Debbie Deaton sent me a photo hoping I could confirm the identity of this family. She thinks this portrait depicts the Deaton family: Franklin Deaton, his wife, Mahalia Mae Archer Deaton, and their children. Standing next to Mahalia is her son and Franklin’s step-son, Harley. The other boy is Arthur Lee Deaton, Debbie’s husband’s grandfather. The girl is supposedly Zelda.
The clothing in this picture is the first thing I looked at, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. The full sleeves on the women’s dresses suggest a time frame of the mid 1890s. That’s the easy part. I know I’ve said it before, but costume is only one clue. In this picture’s case, the family history and genealogy can solve the mystery.
Debbie knows little about the individuals in this picture. They lived in Oklahoma, and Mahalia was supposedly a full-blood Cherokee Indian. Franklin worked as a Sheriff. He died delivering a tax bill; as he got to the door, the man shot Franklin dead.
I searched GenealogyBank for newspaper stories relating to Franklin, but didn’t have any luck. Then I tried the Oklahoma Historical Society Web site, where you can search citations for Oklahoma newspaper articles. Unfortunately, Franklin didn’t appear in the index.
I decided to search the Federal Census using HeritageQuest Online (I have access with my Boston Public Library card—see if your public library system provides access to HeritageQuest). I didn’t find Franklin, but there was a 1900 census record for Mahalia (below).
She’s living with an Archer family. Her relationship to the head of the household is “step daughter;” Mahalia’s children are “step grandchildren.” Both Arthur and Zildy (Zelda) appear, but no Harley. The census states Mahala’s race as “Ind.” and she reported having given birth to three children.
That led me to some possibilities:
- If this picture shows Arthur (b. August 1894) and Zildy (b. January 1900), it certainly wasn’t taken in the mid- 1890s. The children are too old and their ages reversed. The girl in this photo is older thn both boys. I’d estimate she’s around 10 years old. The boy on the right is 7 or 8 and the other is even younger.
- Where’s Harley in the census? He may have died. This is a key piece of information that requires additional research. Perhaps the photo shows Mahala and two boys from a third marriage, though I think this is the least likely scenario.
- Instead of depicting Mahala and her husband, could this image feature the Archer family from the census: Earl, his wife, their daughter and two youngest sons?
There are a lot of unanswered questions about the Deaton family and this picture, but it’s a solvable problem. I’d continue to look for a death notice or news story about Franklin’s death, which appears to have occurred about 1900. I also suggest Debbie look at her family tree for other families with children the right ages for this image. Other research that can help includes the Dawes Rolls of Five Civilized Tribe enrollments.
I have to admit all the questions around this picture make my head hurt. If you have a suggestion for these Oklahoma research woes, please post a comment.