Online resources tell some of Dillard’s story

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One of my favorite photos of Ghent is a postcard that features a man named Sim Dillard driving a mule cart. According to Northern Kentucky Views (nkyviews.com), Dillard may have been a mail carrier. I recall reading someplace that he may have delivered one of the Louisville newspapers.


Quite possibly, he did both.

What’s great about this somewhat iconic photo card – there must have been many in circulation at one time, as I’ve seen several copies – is that the man in the photo is identified. Even more interesting is that he is African American.

In this photo, probably taken around 1915, about the time these cards became popular, he obviously is an older man. His apparent age fits with the timeline of several documents I found as I began to research him.

First, a Kentucky death certificate shows he died in May 24, 1928. The age given is “about 90.”

It does not tell us where or when Mr. Dillard was born, nor does it provide any such information regarding his parents. It does give his full first name – Simeon. It appears that the informant, one C.P. Scott, probably was not a relative. More likely, he was an owner of the funeral home who handled his arrangements. The document lists “Scott Bros.” as the undertaker.

As is sometimes the case, not too many other documents were found during the online search I conducted, but I did find a birth record dated April 11, 1875. No name is given for the baby, a boy, but the parents are listed as Simeon Dillard and Lucy Turner, and indicates they were both born in Owen County.

This falls in line with the 1880 census, which lists the following members of the Dillard household: Sim, 35, a farmer; Lucy, 35, a housekeeper; Charly, 14; Howard, 9; Manhus, 7; Scott, 5; Mathew, 3; and Emitt, 1. Also living with them is a boarder named B. Roberts, a black male of 14 working as a laborer.

Everyone is listed as born in Kentucky, but no specific locations are included.

So, now we have some idea of Sim’s family life. Both he and Lucy were born about 1845, though subsequent documents vary, including the inscription of Lucy’s headstone in the Colored Odd Fellows Cemetery in Ghent. This I found on FindAGrave.com. A photo posted there by J.L. Cobb shows she was born in January, sometime in the 1840s. It isn’t clear in the photo; a rubbing might help determine that last digit. She died March 17, 1885. She is probably Sim’s wife; she was born in the same time period and, by the 1900 census, Sim is listed as “widowed.”

I searched for any Turners living in Ghent and in Owen County, but didn’t find too many likely candidates for Lucy’s parents. So far, not a lot came up for the name Dillard, either.

Being that both were born before slavery was abolished, more research is needed to determine if their surnames were from their own families or were, instead, the surnames of the family that had owned them. I, personally, haven’t done a lot of research along those lines. I know at this point in my research, either is possible.

A check of the 1850 and 1860 slave schedules for Ghent and District 1 provides at least one possibility for Lucy, if indeed, she had been a slave in the area. There is a John G. Turner with three young slaves, two boys, ages 10 and 12, and a girl, 5, in 1860. She would be too old to be the girl, but she may have been sent elsewhere to live or could have already been married. This is purely speculation on my part, but I found it interesting that John’s wife’s name in the regular 1860 census is Lucy.

Coincidence? There’s no way to know without more research. For this, I would consider looking for probate records of John G. Turner, as well as county tax lists.

I only found one real possible relative to Sim in Owen County, Lustern Dillard, a black man who was 70 in the 1880 census and living in Caney. He is living in a household with a family named Bassett. He’s listed as single, which doesn’t necessarily mean he was never married. If he was born in 1810, as the census would suggest, he certainly could be Sim’s father, or possibly an uncle. He likely works for the family, as there is also a 7-year-old white girl, Luly Breeden, living with them who is listed as a “domestic servant.”

In the 1900 census, Sim is living in a house he owns on Main Street with his 26-year-old son, Manhus. Sim is working as a lamplighter and Manhus is a porter at one of the drugstores in town. It would be fun to know which one, as there were several drugstores in Ghent early in the 20th century.

In the 1910 census, Sim still lives on Main Street and Manhus is living with Neddie, 25, whom he married about 1907.  Here is where census information gets dicey, depending on who is giving the information: Manhus (who appears only as “M”) is said to be 30. According to previous census information, which shows him as 7 in 1880 and 26 in 1900, he is probably 36 or 37.

In the 1920 census, Sim is the first person enumerated in the district. He is still a widower living in his house on Main Street and is listed as about 74 years old. That’s probably wrong

I did not find Manhus or any of Sim’s other sons that year, except for Emitt, who apparently moved to Queens, N.Y., where he is living in the 1920 census. He also gives Queens as his residence on his World War II registration card.

Twenty years prior to that, he shows up on the census as an inmate in Buffalo, N.Y. These are very likely the same man, as the birth year of 1879 and birth place both line up with the 1880, where he is listed as 1 year old; the 1900 census and the WWII card give very similar information.

It would be interesting to see if court records exist to give us more information about Emitt and what landed him in prison so far away from home.

While his son may have had trouble with the law, Sim Dillard apparently was very active in the Ghent Second Baptist Church. The website for the church includes a history, which lists him as one of the first trustees along with George Morton and Charlie Green. (http://www.ghent2ndbaptist.org/church-history/)

I found this tidbit in the history on the website tantalizing:

“A Christian woman, by the name of Miss Nellie Slaughter was credited for organizing the first Sunday school in the year 1873. It is alleged that a livery stable was used for a house of worship. In 1879 a local citizen by the name of Turner, gave money to purchase the lot on which this building stands. The land was bought from a man named Mr. Tandy, for the sum of eighty-five dollars. Both men were citizens of considerable wealth.”

Hmmmm. A Mr. Turner? And now I want to know which Tandy, as there were a few in Ghent at the time.

The one thing I know for sure about genealogical research: It is never done.


Phyllis McLaughlin is a professional genealogy researcher and a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists.