Make Friends with an Archivist
It just can’t be said enough. Make friends with an archivist. The archivists I know are a special breed – history geeks with a penchant for organizing things and a yen to ferret out obscure and unseen treasures. They have so many resources at their disposal, and their job is to share!
I am writing a family sketch on my great-grandparents, Tom and Mary (Ahern) Bradley for my ProGen study course. The Bradley’s settled in Tiburon, California just as Tom’s employer, the California Northwestern Railroad (later the Northwestern Pacific), moved its terminus there around 1890. Their children and grandchildren grew up in Tiburon. The Bradley family had many connections with this small town on San Francisco Bay.
I knew the Belvedere-Tiburon Landmark’s Society had some materials in their archive that my father and some of his siblings had donated, so I checked their catalog online and found a few items pertinent to my research, including a couple of oral histories. I reached out to the archivist, and boy, did I ever get lucky!
Dave Gotz emailed some documents and photographs including a transcript of an oral history interview with my great-aunt Miriam “Brownie” Bradley. He’s put a few more things in the mail to me. He’s answering questions that continue to pop into my mind, and now that he knows I exist, he’s even sending me cool materials from the Society’s collection – pictures and newspaper clippings that I didn’t even know existed. But he did. Because he’s an archivist!
The best treasure that arrived yesterday was a link to a video file of an oral history interview with my aunts Mary King and Sr. Bertha Kircher, recorded in October 1994. Mary died in 1996 and Bertha in 1999 but for half an hour yesterday I had these two dear women visiting with me in my living room telling me stories of Tiburon a century ago. Seeing them as I so fondly remember them, hearing their voices and unique ways of talking brought back a flood of my own childhood memories.
Make friends with an archivist. They’re waiting with a treasure for you!
“Miss Rosella Graham, daughter of A. D. Graham of El Verano, was run down by a team of horses Tuesday while riding a bicycle. She is still suffering for the effects of the injuries, which will not prove fatal.”
Thank goodness those injuries did not prove fatal. Rosella, was my great aunt, and I have fond childhood memories of all 4’11” of this little old lady. She joined the Bradley family when she married my grandmother’s brother, Hilary Bradley, in 1913. Rose died in 1985, somewhere in her mid- to late-90s. It’s not clear exactly how old she was, because when she married Hilary, she was at least a few years older than he. She didn’t want anyone to know, so she burned, buried or otherwise destroyed any evidence, lying about her age… until she hit 90, when it because something of a status symbol to have lived so long. By then she wanted to take full advantage of the respect accorded to such a venerable character and she raised her age by 2 (or 3) years between the birthday celebrations.
I’m visiting California for “The Bradley Picnic,” a reunion of the Bradley family. I came a few days early and my dear sister, Diane, who knows how passionate I am about my genealogy, offered to drop me off at the Santa Rosa library while she ran some errands. Talk about hog heaven! And scrolling through newspapers, I found the above article about the bicycle and the horses.
At our picnic yesterday, I mentioned it to Rose’s granddaughter and her husband, Mary and Len. Mary recalled the story, remembering seeing evidence of the injury years later, a “hole” in Rose’s thigh that never quite healed. The story as Mary recalled was that Rose was hit by a car, not a team of horses. Rose never placed any blame on the driver, saying it was her own fault for riding into the road right in front of the vehicle. But the cool part of the story was the identity of the driver. Not mentioned in the newspaper, but according to Rose (well Mary’s recollection of what Rose told her), it was none other than Jack London. Rose reported that Jack London had the first automobile in Sonoma.
After the party ended, I spent a little time trying to research this. Could it have been Jack London? He certainly was in town that week, and he loved his horses. The Press Democrat from 9 June 1905, reported that London had recently ridden from Sonoma to Santa Rosa to see his good friend, Luther Burbank. “Frequently during the last two or three months, Mr. London and Miss Kittredge have enjoyed horseback rides all over the Sonoma Valley and to Santa Rosa, Altruria and other places. Both are passionately fond of horseback riding.” A few years later he spoke about his Sonoma farm to a reporter for the Sacramento Union, “’I’ve the finest lot of horses over there you’d see anywhere… just see’ – he rolled up the sleeve of his right arm and proudly exhibited a rigid muscle – ‘got that from driving a four-horse team. I’ve sailed a bit in my time and done other hard work, but I never developed that muscle until I took to driving. It’s great.’”
I searched the newspapers to see if I could confirm a story about London owning an automobile but I found nothing. A man of his means could very well have had the first auto in the town. Maybe London was driving an auto and spooked a horse-drawn wagon causing the collision with Rosella. But it’s also clear London enjoyed driving a team of horses. So maybe Rose did collide with Jack. And knowing me, this is probably not the end of my research into this story. I’ll keep you posted.
I’m sure glad I found that article about Rose and the bicycle just in time for the Bradley picnic and the opportunity to hear a bit more about it from her granddaughter. Do you have a family story about a celebrity? Have you proved it or disproved it? Feel free to post a comment below and tell me your story.
 Petaluma Morning Courier, 3 June 1905, page 4, col. 3
 Press Democrat, 9 June 1905, page 7, col. 2
 “Jack London Fulfills His Youthful Vows With Sutter Fort Pilgrimage,” Sacramento Union, 9 December 1912, page 1 col 5 and page 3 col. 5
Rev James Bradley
James Bradley was born in Lisbane, parish of Upper Badoney County Tyrone, Ireland about 1804. He studied at the Bishop’s College in Londonderry, and came to America in October of 1825. He attended Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, Maryland and was ordained to the priesthood on 25 September 1831. He served about as pastor of Ebensburg, Pennsylvania and in 1832 he became pastor at Newry, Pennsylvania and would remain in that position until his death 51 years later in 1883. In his early years as a priest, his congregation was far flung and he would travel many miles by horseback to minister to his flock, saying Mass and attending sick calls. His parishioners, primarily Irish immigrants, included farmers and the men who built the railroads of western Pennsylvania.
The parishioners at Newry held appear to have held Rev. Bradley in great respect. In honor of the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, a bell was commissioned. The bell still hangs in the steeple of the church at Newry.
Mary Kircher Roddy is a genealogist, writer and lecturer, always looking for the story. Her blog is a combination of the stories she has found and the tools she used to find them.