I’m starting over on my ancestry blog after a short-lived attempt to blog every day for a month last year. I read a blog yesterday that mentioned a new challenge for 2014 — 52 ancestors in 52 weeks — and I decided to take a look. The idea of lining out all my research and writing the story of one person at a time seems much easier and within my abilities to accomplish with a busy toddler in the house.
So here goes:
Ancestor No. 1 is my grandfather, Harold L. Simpson. He was born in 1924 in Commerce, a small river community in Scott County, Mo., the son of Aaron Lloyd Simpson and Amy Ruth Duckworth Simpson. He was the second son.
My grandfather rarely talked about his childhood and early life, but I know he lived on a farm for some time near his grandparents, whom he called Mam and Pap. He was twice married, divorcing his first wife, Frances, in 1950 in St. Louis. He then married Betty Sue Coats in 1953 in Arkansas. My mother, his first daughter, was born about a year later. A second daughter was born in 1956.
My grandfather liked to tinker with cars and machines. Maybe that came from trying to fix things around the family farm, but it was a skill he kept throughout his life. It served him well during World War Ii when he served with an engineering battalion in Europe.
Like his childhood, he seldom talked about the war. He did have photos that he’d occasionally pull out, and some stories about how the men would adopt a dog or play jokes. He never spoke about his work or what atrocities he saw. I’d like to believe that he didn’t have to shoot or kill anyone, but I’m sure that’s naive.
I know that he saw Adolf Hitler once because he kept a photograph of the event. He would often look at that picture, and dozens of others from the war in the last years of his life. He lived with Alzheimer’s and I think the photographs helped him remember some of his life’s events. Several of my childhood memories of him include him reading books about World War II and Nazi Germany. It was as if he was trying to find ways to understand the history that happened around him.
After he returned from active duty, he worked for the Defense Mapping Agency in St. Louis. He must have had a photographic memory because part of his job was to try to memorize photographs and maps that were taken from around the U.S. He even had some topographical maps of the moon and photographs taken by the shuttles that my brother and I thought were amazing to look at when we were kids.
My grandfather lived with me and my mother for a time after his partner, Karen, died. He had Alzheimer’s and couldn’t really live alone at that point. I think I got to know more about him and my family because of that experience. He’d tell more stories as we’d look through photos or sort through is belongings for the move (which we sort of knew about a year in advance).
He was the family historian so I was able to piece together some information from the photographs and notes I found after he died in 2010. What I wish I’d done was record more of his stories — like the one about him being asked to play for a semi-pro baseball team, or his adventures of driving cross country. Even details about his childhood and life on the farm would have been useful to me as I dug deeper into my genealogy research.
I’m happy to have the memories I do, and all the information he collected about our family tree. It’s been really useful, somewhat detailed and offers me a connection to him that I cherish.
I’ll be trying to write every week about one of my ancestors, probably from his line on my family tree since it’s the richest and most complete.