James Johnson

I have the misfortune of having Johnsons / Johnstons on both my mother and my father’s side of the family tree. There is Sarah Jane Johnson on my father’s paternal side, the second wife of Martin McGraw Jr. Then there is James Johnson/Johnston in my mother’s paternal family. Perhaps there is a link between the two but I’ve yet to discover it.

The surnames – Johnston and Johnson – appear synonymously in the records making it all the more difficult to discern the actual individual. And once you get beyond 1830 or so, it becomes even more difficult to trace a person when there are inevitably others in the area bearing the same name. As of this writing, here is what I know and a little of what I think I know about James Johnston/Johnson:

From the calculations of his age – and those of his offspring – in the 1850 to 1880 Censuses, he appears to have been born about 1815. His daughter Louisa Johnson was born about 1843. She being my 2nd-Great Grandmother, her father’s name appears on her death record. Louisa was raised by James’ second wife, Mary Ann Lanham, whom James married on 19 December 1847 in Kanawha County.

How do I know Mary Ann Lanham is James’ second wife?

  1. The first reason is because Louisa Johnson had an older sister named Sarah E. Johnson, born about 1841;
  2. In the 1850 Census of Putnam County, we find that Mary Ann Lanham is 21 years old. Sarah E. is 11 years old. If you subtract 11 from 21, you get 10: Mary Ann Lanham would have had to given birth to Sarah E. at the age of 10 in order to be her mother.
  3. In the 1860 Census, Mary Ann Lanham is 31 years old. Louisa is aged 17. Subtract 17 from 31 and you get 14: Mary Ann Lanham would have to have been 14 years old at the time of Louisa’s birth in order to be her mother.

That said, I feel certain that James Johnson was married previously to the mother of Sarah E and Louisa but I’ve no idea who she might have been.  There is a marriage record of “a” James Johnston to Sarah Kelly in Kanawha County on 1 June 1843 which presents two possibilities: (a) These are not my ancestors, or (b) the couple lived together and after having two children together decided to get married before another was born. DNA Matches in this regard has been of no use so far.

Kanawha Co WV Marriages, James Johnston/Johnson

Why did the marriages take place in Kanawha County but the Censuses show James and the family residing in Putnam County 1850 and forward? Because Putnam County was formed from a large swath of Kanawha in 1848. So the location in which they lived started out as Kanawha, ended up as Putnam.

The 1850 Putnam Census gives us the following names:

  • James Johnston, 35, Cooper
  • Mary A, 21, assumed wife
  • Sarah E, 11, (f) assumed daughter of James Johnston
  • Zachariah, 1, (m) assumed son of James and Mary Ann
  • Milana J. Lanham, 19, (f) assumed sister of Mary Ann
  • Levine (Lanham), 53 (m), Farmer, assumed father of Mary Ann and Milana *note that ancestry gives the surname Harman for Milana and Levine but what sense does that make?

1850 Putnam Census for James Johnston

Also note the absence of daughter Louisa from this Census. I’ve searched for her high and low with no luck at all. I do know that she is older than her half-brother Zachariah.

To make matters even more confusing is the 1860 Putnam Census in which we find evidence of Louisa (“L”) Johnson, aged 17, and brother Zachariah (enumerated at “Y” Johnson) now 11 years old with no sign whatsoever of Sarah E.

1860 Putnam Census James Johnson
The penmanship of the enumerator stinks, frankly. But at the top of this page (not pictured) is the household of my direct ancestor, Andrew Phalen.

So how do I know there truly was a Sarah E. Johnson? Because in 1865 Putnam County, Louisa Johnson, my 2nd-Great Grandmother, married William H. Harmon. If you jump over to the 1870 Putnam Census and look up William H. Harmon, you find the following individuals in the household:

  • William H. Harmon, 24, Male, Farm Labor
  • Louisa Harmon, 27, Female, Keeping House
  • James W. Harmon, 4, Male
  • Sarah E. Johnson, 29, Female, “at home” – assumed spinster sister of none other than Louisa Johnson Harmon. I use the term “spinster” with some accuracy as I’ll reveal in a separate post.

1870 Putnam Census, William H. Harmon, Louisa

Bottom line: Louisa Johnson Harmon indeed had an older sister, both of whom had an unknown mother.

Having searched vital records (BDM) at the state and the censuses, I have established the following children of James A. Johnson/Johnston.

  • First unknown wife:
    • Sarah E. Johnson, 1841-1933, never married
    • Louisa Johnson, 1843-1923, m. William H. Harmon
  • Mary Ann Lanham, second wife:
    • Zachariah Johnson, 1849-1910 (2 wives)
    • Sydney Jane Johnson, 1851-, m. William Attison Melton
    • Charles H. Johnson, 1852
    • Loving (or Levine) Nicholas Johnson, 1857, m. Josephine Sovine
    • Samuel A. Johnson, 1859, m. Louie Agnes Meadows
    • Margarett F. Johnson, 1861,
    • James R. Johnson, 1864,
    • Frank Johnson, 1867
    • George W. Johnson, 1869
    • Hettie Belle Johnson, 1871

As you can see, I’ve more work to do on tracing several of the children, their marriages, and their dates of birth and death. As to the paternity of James Johnson, I have found some information showing his father may have been John Johnson but until I’ve had a chance to dig further, I cannot say this is accurate beyond a reasonable doubt.