The Search for the Secret Lovechild of My Great-Grandpa [Genealogy Mystery] –
My great-grandpa, Ralph Edgar Bales, had a secret lovechild, but we only know his first name. I have no clue how we would go about finding a person among the roughly 300 million people in the United States using only a first name. I think it would be interesting to find this uncle (if he’s still living), but we haven’t been left with many clues.
*This post may contain affiliate links.
Ralph Edgar Bales was my great-grandfather. He was born April 10, 1901 in Randolph County, Indiana. He lived his entire life around Bloomingport and Carlos. His parents were Ozro Francis Bales and Letitia Estella “Stell” (Sharp) Bales. In last week’s Way Back Wednesday post I shared a photo of the Josiah and Lydia (Neal) Sharp Family Reunion, and that large group was Stell’s family.
We’ve discussed Ozro’s family in several prior posts. You can find some great photographs of Oz in the What Ethnicity Was Ozro Bales? post. My great-grandpa Ralph had very dark skin like his father. You can read more about that in Could My Ancestor be One of the Mysterious Melungeons?. In this photo, you can see Ozro and Ralph with Oz holding Ralph’s oldest (or is he the oldest?) son Billie Dean Bales. The dog’s name is Rudolph. Whoever labeled the photo (I believe my gg-grandmother Stell’s handwriting) found it important to include the dog.
Here’s another photo that includes Ozro’s parents, John Henry and Martha Bales, as well – making four generations. You can find more about them in the J H Bales – Butter, Eggs, and Poultry Wagon post. I’ve rarely seen photos of Ozro without a mustache until his much later years. It barely even looks like Oz. It does make him look a lot more like his son Royce without the mustache and the dark tan though. My great-grandma (Clara) is not looking too thrilled to be in this photo.
Ralph Edgar Bales and Clara Mildred Clark were married in September of 1918.
Bill was born in October of 1919. Then a daughter was born, but I will not disclose her name or year of birth because she is still living. Another daughter, Betty, was born in 1930. Betty died as an infant when she fell from a moving vehicle. My grandpa, Wallace (aka Buster), was later born in 1932. We don’t know where this secret son falls in the birth order. We don’t know when he was born. We only know he exists.
A Mysterious Phone Call after Ralph’s Death
This is what occurred to my knowledge. The events were relayed to me by my grandpa many, many years after they happened, and my memory of what he told me is somewhat fuzzy as well because it’s been a number of years.
My great-grandpa Ralph Edgar Bales died February 2, 1978. Some of you will remember the Blizzard of ’78 happened around that time in Indiana. At some point after Pop’s (Ralph’s) death, a man called. I’m not sure if he called Pop and Granny’s house or if he called my grandpa’s (Wallace’s) house. I just know a man called wanting to talk to Pop. I’m assuming he called Pop’s house.
I don’t know if he spoke to Granny first, but I know my grandpa ended up on the phone with this man. He told the man Ralph was dead. The man didn’t believe him. He thought my grandpa was lying to him. At some point in the conversation, this man identified himself as Ralph’s son. From my memory of what my grandpa told me, there seemed to be some arguing back and forth about whether Pop was really dead. The man seemed to think my grandpa was trying to keep him from his father. My grandpa eventually told him the location of the cemetery and told him to come see for himself.
The man said his name was Clayton. My grandpa also thought he said he was from around Indianapolis in a place with “Green” in the name. That leaves quite a few options since it could be Greenfield, Greencastle, Greensburg, Greenwood, or maybe somewhere else. That doesn’t really narrow it down, does it? Who knows if that particular place would even be listed on any official documents? Official documents might be under some other location. He could be from a much smaller town and just gave the name of the bigger municipality, assuming no one would know the name of a smaller town. That’s what we do when asked where we live.
It was clear from the conversation that Pop had been in the habit of having regular communication with this secret son. Apparently, the phone call was prompted because he hadn’t heard from Pop in a while and wondered why. He must have found some way to verify Pop’s death because he called again at some point.
This time he wanted to meet the other kids. My grandpa and his sister say that they were willing to meet, but he called them back later and said it would be better to just leave it alone. My mom thinks she remembers it as someone on our side not wanting to meet, and she always assumed the unwillingness was because Granny was still living and a newly widowed woman. I specifically asked my grandpa and his sister if they refused to meet. They both emphatically stated it was their previously unknown brother Clayton who ultimately chose not to meet.
My verdict’s still out on who decided to call off the meeting. I absolutely don’t think my grandpa and his sister lied to me in their answers. I asked them independently, and they answered the same. They definitely believed that to be true. I’m just not definitively sure someone or something didn’t persuade this man not to meet his other siblings. I wonder if he somehow ended up in a phone conversation with Granny, or I wonder if he got the impression they didn’t really want to meet. I just don’t think it’s fair to say it was definitely his choice when I know so little about what was actually said such a long time ago. I think there’s room for Clayton to have a different perspective on which party didn’t want to meet.
I’m sure it was a difficult time for all of those involved. They had just lost their father. Their mother was still living. They suddenly found out they had another brother they never knew existed. Under those circumstances, I’m not sure they would have come across as the most welcoming family in the world, but maybe they did. No one in the family seemed to doubt Pop Bales fathered this additional son named Clayton. By the time I spoke to them about it years and years later, no one seemed to have any ill will or bad feelings about the situation, so maybe they really didn’t accidentally discourage a meeting. Maybe the man really did just not want to meet them for whatever reason.
I’m sure it was an even more difficult situation for Clayton. When he lost his father, he lost his only link to that side of his ancestry. Did Pop tell him stories about his siblings? Did he feel like he knew them but held back because he thought they might not want to know him? Or was that phone call his first revelation that he even had siblings? He wasn’t even given the opportunity to attend the funeral of his father because no one knew about him, except the deceased.
Ralph Bales Drove a Stock Truck
Pop drove a stock truck for a living. He had various places he had to deliver the stock. Sometimes in the summers, my dad or his brother would go with Pop to help him load the stock. Pop had emphysema, so it was difficult for him to load the hogs himself in his later years. He paid my dad or his brother $1 a day to go with him, and he took them somewhere for lunch. Anytime he’s mentioned it, my dad seems more thrilled about the lunch than being paid the $1. Getting food in a restaurant was more of a rare treat in those days. I think my dad also mentioned getting bottles of pop when they stopped places.
We can only assume Pop had a woman somewhere on his stock delivery route, and that resulted in his son Clayton. My genealogy research has actually caused me to uncover a number of cases where men had two different families in different locations. Most of the time it involved working in one place and living in another. These men had a family at each location. Without social media and instantaneous worldwide communication, it was much easier to keep one family from knowing about the other. Today we have Jerry Springer and Montel Williams and other talk shows to figure out who the Baby Daddy is for us. Back then, there were no paternity tests.
An Unexpected Call from a Lawyer
I’m not sure if this information is related or not, but apparently, a lawyer also called Granny after Pop’s death. The lawyer said Ralph owned a house. My aunt thinks he said the house was in Redkey, Indiana (or somewhere near there). Granny told the lawyer she wanted nothing to do with it, so we have no clue what happened with the house. It probably eventually went for back taxes if no one claimed it.
That may not even be related to this son named Clayton. For all we know, Pop could have had a third family somewhere on the stock route. I just thought I would mention it in case it helps someone connect the dots to us.
So What Became of this Secret Son of Ralph Edgar Bales?
I’m not left with a lot of clues. Trying to find someone based entirely on a first name and a vague location is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. We don’t know if he was using the name Bales. I’ve searched various resources using the name Bales without getting anywhere.
I would be interested in learning more about Clayton. Here I am with all these pictures and all this family history, and what if he wants to know about his ancestors? What if he wants to know the stories of his grandparents and great-grandparents and great-great-great-grandparents? Is he even still living? If not, does he have kids? Do they look like us? What made him decide not to meet his siblings? What is his story?
Maybe he closed the door on that chapter with the death of his father, and maybe he doesn’t want that door reopened, and I certainly respect that if it is the case. But if anyone in his line is interested in corresponding, I’m completely willing to share the stories of their ancestors with them. I’m willing to send pictures. I’m willing to answer questions. Clayton is our family! He has a right to know these stories.
Surely, in a world as small as the World Wide Web, somebody will know something that could connect us with Clayton or his family. I know lots of people find their long-lost relatives through social media sharing, so I figure it’s worth a try.
You can email me at insomnomom @ thehousethatneverslumbers. com with any information relating to this mystery if you have something you would rather not comment publicly.
Please like, share, tweet, pin, follow and subscribe!
If you want to be sure you’re getting future installments of Way Back Wednesday where I share old photos and information on genealogy and local history, subscribe to The House That Never Slumbers’ email list.
Other posts related to this topic:
Other genealogy posts can be found under the Genealogy tab on the toolbar!