local newspaper of relevance to the SIMMONS family, the Northern Star. I was trying to locate some articles about the death of my gg grandfather James SIMMONS and wasn’t having much luck so I widened the search to look for (SIMMONS or SIMMONDS or SYMONS) and (newrybar or brooklet or binna burra) to try to cover all potential spellings of the surname and the areas I knew they had lived in.

I found something, but it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. The headline that caught my eye was ‘TERRIBLE TRAGEDY. HUSBAND’S HORRIFYING DISCOVERY. WIFE AND CHILD FOUND DEAD.’ The article, (which you can read in your own time if you wish but I  have not included it here because it is very graphic), tells in great detail how Pearl RANKIN nee SIMMONS and her 18 month old daughter Enid Pearl RANKIN had been found deceased in their home by their husband and father Mr John RANKIN in October 1913. At the inquest it was determined that Mrs Pearl RANKIN had taken her own life and that of her child’s for unknown reasons.

I had finally found Nan’s aunt Pearlie, (and Frances P because she is named in a SMH Family Notice for Deaths as Pearl Frances). I have spoken to my father who is Nan’s son, about this and he only has a vague memory of Nan mentioning that Pearlie was one of her aunts – nothing else. Nan has also never mentioned to me anything about this tragedy and for this reason my father and I have decided not to speak to her about it. Some things are better left alone.

I actually found this discovery to be quite distressing eventhough it solved a mystery for me. It has however also provided me with a number of lessons: don’t discount what elderly relatives tell you – they may forget some things but you need to disprove them before you can discard them; and always be flexible with names – I thought I was quite good at this, but had obviously shut my mind on this one.

Pearl (Frances P SIMMONS) and her daughter Enid Pearl RANKIN are buried in Bangalow cemetery with a very simple and I think sad, gravestone.