Locals help Minnesota sisters find their New Albany roots – with unexpected literary connections
New Albany not only lived up to its motto of “The Fair and Friendly City” for two Minnesota women recently, but exceeded it.
The story began when two sisters, Sue Martin from Brooklyn Park, Minn. and Nancy Janke from Owatonna, Minn., were visiting Memphis for a family reunion, and had wanted to make a side trip to New Albany to learn more about one of their ancestors and find a home he built.
“We are two of (Julia) Frances Bratton Brick’s four children (three daughters and one son),” Janke said. “We flew to Memphis on June 5 to attend the 75th birthday party of one of our cousins. At dinner on the 5th, he and his wife were talking about the house in New Albany and our ears perked up. We had planned to go to Pontotoc (our mother’s birthplace) on Friday and decided we should take a detour through New Albany. We are sure glad we took that detour!”
They had little information to go on, though.
“William Bratton, our mother, Frances Bratton Brick’s grandfather, built the house for his daughter Farrie Bratton as a wedding present, but she never married,” Martin said.
“We had never heard the story of ‘Great Aunt Farrie’s House’ before,” Janke said. “Our cousin thought the house was on Railroad Avenue, when in fact that was the location of our great-grandfather’s house (and is no longer standing).”
They also knew that that grandfather, Carl A. Bratton, had practiced law in Pontotoc and then in Oxford, but that was about it.
Without a clear plan, they went to the welcome center in the former post office and told UCDA secretary Joanne Lesley why they were here.
Lesley thought she knew what they were talking about and where to send them: the white Victorian house at 102 E. Main St., just a block away.
Tate welcomed the two and showed them the old sidewalk that had the name Bratton and date pressed into it, confirming this was indeed the Bratton house. As if that were not enough, Tate took them inside and gave them a full tour, also providing more history about the home.
It turns out Janke knew more about the house’s original owner than she first thought.
“I knew my Great Aunt Farrie Bratton!” she said. “I was in New Albany when I was about 2 1/2 years of age. My grandfather Carl A. Bratton lived with her in his last months – in the Railroad Avenue house – and my mother, my little brother, and I went there to see him. Great Aunt Farrie took care of her brother until his death. I also spent about a month in the south in 1960, at age 11. I remember Great Aunt Farrie teaching me how to play Rock of Ages on the piano. She was quite eccentric – but lovable.”
Elated by Mrs. Tate’s hospitality, the women returned to the UCDA office and told Lesley what had happened, so she then sent them to the Union County Heritage Museum.
When they got to the museum and explained their interest, museum director Jill Smith and Lynn Madden, who happened to be there, were able to dig up quite a bit of information about their great-grandfather.
It turns out that the house built by their great-grandfather today has a wrought-iron fence around it that once was at the home of William Faulkner’s great-grandfather in Ripley.
In what might be a more bizarre coincidence, they learned their great-grandfather was the druggist who shot and wounded William Faulkner’s father, Murry, in Bratton’s drug store, probably the building where Sugaree’s is located now (the only other two at the time were J. L. S. Rogers, where Gray and Company is today, and Henderson’s, in the Henderson building where Trails and Treads is today). It was that shooting that convinced Faulkner’s father, who had been working for the Gulf and Ship Island Railroad, to move away from New Albany with his young son and wife. They were here only about 14 months before moving to Ripley and, later, Oxford.
According to an account reported in the New Albany Gazette, Will Bratton lived across the street from the Falkners. Staying with Falkner was an unmarried sister reputed to be popular with the men. Supposedly, Falkner heard that Bratton had made a slurring remark about his younger sister and wanted to get satisfaction from the druggist.
Late one afternoon, Falkner decided to have it out with Bratton and walked to the druggist’s store downtown. But Bratton had learned of the impending visit somehow and was prepared. So the account goes, as soon as Falkner entered the drug store, Bratton pulled a pistol from beneath the counter and shot point-blank at Falkner, wounding him slightly in the hand but putting an end to any thoughts of revenge. As soon as Murry was healed his wife, “Miss Maud,” decreed that they were leaving town.
The sisters said they were totally unaware of any connection their family had with the history of William Faulkner.
“I really hope they will let you share the story of the mission of these two ladies to find out all about their great-grandfather,” Lesley said. “Most of the older people around New Albany would remember the Bratton family and would probably enjoy the story.”
In fact, the women said Ivey Lee Bratton, well-known for his corner gas station, would be a very distant relative to their great-grandfather William Bratton. “There was also a Titus Lester Bratton – they called him Uncle Lester. We did visit their gravesites in New Albany the day we were there,” Janke said.
In case one might wonder how Bratton descendants made their way to Minnesota, Janke had the answer.
“It’s a pretty easy story,” she said. “My father – Capt. James D. Brick – was stationed at Camp McCain before going to Europe during World War II. My mother met him at a USO dance and fell in love with him. When he returned to the States in 1946, they were married in the Catholic parsonage in Oxford and their honeymoon trip was a train ride to Minnesota. They lived their entire married life in Owatonna, Minnesota (my father’s birthplace). My mother died in 1974 at the age of 57. She was the only Bratton descendant to ever leave the South, to my knowledge.”
After successfully learning so much about their history, the women left, pleased that so many people in New Albany would take the time to help them solve their old family mysteries.
“We would not have found the house on Main Street if it had not been for the help of Joanne and the other woman at the Welcome Center, “ Janke said. “They were wonderful! And the woman at the museum (I’m sorry to not remember her name) was so helpful. She apologized over and over again that the director was not there – but she kept looking and looking for information. We were able to find the Bratton name in a book of cemeteries and we did find the cemetery, thanks to her.”
“I have always been proud of my Mississippi roots,” Janke said. “I’m so glad I kept up with my family. It was a long way from Minnesota to Mississippi – I can remember my mother’s southern accent and how it became even more southern after she talked on the phone with one of her sisters.
“You’ve heard the phrase ‘Minnesota nice’ – we’re proud of that. But Mrs. Mary Sue Tate (the owner of the beautiful home) can be an honorary Minnesotan. She was the sweetest, kindest, nicest lady we’ve met in a long time. She even suggested a restaurant for our lunch (Tallahatchie Gourmet) and invited us to come back and visit her. I hope she meant it — we’re planning to return!!”
“We’re proud to be Brattons and hold tight to our southern roots,” she said. “It was a delightful day and we will remember our visit for a long time.”
Part of the date is still visible, stamped into the sidewalk
Sisters Sue Martin, left, and Nancy Janke inside the UCDA welcome center
What was originally the Bratton House, now owned by Mary Sue Tate
If one looks carefully, he or she can see “Bratton” stamped in large letters with “Oct 1912” in smaller letters, below
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