James Alexander Doran – Born 1913 in Belfast, County Antrim, Ireland

James Alexander Doran (1913-1982). Photograph from Maire McKenna.
James Alexander Doran (1913-1982). Photograph from M. McKenna. Copyright 2016.

This photograph of James Alexander Doran was possibly taken for his First Holy Communion at St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in West Belfast, Northern Ireland. The picture is from his daughter who has been trying for a very long time to find out more about her father, and her grandparents. She has asked Genealogy Sisters to try and help in her family research.

James Alexander Doran was born on November 30th, 1913 in Belfast to James Doran and Sophia Doran, formerly Smyth. They lived at 51 Fifth Street in West Belfast. So far we have not been able to find the marriage record of his parents. After his parents weren’t able to raise him, the priest from St. Peter’s RC Church in West Belfast, placed him with a family called Hutchinson, when he was around three years old. These sisters raised him along with Mary Elizabeth O’Neill and Angela Brown, two other young children in need of a home. James Alexander Doran married Theresa Graham in Belfast. She was born April 8th, 1918 in Belfast. They raised a family and eventually emigrated to the United States. James Doran came in 1953 to Detroit, Michigan from Belfast, and in 1955 Theresa Doran came with their children. James Alexander Doran died in Sarasota, Florida on January 7, 1982.

Birth Record for James Alexander Doran – Source: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/

The Doran family had a birth record for James Alexander Doran, and he always used the birthday of November 30th, 1913. So far we haven’t been able to find a baptismal record. It is possible that Sophia Smyth was a Protestant and there was conflict in her family about her marriage to a Roman Catholic, or vice versus. Since we can’t find a marriage record there is uncertainty as to what names his grandparents went by.

From the 1911 Irish Census it looks like the Hutchinson family lived at 12 Sevastapol Street, West Belfast, in the heart of the area called The Old Pound Loney. This neighborhood was near St. Peter’s twin spires that dominated the landscape. My Doran family also lived in this neighborhood, but so far we haven’t found a connection between the families. Jane Roach Hutchinson was the matriarch of the family, and her unmarried daughters – Ellen, Ann Jane, and Maggie lived with her. Jane’s husband, James, had died previously. They also had at least two other children – James and Henry Hutchinson. The Hutchinson’s had a niece Maria Carney or Kearney that also helped raise James Doran. This photograph below shows them together.

James Alexander Doran with Maria Kearney taken in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Photograph from Maire McKenna.
James Alexander Doran with Maria Kearney taken in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Photograph from M. McKenna. Copyright 2016.

Young boys often wore toddler dresses, along with the girls. After they were toilet trained they were considered “Breeched” and then often wore short pants or knickers, until about the age of ten when they started wearing trousers. Young James Doran is so adorable and by comparing the first photograph you can see he became a fine looking young man.

Maria Kearney did give the Doran family a few more nuggets of information. When James was very young she took him to the Banbridge Market in County Down. James remembered a young woman coming up the hill and speaking to his aunt Maria. She said he looked small for his age compared to her brothers, who were all big. After she left, Maria told him that that lady is your mother. Also living with James Alexander Doran after he was placed with the Hutchinson family were two other girls. Mary Elizabeth O’Neill was born in the Belfast Workhouse and the priest at St. Peter’s also placed her with this family, along with another young girl named Angela Brown. James was the oldest, then Angela, and then Mary.

It is unclear who Sophia Smyth Doran’s parents were. There were quite a few Smyth/Smith families from the Banbridge and Gilbert areas. It also is unknown if she went by her maiden name or Doran, after she left her son in the care of the priest at St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church. The only other fact known is that she had red hair.

Looking into the name Sophia Smyth, there was a child born in 1892 in Gilford, County Down to Isaac and Annie Smyth. This Sophia had a twin named Alexander. Sadly this Sophia died at the age of three from croup in 1896. Isaac Smyth had a brother, Francis Smyth. Francis and Elizabeth Smyth also had a child named Sophia, born 1 February 1884 in Banbridge. This Sophia Smyth married Robert Burns in 1907 in Carrickfergus, County Antrim, Ireland. These two Sophia Smyths were baptized Protestant in the Church of Ireland. Another Sophia Smith was born 21 May 1889 in Holywood, County Down to John Smyth and June Mulloney. She was Roman Catholic. Looking at birth records from RootsIreland.ie these are the only Sophia Smyth/Smith birth records for the counties of Antrim and Down during this time period.

Next we looked at the 1911 Irish Census for Sophia Smyth. There was a Sophia Smyth, age 27, single, working at the White Abbey Girls School in the White Abbey District of County Antrim. But there was also a Sophia Smyth, in Belfast living at 8 Derby Street, in the Smithfield District of Belfast. Sophia Smyth was 21, single, could read and write, RC, occupation seamstress, and lived with her father, John Smyth, age 46, a widower, and two siblings Sarah – age 19 and Edward – age 14. Sophia, and her father, John, were both born in County Down, and her two siblings in Belfast. It is possible she had more siblings that had already moved out. This Sophia Smyth/Smith seems to match the one born in 1889 [Source: http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/search/%5D.

Searching for the James Doran that was the father of James Alexander Doran is a more difficult task. The name was very common in both Antrim and Down counties. First I looked for any James and Sophia Doran families in the 1911 Irish Census, and found none. In County Antrim, during the 1911 Irish Census there were eleven matches for James Doran. Some were infants or young children, and of the rest, most were married with families. There was one that seems a possible match. This was James Doran, age 25, single, RC, could read and write, occupation a laborer, born in Belfast, living at 11 Oakfield Street, in the Clifton District of Belfast, in County Antrim. He lived with his mother Mary Doran, a widow, age 55, occupation of weaver, and she was born in Ballynahinch, a town in County Down next to Banbridge. She had had two children with only one living.

Looking at Irish Birth Records for any James Doran born in Antrim or Down gave four matches, one of which we have previously researched. James McCann Doran was born 10 May 1886 in Belfast to Patrick and Minnie Ohagen Doran. They lived at 58 Raglan Street, and this James was baptized at St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church. Another Doran researcher, Eileen, had previously looked into this James Doran and it is thought he emigrated on 11 October 1909 from Belfast to the United States, and settled in Kansas City, Missouri, were he died in 1961.

Also listed: James Bernard Doran, born in County Down on 20 December 1886, and baptized Roman Catholic in Annaghlone, parents Patrick Doran and Ellen McClory; James Patrick Doran born 18 March 1886, baptized Roman Catholic at St. Peter’s, parents Edward Doran and Elizabeth Conway, living at 7 Cairns Street, Belfast; James Dorrian, born 22 October 1885, Civil Record, parents John Dorrain a Sailor and Elizabeth Whiteside, living at 31 Hillview Street, Belfast. Looking at the years before and after 1886, there was a James Doran baptized on 26 May 1887, Roman Catholic, parents James Doran and Mary Magee, no address, Parish of Clonallon, County Down. It looks like Clonallon is near Warrenpoint. In 1885 there was a James Doran born  on 20 April, 1885, Roman Catholic, parents Hugh Doran and Ann Mackin, address of Lurganreagh, Parish of Kilkeel, Upper Mourne, County Down [http://www.rootsireland.ie/]

I think you can pick almost any year during the late 18th century in the Belfast area and find at least one James Doran born!

There were so many James Dorans that died after 1913 in the Belfast area, that it is hard to pin down which could have been the father of James Alexander Doran. He may also have been in ill health, or enlisted in World War One and killed or disabled, or unable to care for his son.

If anyone has any information on this Doran family from Belfast, please share with us, and we will in turn pass on the information. The Doran clan believes in hope!

Doran Irish Crest
Doran Irish Crest

Copyright 2016 by Maryann Doran Barnes and Genealogy Sisters.

14 thoughts on “James Alexander Doran – Born 1913 in Belfast, County Antrim, Ireland

  1. My great great grandpa was James Doran and was born near Upper Ballindery west of Belfast before the famine. His father was a Bernard Doran of that same area. As a young man, his family moved o Scotland for a short time to work the coal mines and then the entire family moved to the Ohio and western Pennsylvania areas, to also work in the mines. Lots of James Dorans, but there could be a relationship.


    1. Your Doran history is very interesting! A lead on any James Doran from the Belfast area is very welcome. Thanks for reading and sharing. My grandfather was a Bernard Doran, from West Belfast, and so was my great-grandfather. My great-grandfather, John Doran, also went to Scotland to work, and then came back to Belfast. They were hacklers or flax-dressers. His father most likely was Bernard Doran, who married Ann Smyth in the mid 1830s in the Belfast area. I wonder if most of the Belfast Dorans share ancestry.


      1. Bernard Doran 1817-1878, was born near Upper Ballindery, west of Belfast. He married Margery McKillop circa 1835. He died in Corning, Ohio, USA, after working the coal mines for nearly all of his life.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Our Bernard Doran ancestors sound like they could have been cousins. I will have to look up Upper Ballindery, and see where it is. We heard someone in our Doran family had a small flax mill and farm outside of Belfast, but we don’t know the town. My Polish grandfather came to western Pennsylvania and worked the coal mines, until he earned enough money to buy a farm. He worked hard his entire life, and was happy to be out of the mines. I never really thought about the Northern Irish going to Scotland to work in coal mines. Again, thank you so much for sharing some of your family history!


  2. How smart to have all children in diapers wear dresses! I never knew that was the reason, but it makes perfect sense. Anyone who’s ever had to remove a pair of pants from a toddler to change diapers can attest to that.


    1. Amy, I agree that it was a very good idea to use dresses for all the toddlers. I’m sure it also cut down on the laundry. Plus you didn’t have toddlers tripping over hand me down pants that were too long. Oh, those toddlers sure can wiggle when you try to change diapers, LOL! Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is my great-grandfather. I do have his baptismal record as provided to me by the church, but it does not bear any additional information that has been helpful. I have found connections between the Hutchinson family and the Banbridge area, but again, our Sophia Smyth and James Doran remain elusive.

    I hope that there is an afterlife in which I can track them down to find the answers we so want to find.

    My hope is that if the 1921 census records are ever released, we can find Sophia. I have also been searching US records, on consideration Sophia may have emigrated to the States. I thought I found her in an old book with estate records, based on the bequeathments, but after ordering the death certificate, I discovered her age didn’t fall into a range suitable to have been James Alexander’s mother.

    The more we search without answers, the greater my fictional tale becomes.


      1. I mistyped that. I meant the 1926 census, because they didn’t do one in ’21. But I did just learn that the 1926 census doesn’t have records for the six counties in the north. The baptismal record shows that an Isabella Mooney was also present as a sponsor, but I have not yet found connections between her and the family.

        I noticed that James Alexander’s father is not listed on the record. The record is held at St. Peter’s in Belfast. The woman who sent me the record indicated that the address of record was listed as Banbridge. Though, this is not reflected on the record itself.

        James Alexander’s record indicates he was baptized December 7, 1913. This record shows his mother’s name as Sophia Doran. The record does not indicate a confirmation date, but his marriage to my great-grandmother is reflected on this record, even though it was at St. Paul’s.

        There have been a few DNA connections to people with Smyth family, but they shared that they are also at road blocks with their Smyth family members.


      2. I wonder if the six counties will be under the Great Britain census in 1926.
        Thank you for the extra information. I will look into the Isabella Mooney name.
        That is interesting that the Baptismal record shows Sophia Doran. I don’t think the priest would let her put that down unless he knew for sure that she had married.
        All of our Doran family went first to St. Peter’s and then St. Paul’s. I’ve been to both churches.
        Thanks for the extra information! I hope we can knock down some brick walls!
        Best regards, Maryann


      3. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait for 1931 for any census records from Northern Ireland. Great Britain did conduct a census in 1921, but Northern Ireland was still Ireland then, and Ireland didn’t do a census until 1926. I’m not clear on how the records from the six counties were destroyed, but they wouldn’t be included in a census until the UK did their next one in 1931.

        I have doubts Sophia and James were ever married. If they were, I suspect it would have been a civil marriage, due to the alleged “mixed” relationship.

        My understanding is that for James Doran to have been listed on James Alexander’s birth certificate, he had to have been present at the signing. It was a relatively new requirement. Which makes it all the more interesting, to me, that James Doran is not listed on James Alexander’s baptismal record. While I admittedly have little knowledge of Catholic policies, I would think that if James Alexander was to be baptized and raised in the Catholic faith, and if it was Sophia who was of Protestant faith, that the Catholic parent would have to be present for the baptism and attest to the child being raised in the Catholic faith.

        I had found a Sophia Smyth who had family who were clergy in a Protestant church, which would have made the story plausible, but we just do not seem to have enough information to confirm which Sophia is our Sophia.


  4. Jessi, I think anything is possible and I hope we can find out more. When my ancestors William Hall and Sarah Tierney married in West Belfast, they had a civil marriage. He was Protestant and she was Roman Catholic. As each child was baptized at St. Peter’s the priest wrote on the record that the father was Protestant. I don’t know if he was there at the church.
    It would seem that Sophia Smyth had some kind of ties to St.Peter’s RC Church, although all signs seem to point she was from Banbridge. The priest was the one to place the young James with the Hutchinsons when Sarah couldn’t care for him. Maybe if James Doran was in the military then he couldnt be present for the baptism of his child. Many of our Doran, men, including my grandfather enlisted for the pay. My grandfather went AWOL and skipped to the USA in 1910 so we have that record. Maybe I will take a closer look at any James Doran military records.


    1. This is definitely a mystery I suspect involves some controversy. Our story has peaked the interest of another genealogy enthusiast I met online from Banbridge. He had been doing some digging as well. I hope to find the answers some day. I find it odd that James Doran would be listed on the birth certificate but one week later is not listed on the baptismal record. I thought, and I may have read it wrong, that at that time, for the father to be listed on the birth certificate he had to be present. I have also considered that perhaps Sophia was previously married, and Smyth is not her maiden name. I’ve searched for records with that in mind.


      1. Hi Jessi, I also think some of the answers to this mystery may be found in Banbridge. I’m still not sure the father had to be present at the baptism. Since Belfast was such a port city for sailors, I would think many times the father would be at sea. Same as with the military. I think maybe a man could get a few days to go home for a death or birth, but not for a baptism. Sometimes the baptism was right at the hospital or workhouse if the child seemed to be in danger of dying. Sometimes the baptismal sponsor for some of our Belfast ancestors was a nurse, midwife, or someone else in a official duty, and not a member of the family or a friends. With more researchers I do hope information turns up!


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