Sunday, February 9, 2014

Thoughts on the early life of William Henry Bradley (1874, Zanesville, Oh. - 1967, Kansas City, Ks.)

A Share on the search for ancestors Kyle Bradley



My name is Kyle Bradley and I was born in Kansas City, Kansas in June of 1963 to James Harold Bradley and Sandra Gail Stott. My mother Gail is a sweet and endearing woman and in the interest of my love for her and mostly for her gentle feelings, I promise soon to put pen to paper and record my thoughts on my lineage from her lines also but alas, as the purpose of this particular essay is to reflect on what is known of my fathers line, regretfully I shall have to save the Stott story for another day. James Harold Bradley was born to William John Bradley and Eleanor Louise Bates in Kansas City, Kansas in 1936. This we know first hand as at this time, I am most certainly blessed to have my father with me in this, the living world, even as I write these words.

Now, his father William John Bradley was born just a shy two years after the Great Kansas City Flood of 1903 in a small part of Kansas City known as Quindaro Township. I mention the flood of the Kansas and Missouri rivers of that year in large part for it's overall relevance to this essay, and in small part because it raises the first in a series of questions surrounding the early life of the subject of this composition, you see, it has been told to me for as long as I can remember and my Grandfather wrote of it in his 'papers', he was born upon his parents houseboat that was moored at the confluence of these two rivers. The account as told by him, to my father, and in turn told to me is, that an unnamed 'mid-wife' delivered young 'Bill' in the cold and early spring of 1905 to William Henry Bradley and German immigrant Franziska Johanna Overfeld. Aha, so finally you say, we arrive at the mention of the man to whom this narrative is given over to, I give to you my Great Grandfather, the only 'known' patron of my family's surname, William Henry Bradley. Let me say it once again, William Henry Bradley! Franziska "Francis" Overfeld pic below


You may think the introduction excessive and repetitive but let me explain. Over the course of these last five years, in my search to find my roots, I most assuredly have typed this name at least a thousand times and at this point, another hundred will likely not be enough to answer the questions we have about his early life, not to mention any hope of verifying the names of any one of his family that came before him. Does this frustrate me? Most certainly! Does this drive me to find more? Categorically! Does this discourage me from continuing my search? Absolutely not! I will continue scouring the census records. I will continue pouring over the birth records. I will not cease to post inquiries on the blogs and social media forums. I will pry what little information I can from the files tucked away in the backs of libraries, courthouses and archives.

The first incident that brings questions to mind is the record we have of William Henry in the Wyandotte County, Kansas Farmer Directory of 1921. A brief explanation of this record is in order and I obtained this information only from the hard work of Debra Graden. Wyandotte County, Kansas Farmer Directory, 1921 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 1999. Original data: Kansas Farmer Mail and Breeze, Wyandotte County Directory.
Ancestry.com keeps this record on their site and information concerning it appears as follows in quotes.
"In 1921, Wyandotte County was the most populous county in Kansas. With Kansas City within its boundaries, this is not surprising. Hundreds of thousands of people have lived in the area since Kansas was granted statehood. This database is a collection of records from the "Kansas Farmer Mail and Breeze," printed in 1921 and lists farmers and breeders in the county. In addition it includes the township in which the farm was located and the date the farm was settled. Researchers of ancestors from eastern Kansas may find this collection of over 9100 records helpful in their search. Ancestry.com regrets to inform you that Debra Graden passed away unexpectedly. Photocopies of the original data will no longer be available upon request. We are grateful to Debra for the long hours she contributed to making her databases such useful resources to so many people."
Here is the information as it concerns William H. Bradley:
Name: William H. Bradley
Post Office: Kansas City, Kan. R4
Township: Quindaro
Settled: 1903
Page: 181


This is very good information indeed and I was absolutely thrilled when I came across this! My Great Grandfather in 1903, settling his farm in Quindaro, Kansas. The name is right! The time is right! The place right! To this very day, it is in fact the earliest reliable record that we have found for William H. What a find you say? Well, yes, it is, but...this is the thing, must there always be a "thing"? Okay, the thing about this record is, I suppose right up to the rivers bank could be considered "Quindaro Township" and being such it is reasonable to assume that William was known in town and considered to be a member of the community, however, a houseboat is certainly not a farm and besides, it is said that William lost all in the flood of '03'! By the record above, Williams farm was settled in '03', the year he lost everything on the river! It is the most logical thing to think that William moved inland and settled. This casts serious doubt about the houseboat birth of William’s son in 1905, two years later! We will get back to this but maybe it is time to backtrack just a bit and fill you in on what we do know about William Henry Bradley, as told to me by my father James who was told by his father Bill and in turn by his Grandfather William. William maintained throughout his life that he was born in Muskingum county Ohio in a town by the name of Zanesville in the year of 1874 and the month of March. Fair enough! That is all good and well and obviously worked well enough for the duration of his 93 years in this earthly realm. In 1874 it was not a legal requirement in Ohio to obtain or record a Certificate of Birth and in the absence of a church or a family bible to write such things down, we rely on family oral history and the selective memories of aging people for names, dates and places of occurrences such as this that took place well over 100 years ago!


In 1965 or so, my Grandmother Eleanor, Bill's wife, after questioning William about it, wrote down what we now consider to be the family history and the members of William’s family. According to William’s stories, his parents were 'older' when he was born. His fathers name was John and his mothers name was Gertrude Pax or Packs. Nowhere have we found definitive proof that this is true but it is all we have to go on at this point! His older sisters name was Mary and she was old enough that William remembered her, more or less, raising him as a mother would. This makes one wonder, and it was not unusual for a young daughter to find herself with child yet no husband! Could Mary have been the unwed mother of an illegitimate child? Did her parents, in an attempt to protect her reputation, claim the child as their own? Were his 'parents' in reality, his "Grandparents"? Stranger things have happened and actually it was not an uncommon occurrence considering the lack of legal requirements for record keeping! William went on to say that he had two brothers as well and their names were John and Adam. Whether brothers or Uncles or both is unclear but this is his recollection. It is thought that Williams family was not well off by any means and were likely as poor as could be, living in the 'sticks' outside of Zanesville, or some other small Ohio town and it was a hard and trying time for a young boy in his position. Now Adam was, we think, the closest in age to young William and it is said that the two of them left home and started down the Ohio River on a raft they themselves had built when William was around twelve to fourteen years old. He told stories of his youth on the rivers, making a dollar a day, here and there, shagging logs in the mill towns along the river, winding down the waterways of Ohio like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn! Is it coincidence that the well known author, Mark Twain, published his works on Tom and Huck in 1884 and 1885 when young William would have been just eleven years old? The stories of the river life told in those novels pages would have sounded mighty fine to a lad who didn't have much to look forward to or aspire to in the backwoods coal mining area of Muskingum County, Ohio.




I have often wondered if William lied around on the banks of the Muskingum River on the hot summer afternoons, dreaming and romanticizing the idea that he too, like Tom and Huck, could float the river and be free from the chores and the watchful eye of his elders, the town folk and the constable. It makes a great story and sounds believable enough but there is the possibility that none of this ever took place, except in Williams riverside dreams, and having heard or read those Twain tales, later in life this may have been an easier and more romantic past for him to remember and it certainly sounded better, more exciting and adventurous, than his own real story which was likely one of hardship, hard times and hard knocks. As his story continues he told his grandsons, James and Larry, that he and his brother Adam made their way down the rivers as far as Cairo, Illinois where the Ohio River meets the Mississippi and, as brothers are wont to do, they had a falling out. At this point, they go their separate ways and to our knowledge, William never again had any contact with any of his family. It is hard for me to imagine what it would be like at 17 or 18 years of age to face the prospect of never seeing my loved ones again. The question for me looms large; Did he really even have a family? There was at the time, during the years of William’s youth, 1874 to 1890, a very well known children’s home, an orphanage named, The McIntire Children’s Home of Zanesville.



The home even had a baseball team! Is it possible he was an orphan of another name that ran off from "the home" and upon being asked, assumed a name that he picked up or made up along the way? Perhaps he never knew who his parents might be? Parents or no, we pick up where we left off with William and Adam feuding in Cairo, Illinois and parting company for the final time. For years I have heard my father and his brother Larry talk of the fight and, only half in jest, propose that William done his brother in with a konk on the noggin, threw him in the river, changed his name to William Bradley and made his way to Kansas City. We know only one part of that story to be true for certain and that is that eventually William made his way to Kansas City. The method and the timeframe are as sketchy as the previous occurrences so we will put the events in a timeline up to this point and reflect on what we know, or 'think' we know. William was born in 1874 in Zanesville. He leaves home at 12 years of age or so in 1886 to 1888. Picture of Mills from Wayne National Forest


It is possible that they lived on the river throughout his teenage years floating the Muskingum River to the Ohio, down the Ohio to the Mississippi river, working the mills along the way, begging, buying or stealing meals and supplies in whatever little river towns they could, perhaps he made one of the towns along the river his home for a period of time. We can only estimate William arriving in Cairo, Illinois around 1890 or so. As traveling up the river would have been tremendously difficult on a raft made for floating down the river, could it be that William worked his way to Kansas City by other means? At this point I think we must explore other possibilities concerning Williams’s whereabouts during this period of his life. We look at William’s marriage to Franziska Overfield. We are uncertain as to the date that William met Francis. We know that William was in Ohio off and on from 1875 until as late as 1900 and must have been there between 1890 and 1900 as Francis did not arrive in the states until 1891 and to our knowledge, never lived anywhere except Ohio. If the 1910 census is to be believed, they were married in 1897. When asked the census question, “How many years married?” they responded, “13 years”, or 1897.



Over the years there have been a couple of different stories about the wedding of William and Francis. One of those stories, told long before we ever ran across this 1910 census record is that they were married in 1897 in Ohio, and had a two day celebration after the wedding. However this does not fit well at all with what we find in the census record of 1900 as in that Census record in East Liverpool, Columbiana co. Ohio in 1900 we find Francis living with her sister and brother-in-law, Elizabeth and John Miebach, she is listed as single and used her maiden name. Maybe she didn’t want her sister to know she had already married or if her sister gave the information the enumerator, maybe she hadn’t been told of the marriage. When and where did they meet? East Liverpool is quite some distance northeast and ‘up’ the Ohio River so it is unlikely that William made it up that direction in his travels but I suppose it is not impossible. Perhaps he was employed by a company that made excursions up the river to Liverpool in the course of the transport of pottery goods that East Liverpool was noted for. I am also looking for a connection such as relatives of Francis that may have lived further west that at some time she may have been visiting when she met William closer to Zanesville.


It is possible, and has been said in family circles that her family did not approve of her courtship with William as she was of a very staunch German Catholic family and we think that William likely had no religion to speak of. As a matter of fact, as late as 1905 he was still poking fun at religion when he stated on an informational form concerning himself that “In case of accident, notify: “The Devel”. Was it possible they had eloped and wed with few knowing about it, that they were keeping it a secret and therefore she used her maiden name when the census taker ‘came ‘round’? If it was a secret, who then was in attendance at the supposed ‘two day party’? A second story that relates somewhat to the marriage, although a marriage is never mentioned, is that of Francis’s departure from Ohio and her arrival at Kansas City. Francis and her sister Elizabeth did not get along well, her sister was a harsh and demanding woman and living with her, Francis was no more than a chamber maid and servant. Sometime after the 1900 census, she could take it no more and about 1903 she hired a coach to take her and her trunk to the train station in the night. She stole away to Kansas City to meet what was either her husband or her fiancĂ©, depending on what timeline we follow. Upon arriving in Kansas City shortly after the 1903 flood, she claimed William, having lost all possessions in the flood, had nothing but the shirt on his back and the remnants of a houseboat that was now tied up along the bank of the Missouri River near Quindaro Township, Kansas City, Kansas. Were they married after 1903 when Francis arrived? Where they ever really married? These questions remain unanswered. And so the story has come back around to the Farmers Index mentioned earlier that lists William settling his farm in Quindaro. The couple made a home right there on the rivers bank. We have a document written in 1905 in Williams’s handwriting in which he states his address as “Quin. & Mo. River” reinforcing the stories we had heard all these years. In their matrimony they were gifted in March of 1905 with a child, my Grandpa. As my Grandpa tells it, when he was just a lad, he would help his father tend to their garden/farm that was on the bank just a bit inland from their floating house and the actual owner of that land, whether in spite or for reasons unknown, put a fence up along the river bank as to keep William off of his property and prevent them from working their garden. When the ‘old man’ left the area, William and his son pulled the fence posts and used them for fuel in their stove and chucked the fence wire in the river. The rest of the story is, as they say, history and the record that remains from this point going forward is fairly concise and we believe to be correct. He lived out his life as a member of the Kansas City area, worked as a union sheet metal man and was also a carpenter and roofer.


William Henry Bradley died in October of 1967 when I was but five years old and my memory of him is faint and fleeting and mostly comes from the few pictures we have of him, all dating after 1910, but I do remember sitting on his lap and poking my finger through the hole in the thick smoke rings he would blow with smoke from his pipe. His son, William John Bradley, my Grandpa, lived until 2006 and died at the ripe old age of one hundred and one. Most of the information included in this essay comes directly from my Grandpas recollections and his writings about his life and times. He wrote extensively in the later years of his life and I cannot describe to you what a treasure it has been to go back in time with him as he told tales of growing up in the early 1900’s. Oh how I wish I had asked more questions! Oh how I wish he were here now to answer them!

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