North Carolina, Other Documents, Paternal Kin

Eureka! … Not.

I was flipping through an old notebook and came across this abstract of entries in the 1912-1913 city directory of Wilson, North Carolina:

Taylor, Bertha, laundress, h 114 w Lee

Taylor, Greenman, h Stantonsburg rd nr Rountree av

Taylor, Hennie, dom, h 114 w Lee

Taylor, Jordan, lab, h Stantonsburg rd nr Rountree av

Taylor, Mack, driver, h 114 w Lee

Taylor, Mattie, laundress, h 114 w Lee

Taylor, Robert, barber, h 114 w Lee

Taylor, Roderick, barber Paragon Shaving Parlor, h 114 w Lee

The house at 114 West Lee Street belonged to my great-grandfather Michael (“Mike,” not “Mack”) Taylor. Bertha, Hennie, and Mattie were his younger daughters. Roderick was his only son. Jordan and Greeman, over on Stantonsburg Road, were Mike’s niece Eliza’s husband and son. But who in the world was Robert Taylor?

Robert … Robert … An epiphany! Of course! This was Robert Perry, son of Mike’s wife Rachel‘s sister Centha Barnes Perry! The boy grew up in Mike and Rachel’s household and quite naturally he was sometimes known as Robert Taylor! … Right?

Well, perhaps, but this is not him. Robert Perry was only 9 years old in 1912. Not only would a child not have been plying a trade at that age, he would not be counted among the adults included in a city directory. (Even Rachel was omitted, as “dependent” homemakers did not make the cut either.)

So, who was this Robert Taylor who both lived in Mike Taylor’s house and worked in the same trade as Mike’s son Roderick?

Census records do not show an African-American Robert Taylor in all of Wilson County in the 1900 or 1910 censuses. In 1920, however, there is Robert Taylor, age 36, a laborer, with wife Mary G., age 29, living at 611 Green Street. Now this is really puzzling.

Two years earlier, when Roderick Taylor registered for the World War I draft, he stated his birth year as 1883, his occupation as barber, and his address as 611 East Green Street. There is no “Roderick Taylor” listed in the 1920 census, but in 1930, at 610 [sic, house numbers shifted in the early 1920s] Green Street, there is barber Roderick Taylor, 45, wife Mary J., 39, and three children.

While it is conceivable that there were both a Robert Taylor and Roderick Taylor of the same age, living in the same houses, with wives of the same name and age, and working in the same profession, it seems unlikely. Rather, in an era in which “Roderick” was rare name, an inattentive census taker or canvasser might easily have heard “Robert” when making his inquiries. Absent further independent evidence that a Robert Taylor existed, I conclude that Roderick’s doppelgänger is a figment of error.

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