The Bradford/Braford Dilemma
(Brayford, Brafford, Brefford, etc.)


Grace P. Thomas

Traditions die hard! At least mine do. And the tradition that I was a direct descendant of William Bradford, first governor of Massachusetts was no exception.

I had entertained a rather passive interest in family research from the time I was quite young. I enjoyed listening to my parents stories of family traditions and of their efforts and discoveries in the course of their own research. The tradition that I was a descendant of Governor Bradford gave me a feeling of pride in my ancestry.

My connection, supposedly, to the Bradford family was through my 2nd great-grandmother, Abi Bradford, who according to family records, was a daughter of Robert Bradford and his second wife, Sarah Cornish. My pedigree chart which I had filled out showed the Bradford line extended back to Governor Bradford and into England to the 1600's. My mother, before her death in 1952, had done some research into this family, but for the most part, the Bradford records I had were copied from a cousin, the source of which was mainly the book Descendants of William Bradford. In this book, in reference to Robert Bradford, it showed a second marriage thus: "Married (2nd)..." with no further indication of the name of second wife or date of second marriage. It was assumed however, that the second wife was our Sarah Cornish, mother of my 2nd ggmother, Abi.

I had done no research on this family, personally, but merely copied information from someone else. I did remember that my mother stated she had found the marriage of Robert and Sarah. At this time I fully believed that Robert was a Bradford. One day while looking my records over, however, I noticed that while I had Robert Bradford and Sarah Cornish shown on my pedigree chart as parents of my Abi Bradford, I did not have a family group chart for them. I did have charts for many Bradford families, even including one for Robert and his first (so I thought at the time) wife, Penelope Bonfoey.

Robert and Penelope's chart showed the following information:

Robert Bradford, son of Joseph Bradford and Henrietta Swift
born 21 July 1739, Montville, New London, Connecticut
married 15 Aug 1768 to Penelope Bonfoey
Their children:
Henrietta Bradford, born about 1769, Haddam, Middlesex Conn
Joseph Bradford, born 12 June 1771, Haddam, Middlesex, Conn
Perez Bradford, born 9 Dec 1773, Haddam, Middlesex Conn
Susanna Bradford, born 12 May 1776, died 1793 age 17

Source given for information: Descendants of William Bradford pp 31,32,128, 454.

Since I had no family chart for Robert and Sarah Cornish Bradford I proceeded to fill one out, and found I knew of no other children but my Abi. Her birth date, according to family records, was 21 November 1775, born at New Ashford, Berkshire Co, Mass. Afterward, while looking over these two family charts of Robert Bradford, I suddenly realized that something was very obviously Abi was born the year before Robert's daughter Susanna, of the first marriage, was born. And Abi was born in Massachusetts, while Susanna was born in Connecticut!!

Not feeling too alarmed, I supposed it was just an error in dates and that Abi had been born later than our records showed. Or ... was our Robert a Bigamist??? I suddenly sensed an excitement--a challenge, to get busy and work out this discrepancy.

My first move was to check the 1790 census of both Haddam, Middlesex Co Conn and New Ashford, Berkshire Co Mass., thinking that Robert had moved to Massachusetts. And I made a startling discovery! A Robert Bradford was listed in the census of Haddam, but a Robert Brayford was listed in the census of New Ashford.

The suspicion suddenly grew very strong that we had two separate and distinct families, bearing similar names, who had been mixed up, Robert Bradford having been thought to be the father of my Abi Bradford instead of her actual father, Robert Braford. And Sarah Cornish was probably not a second wife of Robert Bradford at all, but the first wife of Robert Brayford (or Braford as I was also to find it). This idea was given weight when I found the names of Sarah's step-father and other names in this township that were known to be related.

Realizing that two census records were not sufficient to prove or disprove my theory, my search began. This was the beginning of a very interesting and rewarding experience, one that resulted in much information, some surprises, some questions (some still unanswered), and many new friends who later joined me in this endeavor.

My first goal was to find all I could concerning Robert Bradford of Haddam, in order to substantiate my belief that he was not Abi's father--or to disprove it. I started checking records in Haddam and found the following evidence:

Deeds of Haddam, Conn (Hartford Co until 1785, then Middlesex Co)
Bk 9, p 203 Dated 28 Sept 1772
For the love and good will which he bears his son, Robert Bradford, of Haddam, Joseph Bradford deeds one-half acre of land

Bk 11, p 163, dated 27 March 1782
Robert Bradford of Haddam sells two and one-half acres of land to Solomon Hubbard

Bk 11, p 209, dated 31 July 1775
Richard Bonfoey and his wife Hannah of Haddam for the love and consideration they bear their daughter, Penelope Bradford, grant a tract of land containing eight acres, 110 rods, together with house, fence etc.

Bk 10, p 304, dated 4 May 1781
William Bradford of Chatham and Robert Bradford of Haddam sell piece of land containing twenty acres to Solomon Hubbard of Middletown

Probates of Middlesex Co Conn
Will of Robert Bradford of Haddam, Conn dated 25 Sep 1803, Probated 29 Feb 1808.

To wife Penelope Bradford, one third of real and personal property
To eldest son, Joseph Bradford, of Westfield, Mass, five pounds in addition to what he had given him before
To second son Peres Bradford, all of his estate except that which was before mentioned. Peres to be executor.

At a court held 28 January 1822 Perez Bradford was appointed administrator of the estate of Penelope Bradford, late of Haddam

1790 and 1800 census of Haddam, Conn. show Robert Bradford
The above deeds and probate records prove that Robert Bradford lived in Haddam from at least 1772 until his death in 1808. Daughter Susanna had died in 1793 and apparently his oldest daughter had also died (though nothing more has been found on her). The deed of 1775 from Richard and Hanna Bonfoey to their daughter Penelope Bradford, proves that she was still alive the year that my Abi was born, and that deed, along with Robert Bradford's will and the administration bond for Penelope in 1822 proves without a doubt that Robert's wife Penelope was still his wife and living during the critical years of our interest. And in addition, Penelope outlived Robert by twelve years. Robert could not have had a second wife. No wife Sarah was mentioned and no daughter Abi. I can see no way that these facts could allow Robert Bradford, descendant of Governor Bradford, to be my ancestor.

Having proven that Robert Bradford was not the husband of Sarah Cornish nor the father of Abi, I next turned my attention to investigating the Robert Brayford enumerated in the 1790 census of New Ashford, Berkshire Co Mass, the identical location that family records state as the place where my 2nd ggmother Abi was born.

Searched and found marriage record for Robert and Sarah in Early Connecticut Marriages by Bailey. Printed record interpreted the marriage entry thus:

Robert Bra(?)ford and Sarah Cornish, Dec 4, 1773 (from Second Ecclesiastical Society of North Canaan, Litchfield, Conn.)

Found the original marriage register on microfilm which showed marriage entry like this:

The "d" had very definitely been struck out.

I found Robert Braford's name listed as a soldier from Massachusetts in the Revolutionary War, so I sent for his pension file. While awaiting the arrival of this file, a clue from Mudge Memorials states that Marcy's descendants had gone to Argyle, Washington Co NY. With this clue I found Robert there in a deed where he and Elijah Spencer (later found to be his son-in-law) purchased a lot in 1796. In 1798 Elijah Spencer and Elizabeth his wife, and Robert Braford of Argyle, sell the lot. Robert is enumerated in the 1800 census of Argyle Town.

The arrival of the pension file furnished more information. Robert applied in 1818 and again in 1820 for a pension. His residence was given as Sempronius, Cayuga Co NY. The file contained, in addition to his letters of application, affidavits from men of New Ashford and Lanesborough, Berkshire Co Mass.; dates and location of his service; Letter of application for a widow's pension, dated 1836, from Sarah Braford, who gave Robert's death date, an affidavit from the (then) current pastor of the church where Robert and Sarah were married, certifying that they had married Dec 24, 1773 in Canaan, Conn. (Sarah had also stated this fact and given this date); Name of son Hiram Braford and the name of Clarissa Chaffee who was found to be a daughter; Spelling of the surname given as Braford; ages of Robert and Sarah etc.

This information proved again that the Robert Bradford of Haddam was not the man who had married Sarah Cornish.

Also in going through old records of my mother (who had died in 1952) I found correspondence dated the very year of her death from Mrs. Mary P Van Swalenburg of Honolulu, Hawaii, in which she gave an extract from a Spencer family bible which listed the family of Robert Braford and Sarah (given here as Sarah Mudge). Inasmuch as there were some mix-ups and the family was incomplete, as we were to find as the search progressed, it did definitely tie this family to our Robert and Sarah, and did give names of additional children, until this time unknown to me. The names of their children as given in this bible record were: Robert Jr., Byrum; Hiram, Hosea, Elizabeth (Spencer); Sally; Chloe and Amy. Omitted were at least, Abi and Clarissa.

About this time I found in the Archives of the L D S (Mormon) Church records of proxy baptisms and other church ordinances performed by two of Abi Braford Barn's daughters and two grandsons, who had converted to this faith. These ordinances were performed for Robert and Sarah Brayford, grandparents; Abi and Abijah Barns, parents; Elizabeth Braford Spencer and Mr Spencer; Sally Braford DeBar, Ebenezer and Mercy Mudge; Stephen and Andrew Cornish; Abiram and Sally Braford, and many other relatives. This also verified names in this family, relationships, and the fact that they knew who their ancestors were. Although in one or two cases the name Bradford had been written, it had been corrected to Brayford. Mostly the names were spelled Braford or Brayford.

Somewhere along the line Betty and Gene Olmsted came into the effort and provided much information as they worked with me, including a death record of their ancestress, Chloe Braford Jaynes, giving her parents as Robert and Sarah Brayford. Next Tracy Helmer joined us and has contributed an enormous amount of time and effort in this research. Frances Dugan and Barbara Bombassei have both contributed much information to help fill in gaps on their respective branches.

The conclusion seems to be that the name Brayford-Braford, by whatever spelling, is the true family name of those descended from Robert and Sarah Braford.

I believe that because Braford is a rather unusual and unique name, recorders, that is, census takers, court clerks, biographers, indexers, newspaper reporters, printers etc. looked at the name and whether their minds registered the more familiar Bradford, or they thought they were correcting an omission of the letter d in the name that they saw. In numerous instances indexes show the name Bradford, while the name in the actual record in Braford. In the same document, four or five versions have been written -- Brayford, Braford, Bradford, Bref(f)ord, Brafford etc. Numerous times I have found the name "Bradford" corrected to Braford, and do not recall one instance in which a signature of this name was not written Brayford or Braford. There are those of the name who have since changed their name to Bradford, probably thinking that to be the original spelling. But the fact remains that there was a separate and distinct family whose name was Braford or Brayford, aside from the notable family of Governor William Bradford. Although this family is more obscure, I am sure we can be justly proud of descending from a humble family whose blood runs in our veins, the blood of honest, hardworking men and women who helped colonize this great land of ours.