Monday, October 24, 2011

Grandpa Frank...

How did my obsession with past relatives begin...it seems so long ago that it is hard to pinpoint exactly.  Back around 1996 or so Mom bought Family Tree Maker and we installed it on our computers.  We then put in everything that we knew about the family.  Dad's side was and is huge and complicated.  Mom's side is still complicated but not nearly as large.  Mom had taken the time to talk to my grandfather back in the early 1970's before his death in 1975.  My memories are very dim of my Grandpa Frank - hazy images of being taught how to peel an orange and trips to the store for candy are my clearest memories.  I was just 8 years old when he died, and had never had the opportunity to spend much time with him.

Frank Stewart Johnson was born in 10 Oct 1914 in Dunn Center, Dunn Co., ND to Ulpian Grey Johnson and Shirlie Louisa Pope.  He had three sisters and two half brothers.  His mother died 14 Apr 1927 of pneumonia and his life was forever changed.  Grandpa Frank's father literally fell apart, and it fell to Frank to take care of the family.  He quit school and got a job and did his best to provide for his family.  Dunn Center today is experiencing a bit of an oil boom - back in the 1920's and 30's it was probably one of the most inhospitable places to live.  Hot summers with vicious thunder storms and egg size hail and horrible winters where a rope from the barn to the house was the only way to find your way.  Frank joined the CCC's (Civilian Conservation Corps) and traveled and worked his way through the late 1930's.  In 1939, he visited Idaho with his friend Lawrence Chandler and met a local neighbor and friend, Marian Johnson.  On 01 Oct 1939, Marian and Frank married at the parsonage at St. Mary's Church, in Moscow, ID.  At that point, they went back to North Dakota, where they lived in a tiny two room house with Frank's father, Ulpian, and his sister Mary.  Mary had been born with a dislocated hip and was also somewhat mentally challenged.  Marian and Frank quickly had three children and it must have been a tight fit in the house.  There was little money and few jobs and by 1943, they made the decision to return to Idaho and Hatter Creek which was where Marian's family lived.  By the time, mother married my father (Marian & Frank's oldest child and only son) Marian and Frank lived up in at a small farm in Mountain Home (near present day Potlatch) 

Mom loved her father-in-law!  He was a gentle man who loved his family deeply.  She appreciated his devotion to his family and humor.  Marian and Frank moved to OR in 1965 and during one his visits to our home in Lewiston, ID - Mom sat down with him with some pencil and paper and asked him questions about his family.  Grandpa Frank complied and we had our start to our genealogy research.  He remembered his grandparent's names and all of his father's siblings as well as the name of his great grandmother and some of his grandfather's siblings.  He left us with "Unknown" Johnson as the name of great grandfather...but it was a start.  

Grandpa Frank never really felt that his family history quite measured up.  My grandmother's family had a genealogy that extended back to some of the earliest families in this country.  He felt that my grandmother had a heritage to be proud of...and he didn't think he did.  Grandpa Frank died in 1975 - but when Mom and I started researching, it was on his family that we made the most progress on our early efforts.

We had that basic genealogy that Mom had written down from many years ago.  Our first goal was to find out who "Unknown Johnson" was which we found fairly early with a marriage record.  We then found someone else who was researching the same family and made contact.  Turned out that the cousin was just a few weeks older than my father and had also been researching for a long time.  Then my parents took my grandmother on a trip back east where they visited my Grandpa Frank's sister.  They got copies of letters that had been traded back in the early 1920's between Grandpa Frank's sister Nan and their grandfather, Winslow Lonsdale Pope.  Everything opened up on that family at that point.  In reality, Grandpa Frank's family probably had more prestige than my grandmother's family and he never knew.  The Popes had been in the United States since the 1620's and while his ancestor, Kenelm Winslow wasn't here on the Mayflower, he was soon after.  He followed his brother, Edward Winslow, who was on the Mayflower and who was the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  Grandpa Frank was also descended from Rev. Ralph Wheelock who you might say began the first public school with a free education in the United States.  

It took a several years more until we were able to piece together his Johnson family.  My father had heard since he was young that we were related to Pres. Andrew Johnson.  My mother and I could not find any proof of the relationship or where the actual connection might be.  An article was sent to us by another Johnson researcher that spelled out the relationship.  "Unknown Johnson" was actually Moses Johnson - which we discovered through a marriage record.  Moses Johnson turned out to be the younger brother of Jacob Johnson - who was Pres. Andrew Johnson's father.  The article quoted a letter written by Henderson Johnson  (my great great grandfather's older brother) that was addressed to Cousin Andy.  The letter was included in the papers of Pres. Andrew Johnson.

Frank Johnson in 1939 - getting ready to drive John Bernard Gage's car in the Tin Lizzy Derby in Lewiston, ID
Grandpa Frank never really knew the history of his family and I'm not sure he thought there would be anything to be proud of.  That was a regret that my mother and I had - that Grandpa Frank never knew anything about where is family came from or the long and rich history that they had.  Now, I am at the point that I can't share the research with my mother; she died almost 6 years ago of lung cancer.  Their have been some wonderful discoveries that I have not been able to share with her - but somehow I think she knows...and I think that Grandpa Frank knows as well.