When researching the identity of an ancestor who may have changed his name, examining the people he associated with can lead to important connections. In part 1 of this series, we looked at using the FAN methodology (comparing Friends, Associates, and Neighbors). The timeline clearly showed that Patrick Alford changed his name to James William Johnson between 1879 and 1885 to hide from Texas law.
With a clear understanding of James’s relationship to his spouses and children and a clear understanding of Patrick’s relationship to his parents and siblings, next those details could be compared with other records. In part two, we will walk through the analysis of James Johnson and Patrick Alford in adding more records from their FANs– family, associates, and neighbors–to the list.
Adding records from the Alford siblings to the existing FANs list established a timeline that agreed with family lore. I focused on four sibling relationships: George Alford, Becky (Alford) McFadin, Belle (Alford) Newton, and Robert Henry Alford. In doing so, all siblings were accounted for, including Tom, Evaline, Charlie, Ida May, and Minnie Alford. In the end, the Alford siblings were FANs of both Patrick and James.
Beyond personal records, though, it was necessary to investigate the circumstances and environment that caused Patrick to change his name to James.1 I studied surrounding geography, national historical events, and local social context to correlate with the FANs list timeline. What did 1879 Texas look like through the lenses of each Alford sibling?
Texas Reconstruction Era: The North vs The South
The Alford family removed from Illinois (Northern U.S.) to Arlington, Texas (Southern U.S.), during the post-Civil War era. Texas had been re-admitted to the Union after a brief attempt to claim independence, and land sales helped increase revenue for schools and education.2 Amid post-war reconstruction, attitudes simmered, and many deep-rooted Texans held a particular dislike for Union veterans.3 The Alford settlers from the north sold horses and had relatives who had fought for the Union. Horse thieves were plentiful, law enforcement was limited, and most disagreements were settled with guns.
In August 1879, Tom, George, and Patrick Alford got involved in one such dispute that resulted in gunfire, the death of a friend, and the eventual death of a wounded officer. Patrick was often mistaken for his older brother, George, who shared a twin-like resemblance. On a dirt road between Arlington and Fort Worth, an unappointed “deputy marshal” had unlawfully apprehended and bound Tom. According to 1879 Texas law, Patrick and his friend attempted to defend themselves–and Tom–within their legal rights.4 Patrick escaped with Tom, who was still bound to a horse, and then returned to recover his wounded friend. Six days later, after the officer died from his wounds, contributors in the gun foray pointed to George as the one who killed the officer, but George was not on the dirt road that day; Patrick was. Nevertheless, George was immediately arrested, jailed, tried, and found guilty of a murder he did not commit; meanwhile, Tom and Patrick went into hiding.5
A landmark case in the Court of Appeals overturned George’s conviction, and he was released one year later.6 Under such circumstances, the three Alford brothers likely had reason to fear a local militia. This supported a name change and Arkansas relocation for George (aka Richard Joseph Johnson) and Patrick (aka James William Johnson). Tom was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing, and after many years Patrick’s case was dismissed, but names and lives had forever changed.7 A full account of the gunfight involving his ancestor can be found in James Wesley Johnson’s book: A Horse, A Gunfight, And The Law: A Historical Account of Our Alfords in Texas.
Charlie Parks Alford
The Alford family arrived in Texas sometime between Ida May’s birth in 1875 and Patrick’s brother, Charlie’s death in 1877. Like Patrick, Charlie’s birth was too late to be recorded in his father’s 1870 household, and he died before 1880; a Texas gravestone chronicles his life. Family interviews revealed Charlie fell into a snake pit, and Patrick jumped in to rescue him. Sadly, Charlie did not survive, and Patrick earned a life-long limp for his bravery.8 I added Charlie to the FAN list.
Robert Henry Alford
The timeline showed that after 1879, the Alford siblings carried on in an otherwise typical family fashion; they married, they had children, they died, and relationships continued. For example, in 1899, when James married his second wife, Dempsey, the certificate noted Robert Alford as the preacher, indirectly linking the Johnsons to the Alfords. But, was this Robert F. (the Alford father), Robert H. (the Alford sibling), or another Robert altogether? I needed more evidence to prove a connection. Robert still made it on the fan list.
According to the information given during Johnson family interviews, after 1880, the Alford parents decided to live apart, probably for safety reasons. Alcy took the four younger children, including their son, Robert, and moved back to her hometown in Tennessee. Robert, the father, remained on the farm in Texas and in proximity to the older children. Cemetery and marriage records confirmed this story:
- The two youngest Alford children died shortly after removing to Tennessee, Minnie Louella in 1881 and Ida May in 1883.
- Evaline married in Tennessee in 1884, then moved to Washington; she died there in 1909 of Tuberculosis.
- Robert F. (the Alford father) died in Texas in 1887.
- Robert H. also married in Tennessee in 1895; he died there in 1946.
Robert F.’s death in 1887 ruled out the Alford father as the preacher, so Robert H. was likely the same Robert Alford noted on James and Dempsey’s 1899 marriage certificate, but this claim needed further research.9 Of course, Minnie, Ida, and Evaline were added to the FAN list.
In Part 1, we saw hints of a Johnson connection through Becky McFadin, who cared for James’s daughter, Janie, in 1900. Becky had a son, Harry, who was aged two in 1900. It was Harry’s descendants who told the story of how his mother nursed two babies at the same time–Harry and another cousin. Becky’s oldest daughter, who was married in 1900 and not living in the McFadin household, helped her mother with the two babies. This timeline supports the family story. After Becky died in 1927, Harry took care of his aunt, Sarah Elizabeth (Alford) Moore/Murray, who also lived in Arlington until she died in 1928. (Sarah was married in 1880 and not listed in her father’s Alford household.) Harry’s relationship with his aunt Sarah and cousin Janie–through his mother, Becky–further supports a sibling connection to James Johnson.10 Deaths and names went on the FAN list.
James William Johnson
When James died in 1934, his obituary named nine surviving children and four siblings.11 All names were added to another column on the fan list. My clients had previously verified the Johnson children, and in their transcription of James’ obituary below, the daughter’s given names are shown in parentheses. They also researched the Alford siblings in-depth, including spouses and children.
I noticed in 1934, James’s three surviving brothers were identified by the Johnson surname, but it was his one surviving sister, Belle Newton, that directly connected him to the Alfords. This evidence validated the story of the Alford siblings’ pact to protect their two brothers’ changed identities. I compared these names to known Patrick Alford siblings:
- Robert Johnson of Kingston, Tennessee = Robert Alford
- Belle Newton of Dallas, Texas = Susan Isabelle Alford
- R. J. Johnson of De Queen [, Arkansas] = George M. Alford
- J. W. Johnson of De Queen [, Arkansas] = Unidentified Alford cousin or possible misprint
Belle Newton of Dallas was named as a surviving sibling in three previous Alford obituaries. To strengthen the Johnson/Alford connection through Belle, I used data from each Alford sibling’s obituary to compare in a table (see also Table 1 in Part 1 for the full list of siblings).12
Many Johnson descendants who interviewed with my clients’ thought Belle Newton was a Johnson, and comparing the chronology of the sibling deaths above brought clarity to why. I noticed the Texas Alford siblings all died before the Arkansas Johnson siblings, so I looked more closely at the location. Dallas is about three and a half hours by car from DeQueen; Arlington is another 30 minutes west between Dallas and Fort Worth (see map below). This put Belle’s location in between her Alford and Johnson siblings. The Johnson family could easily visit Aunt Belle in Dallas without getting too close to their past in Fort Worth.
Newspapers are excellent sources for family relationships, but the details need to be combined with other sources for verification. One key document directly confirmed several relationships and provided indirect evidence for other sources used in this project; the 1942 delayed birth certificate of James’s daughter, Elsie Jane Johnson. The certificate recorded Belle Newton as Elsie Jane’s aunt and the “only living sister to the child’s father.” Elsie Jane declared her father to be James William Johnson of DeQueen, Arkansas.13 I compared Belle’s address–5410 Mercedes–to the address printed in her obituary; they matched.14 These details validated the sibling relationship with Belle Newton stated in James’ obituary.
Three key relationships stated in the record indirectly proved that James William Johnson was born Patrick Alford: Elsie Jane’s relationship to James, Elsie Jane’s relationship to Belle, and Belle’s relationship to James. If Belle Newton was the only living sister of James William Johnson, and Belle Newton was born an Alford, then James William Johnson was an Alford before he became a Johnson. The FAN list and timeline agreed; before 1879, James Johnson was not named in any Alford record, and after 1879, Patrick was not named in any Alford record.
After all the FANs had been gathered, I compared points of similarity between Patrick and James in a table. The evidence was convincing.
Lastly, within the list of FANs, I noticed a naming pattern between the Johnson children and the Alford siblings:
- First son, Charles Parker = sibling, Charlie Parks
- First daughter, Ida Pearl = sibling, Ida May, who died after the move to Tennessee
- Daughter, Elsie Jane = mother, variation of Alcy/Alsa/Elsa; and Jane after Sarah Jane
- Son, Robert Henry = father, and sibling, Robert
- Daughter, Lois = sibling, Minnie Louella, also died after the move to Tennessee
- Daughter, Allie May = sibling, Ida May
The correlated details from multiple records and many relationships indirectly confirmed that James William Johnson was born Patrick Alford. Could DNA help? Part three will compare the genealogical evidence above with my client’s DNA results.
ANONYMIZED James William Johnson Project
- Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards: Second Edition (Nashville, Tennessee: Ancestry, 2014), 13. Genealogy Standard 14, Topical breadth, states, “Genealogists plan to consult sources naming or affecting their research subjects and their relatives, neighbors, and associates. Their plans often include artifacts, authored narratives, oral histories, various kinds of records, and other sources concerning agriculture, demographics, DNA, economies, ethnicities, geography, government, history, inheritance, land, laws, migration, military activity, occupations, social customers and norms, religions, or other aspects of the research questions under investigation.”
- See the report for sources under the heading, “Geography, History, and Social Context.”
- “Reconstruction,” Texas State Historical Association (https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/reconstruction : accessed 1 August 2022), par. 14. “Everyone agreed that lawlessness was rampant in much of the state, but parties could not agree about the cause. Certainly, much of it could be attributed to the postwar breakup. Bands of brigands roamed along the Red River and in the Big Thicket country. Gangs led by such outlaws as Cullen M. Baker, Benjamin F. Bickerstaff, and Bob Lee preyed upon the people of northeastern Texas. Though their targets often were freedmen or federal soldiers, these murderers and horse thieves could hardly be called political activists…In fact the Klan also appeared in the Black belt plantation counties along the lower Brazos, Colorado, and Trinity rivers. Their targets were Blacks and Union men.”
- Richard F. Selcer and Kevin S. Foster, Written in Blood: The History of Fort Worth’s Fallen Lawmen, Vol. 1, 1861-1909 (Denton, Texas: University of North Texas Press 2010), p. 68; University of Utah, J. Willard Marriott Library, 295 1500 East, Salt Lake City, Utah, 84112. Also, citing Alford v. State, 8 Texas Court of Appeals, Case No. 545. “…the Court ruled that trying to execute an unlawful arrest warrant was what provoked the shootout, and therefore George Alford was not criminally liable for defending himself nor his brother Tom for trying to escape. The Court of Criminal Appeals ordered George Alford released…”
- For court case, Tarrant County, District Court Criminal Case File No. 1777, State of Texas v. George Alford, 1881, murder.
- Alford v. State, 8 Tex. Ct. of App., Case No. 545.
- Tarrant County, District Court Criminal Case File No. 2838, State of Texas v. Tom Alford, 1883, Theft of property over the value of $20.
- For sources on Charlie Parks Alford, see the report under the heading “The Wild West.” For sources on Ida May Alford, see the report under the heading “Marriage Witness, Robert Alford.”
- For sources on Robert Henry Alford, Minnie Louiella Alford, Evaline Alford, and Robert F. Alford, see the report under the heading “Marriage Witness, Robert Alford.”
- For sources on Harry McFadin, see the report under the heading “Beckie (Alford) McFadin, Sibling.”
- “Sevier County Obituaries: J,” ARGenWeb (https://www.argenweb.net/sevier/obitJ.html : accessed 14 July 2022), alphabetically arranged, James William Johnson (24 May 1934, DeQueen Bee), submitted by “JJ.
- For sources on Alford sibling obituaries, see the report under the heading “Sibling Obituaries,” Table 2.
- Sevier County, Arkansas, Delayed Birth Certificate no. 622 (stamped), Elsie Jane Johnson, 10 November 1898; database with images, “Arkansas, Birth Certificates, 1914-1917,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 22 August 2022), image 64.
- ” Mrs. Belle Newton,” Dallas (Texas) Morning News, 30 September 1957, page 15, column 1; digital image, GenealogyBank (https://www.genealogybank.com : accessed 15 July 2022).
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Thanks for the note!