Why Did My Great-Granddad Change His Name?

Tracing Your Roots: The search to solve one genealogical mystery uncovers an even bigger one.

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If you have a death certificate that you know is for your Roy Parker, than you may be able to rule out this man as your possible ancestor. However, if you don’t have documents proving his death, you may want to investigate this possibility further. The 1940 U.S. census is available to search. Since you know that the Roy Parker in the draft registration was likely living in Stockton in 1940 (the draft registration was dated 1942), you could expand your search to California census records to help you determine if this is your Roy Parker.

Roy Parker in the enlistment and draft records also applied for a military headstone, the record of which can be found in the collection U.S. Headstone Applications for Military Veterans, 1925-1963. According to this record, he was buried in Riverview Cemetery in Brawley, Imperial County, Calif., on Aug. 15, 1959. Was he buried with any family members? Who purchased the plot? A local newspaper might provide a death announcement or obituary for Roy Parker that may contain information about his family.

As for Hagen’s surname, if you cannot find Robert or Henry Hagen in census records in Missouri, you might try other record collections. FamilySearch has a number of Missouri collections you can search or browse. You could try doing broad searches for the surname, keeping in mind that the spelling may vary by record, and look for any records that seem to match what you know about the family. Since the service records for Roy Parker indicate that he was born in Sedalia, Mo., you might start with records in Pettis County, where Sedalia is the county seat.

You may also benefit from focusing your search on Robert Hagen, Roy Parker/Henry Hagen’s alleged brother. Hopefully you have already uncovered additional clues in your search for records about Roy Parker that will help you locate ones for Robert Hagen.

Good luck!

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and founding director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. He is also editor-in-chief of The Root. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Send your questions about tracing your own roots to TracingYourRoots@theroot.com.

This answer was provided in consultation with Meaghan Siekman, a researcher from the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Founded in 1845, NEHGS is the country’s leading nonprofit resource for family history research. Its website, AmericanAncestors.org, contains more than 300 million searchable records for research in New England, New York and beyond. With the leading experts in the field, NEHGS staff can provide assistance and guidance for questions in most research areas. They can also be hired to conduct research on your family. Learn more today.