Margaret (Morris) Simcox James 1849-1920

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Introduction to Margaret’s Notebook


The existence of Margaret’s notebook was brought to my attention in the spring of 2020 by Neil Stevens, the great-great-grandson of Margaret (Morris) Simcox James. I met Neil that May when he replied to a letter that I sent to his mother whose name and address I found at the bottom of a letter written in 1987. Thirty-three years after my dad received that letter from his aunt Ruth, I took a chance and wrote to the address. Incredibly, I reached Neil. Neil is the great-great-grandson of Margaret (Morris) Simcox James. I am the great-grandson of Margaret’s brother, Joshua Morris.

The notebook was produced by the British and Foreign Bible Society. Measuring 6.25” by 4″, the overall condition of the book is poor; the binding has come undone, the pages are yellowed, brittle and loose, and the cover has separated into its front and back elements. There remain thirteen pages, written over in both Welsh and English. It has been kept safe in Neil’s family for over 157 years, from Margaret to her daughter Mathilda (Tillie), to Tillie’s daughter Elizabeth (Lizzie), to Lizzie’s daughter Thelma, and finally to Neil.

Neatly inscribed inside the front cover, in English, is the following dedication:

Margaret Morris

   The Reward of Diligence

      At the Beulah 

         Sunday School

            Dowlais Feb. 1863

At that time, Margaret was thirteen and living with her family at 67 Ivor Street, just around the corner from the Beulah English Baptist Chapel in Dowlais…


Biography of Margaret Morris


Margaret Morris was born on November 15, 1849 at Top of Dowlais, Upper Merthyr Tydfil, Glamorgan, Wales to John and Matilda (Williams) Morris. 

Margaret’s father, John Morris, was born in 1811 in Llandybie, Carmarthenshire, Wales. Like many other young Welshmen at that time, John made his way to Merthyr Tydfil where he mined ironstone. He was most likely employed by the Dowlais Ironworks. Margaret’s mother, Matilda (Williams) Morris, was born in 1816. The 1851 and ’61 Wales censuses give conflicting birthplaces for Matilda - Brecknockshire, Wales, and Ludlow, Shropshire, England. 

The 1851 Wales census lists Margaret, age two, with her parents and older sister, Harriet, at an unspecified address in Top of Dowlais. By 1861 the family had moved to 67 Ivor St. and Margaret was in school.

Margaret was one of five children to John and Matilda. Her siblings were as follows:

     Mary Morris was born April 15, 1843 in Dowlais, Wales. She married Richard E. Jones in 1865, and immigrated to the United States in 1870, settling in Scranton, Pennsylvania. She died on July 28, 1921. Mary and Richard Jones had six children.

     Harriet Morris was born July 10, 1845 in Dowlais, Wales. She married Hugh Myler in 1866, moved to Stockton, Durham, England, and immigrated to Canada in 1883, settling first in Nottawasaga, Simcoe, Ontario and then Vancouver, British Columbia. She died on November 4, 1920. Harriet and Hugh Myler had five children.

     Maria Morris was born February 2, 1855 in Dowlais, Wales. She married John Thomas Morgan in 1875, moved to Middlesbrough, Yorkshire, England, and immigrated to the United States in 1884, settling in New Castle, Pennsylvania. She died on December 24, 1931. Maria and John Thomas Morgan had eight children.

     Joshua Morris was born February 12, 1864 in Dowlais, Wales. He moved to Middlesbrough, Yorkshire, England in 1874 and immigrated to the United States in 1885, via Canada. He married Sarah Bryant in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania in 1893 and moved to Pittsburgh in 1902. He died on September 11, 1937. Joshua and Sarah Morris had eight children.

Margaret’s mother died at 67 Ivor Street on January 13, 1868. Matilda had given birth to sixteen children in twenty-one years. Only five survived into adulthood. With her two older sisters wed, Matilda’s death left Margaret as the matriarch of the house. The 1871 Wales census places Margaret, Maria, Joshua, and their father John at 67 Ivor St., Dowlais. Margaret and Maria were employed as domestics while their father worked in the mines and their brother Joshua was in school. Harriet and Hugh were raising their family in Stockton-on-Tees, England. The oldest sibling, Mary, had gone to the United States with her husband and family in 1870.

Margaret went to Stockton, England sometime between 1871 and 1873, possibly at her sister Harriet’s invitation, to stay with her and potentially to meet George Simcox, who would become Margaret’s husband. George was born in either 1846 or ‘47 in Pelsall, Staffordshire, England to John and Elizabeth (Miller) Simcox. He and Hugh Myler appear to have been close friends, and it is possible that Margaret and George were introduced as far back as Harriet and Hugh’s wedding in 1866. If this was the case, and they were already engaged, it could be that George had come to Dowlais and brought Margaret back to Stockton with him. The 1871 England census shows him lodging at 31 Lawson St., Yarm, Stockton-on-Tees, about four miles from Harriet and Hugh. The two men were working as puddlers, possibly in the same mill.

Margaret and George were married at the Parish Church of Yarm, York County, England, on July 7, 1873. The couple’s original copy of the marriage certificate still exists and is in the possession of Neil Stevens. Margaret’s sister Harriet Myler (written Miler) put her mark on the document as a witness, along with that of a man named William Randle.

Margaret and George had three children in the coming years - Elizabeth Simcox was born August 29, 1875, John Morgan Simcox in January 1878, and Mathilda “Tillie” Maud Simcox on February 11, 1881. All three were born in Middlesbrough, suggesting that Margaret and George moved there not long after the marriage. Middlesbrough is just a few miles from Stockton-on-Tees, across the river, and where most of the family shifted to around this time.

According to the notebook (page 3b), Margaret’s brother Joshua “Left Dowlais for Middlesbrough June 11, 1874.” Also mentioned on this page is Mr. William Williams, “Uncle to Joshua Morris – brother to his mother.” Mr. William’s address is given as 65 John St., Abercwmboi, Wales. It is unclear if this information has anything to do with Joshua’s journey. Abercwmboi is only about 9 miles from Merthyr Tydfil. Joshua was just 10 years old in 1874, and probably stayed with one or the other of his sisters when he arrived in Middlesbrough.

Margaret’s sister, Maria, married John Thomas Morgan in Merthyr Tydfil in the summer of 1876. By the following summer the couple was in Middlesbrough where their first child was born. 

After Joshua and Maria’s departure from Dowlais, only their father would have been left at 67 Ivor Street. By 1881, John had joined his family in Middlesbrough. We can only guess whether he accompanied Maria and her husband there, or followed on shortly after. The 1881 England census has the two families eight houses apart on Bulmer St., Linthorpe, Middlesbrough, England - Margaret and George Simcox at No. 34, Maria and John Thomas Morgan, along with her father John and brother Joshua, at No. 48. 

Margaret’s husband, George Simcox, died on February 15, 1882. He was 35. Cause of death was phthisis, a now archaic term for pulmonary tuberculosis. As evidence of their close friendship, Hugh Myler was present at George’s death and is listed as witness and informant on the death certificate. George’s address is given as 5 Bulmer Street, and Hugh’s at 23 Welford Street, Middlesbrough.

Within six months, Hugh Myler was on his way to Canada. According to the passenger list of the Circassian, Hugh Myler, age 35, traveled from Liverpool, England to Quebec, Canada, via Londonderry, Ireland. He arrived on August 6, 1882. Harriet and the children followed on nine months later, arriving aboard the SS Dominion on May 7, 1883.

At some point in the next four years Margaret met David James, also a widower. David was born on April 1, 1844, in Wales, to Job and Anne (Isaac) James. David’s father, Job, was a collier. Job died on June 6, 1849 at the age of 38 when David was just five years old. David married Ann Christmas, daughter of Thomas and Catherine Christmas, on April 26, 1865. They had at least seven children, four of which are known to have survived. Ann appears in the 1881 England census with her children - Edward (age 10), Ann (age 6), Sarah (age 4), and Jacob (age 2) – all living at 25 Havelock St., Stockton, Durham, England. Ann was working as a washer woman, and is listed as a widow with the surname James. Also in the household is a boarder, George Scott. According to a descendant of David and Ann, a DNA contact has revealed that Ann had a child with her lodger, and there is an 1882 record of marriage for Ann and a man named George Lott, who is almost certainly the same man. What all this means is that at the time of the 1881 census, Ann was still married to David James, whom she was claiming was deceased, and about four months pregnant with George Lott’s child. Ann died the following year, on March 20, 1883. She was 38. Cause of death was uterine cancer. The death certificate also names her husband, George Lott, and gives the address, 25 Havelock Street, Stockton, the same as in 1881. 

Margaret’s father, John, died on January 30, 1885. Cause of death was bronchitis, almost certainly due to a lifetime of working in the mines. The death certificate gives his profession as laborer, suggesting that he was still working at the time of his death. He was 74. Joshua was living with his father at the time and is listed as the informant. Their address was 69 Argyle St., Linthorpe, Middlesbrough. 

According to Joshua’s 1913 Petition for Naturalization, he entered the United States at the port of Buffalo, NY via the Grand Trunk Railroad from Hamilton, Canada on December 23, 1885. He was 21 years old. No definitive record of Joshua’s trip across the Atlantic has been found. Family stories reinforce that he did not leave England until after his father’s death, and that he spent some time working on the Great Lakes in Canada prior to entering the United States. 

Margaret was the last in her family to leave the UK. She traveled to the United States aboard the steamship British Princess which arrived in Philadelphia on November 15, 1886. Her three children and three of David’s children were with her. David’s eldest child, Edward, remained in England. It is assumed that David had made the journey to the States earlier. While in Philadelphia, Margaret had a memorial card made to commemorate her late husband, George Simcox.Four days after her arrival, on November 19, 1886, Margaret and David were married across the state in Pittsburgh. The marriage license docket shows that David was living in the 15th Ward of Pittsburgh (between the Strip District and Lower Lawrenceville) and was working as a boiler. It also indicates that they each had been married before, those unions having been dissolved by the death of their former spouses.

Seven months after the marriage, in June of 1887, Margaret’s son, John Morgan Simcox, died from burns suffered from an oil can explosion. He was 9. His death registry notes that the family resided at Almond Alley, now called Almond Way, between Butler and Willow in Lawrenceville. This is first reference we have of where Margaret, David and the children lived in Pittsburgh.

Margaret and David had two children of their own. Joshua James was born in July of 1893, and Marie Dolores James was born on July 10, 1898.

David James died on August 15, 1899. He was 55. Margaret was a widow for the second time in seventeen years. David had been employed at a lubricating works on 24th street, Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh. A death notice in the local paper says he died of hemorrhages. The Registry of Deaths gives other details, citing intestinal hemorrhages and a duration of illness of 14 days. This record also gives the family’s address at “Hazlett near Mulberry Alley” since 1895.

The 1900 US census lists Margaret James, age 51, as the widowed head of the household on Hazlett Alley, Ward 15, Pittsburgh, PA, with her daughters Mathilda and Marie and son Joshua. There is also a third “daughter” listed, Elizabeth, age 2. This was actually Margaret’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Rena Espey, who had been born on October 1, 1897.

Margaret’s brother, Joshua Morris, arrived with his family from Nanticoke, Pennsylvania to the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh in 1902. Joshua also kept a notebook which has been preserved by the family. In contrast to Margaret’s book, Joshua’s was purchased in Pittsburgh and used as an account ledger, a record of family birth and death dates, and to keep the many home remedies and recipes for salves, creams and tonics and that Joshua enjoyed making. In this notebook it is recorded that Joshua borrowed $10 in May of 1902, $25 in June, and then $8 on the 23rd of July, all from Margaret’s daughter, Elizabeth (Simcox) Christen, who was at the time married to Peter Christen. The eight dollars was to pay for the grave of Joshua’s young daughter Naomi Morris who had died of measles.

Margaret’s son Joshua James was hit by a streetcar and died on October 14, 1903, at the age of 10. 

In the 1910 US census, the family was at 38th Street, Ward 6, Pittsburgh, PA. Margaret, now 61, was employed “cleaning offices” along with her daughter Mathilda.

Margaret’s daughter Marie Dolores James died of lobar pneumonia at age 30 on October 23, 1918. It is a reasonable assumption that the pneumonia was caused by influenza and that Marie was one of the many hundreds of victims in Pittsburgh that October of the 1918 flu pandemic.

Margaret (Morris) Simcox James died on Sunday, February 15, 1920, at 1:45 AM. Cause of death was cerebral hemorrhage. She was 70 years old.

Margaret is buried in Allegheny Cemetery, Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In the same plot are Margaret’s husband David James, her sons John Morgan Simcox and Joshua James, daughters Marie Dolores James, Elizabeth (Simcox) Christen Mort, Mathilda Maud (Simcox) Espey, and her grand-daughter Elizabeth (Espey) Boyer.


Scott Morris

December, 2020

Updated January, 2021