Monday, March 10, 2014

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: #10 Clifford Royal Cole, A Royal Bastard

Over the years I've used a lot of terms to describe my grandfather. But until I started doing family history research, I has no idea how accurate the phrase "royal bastard" really was.

I never got to know my mother's biological father. I've met him and heard stories about him, but never cared to build a relationship. My grandmother's feelings about her ex-husband have thoroughly colored my  perspective.

Clifford Cole was born near Pollard, Arkansas, on July 16, 1908, the third son of Mollydine Alexander and William J Cole. Jealous of his older brother Noble, Clifford gave himself the middle name of Royal. He moved to Benton Harbor, Michigan, as a young man, to work in the automotive manufacturing industry.

He loved to party and soon gained a reputation for drinking and womanizing. On March 20, 1928, Clifford Cole eloped with Leona Crispen to South Bend, Indiana. Marriage didn't settle him down and he continued to act as if he were a single man.

When Leona quickly got pregnant, he refused to believe the child was his, forcing her to have a back-alley abortion. He took away her car keys and limited her contact with friends and family. A second pregnancy followed, with my mother being born in 1929.

An infection sprang up in the infant's eyes and Clifford refused to take the baby to the doctor. By the time Leona went to the doctor over his wishes, most of the baby's sight had been destroyed and Leona learned that she also was being ravaged by infection. Leona soon filed for divorce and left Michigan with her daughter.

Clifford was not a fast learner. He married at least three more times and fathered several more children. He left manufacturing behind and became a barber, opening his own shop in Benton Harbor. Ironically, he became bald and  wore a toupee. He finally settled into a marriage and later moved to Ellenton, Florida, where he died on June 4, 1997.

I never met any of Clifford's extended family. Through family history research, I connected with a second cousin, a granddaughter of Noble Cole. She told me that, though she had been raised in Benton Harbor, she had never met Clifford. When she would walk past the barber shop, she was curious and would have liked to walk in and meet her great-uncle. However, she was too afraid to do that. What a telling story about how the family felt about Clifford!

The historical research on the Alexander family has been fascinating, leading to ancestors from the British Isles. The pedigree includes ancestors descended from Charlemagne via wrong-side of the blanket nobility. Clifford was indeed a royal bastard, or at least a descendant of one.

Quick page from We Are Family by Dianne Rigdon for Digital Scrapper, June 2013

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