Online databases will happily offer up records with these same-named people; the prudent researcher should never believe them without scrutiny.
Additionally, the constant shift in records between use of first names, nicknames and middle names present another need to understand how to prove identity.
We have to do the work to prove that records with differing names are the same person.
As a short case study, let’s look at Felix Barnes/Doran and Joe/Joseph Doran who I initially believed were two different men.
They were in fact one man.
In the 1870 Hardin County, TN census, 7-year-old African American Felix Doran appears in the household of William Doran, who is white. Initially marked as with an “M” for mulatto in the color column, someone went back and wrote “W.”
The image is faint, but he remained in the same household in 1880, recorded as mulatto. Notice that his name is reported as Felix Barnes:
Felix did not appear in the Hardin census again until 1920. He was described as a 56-year- old mulatto widow, with 26-year-old son Harvie:
No marriage or death record has been found for a Felix Doran or a Felix Barnes.
Apprenticeship for Felix
However, research in county court minutes uncovered an apprenticeship record dated 2 March 1874. Here is a small portion of that image:
Further down the page, this document states:
“…We WP Doran and RD DeFord are held & firmly bound unto the state of Tennessee in the penal sum of Five hundred dollars, to be void if the said WP Doran shall well & truly comply with the indenture or contract this day made with the county court of said county in regards to the apprenticeship of Felix Barnes minor child of Lou Barnes (now wife of Saml Holt) said boy being an illegitimate mulatto child this 2nd day of March 1874.”
Felix would be trained in the trade of farming and at the end of the apprenticeship would be given a good horse, saddle & bridle, $50, and a good suit of clothes.
The record later calls him “the age of 11 years.” This places his birth around 1863 and is certainly the same Felix we see in the 1870, 1880, and 1920 censuses.
As the 1870 census indicates, Felix was already living with WP (William) Doran four years before the arrangement was formalized.
The state of Tennessee took an enumeration of voters in 1891 that included all men over the age of 21. This illustrates how we must take the time to discover what records are available in the time and place of our research (making a locality guide helps).
Joe Doran was included in these records, and marked with a “c” for colored:
This man had to have been born by 1870. No Felix Barnes or Felix Doran was included in this record.
In 1907, Joe Doran, marked as colored, married Polley Sparks on 6 October 1907:
Sadly, Polley died during childbirth on 30 March 1911.
Not located in 1900, 46-year-old mulatto Joseph “Doarn” appears in the 1910 census with wife called Tallietine–Polley must have been her nickname. His 17-year-old son Harvey appears in the household:
Neither Joe nor Joseph Doran was located in another census record. No death certificate recorded his death.
(UPDATE: On my recent trip to the Tennessee Archives, I found Joe Doran’s estate settlement dated November 1925, and it indicates he left a will that I need to also obtain. Even without a death certificate, we need to search those probate records!)
Harvey appeared in the 1910 census with Joseph Doran, and in 1920 with Felix Doran. He was called a son in both households.
In 1940, Harvey was a 46-year-old single head of household in Memphis, Shelby Co., TN:
In 1917, Harvey registered for the World War I draft as Harvey Amos Doran. He provided a day and month of birth (3 May) but no year.
Though born in Hardin County, TN, Harvey was then attending school at Southern Christian Institute in Hinds Co., Mississippi:
Several of his half-brothers—children of his mother Louisa (Lucy) and Samuel Holt—attended the same Baptist-run private school, Southern Christian Institute.
Harvey never married and died in Memphis on 27 January 1973. Katie Roberts, whose relationship to Harvey is unknown, reported that Harvey’s father was Joe Doran:
The 1874 apprenticeship ties Felix to his mother Lucy (Louisa), though not to a father. A possible implication of use of the descriptor “mulatto” is that the boy’s father was a white man.
Lucy herself was very likely fathered by a white man. Before 1865, she was a free black woman and was not enslaved. She inherited that status from her mother Margaret Barnes.
Lucy’s census entries were relevant to my identity question. Here’s where paying attention and reading each census image benefits our research. The 1900 census reported her as having birthed 6 children, 6 of whom were living:
Her son Delos died in 1903, so by 1910 her census entry reported 5 children living (she married William Davy by that time) Notice her name was mistakenly written as Lancy:
Lucy had 5 children with husband Samuel Holt, so if Joe and Felix were different men and both her sons, the censuses should have reported her having 7 children.
A family bible belonging to Samuel and Lucy Holt records the names of Joe and Harvey Doran, firmly tying the two men to this family as indicated in the 1874 apprenticeship record. It records no Felix Barnes or Felix Doran.
A 1914 Gift deed also solidifies this man in this family:
1914: “For the love and affection for our son and brother, Samuel V. Holt, we, Lucy Davy and William Davy, J.W. Holt and wife Ila, Anna Crowder and husband David, Mattie May and husband George, and Joe Doran do convey the following land…”
Genealogical research should always start with a research question. The question helps to narrow your focus and identify the sources likely to help answer the question.
My question was “Are Joe/Joseph Doran and Felix Barnes/Doran the same man?
Next, ideally, you’d create a research plan. That involves thoughtfully planning what relevant sources exist in the time and place and researching each one. [There are some very good webinars on research questions and research planning on Legacy Family Webinars].
As the research progresses, you must analyze the information in the sources you found, both individually and taken together.
Here’s a table showing the sources I researched that were relevant to my question. They were all original sources containing a mixture of mostly primary and indeterminate information:
What kind of evidence any one source provides is determined by the research question.
None of these sources alone could answer my question. They all must be taken and analyzed together as a whole. Therefore, each source provided indirect evidence, or a piece that I needed to answer the question.
If you do not understand the types of sources, information and evidence, you should STOP. Take the time to learn them in any of the excellent books, websites or lectures on the subject. You will need to understand these terms in order to solve tough genealogy problems.
What were some key things I needed to look for to answer this question?
Well, if you want to prove two people are the same person ideally they should not both appear in the same census record at the same time. They did not.
Also, notice how well the ages were consistent. They corroborate the information (age) shown in the apprentice record.
This gives us greater confidence in the information.
Another important point is that several of the sources are independently created. The man creating the 1874 apprenticeship record, was not the same person documenting the 1870 or 1880 census. Neither of those men were the same as who created the 1891 Voter’s List.
This is what we want to see.
I also established that Lucy had six children; Joe and Harvey’s mention in the family bible and the deed, tie them to her.
And then we have the son Harvey. He was reported as a son to Joe Doran in 1910 and in his death certificate, while he was reported a son to Felix F. Doran in 1920.
Missing Pieces and Other Unknowns
In a rush some years ago, I too quickly decided that Joe/Joseph and Felix were two different men when they were not. I was wrong.
As in almost every genealogical case, there are missing puzzle pieces but sometimes still enough to solve the question at hand.
It is unknown why Joe/Joseph/Felix switched back and forth between the two names. The 1920 census records him as “Felix F.” indicating a middle initial F. Was that a mistake? Perhaps Joe was a nickname? Was William Doran his biological father?
Lots of unanswered questions, as always.
More to Do
This research is ongoing; there are a few more sources I’d like to scrub more deeply for Felix/Joe/Joseph. I do not think anything I find will overturn my conclusion.
And if you saw my recent webinar on census records, you know that I am not at all satisfied that Joe/Joseph/Felix is not in the 1900 and 1930 censuses. I am still looking.
Have I met the standard of proof required in genealogy? No. I haven’t properly cited or written down everything you see above yet. I need to document this and reaoson through all of the evidence, as I’ve tried to show here.
However, I do feel confident enough to share this case with you today in the hopes that it will have you thinking more deeply about identity.
Note: if you are a member of the National Genealogical Society (I hope you are) than go online to their Archives and download issue no. 101, from September 2013. It includes several case studies around solving identity.
By reading these case studies and understanding how other genealogists solve problems, you grow your own research skills.
(EXCITING UPDATE! The ancestors are always working on our behalf. During my Tennessee research trip last week, an older cousin had a picture of both Joe Doran AND his son Harvey. What are the chances of that? I can’t express the feeling of seeing the faces of those we research:):)
I am an engineer by day, but my true passion lies in genealogy. I have been a researcher, writer, lecturer and teacher for over twenty years. This blog is where I share family history methods, resources, tips and advice, with an emphasis on slave research, slavery and its aftermath. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my family’s past. I’ve taken back– reclaimed– some of that lost memory, especially that of my enslaved ancestors. I hope you’ll sign up to receive my posts—if you do, you’ll get a free PDF with some of my favorite tips! And please do share posts that interest you.