Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Ulpian Grey Johnson

One of the strangest names that I have come across during my genealogy research is that of Ulpian.  I had never taken the time to look up where the name actually came from.  In today’s availability of instant information, I took the time to do a quick search.  It turns out that Ulpian was jurist or lawyer who was born about 170 AD and died in 228.  He was from Tyrian ancestry which meant that he was from a city that is in modern day Lebanon but was considered a Roman by nationality.  Evidently he was a rather important early scholarly writer whose work was predominant in Roman law.  So, how did my great great grandparents decide to name their 8th son, Ulpian – I really don’t know…but it certainly leads me to believe they might have had more education than I originally thought.

Ulpian Johnson as a young man.
Ulpian Grey Johnson was born on 17 Nov 1869 in Kirkman, Shelby Co., IA and died on 22 Oct 1944 in Dickinson, Stark Co., ND.  His parents, Washington Abraham Johnson and Mary Ann Smith had married in Jefferson Co., TN on 21 Aug 1855.  Sometime between June of 1861 and October of 1863, they left Tennessee and went to Iowa.  The story that has been told to me is that they left in the middle of the night in 1862 and headed north to stay with Washington’s brother in Jasper Co., Iowa.  They soon left Jasper Co., Iowa and were soon living in Shelby Co., Iowa.  I suspect that Washington didn’t want to get involved in the Civil War and because his cousin (Pres. Andrew Johnson) was the military governor, his family was most likely not too popular amongst Confederate sympathizers.  So Ulpian is born in Kirkman, Shelby Co., Iowa which is where his parents settled and lived out the rest of their long lives.  At some point, after 1900, Ulpian traveled north to live in North Dakota.  He was involved in the railroads as were many young men of the day, and North Dakota had to be an attractive location to travel to because land was available.  At some point in his life, Ulpian injured his arm while working the railroads and it became quite useless.  At the age of 40, Ulpian married a widow, Shirlie Louisa Pope White, on 27 Apr 1909 in Washburn, McLean Co., ND.  She had two small boys and had lost her first husband as the result of a prairie fire. 
Ulpian - Probably around the time of his marriage in 1909
They applied for land and are recorded in the Bureau of Land Management records as having land in Shirlie Johnson’s name in Dunn Co., ND and are recorded there in the 1910 census.  I have been unable to locate them in the 1920 census and suspect that they were never counted.  My father was told by his father that much of his younger years was spent on what they called the Missouri river breaks.  However, after 1920, they began working on a damn near that area, and Ulpian and his family probably moved nearer to town.

Ulpian and Shirley were the parents of five children:
  • Mary Ann Johnson b. 1910 d. 1975
  • Nancy “Nannie” Mae Johnson b. 1912 d. 2000
  • Frank Stewart Johnson b. 1914 d. 1975
  • Hazel b. 1919 d. 1919
  • Audrey Ruth Johnson b. 1923 d. 1999

Probably taken around 1927 after Shirlie's death.
Left to Right:  Nan, Mary, Ulpian, Frank and Audrey in the front
On my best guess…from what I have been told, Ulpian was not a particularly strong individual either mentally or physically.  He was very small in stature…probably around 5’3 and had a useless arm.  He was probably one of those type of men who was old before his time.  He married for the first time at the age of 40 and when his wife died in 1927 of pneumonia…Ulpian fell apart.  He wasn’t able to really care for his children or provide for them, so it was up to his two most able children to do that.  My grandfather, Frank, quit school and went to work to support his family and his sister, Nancy did the same thing.  My grandmother told me that when she met Ulpian, when he was an old man, he still couldn’t talk about his wife.  When he was asked, he would begin crying and wouldn’t be able to talk.  My grandmother thought he was a kind but very sad old man.
I’ve heard others refer to Ulpian as George, and I believe that was what he was generally called.  I was told by a cousin, that she referred to him as Uncle Ulp – but I wonder if anyone every really called him Ulpian other than his parents and perhaps his wife.  I have a several photos of him…some when he was young and looked vibrant, but many more when he was an old man.  When my grandparents married, they went back to North Dakota because Grandpa Frank’s father was still living there.  It must have been a very hard thing to face for a young bride as my grandmother was.  I don’t think those early years were easy for my grandparents.  I’ve heard that my grandfather worked up to four jobs to try and support his growing young family, handicapped sister and elderly father.  The only work that Ulpian had done as far as I know after his accident, was repair tack.  Finally in 1943, my grandmother decided to go home and visit her family.  It was soon discovered that there were plenty of jobs back in Idaho while there were virtually none in North Dakota.  So, the decision was made to move to Idaho.  My grandfather tried to convince his father to move with them, but he refused.  So Ulpian stayed in North Dakota and soon ended up in the poor house with his handicapped daughter, Mary.  Ulpian died there less than a year after my grandparents had left North Dakota.

Taken in 1940 - Ulpian pictured with my father, Gene Johnson
Most of what I know about Ulpian, comes from my father and grandmother and only my grandmother actually knew him.  From what she told me…Ulpian was a broken man after his wife (Shirlie) died and was never the same.  It is hard for me to have a great deal of respect for him, because I know what my grandfather and his sister had to do to support their family.  It has never seemed quite fair to me that their father sacrificed their education and lives because of his grief, and in the end…he died a lonely broken old man still buried in the grief of losing his wife.