Since it is President’s Day weekend coming up, I thought I would talk about my relationship with one particular President, Andrew Johnson. Andrew Johnson was born in North Carolina to Jacob Johnson and Mary McDonough and moved to Tennessee as a young man where he married Eliza McCardle. He became Abraham Lincoln’s Vice President in the 1864 election and after Lincoln’s assassination, he became President. He also became the first President to be impeached. President Johnson was definitely not one of our more successful Presidents. However, the story how we proved our connection to him is rather interesting.
We had had circumstantial proof of the relationship for several years. Around 2001, I received an article published by Hugh B. Johnston which quoted a letter written by Henderson Johnson, my great great grandfather’s older brother. The letter mentions all of the family members and is addressed to Cousin Andrew. Not too long after that, I got an actual copy of the letter from a descendant of Henderson Johnson. Fast forward to 2009…I was contacted by the Johnson DNA group wanting to know if I knew of anyone who could be tested as a direct male relative of President Andrew Johnson. When DNA is researched on a specific family line, you need a direct male line to test. There is no direct male line that traces back to Andrew Johnson. He had sons, but only his daughters had children. So, therefore the Y-DNA test wouldn’t work on a direct descendant of Andrew Johnson. However, it would work if someone could find a descendant of Andrew’s brother, William Patterson Johnson or through a descendant of one of his father’s brothers. I offered up my father as someone who was descended from Moses Johnson, a younger brother of Jacob Johnson. I was questioned if I had any documentation. I offered up a copy of the letter and the research including census records that record members of the family up until my grandfather’s lifetime. While I agreed that the connection was circumstantial, it was pretty convincing. Now someone might have been offended that their research was being questioned…I was not. Mostly because I already had the research to back it up and I was well aware of how many people claimed to be related to someone famous and had nothing to back it up.
After some thought, they decided to test my Dad for free. His DNA test would be the one they could use to test a connection to Andrew Johnson. They still wanted to get someone tested who was descended from William Patterson Johnson, Andrew’s brother. They asked me if I could help and I said that I would do what I could. Soon after they sent me some information that they found that listed the children of William Patterson Johnson. I thought that the information looked very familiar and then looked at the source of the information and found my own website listed as the source. I personally found this incredible funny…to have my own research sent back to me as a source.
With a bit of work and luck – we did eventually find that descendant of William Patterson Johnson and he was also tested. He and my father’s tests matched and provided us with a scientific confirmation of the relationship. Along the way, a descendant of Silvanus Johnson was tested. It was always thought that Andrew Johnson was possibly descended from Silvanus and this was a line that was in most genealogies or histories about Andrew Johnson. Unfortunately for us…DNA told us that there is no connection. So, here we are with a line that probably only traces back to a William Johnson who was probably the father of both Jacob Johnson and my great great great grandfather Moses Johnson as well as a few other brothers. As of right now, we can’t take it any further but there are some tantalizing DNA similarities with some other Johnson lines that might lead us further back. DNA research in our circumstances has proven a valuable tool. It has confirmed the lines from William Johnson down and dismissed the line going back. Who knows what we will ever find? Andrew Johnson’s family was not wealthy and there isn’t a wealth of data to search on that will give us many answers. You might say the paper trail is cold. Perhaps science will provide us more answers as we learn more about DNA results.