Just when I was ready to call it a day….wait, that’s never the case.
To start off with a brief backgrounder, my great-grandpa Hugh Breeding and his two sons, Lyle and Cecil, sold their trucking company in 1972 to Levoy Ellsworth, Breene Kerr and William Howell. And when I started researching the company, I thought maybe I’d find 10-15 pages worth of written materials to include in my family history’s chapter. Boy was I wrong! I kept finding all sorts of published articles and materials and soon the chapter grew beyond my wildest imagination.
Still, much like my family history book, it wouldn’t be the same unless I found some people to interview. The main problem that I had was that many of the employees who used to work at the company through the years have passed away. Further, my method of reaching out to families was to find an employee I knew of and conduct an interview and then ask if they knew of anyone else. Some months, you would hit a real hot streak and find one employee’s family after another and this would then be followed by big dry streaks. Haphazard searching can be great but it can also be terribly unproductive. To compound matters, my grandparents and the other officers of the company never left behind a list of employees. I tried contacting the Kerr and Ellsworth families to see if they had employee listings but I could never get too much of a response. I tried everything…I went looking for payroll records and could never find any luck with that either. And then about a year ago, I thought that city directories might hold the answer.
When most researchers think of city directories, they think of cracking open a book for a particular year, finding their ancestor for that year, writing their occupation and residence and then they move on to the next year they can find. It provides an ideal “point in time” between US Census data to map out the lives of ancestors. However, I soon had the idea that I might find a list of employees by photographing a city directory and painstakingly going through it line by line to find this elusive list of employees at Hugh Breeding Inc.
Once I had this idea, my family stopped by the Tulsa downtown library a short time ago and we photographed the 1950 and 1961 Tulsa City directories. The only problem was that when we got home, the 1950 City directory for Tulsa has many of the names we recognized but there no was company name listed. Had I sampled names I knew of in the library, I would not have made the mistake. Instead of discovering this glitch when I got home, I would've seen it at the libary and could've found another alternative. Stlll, the 1961 Tulsa City Directory had good data and thus I started going through that resource and after about 2 ½ months, I got through it and came up with over 100 employee names I did not know of previously.
A couple of months ago, we were in Dallas and we stopped by its library and found a 1966 and 1972 Tulsa directory . Just this past month, on another trip through Dallas, I photocopied those directories (digitally, of course). So right now, I am going through 1972 and am about 2/3’s of the way through it and have found quite a few employee names I did not know of before.
Still, my problem that I was running into was finding something prior to 1961 that would list Hugh Breeding employees. My plan was to go to Oklahoma City and find a 1955 directory and hope that company names would be listed next to the names of individuals in that directory.
Then I had another idea. I discovered from some previous searching on a few employees, that 1947 and maybe 1948 might have company names listed. And from when I last went to the Baby Clayton library here in Houston I remembered that they had Tulsa City directories back before 1950. So, the other day, I jumped in the car and traveled over to the library to see what I could find. I actually called first to see what years in the 1940’s they had but the librarians there gave me a half-hearted attempt and rather than actually looking at the file cabinet, they just looked online and said they had up through 1931 and that was it. I knew that wasn’t accurate so I would go over there myself and check things out. That's how it is with some libraries: sometimes you get really good help (like at the Tennessee Start Archives) and other times, you get someone who makes helping others a low priority in the overall scheme of things.
When I got to the Baby Clayton, I immediately went to 1948’s directory for Tulsa and started sampling. But, much like 1950, there were no company names listed next to individuals that I knew worked at Hugh Breeding. So I moved on to 1947 and struck absolute gold. Sitting right there were all the company names listed next to the names of individuals. I then worked my way back five years earlier to 1942, and sure enough, I struck gold again. I then took my camera out and shot over 1600 pictures of the microfilm as it was projected on my table top. In all, it took me about 4 hours to do this. When I got home, I was very excited and wanted to relate my incredible process of discovery. However, you quickly return to earth when you realize that now you need to actually start the process of going through these photographs.
I still have to find a couple more directories. Ideally, I would love to find 1953 and 1957 directories for Tulsa and that would provide me directories for about every five years the company was in existence (1942, 1947, 1953, 1957, 1961, 1966, 1972). Also, on a future trip, we’re going to try and drive through Baxter Springs, Kansas and Mt. Vernon, Missouri to see if we can find city directories for those communities which had lots of Hugh Breeding employees.
|Hugh Breeding gasoline truck |
in the early 1950's
This is all about trying to find a decent list of employees that I can then start to find obituaries on. Once you visit enough state archives and get the corresponding obituaries, you can then systematically start reaching out to employees’ families to interview them about their experience at the company. Of course, that’s part of the payoff but then you also find families who are eager to contribute not only memories but also photographs and company memorabilia. You cannot imagine the thrill of receiving a package in the mail chock full of photos, company newsletters, promotional items, etc. There's not much else like that.
But then again, it all starts with the city directories and luckily I didn’t give up.