Sarah E. Johnson

As promised earlier, I write this post to reveal how or why I know that Sarah E. Johnson was a spinster.

As stated in my post about her father, James Johnson, I’ve yet no way of knowing who Sarah’s mother was. I’ve speculated that perhaps she was Sarah Kelly, the wife of a man named James Johnson or Johnston in the marriage records of Kanawha County, but I’ve no way of knowing whether, in fact, this James Johnson is my ancestor, and no way of discerning whether Sarah Kelly was her mother.

Sarah E. Johnson was born about 1841. Because her father is located in Kanawha County – and where the father is, the mother is likely to be – I’ve listed her birth location as Kanawha County. The area was not Putnam County until 1848 and, if birth records were kept in 1841 (which they were not), one would have to go to Kanawha County for a copy of those records.

Also as stated previously, I was able to identify that Sarah E. Johnson was indeed an older sister of Louisa Johnson Harmon as shown in the 1870 Census, in the household of William H. Harmon.

But when we get to the 1880 Census, we find Sarah E. Johnson in a household in the Scott District with 5 children:

  •  S. E. Johnson, 35, F, “Widowed” keeping house – Head of Household
  • Joseph C. , 11, M, son
  • John F., 6, M, son * this is John Franklin
  • Jestena, 4, F, daughter
  • James R., 3, M, son
  • William L. , 4 months old, born Jan

1880 Census Putnam County, Sarah E Johnson

By the way, this particular listing was enumerated in 8 June 1880 lending credence to William L. being 4 months old.

Trust me when I say I’ve scoured the vital records at the State searching for birth records for each of the above-named individuals with no results.  Nor is there a record of a Sarah E. Johnson or any female surnamed Johnson that could remotely be Sarah. What frustrated me most is that there is no 1890 Census so I am left with no clue as to what became of the children other than John F. who I came to realize went by his middle name: Frank.

In the 1900 Census, “F. John Johnson” now aged 25 is still living at home with Sarah E., now aged 55. But that would make “Jestena” roughly 24 years old; James R. about 23; and William L. about 20. Why can I not locate marriage records for any of them? Or census records for the males, at least?

I kept tracking Sarah E. Johnson, and with her Frank, aged 37 in the 1910 Census, going by just “Frank” at this time, living at home with his mother, still in the Scott District of Putnam County. By 1920, they are apparently living in the same location only its better defined in the census as “Bill’s Creek Road.” I know where this is because I have a cousin who lives there.

Last, we get to the 1930 Census, mother and son still living in the Scott District. J. Franklin Johnson is now 57 years old. Sarah E. Johnson is listed as 94 years old, making her birth year 1836 which we know can’t be true since the previous censuses gave her estimated birth year as 1845. The information given for Sarah is “married, homemaker, mother of the head of household (John Franklin), never attended school but able to read and write.

Sadly, we learn what we need to know about Sarah from her death record. She died on 3 April 1933 at Scary Creek, Putnam County. I suppose Frank had come home from work and found his mother had hanged herself in his absence. Her death was ruled Suicide by hanging.

And her father’s name on the death record? J. A. Johnson, born West Virginia. Mother unknown.

The record is on file as follows:


I’m going out on a limb to state that its possible that the children listed in the 1880 Census may have been taken from her or were given up to a nearby children’s home after which they were adopted out by various families. It explains why I’ve been unable to locate records for none but John Franklin, the one that lived with his mother until the end. Sadly, his death record provides the following:

“Born 13 Sept 1872, Scary Creek, WV. Died 3 Feb 1959 at Robertsburg, Putnam County, WV. Buried 4 Feb 1959 at Winfield at the Community Church Cemetery, aged 86 years, 4 months, 19 days. White, single, male,” and only his mother’s name is provided: “Sarah Johnson.”

Sarah E. was born a Johnson, gave birth to at least 5 children surnamed Johnson, and died a Johnson. There are no records indicating that she married the father or fathers of her 5 kids. From this, you are welcome to draw your own conclusions. Please know that I am the first to say I could be entirely wrong about my assumptions here.