William Firman Carter was born on January 20, 1880 in Attica, Lapeer County, Michigan. His father was Dana Parker Carter and his mother was Eliza Marie Firman. William was the fourth of eight children born to the couple, all of which were born in Lapeer County, Michigan. William and the rest of his siblings all lived to adulthood. As an adult, William was a short man of medium build (according to 1918 WWI draft card). He had black hair and brown eyes, and from pictures appears to be of a tan complexion. By the 1890s, William Firman Carter traveled to Campbell Corners, Ionia County. His grandmother, Sarah Bradshaw Firman, may have had some connection to Ionia County.
On September 22, 1898, William F. Carter married Nellie J. Harrington in Campbell Corners, Ionia County, Michigan. At the time, William F. Carter was 18 years old and Miss Harrington was 16 years old. The couple had three children: Florence Gladys on April 11 1899; Leon Jay Carter on June 17 1901; and Sanford White Carter on December 21 1903. Nellie Carter died from complications of childbirth in December of 1903, but the baby, Sanford, survived. While all three of the children’s birth certificates are filed in Ionia County, Sanford White Carter was actually born in and Nellie Carter died in Attica, Lapeer County, Michigan.
On June 12, 1906, William Firman Carter married Dora May Webb, a woman 14 years his senior who had never been married before. According to family stories, she went by the name “Dory” and used to be a school teacher. My grandfather (William Firman Carter’s grandson) refers to her as a “mean old biddy.”
In 1910, William, Dora, Florence, and Leon lived at 318 Plum Avenue in Flint, Genesee County, Michigan. (The street no longer exists and is now part of the University of Michigan-Flint Campus). According to the 1910 US Census, Seven-year-old Sanford did not reside with his father, but instead lived with his grandparents Dana Parker and Eliza Marie Carter in Attica, Lapeer, Michigan. In June 1911, Dana Parker Carter committed suicide by hanging himself and Eliza Marie Carter went to live in the Michigan State Home for the Feeble-Minded in Lapeer. She died in February 1920.
By 1920, William and Dory lived in a large four-square at 1357 Broadway Avenue in Flint. William worked as a street car conductor for the Detroit Urban Railway. By then, his daughter Florence had married Claude Scramlin and had two children. Sanford, then 17 years old, lived with Claude and Florence. Leon lived elsewhere but is missing from the 1920 census. According to family stories, Dory did not care much for William’s children, particularly when they were young. This may be the reason why seven year old Sanford lived with his grandparents.
According to my grandfather (William Firman Carter’s grandson), Dory pushed the children out of the house as soon as she could, and since William worked most of the day, he let her run the house as she saw fit. In 1921, both of the boys married. On April 30, Leon married Hazel Pearl Hill in Lapeer, Michigan. On October 15, Sanford married Emma Fern Everdon. In June of 1926, Sanford contracted laborer’s pneumonia and died. By 1930, William and Dory live in a house on Genesee Road in Genesee Township. According to my grandfather, William also owned a farm in Flushing, Genesee County, Michigan in the 1940s. My grandfather distinctly remembers traveling to Flushing as a ten year old boy to visit his grandfather, who had a large farmhouse.
Stories about William Firman Carter’s disposition vary based on family accounts. According to descendants of William’s daughter, Florence Scramlin, William Firman Carter was a good, kind man with beautiful blue eyes who often smiled, but also seemed to be sad. According to my grandfather, William Firman Carter was a man controlled by his second wife, Dory, and who seemed bitter about his relationship, or lack of relationship, with his family, and as a result, drank.
Between 1930 and 1954, four of William Firman Carter’s seven siblings passed away. It is unclear whether these losses had any effect on the man. In February 1954, William’s son, Leon Jay Carter, died from complications of Rheumatic Heart Disease and Psorosis of the Liver. William was reportedly so devestated at the lost of a second child, as well as the realization that he had pushed his children away, that he committed suicide seven months later by stepping in front of a train in Lapeer, Michigan.
According to my grandfather, the conductor of the train stated that he saw a man who appeared to be drunk wait for the train to approach and purposefully step on to the tracks as it came closer. The conductor also stated that it appeared that William changed his mind at the last minute and tried to jump out of the way of the train, but because of his age and possible intoxication, he could not move fast enough. According to the death record, William Firman Carter died on September 2, 1954 from a crushed skull and mutilated body as a result of being struck by a train.