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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Dear Professor Gates:

My great-grandfather married my great-grandmother under the name “Roy Parker” and also served in World War I under that name. However, when he died, his brother Robert Hagen notified the coroner that “Roy Parker” was actually “Henry Hagen.” Roy Parker/Henry Hagen died in Missouri in 1935.

How do I find out who he was, where he came from and why he may have changed his name?

My grandmother didn’t know her father. “Roy Parker’s” military records were destroyed in the fire at the National Archives. There are no census records for Hagens—Robert or Henry—from 1890 to 1910 that I can find. “Roy Parker” does appear on the 1920 census with my great-grandmother “Lula Parker.” Roy Parker is not on the 1930 census. —Luauna Parker

Among answers you told us you’re seeking is why Roy Parker, who died in 1935, changed his name from “Henry Hagen.” In the process of trying to answer that, our research took a surprising turn. But first things first.

What Do We Know About Him as “Roy Parker”?

You said you were able to locate Roy Parker living with his wife, Lula, in the 1920 U.S. census. We located Roy and Lula Parker living in Justice Precinct 1, Bowie, Texas, in 1920. According to the census, Roy Parker was 27 years old at the time the census was enumerated and he was born in Missouri. This places his birth circa 1893. You may notice, moving forward, that birth dates can vary according to the record, but in locating other records, you should pay attention to those that record a birth date close to 1893.

The census further notes that both his parents were from Missouri. This suggests that his family lived in Missouri for at least two generations. The record also tells you that Roy Parker’s wife, Lula, was born in Texas circa 1895. Her father was born in Louisiana, and her mother was born in Texas. Since the couple is living in Texas and Lula was born there, it suggests that Roy Parker likely moved to Texas before their marriage and the couple probably married at that location.

You indicated that you were unable to locate Roy Parker in the 1930 census but that you know he died in Missouri in 1935. Searching for a record for his wife, Lula, may help you find more clues about Roy Parker. Lula Parker was residing in Precinct 3, Austin, Texas, in 1930. She was living with her children: Resetta Parker, age 9; Rogers Parker, age 7; and Emilly Parker, age 4.

The record states that Lula Parker was a black female born circa 1895 in Texas. This matches the information in the 1920 census for Lula. It also states that she is married, though Roy Parker is not in the household. Perhaps he was already in Missouri by 1930 and was not in the household at the time the census was enumerated.

What this record does tell you is that Roy and Lula’s three children listed here were all born in Texas. You could search Texas Birth Certificates, 1903-1935Texas Birth Index, 1903-1997; or Texas Births and Christenings, 1840-1981 for their birth records. Locating their birth or death records may tell you more about Roy Parker/Henry Hagen.

When Exactly Did “Roy Parker” Die?

You stated that your great-grandfather enlisted in World War I under the name Roy Parker. While his service records may have been destroyed, you may be able to locate some information about him from his enlistment record. The collection U.S. Army Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914 records a Roy Parker who enlisted June 7, 1912, at Jefferson, Mo. According to this record, he was born in Sedalia, Mo., and was 18 years and 9 months of age when he enlisted. This places his birth in August or September 1893. His complexion was described as “dark.” It also states that he was honorably discharged on June 6, 1915. This information could be a match for your Roy Parker.

Interestingly enough, there is also a registration card for Roy Parker in the collection World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942. According to the record, Roy Parker was born Aug. 5, 1893, in Sedalia. In the section of the form that asks him to list a person who will always know his address, he provides the contact information for Lula Parker at 2174 E. Market, Stockton, Calif., which is also the address he provided for himself.

On the back of the card, his race was recorded as “black,” his height was 5 feet 5½ inches and he weighed 187 pounds. This seems to suggest that this is the same man who appeared in the 1920 census. This is interesting because you have information indicating that he died in 1935 in Missouri. It seems a strange coincidence that this Roy Parker was the same age as your Roy Parker and had a wife with the same name as your Roy Parker’s.

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