Update on the Search for the Secret Uncle (Genealogy) –
It’s been a while since I initially shared The Search for the Secret Lovechild of My Great-Grandfather, Ralph Edgar Bales. I followed a couple of leads, and I figured it was time to share my progress.
In the last post, I shared everything I knew about this secret uncle which wasn’t much at all. I had only a first name, Clayton, and a vague location. I had also heard a family rumor that Granny, at some point, received word that Pop owned a house that she didn’t know existed. We all presumed this house to be related to the mystery son.
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I’m including pictures of my great-grandpa as an infant and a small child just in case the descendants of the secret uncle come across this post and might be curious to see pictures that they likely did not have access to until now. We like to compare photos of the past generations to the descendants today, and it’s sad to me that this branch of the family might not have that opportunity. My great-grandpa had some really weird hair as a baby, by the way. He had an bald, old man combover hairdo as an infant.
Remember the post When Little Boys Wore Dresses, and It Wasn’t Controversial where I mentioned little boys were dressed the same as little girls for the first several years? My great-grandpa was no exception. He’s obviously wearing a dress in both photos.
Can’t Always Trust the Family Lore
The family lore believed the location of the mystery house to be in Redkey, Indiana. My daughter and I took a trip up to the Jay County courthouse in Portland, Indiana one day to search for some record of my great-grandpa’s ownership of this mysterious house.
The ladies who work upstairs at the Jay County courthouse are amazingly helpful. They tried every possible way to find any record of Ralph Bales in relation to a house in Jay County. They searched land ownership records and tax sale records.
One lady from the courthouse called around to various people who had lived in the Redkey area for decades. She even ended up getting me an invitation to get together with a class reunion group in hopes someone could let me see old yearbooks. I appreciate her willingness to help so much.
Since it became apparent there were no records of anything in my great-grandpa’s name at the courthouse, they suggested I try the genealogy room at the library. The library at Portland has a really great genealogy room. They also have computers with access to Ancestry.
While at the library, I was able to use Ancestry to search yearbooks from the schools in the Redkey area for anyone named Clayton. There were a handful of boys with that name, and I made note of them to follow up on various genealogy sites later.
Someone at the courthouse also suggested I visit a certain furniture store in Redkey to speak with the owner who knows everyone in town. I was planning to follow up on that lead, but after some digging around on each of the Clayton’s later on my computer at home, I really started to feel like my family might be wrong about the location of the house.
The Jay County courthouse has really good property records for the time period in question. If my great-grandpa owned a house in Jay County, there should have been a record. Tracking down every Clayton in Jay County didn’t seem sensible because I was pretty sure I was barking up the wrong tree.
I put my research on hold for a couple of months because we were really busy this summer anyway, and I just wasn’t sure where to go from there.
The other child in the above photo is my great-grandpa’s older brother Royce Bales. Royce later married Josephine Gordon. You can find a photo of a very large Randolph County school group that includes Josephine Gordon here.
This weekend I was able to speak with some relatives at the Bales Reunion.
As I spoke to different family members, it became clear that there was no consensus on the location of the mystery house. Everyone believed the house to be somewhere “north of Winchester,” but there was definitely not agreement on Redkey as the location. The location might be Ridgeville, Saratoga, Deerfield, or anywhere else up that way. The house might not even be in a town at all.
Apparently, my Granny did not find out about the house because of a phone call from a lawyer after Pop’s death as I originally believed. Apparently, a letter actually came in the mail while Pop was still alive saying the house would be sold for back taxes. He was being given the opportunity to pay the back taxes and redeem the house. It now seems that he made a confession to Granny at that point about the secret lovechild, and perhaps together they decided to let the house sell for back taxes. I’m really not clear on that part.
I didn’t even think to try the Randolph County courthouse because it just seemed impossible to me that this child could be living right here in Randolph County without any of the other relatives knowing about it. I suppose distance was a lot farther then, and even though it might be tricky to keep a child a secret in the day where people’s business is posted on Facebook all day long, it might have been possible to keep the rest of the family in the dark about a child living even a few miles away a few decades ago.
The first rule of genealogical research is to start at the original location and branch outward. I probably should have stuck with that rule for this search, instead of jumping to Jay County first.
I also found out more about the conversation between Clayton and whichever of my relatives he spoke with on the phone. He had just finished school and was visiting his grandma in the area for the summer. Whether “school” would be high school or college, I don’t have a clue, but that means I’m searching for someone much younger than I imagined. I was mostly looking for someone nearer to my grandpa’s age, while I should probably be looking for someone my dad’s age or even 8-10 years younger.
I also found out he may have lived somewhere near Pendleton.
Maybe I’m Getting Closer
I still don’t know the identity of the mysterious Uncle Clayton, but I might be getting closer. I’m planning to make a trip to the Randolph County courthouse, hopefully later this week. Who knows what I might turn up?
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