I am the newsletter editor for my local genealogical society (South Plains Genealogical Society [SPGS]) and recently introduced a column entitled “Adventures in Research: Sometimes You Just Have to Keep Digging”. In the November issue I shared the story below, intending also to share it soon with readers here at Digging History since that’s where it originated back in October 2013. The research I wrote about was not mine but it’s such a fascinating story I think you will find it interesting and informative.
Who Were You Roy Simpleman?
On July 5, 2015 I received a comment from a reader at Digging History on one of the very first articles I wrote in October of 2013. After learning about the Dawson, New Mexico coal mine disaster one hundred years previous, I decided to write a Tombstone Tuesday article entitled “The Immigrant Miners of Dawson, New Mexico“.
I usually write those articles focusing on a single person, or perhaps a husband and wife. Instead, for that article I wrote about the tragic deaths of immigrant miners, some who had literally just gotten off the boat days earlier. Over two hundred and fifty men perished that day.
One of the survivors was a miner whose name was reported by newspapers as Roy Simpion. As it turns out, that was either a misprint or misspelling of his name. The email I received in July was from Roy’s great grandson Doug Simpleman.
Doug wrote me a bit more about his great grandfather, adding that Roy later worked as a mine rescuer before being paralyzed and passing away a few years later. Doug also shared how proud he was of his family’s mining history which he believes stretches back to the days of Spanish Hidalgos sent to Mexico by King Charles of Spain.
Doug had noted that I provide ancestry research services and wondered if I could help with the translation of some Mexican records. At that time he felt a dead end had been reached in his own research.
I informed him I had access to Mexican records at Ancestry.com, however my Spanish was rusty. I also told him about Roger Ward, a member of SPGS and an experienced LDS researcher, who might be able to assist him. I promised to contact Roger and also to follow up with some research for marriage records at the Albuquerque Genealogy Library when I visited at the end of August.
Doug related how Roy Simpleman wasn’t his great grandfather’s real name. He had located a church baptismal record but no father’s name was listed. Roy’s birth name was actually Refugio Badial and his mother’s name, Ramona Badial, alone was listed which meant he was illegitimate.
He also found the name of Ramona’s parents: Eucebio and Cevera (Nilo) Badial, and Eucebio’s father was named Benito. Those were all the records he had found, yet family “lore” had been circulating for years indicating the family’s history could possibly be traced to an Italian priest with the Badiali surname who immigrated to Spain and later he and/or his descendants immigrated to Mexico.
Doug was also aware that Benito had worked in the silver mines around Guanajuato, Mexico in the early 1800’s. His goal was to prove whether the family’s history could indeed be traced back to an Italian priest and to also discover who fathered Refugio (Roy).
In a series of emails I began asking questions about his research and what theories he had regarding his great grandfather. His research indicated a name change for the 1910 census when Roy Simpleman was enumerated in Koehler, New Mexico.
Roy had married a girl named Emily Roundsley whose mother may have been French or Northern Italian. Doug suspected prejudice against a Italo-Latin name may have been the rationale although he had yet to prove his theory. He thought perhaps Refugio had gotten into some kind of trouble around the age of sixteen and a name change was a way to escape his past.
Doug always believed Roy was born in November of 1893 because he was baptized in December 1893, although Roy would later record July 4 of that year as his date of birth (and claimed to be a US natural-born citizen). Also, he had been born in Guanajuato and baptized in Chihuahua — a heck of a distance, Doug exclaimed!
This sequence of events also occurred around the time of the overthrow of Porfirio Diaz’s government. Perhaps it was related to political instability and turmoil within the region?
A few days later Roger Ward sent a message after he found some additional information, confirming Doug’s suspicion that Refugio had been born illegitimately. Since he was listed as “naturale” without a father’s name — versus one like “hijo legitimo” or “h.l.” — if a church wedding hadn’t occurred the child was indeed illegitimate in the eyes of the church regardless of whether the parents intended to marry.
Several weeks went by and after a futile search in Albuquerque I emailed Doug to say I hadn’t found Roy’s marriage records which I had hoped to find. On September 19 I received an email at 7:02 a.m. from Doug thanking me for my (and Roger’s) help.
Seven minutes later at 7:09 a.m. I received a newly created email from Doug with a subject line:
Doug had just Googled “San Pedro Corralitos”, the name of a Mexican mine. He provided a link to a Facebook page, an article in Spanish which mentioned the mining representative’s name: George Zempelman. Could this have been Refugio’s father?!?
I replied to Doug’s email, ecstatic that he had uncovered what might well be a vital piece of his family history puzzle. I also wanted to know more about the New York capitalist who employed George Zempelman.
After scanning through some newspaper articles and various other references, I noted stories about political unrest and clashes with mining corporations and land companies. This well might have been reason for Refugio’s parentage to have been kept secret. Locals likely were disdainful of corporate tactics and it makes sense Ramona wouldn’t have wanted to give her son the name of someone who worked for them.
In the next email I sent back to Doug (this was all taking place on September 19) I put forth a theory for him to consider. I had discovered there were Mormons in that area of Mexico — might the company have contracted the services of a local, say perhaps a Mormon by the name of Zempelman?
Meanwhile, I continued to research and found an entry at Find-A-Grave for George Bernhard Zimpelman. Born in Bavaria, Germany, George was a lieutenant in the 8th Texas Calvary Regiment during the Civil War. At one time he was briefly sheriff of Travis County and a land speculator, owner of land that would eventually become the LBJ Ranch.
He started Zimpelman & Bergen, a land title company which later became known as the Gracy Title Company. One of his sons was George Kyle Zimpelman and it seemed more logical that Refugio’s father could have been the younger George.
It appears I may have been correct about my Mormon theory. George Kyle Zimpelman died in 1906 in Salt Lake City at the age of thirty-five. George Kyle’s daughter Waldine was a member of LDS and also died in Salt Lake City years later.
George Kyle’s first child wasn’t born until 1900 after his marriage to Jane Reece in 1898. Refugio had been born in 1893 — see how the puzzle pieces seemed to be connecting?
Doug contacted me again in mid-October with an update. He had been told an interesting story by one of his uncles and the uncle believed Doug’s theories were spot-on. The uncle said that Doug’s grandfather had told him many years ago that Roy’s father was a mining engineer who was just passing through the area.
Doug then discovered that indeed George Kyle Zimpelman was a mining engineer, a graduate of Texas A&M, who later moved to Salt Lake City and married a Mormon girl. EUREKA!!
Doug is planning to use DNA to hopefully confirm he has German ancestry. He has contacted some of George Kyle Zimpelman’s direct descendants and asked if they’d be willing to participate in a Y-DNA test with him, believing the exact same Y-DNA would have been passed from father to son to grandson without change.
I have to say that day in September was one of the most exhilarating research forays I’d had in awhile. We were emailing back and forth furiously for about four hours.
Toward the end of our hours-long exchange, I asked Doug if any of the pictures he’d found revealed any family resemblance. He laughed and said “no” because he was mostly Italian — he looked like a “Jersey boy.”
Doug Simpleman is proud of his heritage, as well he should be. His grandfather Lee Roy Simpleman (Roy’s son) raised six children who went on to serve their communities in successful public, private and military careers. Among Lee Roy’s grandchildren and Roy’s great–grandchildren are engineers, biochemists, toxicologists and teachers.
Lee Roy had been raised by his grandmother Ramona for the first five years of his life (reasons unknown), so she has always held a special place in the family’s history. On September 19, 2015 Doug Simpleman believed he had finally uncovered the real story.
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!