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Paying Tribute to an Ancestor Extraordinaire

Deborah Williams of Richfield, Minn., never got to meet her grandfather, Harry Henry Hill. But she knows his story: The black boy who lost his parents in the late 1800s and left school at age 12 became a single dad to six — count ’em, six — daughters and raised them on his own during a period of intense racial discrimination and prejudice against African Americans.

Harry Henry Hill
Harry Henry Hill, single father of six daughters

Williams’ compelling story about her beloved grandfather is the winner of AARP’s Tribute to an Ancestor contest, snagging her the top prize of a RealPad tablet.

You’ve heard stories like the one Williams shared on the AARP community board: tales that are told at family reunions or at the dinner table that made you proud to be kin to someone — from the entrepreneurial uncle to the loving, hardworking mother. A host of these stories showed up during the contest. They include:

  • Tekla, the mother raised with eight siblings on a poor Wisconsin farm. An aspiring writer, she wrote letters and shared her love of books with her children.
  • The Kemp family, who have a long legacy of civil rights activism, and the founding leaders of a 5,000-member Congregational church.
  • Fred Gibson, the money-saving Mississippi native who moved to Illinois in 1917 and later brought his four siblings north to work at a can company. He taught them how to save so that they could buy their own homes.
  • Andrew Cieslarski, a violinist and son of Polish Catholic immigrants who was the only white musician in an all-black orchestra in the days leading up to World War II.
  • An aunt with a severely handicapped child who inspired one of her relatives to pursue a career in special education.


Get discounts hotels, airfare, car rentals and more — AARP Member Advantages. »

Have a family member you’d like to celebrate? You can still pay homage to your ancestors and share their stories with the world.

Photo: Courtesy of Deborah Williams

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