For Uncle Bill

by Debbie on May 20, 2012

William Clampffer

Manasquan Class of 1961

Just a few nights ago, I decided to launch this blog. I’d recently started researching my family history, and I wanted a way to share my genealogical finds with my family. I was especially interested in reaching out to my uncle Bill, my mom’s half-brother. Bill started his own search for our ancestors many years ago, and had a good head start on me. My great aunt Lou had been the first (as far as I know) to delve into our family history, and Bill had inherited her research. We talked a bit last summer at a family reunion, and I’d been looking forward to continuing our conversation.

Bill had been battling bladder cancer for several years, but I was encouraged by how good he looked last July. Summer turned to fall, and fall into winter, and we hadn’t yet had a chance for another visit. He exchanged emails with my mom regularly, and she told me he was in considerable pain and wasn’t feeling up to visitors. Still, his doctor had suggested his pain could be managed, and encouraged him to think about living, not dying. I looked forward to seeing him soon.

When the 1940 census was released in April, I jumped right in. While searching for other family members, I accidentally stumbled on a census image that showed my great aunt Lou’s family. I immediately thought of uncle Bill, and wondered if he’d found it yet. I was sure he was searching, too. So I emailed the .jpg file to him, with a quick note. I should have realized things had taken a turn for the worse when I didn’t receive a reply.

Uncle Bill died today.

I didn’t know Bill that well, in all honesty. He and my mother share the same father, but they grew up in different households. As adults, they had gotten to know each other, and over the years become close. Bill and his wife Joan came to our house for dinner once when I was in college. I don’t recall seeing him again until last year, at the family reunion. In the hour or so we sat talking last summer, I discovered we had a lot of things in common, an interest in genealogy among them. He told me stories about the Clampffers (then Klampffers) who had come to Philadelphia from Germany prior to the Revolutionary War, and how he’d found evidence they may have come at the invitation of William Penn himself.

After the reunion, I Googled around a bit, looking for some of the documents Bill had mentioned. Bill was actually William, and one of a long line of William Clampffers in our family tree. So, I Googled William Clampffer, and quite by accident, stumbled on this photograph of uncle Bill, from his 1961 Manasquan High School yearbook.

After mom called to tell me he had died today, I searched for the image of Bill again. I was worried the page would disappear, and I’d lose my chance to download his picture. But this time, when I Googled William Clampffer, I also found a few old articles about uncle Bill from the Red Bank Register. I found one piece from 1972 about him getting a promotion at International Flavors and Fragrances, where he worked for many years (and where my brother works now, coincidentally). It mentioned that his wife Joan also worked there – I didn’t know that! Did they meet at IFF? In 1962, Bill apparently ran his car off the road in Howell, and got a ticket for careless driving. I would totally have teased him about that, had I known when I saw him last. And in 1963, Bill was in the cast of a community theater production of Tartuffe – who knew?! I would have loved to ask him about it, and am curious if he did any other plays.

I had been planning a day trip to Ivy Hill Cemetery in Germantown (Philadelphia), where quite a few of our Clampffer ancestors were buried in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Bill had told me he’d never been there, and I thought I’d surprise him with photos of the headstones. I was so looking forward to sitting down with him to talk more, and to look at the family documents he and aunt Lou had accumulated over the years. In the meantime, while Bill was too sick for a visit, I started building my family tree, using some information Bill had sent my mom as a starting point.

After just a few months of some rather obsessive digging around online, I had already identified almost 700 family members, going back to the 17th century. It was getting hard to keep track of all these people. It finally occurred to me to start blogging. If I put all these stories and records online, I could share them with my parents and with other family members who might know more – like Bill! Maybe, on days when he was feeling better, Bill would read a few of my posts, and we could talk via blog comments. I’d been working on the blog design over the weekend, hoping to launch it sometime next week.

Bill, this is for you. Rest in peace.




Sallie May 21, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Debbie, that really got to me. It is a nice tribute to Bill and it made me cry. We just weren’t finished. I’m sure his family feels the same. Rest in peace, Bill.

Tommy May 22, 2012 at 7:32 am

Deb, all I can say is this is just awesome.

Debbie May 22, 2012 at 8:46 am

Thanks, Bro.

Barb Rolek May 22, 2012 at 10:39 am

You’re really something, Debbie. Sounds like your whole family is. I’m glad I know a little part of you.

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