I was predestined to become a lawyer. My dreams began as a high school student. One of my heroes was that squeaky former mayor of Kansas City, Charles Wheeler. Dr. Wheeler was both a lawyer and a doctor, and I thought that was cool until I discovered that it meant being in college for over 10 years, and after I took my first science class in college and realized that science was not my thing.
I was in a botany class with a group of first-year medical students who were in the six-year medical school program at UMKC. I soon realized that I did not have the aptitude for being a physician, but my dream of law school remained alive.
I am not quite sure how my dream of law began, but I am sure that my parents never steered me in that direction. I remember well the night I passed the bar exam. There was some ritual in 1980 that you could not find out until a Friday night after midnight when the results were posted at the Supreme Court building in Jefferson City. You could drive to Jefferson City, call to find out, or you could have a good friend who lived there and have him check and call you with the results; that is what I did.
I remember my dad’s tears as we met in the hallway of the home I now occupy. It was a very proud moment for him and me. It has now been almost 40 years since that moment occurred, and I remember it like it happened yesterday.
As it turns out, I was not the first lawyer in the family. I never knew that until after my father passed away 14 years ago. My great-grandfather was a lawyer in Fort Smith, Arkansas. I don’t recall my father ever discussing my great-grandfather. That is probably because he never knew him. My dad was born in 1923, and his grandfather passed away 11 years before in 1912. My dad and I had something in common as my grandfather, my dad’s father, passed away eight years before I was born.
My great-grandfather, William Dayton Buckley, was apparently a prominent lawyer in Fort Smith. He was born in Poteau, Oklahoma, about 35 miles southwest of Forth Smith. My grandfather and my father were also born in Poteau. I have never been to Fort Smith or Poteau, but I think a family road trip is being planned to visit the area. There is a William Buckley currently practicing in Fort Smith, but I don’t know if he is related. We will find out. He practices in the same area of the law that I do.
I have become interested in the genealogy of my family, surely a sign that I am getting older. The Ancestry,com website is a gold mine of information, and I have discovered all kinds of things about my family on this website. There are multiple pictures of my father’s grandmother, who was a beautiful woman. She must have liked to be photographed because there are many pictures of her on the website. My favorite picture is one of her, her husband, my grandfather and my great aunt in the living room of their home. It must have been taken in the early years of the 20th century as my grandfather appears to be about 12 years old. There is another of my great-great grandfather with my grandfather and great-grandmother on the front porch of some house with two bicycles and a dog. My grandfather was a captain in the army during World War I and there is a photograph of him in his military uniform facing his mother.
It appears that William D. Buckley’s brother was also a lawyer in Springfield, but I don’t know much about him at this point.
My great-grandmother did not die until 1965, but my dad never talked about her. I think she was very close to her daughter, who had the same first name – Gertrude. Aunt Gertrude lived in Tyler, Texas, but had ties to Boonville, which is where she is buried. We had regular contact with Aunt Gertrude until she died in 1966 two months shy of her 101st birthday. I wish I had thought to inquire about our family history before she passed away. I am sure that she had stories to tell about her father. I plan to write about her in a future column as she was an amazing woman who did amazing things.
What I do know about William D. Buckley is that he was a graduate of William Jewell College, served one term in the Arkansas legislature and was apparently prosecutor of Sebastian County, Arkansas as I found a newspaper report of a murder trial in Fort Smith that he was trying the year before he died.
I have not been able to find anything about my dad’s other grandfather as my grandmother never mentioned him. I have heard that they were not close, but I don’t know why. I understand he may have been a lawyer too, but I have some more digging to do.
Genealogy is fun. My only advice: Sit down now with your parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, and others and learn as much as you can about your family history. I would also strongly suggest that you identify family photographs, so you know who is depicted. We have no idea who the people are in many of our photographs.
I don’t know if there is such a thing as lawyer genes, but if there are, I think I have them.
Bob Buckley is an attorney in Independence, www.wagblaw.com . Email him at email@example.com.