14 July 2016

Peter Doyle: The Irishman of Rockingham County, North Carolina

It's time for a much needed update on my work with Peter Doyle. I promise, I've been meaning to get around to it since March. It's only July now, which believe it or not is a pretty impressive average for me! Especially since I get to do some myth busting of more questionable material from obsolete places on the web, which is one of my absolute favorite things to do.

Today, we're going to be looking at family lore on USGenWeb as it surrounds Peter Doyle and Bryna Alexander of Rockingham County, North Carolina. You'll have to Ctrl + F for "Peter Doyle" to find the section of interest. And as we've done before, we're going to outline and prove (or disprove!) the "facts," as they've been stated.


  • Peter Doyle appears on the 1850 Census as being born in Ireland in 1788.
    • Confirmed. Peter appears with his new wife, Bryna, and three children: Rawley (7), Pinkey (5), and Mary (3). All of the children were born in North Carolina.
  • Family legend passed down the Doyle/McGrady line says Peter was a famine immigrant
    • Even though I cannot prove this definitively without knowing where and when Peter arrived in the United States, the records I've found remain consistent with this family lore. If Peter was a potato famine immigrant, there should be a lack of information related to him in the United States before about 1845. 
  • The author brings up the Chesapeake Canal. Whether this is to suggest that Peter worked on the Canal, perhaps linking it to his occupation as "ditcher," or whether the author was simply creating narrative about the poverty of Irish immigrants is unclear.
    • A ditcher was not a canal digger. Ditchers and tile ditchers would dig drainage ditches to remove excess water from the soil. It was important to prevent excess root rot, runoff, erosion, and soil compaction. This may partially explain why Peter lost his farm, because he spent probably a good portion of his time working on other farms. His own crop likely would have suffered, and if he wasn't paid for his work then his debts would have skyrocketed.
    • The Chesapeake Canal was finished by 1829--not consistent with the lore that Peter was a potato famine immigrant, which didn't happen until 1845. In short, Peter could be a potato famine immigrant, or a canal digger for this particular canal. But not both. No amount of searching on my part found evidence that Peter was in the Maryland or Delaware region during the construction of the Chesapeake Canal.
    • I did a similar analysis for the Albermarle and Chesapeake Canal, where the time period, region, and timing of Peter's later disappearance would be consistent. Searching for Peter similarly gave no indication of his being a laborer there, but more extensive searching may not be possible. The only record I could locate that would indicate his employment for this canal would be the 1860 census, where I did not find him. But there is a potential gap between 1856 and 1859 where he could have worked on the canal, and not shown up on a any records. However, the income for Sarah and her children in 1860 (see below) is consistent with their having received any outside income from Peter.
  • The three children listed on the 1850 census are Peter's children from another marriage.
    • Consideration for any other possible birth situation or adoption is not given. The time period of Rawley, the oldest son's birth also would challenge the idea of Peter being a potato famine immigrant. The famine began in 1845 and continued on through the 1850s. According to the 1850 census, Rawley was born in North Carolina earlier than the start of the famine. The likelihood that these children were either adopted, or were Bryna's from a previous relationship (one no amount of searching has yet confirmed as a marriage) are much more consistent as the information now available to us.
  • Bryna is mentioned as having another daughter, Louisa, born in about 1836, who married William Solomon. They are alleged to have moved to Carroll County, Virginia in the 1850s. 
    • I've not yet examined the veracity of this information. Paternity and any potential connection to the three other children (Rawley, Pinkney, and Mary) from the 1850 census is unknown, but is definitely worth examining.
  • They purchased a farm in October 1850, and lost it early in 1851. It went to auction and sold for a fraction of what they owed on it.
    • Together with Mary Wynn Haupt, we've located the deeds and land records for these transactions. The details are consistent with the account as they've been expressed here.
  • The family was skipped, or otherwise does not appear, on the 1860 census.
    • False. Bryna appears without Peter on the 1860 census in Rockingham County, North Carolina. The entry has not been easy to locate due to the faintness of the writing. But Bryna's name, alone with the names and ages of her children are all consistent.
  • Peter and Bryna had three children: James, Sarah and Obedience (twin daughters)
    • The 1860 census mentioned above gives the name of Mary (now 12), an additional daughter, Martha (9), followed by James (8), Catherine (6), and Sarah (6). A closer look at subsequent records for Obedience show that her middle name is Catherine, and she also went by "Biddie."
  • Only two members of the family reappear in 1870, Bryna and Sarah. This is the last record of these siblings that have been found. James is alleged to have moved away.
    • James marries Cora Lovelace (also spelled Loveless) and remains in Rockingham County. Sister "B Doyle" is living with them as a farm laborer.
  • Peter had already died by the 1870s, and no greater information is known to narrow down that time frame any closer.
    • Because their youngest daughters are born by 1857, and Peter is nowhere to be seen on the 1860 census, we can narrow his time of death, disappearance, or abandonment between 1856 and 1860.
  • Bryna died some time in the 1870s, at which point Sarah leaves Rockingham County
    • No exact death place or time has yet been determined. Searches through land records confirms that she left no will, likely because she owned no land.

I've been in contact with researchers in Rockingham County on Facebook, trying to tease out ANYTHING else I can find on Peter. I feel like all I need is one more solid clue about his life in North Carolina, and I'll be set to place him, if not in his place of entry to the United States, then to his origins in Ireland. I decided to focus on his marriage record, trying to apply the principles that make up FAN (Friends, Acquaintances, and Neighbors) research.


"North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011," database, Ancestry.com (http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=60548: accessed 14 July 2016), citing Rockingham County, North Carolina, marriage bond, (1850), Peter Doyle and Briney Alexander; North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, NC.

The idea is that you research those who appear around and with your ancestors, and there's one name that appears on Peter's marriage bond, the deed for his land, and the land records that outline how Peter and Bryna lost their farm. James Lemmons appears to have been Peter's go-to guy every time he needed money. He was also the one who purchased their farm at a fraction of what they owed on it--meaning that they gave their original creditor everything they had when they lost their farm.

If any additional records exist, I hope they would somehow survive in the hands of the Lemmons family. My next step may be to find Lemmons/Leamons descendants from Rockingham County, if I can. Who knows what clues they might have about the exact circumstances of what transpired between 1850 and 1851.

All I need is a single clue, and Peter's story may burst wide open.

22 June 2016

Muriel Ince Michaels, Age 42

Muriel Ince Michaels, Age 42, photo in collection of Ernest Ince, in possession of Regina Ince Michaels, ca. 1955, image created by Dave Michaels, 2016.

08 June 2016

Homecoming: A Complete List of Doyle Siblings

Life as a genealogist really has not been the same since I took my AncestryDNA test. The connections I'm making to other relatives, including distant cousins, is proving to be so invaluable. We're able to solve mysteries better together than we can apart. Nowhere has that been more apparent than when I reached out to a distant Doyle cousin of mine named Mary Wynn Haupt.

By the time she and I connected, we understood plainly that our common ancestors were James P. Doyle (1851-1936) and Cora A. Lovelace (1861-1901), both of North Carolina. I was able to share quite a bit of information, as well as original source documents and photos, which I'm always happy to do. She in return has provided invaluable insight regarding many missing children from this family, including the daughter of James and Cora from whom she descends.

The confusion begins with the missing 1890 census. Because this was the only census on which James and Cora would have appeared together with the majority of their children (especially their daughters) at home, finding the names of all the children has been a continual research project of mine for many years. I've known I was missing several children for that long because of columns 11 and 12 on the 1900 census.


1900 U.S. census, Rockingham County, North Carolina, population schedule, Huntsville Township, p. 17-A (stamped),  dwelling 302, family 303, James P. Doyle and Cora Lovelace family; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 8 June 2016); citing NARA Microfilm Roll: T623_1215.


You'll see that James and Cora appear on this census record with four of their children: Margaret, Cora, William, and Calvin. According to column 11, by 1900 Cora had given birth to 8 children. Column 12 reveals that 7 of these children were still living at that time. As Mary Wynn and I pieced together the children for whom we had records, the breakdown was as follows:

  1. A C Doyle (1878- ?)
  2. Charles Miller Doyle (1879-1942), my ancestor
  3. Frances Doyle Moore (1882-1961), her ancestor
  4. Sarah Margarett Doyle (1888-1901)
  5. William James Doyle (1892-1969)
  6. Cora Alice Doyle (1893-1973)
  7. Calvin Dewey Doyle (1899-1979)
  8. Lula Mae Doyle (1901-1976)

Because Lula Mae Doyle was born in 1901, she doesn't count towards the children enumerated in the 1900 census. Between us we were able to find seven of James and Cora's children. We were still missing one. And based on the information we had, we also didn't know which one was deceased before 1900. With what we were looking for clearly defined, we outlined some things we could try to find the information we needed.

Mrs. Fannie Moore obituary,
undated clipping from unidentified newspaper,
papers of  Grandma Becky, ca. 1961,
image created by Mary Wynn Haupt, 2016.
Life got busy for both of us, as it so often does. Until today, when I heard from her again via email. She had great news to tell me.

She had found the missing Doyle sibling! Listed in her ancestor's obituary from 1961 were the names of her five living siblings:

  1. Mrs. Walter Puckett of Martinsville, VA
  2. Mrs. Ben Hundley of Leaksville, NC
  3. Mrs Ernest Smith of South Boston, VA
  4. Will Doyle of Greensboro, NC
  5. Dewey Doyle of Greensboro, NC

Mrs. Ernest Smith was a name she hadn't recognized, and she did some digging. Before long, she discovered that the full maiden name of the sibling we were searching for was Etta Florence Doyle (1891-1972). My cousin sent me a copy of the obituary in question, as well as a record of Etta's marriage she had found online at Ancestry.com. 

From there, we were also able to find a Find a Grave entry, a Virginia death certificate, and her appearance on the 1940 US population schedule of the census.

After adding the information for Etta into my Ancestry tree, I also added it to the universal tree on FamilySearch. As I did so, the duplicate screening revealed that someone has already created a record for Etta Florence Doyle Smith. She was not connected to her parents, and the descendant in question appears to have dead-ended with her. And thanks to the FamilySearch messaging system, we'll be able to reach out to whomever it is and let them know that we've made this connection.

All of this began with a single DNA test. I'd reached the end of what my research experience and information would allow me to piece together. I needed additional information that was not to be found. By reaching out to my cousin, we've been able to find the lost siblings of this family.

In a very real way, it feels like a very sweet homecoming--a triumph over the dispersed, forgotten, and unknown.