Monday, November 28, 2011

Unknown Johnson

When I first started doing genealogy research over 15 years ago, the computer was considered to be a new tool.  The internet and email were just starting to be used for genealogy research.  We used to peruse these old World Family Tree CD’s from Family Tree Maker.   There was a lot of junk but there were also some great surprises.

When my mother got the information from my grandfather back in the early 1970’s about his family.  It was surprising how much he knew and there was a surprising name that he didn’t know.  Grandpa Frank knew that his great grandmother’s name was Nancy Mayfield, but his great grandfather was unknown.  Mom and I referred to him for quite some time as unknown Johnson – in fact, one of our first goals was to find out what his name was.  We posted queries at every place we could think of and we received a note from another researcher one day that gave us his name – from a marriage record no less.  His name was Moses Johnson and he married Nancy Mayfield on 6 May 1816 in Granville Co., NC.
One day I started looking through one of those World Family Tree CD’s and found a listing in there for a Washington Abraham Johnson who was my great great grandfather.  I looked further and noticed that the researcher didn’t have Moses’ name either –but he certainly had a wealth of information about the children of Washington Abraham Johnson.  I started to compare notes and noticed that this was a researcher who had paid careful attention to dates and locations.  This wasn’t something that was all that common on these World Family Tree CD’s.  Many times there were girls who had had 5 children by the age of 12 and several more after the age of 50.  You could tell that these genealogies were not examined very carefully and that someone was adding a name even if only one item out of four matched the puzzle.  I decided that I would contact this researcher.  I picked up the phone and made a long distance phone call and dialed the number I found as a reference.  Back then, long distance actually meant something! My cousin Lowell picked up the phone and I experienced one of the greatest joys of genealogy – meeting a cousin and making a great friend.
One of the first things that I asked Lowell is if he knew who “Unknown” Johnson was?  He replied that he had no idea…so I was able to make him acquainted with Moses Johnson.  During a series of letters and phone calls – our family got to know Lowell and his lovely wife, Bonnie.  I was excited to find a cousin of my fathers who was actually the same age as he – in fact, Lowell was three weeks older.  Within a year or so, we were making plans on traveling back to North Dakota to meet our cousin.  We found pictures that proved that it wasn’t my father and Lowell’s first meeting.  There was a photo of their mothers holding each of them for the camera when they were babies. 
Grace Carlson Johnson holding Lowell & Marian Gage Johnson holding Eugene.

The 3 Franks - Frank Stewart Johnson, Frank Washington Johnson & their uncle, Frank Smith Johnson.

We got the chance to meet Lowell and Bonnie in North Dakota on that day a long time ago.  My father and Lowell were able to trade stories and were share stories about their shared heritage.  My Grandpa Frank had a cousin also named Frank – and that was Lowell’s father.  Both of the Franks were named for their uncle Frank.  Lowell’s grandfather was Washington Andrew Johnson and Dad’s grandfather was Ulpian Grey Johnson and they were both the sons of Washington Abraham Johnson and Mary Ann Smith and grandsons of Moses Johnson and Nancy Mayfield. 

There is a lesson in my story…don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t be afraid to contact that researcher who might be connected.  You never know what you’ll find and if you are lucky – you will find a cousin as well as a friendship as we did with Lowell and his lovely wife, Bonnie!

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