Alfred Willis O’Kelley

Today I was looking up a few things on Alfred O’Kelley. Given my adoption, I knew nothing of my great-grandfather except for what I got from relatives later on in life. That’s one of the downfalls of genealogy research. Unless you can grab relatives who knew someone in your family before everyone dies off, you’re left with piecing together a possible scenario of what they’re like based off of census records, land records and anything else you’re able to run across. I have relatives still living who knew and loved Alfred, but here is what I found out with my own research:
Alfred Willis O’Kelley was born January 8, 1896 (same day as Elvis, just a tad earlier) and died October 23, 1977 (when I was four years old).
1900 census: Alfred’s family was living in Township 8 Newburg, Beat No. 1, Franklin County, Alabama. He was listed as Alford O’Kelley. I found out Edward and Nancy’s birthdates (his parents, my great-great grandparents) and THEIR parents birthplace on this census which was information I didn’t have before. It looks like I’ll be taking a virtual trip back in time at some point to Georgia around the Civil War era which should be interesting. (This is why I have so much trouble focusing on one person at a time – it’s so tempting to go here, there and yonder and before you know it, I’m in a different state, different era, looking up a completely different person in the tree. It takes all the self-control I have to not go chasing rabbits everywhere.) So! Continuing on with the 1900 census. Head of the household was Edward (aka Irvin) D. O’Kelley at the young age of 26. His wife, Nancy (Hardin) O’Kelley is 30 (a bit of a cougar, I see) and is from Alabama as are her parents. They had four sons and a daughter at the time. Mackey, Daily (Dailey), Alford (Alfred), Effie, and George W. All born in Alabama. There are a couple of other O’Kelley families which I would like to think are siblings of Edward’s, but I’ll have to explore that one at a later date. I saved the 1900 census so I can go back to it whenever I need to. But I will say this, just looking at it, it’s possible that I’m looking at Edward’s parents, John W. and Rebecka O’Kelley, born in 1826 and 1830, respectively, which would put them in their early 30s when the Civil War broke out. So John probably would have served in the War, barring any major health issues.
Edward’s children were all small, too small to work. Edward was a farmer. He could read, but could not write. He was renting their home at the time and it was a farm. As a side note, John O’Kelley owned his farm so if he really is Edward’s father (and my great-great-great grandfather), then there is a possibility Edward was renting from him.
At this time, Alfred is four years old and the next census taken would have been in…
1910.  Alfred is now 14 years old. His family now lives in Burnsville, Mississippi in Tishomingo County. His father, Edward, is listed as Irian D. Okelley 37, his mother as Nancy E. Okelley 39 (I see she shaved off a couple of years on her age, that sly thing) and the children are as follows: Dady (Dailey) 15, Alfred W. 14, Effie J. (who I suspect is Elizabeth) 12, Willy 11, George W. 7, Rebecca 5, May 3. Edward and Nancy have been married for 17 years by this point. There was a bit of a discrepancy here. In the 1900 census, Edward listed his father as being from Georgia. In the 1910 census, he listed him as being from Kentucky. I don’t care how thick of an accent you’ve got – I’m not sure how you would have messed that up. Then again, if Edward was working his can off day in and day out, he probably had little patience for a seemingly useless interruption like census-taking. I could picture him saying in response to being asked where his father was born, “Oh hell – I don’t remember. Georgia or Kentucky or somewheres. Just put down Kentucky.” Thanks, Edward. You know how to make a girl’s job easier. Dady, Alfred, Effie, Willy, and even 7 year old George are listed as farm laborers. Rebecca and May were too young. Another interesting fact is on the census, it says that Nancy had 9 children, but only 7 were living. It doesn’t appear that Mackey made it – he would have been 18 at the time of the 1910 census. There must have been another child born after the 1900 census, but who died before the 1910 census. By this time, Edward has appeared to have learned how to write, but Nancy hasn’t. It’s a bit hard for me to make out the answers, but it appears that Dailey is able to read and write. I can’t tell about the rest of them, but it looks as if the younger ones are unable to do either at this point which makes sense. Edward is still renting a farm at this point. It appears that they are sharecroppers. (note to self: I must start reading up on the history of our area around this period of time and who was doing what/when/where and why.)
1920 census:  Alfred would be 24 by this time, but he wouldn’t be married to Bessy Holley for another 4 years.He didn’t appear to be living at home by the time this census was taken, though. So for now, let’s take a look and see what the family looks like:
The family now resides in Beat 4, Mississippi in Alcorn County. Edward is listed as Irwin Okelley (no disrespect to my great-great grandfather, but I’m starting to wonder if maybe lack of teeth and lack of give-a-damn was causing the census taker to misinterpret Edward’s pronunciation of his name). When I look at the census itself, it looks like “Irvin”. By this time, it appears some of the other children have left home (or died) as well. Dailey, who would now be 25 has left home and has married Rosa Lee Braddock (they married June 12, 1920). Alfred has left (I’ll supply more info on that below). Effie J (Elizabeth, possibly) is now 22 and probably married, but I’m not sure on that. Willy, now 21, is gone – whether off to other parts or has died, I don’t know yet. The children left are as follows: George 16, Rebecca 15, Rosie Mae (May) 13, and three new additions: Pearline 10, Irwin 8 (I’m not sure if it’s really Irwin or maybe Edward, Jr. since there seems to be issues with pronunciation going on here and when I look at the census, it looks like it says Jr), and Herman 5. Edward is still renting and is listed as a farmer, general farm (?). This is different than what the previous listings have been. I’m assuming that by the 1920 census, a few changes have been made regarding what questions are asked so I’ll have to research that and see what is going on. Edward is now 45 and Nancy is 50 ( I guess she is settling into the fact that she is simply the age that she is). Edward has listed both of his parents as being born in Alabama. I’m starting to suspect that John (his possible father) is really from Georgia and that Edward is misunderstanding the question. Maybe the census taker is asking where his father is from and Edward is answering according to where his father lives at the time rather than his father’s birthplace. All but Irwin Jr and Herman can read and write which makes me think they are being sent to school rather than working on the farm. None of the children are listed as being farm laborers at this point.
So for now, Alfred has gone AWOL so I decided to do a bit of research on his future wife to see if maybe I could find him. As of the 1920 census, Bessie was 16 and still living at home in Ripley, Mississippi in Tippah County with her father John P (Pinkney) Holly (Holley) 47, mother Emma R Holly 43, and her five sisters: Hedda C 20, Earlie L 13, Flossy M 11, Berchie B 8, and Onie C 5. John is listed as a farmer as well and owned his farm. Well, that was a bit of a dead end. I thought maybe Alfred had boarded with them, but he hadn’t as of 1920.
Then I started thinking he went off to World War I. I checked military records. He registered September 12, 1918 in Corinth, Mississippi, about a year and a half after his brother Dailey and two months before World War I ended. Alfred listed his residence as 4, Rienzi, Alcorn County, Mississippi and I now have a physical description of him. He was of medium, slender build and had brown eyes. I can’t read what color his hair was, but I’m betting it was probably brown as well. He was a mill laborer for D.J. Hall, also in Rienzi so that’s where he’s been! He listed his father as his closest relative, E. D. O-Kelley and the address listed for his father is Kossuth, Mississippi, Alcorn County.
Between 1918 after World War I ended and 1924 when he married Bessy, Alfred has kind of disappeared. I’m thinking he was probably boarding with someone while working as a mill laborer. I’ll do some more checking around on that, but for now, let’s fast-forward a bit to when he marries Bessy.
Alfred marries Bessy Elvina Holley in February 1924. The next census will be in 1930 and finds them living in Beat 2 in Tippah County, Mississippi. Alfred is now 30 and Bessy (or Bessie as the census spells it) is 26. Alfred is renting a farm apparently next door to his brother-in-law, Earley Holley. It shows neither one of them (Alfred or Bessie) attended school, but both knew how to read and write. It shows Alfred is not a war vet so he apparently didn’t see any action before the end of the war which is understandable seeing as how he signed the draft registration two months before the end of World War I.
Bobby Leland O’Kelley (my grandfather) was born two years after the 1930 census.
1940 census: Alfred, Bessie, and Bobby live in Beat 2, Tippah County, Mississippi. They have lived here since at least 1935. Alfred is a farm laborer on his own farm which he owned. Alfred is 43, Bessie is 39, and Bobby is 8.

Something else I’m finding out. If you pull up information on, don’t go by just what’s typed in there. Look at the actual record yourself because sometimes the information is a little bit different. 

That’s about all I’ve found so far. Family members have told me Alfred built his own place. He was a hard worker and took good care of Bessie. There’s about 37 years of his life that I don’t have from 1940 until 1977. If any of my O’Kelley people have any pictures or memories of Alfred and his bunch they don’t mind sharing, I would love to make a copy and post them on here (or just add to my private file if y’all don’t want them posted publicly). Alfred died of a stroke on October 23, 1977 and was in Walnut Creek Cemetery at Walnut Creek Presbyterian Church in Tippah County, Mississippi. If you don’t mind following streets that aren’t paved and street names with numbers rather than actual names, you will find a small, quaint church in the middle of nowhere. If I remember correctly, Alfred, Bessie, and Bobby are buried towards the front on the left side if you’re looking at the church.

Oh yeah, let me put a disclaimer out there. I do this for fun. I’m not a professional by any means. I’m just trying to get what information I have out there for the rest of the family to have as well. I’ve been doing this for a lot of years and it’s fun for me to learn about my family history whether it’s my biological or adopted family so I hope you enjoy reading about our relatives as much as I enjoy researching them! 🙂

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