Year in review: 52 Ancestors challenge

I didn’t do such a great job of keeping up with the 52 Ancestors challenge, but I did make it more than halfway through the year. (Things got a little bit crazy in August once classes began at the university where I teach and life got busier.)

I wouldn’t exactly call it a failure but it wasn’t a great success either since I only manage 30 weeks of posting.

I will be continuing with the 2015 challenge based on themes. Perhaps this time I’ll make it past the 30-week mark.

And, as a good exercise for follow-through in the coming year, I’m setting some goals to keep myself on track with my genealogy research. Here they are:

I’m pretty sure I’ll be in over my head if I go to some of these sessions, but I’m a member and it’s unlikely that the meeting will be this close to me for some time to come. The timing isn’t great for my work and personal life (it’s really busy around her in May with the end of a college semester when you’re teaching) but I’m going to get creative and see if I can’t make it work.

  • Finish my First Families application on Jonah Clymer. (I’ve been working on this for about a year now, and while I don’t know everything I want to, I think I have enough to see this classification from the Missouri State Genealogical Association.)
  • Take some of the free online courses through the National Genealogy Society.

There’s probably a lot of information here that I need to review and would find useful to my searching for records and documents.

  • Continue to add information to the Powers family tree for my husband’s side of the family.

When I hit a roadblock in my own family tree ( and there are plenty of them) I often do a little digging on another tree just to give me something fresh to look at.

  • Trace the Johnston line of my family tree and see what other information I find on Carl Johnston and his wife, Grace, who I believe are the parents of my paternal grandfather.

These are only a few of the many things I need to accomplish in my research for the coming year, but I think they’ll be challenging enough and still attainable. And, I can set new goals as the year progresses.


52 Ancestors #3: Emma Chandler Simpson

For at least part of her life, Emma Chandler lived by the land.

She could easily have been born into farm life in southern Illinois — I have no idea. But I do know she lived as a wife and mother on a farm at Grays Point, Mo., near the banks of the Mississippi River.

I imagine she worried, as most people would have who lived in the vicinity, about rising floodwaters in the spring. She was aware of the change of seasons, how much rain was needed to make the crops grow and how much would soak them too heavily. She likely canned her own food and put up enough to feed the family during the winter.

She and her husband, Joseph Joel Simpson, farmed in both Illinois and Missouri. He raised crops, notably popcorn, that was sold to the movie theater in Illmo. Some old family records show his logs for the farm, where he marked expenses and receipts.

I have no idea how much Emma was involved in the farm operations, but I imagine she knew a little about hard work. She married at age 23, and raised six children  — three boys and three girls.

She was born Oct. 3, 1872, at Grand Tower, Illinois, a small community situated on the banks of the Mississippi River. Census records show she lived there until at least 1900, moving to Missouri by 1910 to be counted there in the census.

My records search has found only census documents, which help fill out a bit of her story.

Emma Chandler Simpson

Emma Chandler Simpson, year unknown

She and Joseph Joel Simpson were married in 1894; their first child, Aaron Lloyd (my great-grandfather) was born a year later.  (His obituary states that the couple married in January 1895 and they moved to Missouri in 1910.)

Her last child, Robert, was born in 1908, making him just 12 years old when his mother died.

Emma died Wednesday, Dec. 29, 1920, at her home. Her obituary stated that she was age 48 years, 2 months and 25 days. Her obituary notice published the following day in the Jimplicute newspaper. In part it reads:

“The deceased was a most excellent woman, kind hearted charitable and loved by all who knew her, and her death caused sadness to many hearts.

The Jimplicute extends sincere sympathy.”

I’ve been unable to find an actual death certificate for Emma Chandler Simpson with the Missouri Archive. I might renew that search again because I’m curious about the cause of death since she was so young.

I’d like to share the story of her life one day with my daughter, Emma, who is named after this relative. And it would be nice to have a bit of back story to go with the photograph that’s been passed down for generations.

52 Ancestors in 52 weeks: #1

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.

Image: Harold Simpson, grade school picture

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.

Image: Harold and Karen

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.