Among the several happiest memories of my father’s last years is one which defines each of us as remarkably different people.
As the only son of an only son and gay besides, it was clear I was the last of my particular branch of the Ramsey family in America. As the end of my line, I felt compelled to do some genealogy and find what it was that I would terminate. It turned out that the earliest ancestor I could determine at that time—this was in the mid-1970s, my personal Bi-Centennial project—was Thomas Ramsey Sr, born 1741 in Bucks Co., Pennsylvania. If, at each generation of Thomas’s progeny there were the same number of children and the same proportion of males, by the time my generation arrived on the scene there were at least five hundred male children bearing Tom’s chromosomes. Takes a little of the load off, doesn’t it, when you understand just how much of his genetic material is walking the streets of the United States today.
In those years I was pretty inexperienced in genealogical methods, so I hired some professionals in D.C. to undertake a lot of the basic research. And for Christmas that year—1977, I think—I made a gift of all that preliminary research to dad. It initiated one of the most revealing conversations we ever had.
During our discussion, he told me of visits to his grandparents in southern Indiana while he was a young boy, people I knew from just one photograph that made me glad I hadn’t inherited their dour 19th century Presbyterian demeanor. John and Nancy Emma Park weren’t a fun couple, if facial expression is any indication. But then Roy told me something profoundly disturbing: he was unsure whether Clara Frances Markiewicz Ramsey, the woman I knew as my grandmother, was actually his mother.
His father, another Roy Ramsey, had been married twice and the first Mrs Ramsey had died, perhaps in childbirth or as a consequence, and that my father had been the surviving child. That information wasn’t merely surprising. The shocking part of it was that my father was uninterested in finding the truth of that possibility. I, on the other hand, couldn’t sleep until there was a definitive answer. So I immediately headed to downtown Chicago and the Cook County Court House for whatever documents they held. The bittersweet answer satisfied both of us — satisfied me and relieved Roy.
Roy L. Ramsey had been married in 1908 to Nellie Laurina Kemp in Indianapolis. After the move to Chicago she gave birth four years later on February 18th, 1912 to Evard Wallace Ramsey—Uncle Evard. Sadly, the baby lived just seven weeks and his mother only a bit longer. They are buried together at Kent Cemetery in my grandfather’s home town of Kent, Indiana.
So when I claim to be the only child of an only child, that’s not entirely true. My dad had a half-brother and I a half uncle, if there is such a thing. Far more important was the reassurance that Clara was, indeed, his mother and my grandmother, and we both slept more soundly that night.