Wednesday, July 24, 2013

I love unusual names!

One of the joys of genealogical research is discovering that your line includes some unusual surnames. It's a real challenge trying to do research on a name like "Johnson," but occasionally one taps into a line in America whose surname is so unusual that almost anybody in America who has that surname is likely a descendant of a common ancestor. Probably my most unusual family name is "Alfont"--my paternal grandmother's paternal grandmother was Mary Alfont. As I've researched this unusual name, it has pretty much been true that virtually anyone named "Alfont" or "Alfonte" are descendants of Mary's father, William Alfont. (The final "e" shows up in some branches, but most of them seem to omit it.) William Alfont settled in Madison co. IN in the 1830s, and there was a little village named for him. Alfont, IN doesn't really exist as much more than a street anymore, though it made the news as recently as 1924 when there was a train accident there. But here's what I've learned about William Alfont, my 3rd-great-grandfather, and his background:

Summary on William Alfont
            William Alfont, my third-great-grandfather, is said to have been the son of John Alfont. Family tradition passed along to me by Harold Alfont says of John that he “was born in an old castle in France, but when he was but a boy, he ran away from home and became a sailor. He visited countries in all parts of the world, and while he was in Australia, he met Frances Davis, who later became his wife . . . [They] had one child, William. The mother died soon after the birth of the son. John never remarried. He made his home in Philadelphia where he lived until his death in 1833.” Other family members have expressed the belief that John Alfont was of Walloon descent. (The Walloons were a French-speaking people who lived in what is today Belgium.)
            The following records appear to belong to John:
(1)           Cecil co. MD records the marriage of John Alfond and Mary Davey on 18 Jan. 1798 by [Jeremiah] Cosden, an Anglican clergyman who served St. Augustine and North Sassafras parish 1794-1801. It is unclear whether this record shows that Cosden actually performed the marriage, or was simply the one who officially recorded it; in this period in Maryland apparently the local Anglican clergyman had the responsibility of officially recording marriages. This record is not a church record, but a record of marriages in Cecil co. The parish, however, was in the southern part of Cecil co., near Chesapeake City. The record is found in a DAR compilation, and it places a question mark after “Davey.” I have inspected the original record at the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis, and it quite clearly says “Davey”; perhaps the question mark reflects the transcriber’s suspicion that this may have been an error, since the name Davey doesn’t seem to appear elsewhere in Cecil co. records during this period while the name “Davis” is relatively common.
(2)           John Alfont appears in the 1800 census of Cecil co. MD (p. 28), showing him between ages of 26 and 45 (thus b. ca. 1754/1774). A woman apparently his wife is listed, age 16/26 (b. ca. 1773/1784), as well as a young boy under 10. William Alfont’s tombstone gives his birthdate as 26 Mar. 1799—so this boy in the census is likely he. There is also an older woman listed, over 45 (b. before 1755).
(3)           A transcription of the baptismal register of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Philadelphia, which was published in 1908 in the Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, records the baptism of William Alfont on 3 Nov. 1805, “born in Maryland, Mar. 22, 1799, of John Alfont and his wife Mary Davis, Catholics; sponsors—James and Margaret Enue [Eneu?].” This is certainly the same couple married in Cecil co. in 1798, and the child is certainly our William Alfont (despite the four day discrepancy in his birth date).
No further public records of John Alfont have been found (though there is a John Alphin in the 1810 census for Fredericksville, Albemarle co. VA, over 45, wife same age, a boy 10-16, and a young woman 16-26). The name itself is quite unusual, and it is also worth noting that the records of First Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of Philadelphia include reference to a Rebecca Allefont who died 13 July 1806, aged 10 months 3 weeks. No further information is given.
            William Alfont is said to have married Elizabeth Freeburn in Philadelphia about 1818. No record of this marriage has been found. Philadelphia co. did not keep records that early, but various church registers are extant, and no marriage has been found for this couple.
William appears in the 1820 census of Philadelphia, in Blockley twp. His age is listed as 16-26, with a wife in the same age group (i.e., b. ca. 1793-1804), and one son under 10.
The Franklin Gazette in Philadelphia published a “List of letters remaining in the Philadelphia Post-Office October 15, 1820” on 17 Oct 1820 and 19 Oct 1820, and on the list is Wm. Alfont.
Land records for Philadelphia co. show that William Alfont, carpenter, was sold a lot on the south side of James St., village of Hamilton, Blakeley twp., by Silas Evans for $125 on 21 Jan. 1826. A second deed is recorded in which Thomas Davis and Hester/Esther his wife sold William Alfont, sawyer, a lot in the same village and township on the south side of Social Street, 14 July 1830. This second transaction was actually the north half of four different lots (cost $187.50); the south half of the same lots conveyed at the same time to Philip Hardin (about whom more below).
William appears on p. 34 of the 1830 census of Blockley twp., age 30/40, wife age 20/30,), and three children, a boy 10/15, a boy 5/10, and a girl under 5. There is also an older man in the household (age 50/60). This may be William’s father, or, perhaps more likely, Elizabeth’s father, Robert Freeburn; there is a definite statement in a biographical sketch of her nephew that Robert Freeburn lived in Philadelphia with Elizabeth and her family in his old age.
A history of Madison co. IN contains a sketch of one Philip Hardin, who, it is said, was married to Mary Alfonte. The Hardin family was obviously connected to the Alfont family, but; it seems clear that Philip Hardin’s wife was Mary Freeburn, a sister to Elizabeth Freeburn rather than to William Alfont.
A newspaper biography of Elizabeth (Freeburn) Alfont states that the family came to Indiana in the fall of 1834. This is confirmed by land transactions in Philadelphia at that time. Alfont conveyed the land originally purchased from Thomas Davis to Philip Hardin (which land adjoined Hardin’s own property) for $400 on 21 Apr. 1834; he conveyed his other property on James St. to Lucretia Larazin on 26 Aug. 1834 for $600. The latter deed mentions that this property included a two story “message or tenement.” These deeds suggest that Alfont had done well with his real estate investment in Philadelphia co., and that he left the county soon after the latter conveyance was made. Note that this is just a year after the supposed date of John Alfont’s death.
William then purchased land in Madison co. IN in Oct. 1834 (90 acres) and Aug. 1835 (78 acres) from Alexander Jordon and Conrod Crosley respectively. The earlier deed refers to him as “William Alfont of Philadelphia.” From this time on, William and Elizabeth appear consistently in Madison co. IN.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Johnson family history

When I first began asking questions about my ancestry, my great-aunt Elma Craig wrote to her cousin, Beatrice Thomas (Mrs. E, W.). There were three Johnson brothers who came to California as children with their uncle; my great-grandfather, Alfred, was the youngest; Beatrice's father was the middle brother Columbus. The following is a copy of what Beatrice's husband sent to Elma, with parenthetical notes by me offering additions and corrections.

Johnson History

[The following is a transcription of a document sent to Elma (Johnson) Craig by Elmer W. Thomas, husband of Beatrice Johnson, in 1963. The document concerns the family background of three brothers, William B. Johnson, Columbus J. Johnson, and Alfred J. Johnson, who were orphaned after the Civil War and were brought to California by an uncle. Beatrice was the daughter of Columbus J. Johnson, and a first cousin of Elma Craig (daughter of Alfred J. Johnson). It reports two different “versions” of the history of the Johnson family, one supposedly related to the Thomases by another cousin, Alfred Johnson ( son of William B. Johnson); and the other apparently compiled from written notes made by Beatrice Thomas’s sister, Ila, based on conversations with their father, Columbus, prior to his death in 1936. Bracketed notes are by Richard O. Johnson, based on many years of research into this family.]

Unfortunately, we also failed to get much history concerning the Johnsons while Columbus was alive. However, I doubt that any of the boys knew very much about their ancestry due to the troubled times of the civil war and their extreme youth. We do have a pretty clear record of their activities after arrival in California which we presume you also have.
In 1947 we called on cousin Alfred Johnson and his wife Carrie from whom we obtained some information as passed down from Uncle Willie Johnson. Also we have a memo written by our late sister Ila covering certain facts obtained from Columbus. In these two accounts which we will record for you, there is one discrepancy as follows: Columbus told Ila that an uncle, William Johnson, brought the three boys to California, but Willie told cousin Alfred that an Uncle Bill Elliott brought them to California. We don’t know which is correct. [There can be no question that it was William Johnson (William Taylor Barry Johnson) who brought the boys to California; the story of this trip is handed down among his descendants, as well, and the boys were living in his household in Merced co. in 1870. The boys did have an uncle William T. C. “Rough” Elliott, brother of their mother, who was also an early California settler and who was known to them. Certainly William B. Johnson was not mistaken about who brought him to California; he was the oldest of the three boys and the one who probably knew the most about their history. No doubt in later years his youngest child Alfred conflated what he had heard about the two uncles. The uncle William Johnson was dead before Alfred was born, while the uncle William Elliott lived several years longer and was probably better known by Alfred, at least by reputation. In a letter to me dated 1 May 1997, Frank H. Johnson, a grandson of W. T. B. Johnson, wrote as follows: “Rough Elliott did go to Cal. Before Civil War. He came back to Arkansas after his sister, Mrs. John Johnson, had died but never came to see the 3 boys. He was appointed their Guardian & sold everything & left, before Capt. Billy Johnson arrived in Ark. This was what my grandmother Johnson told me.” I have not found anything to document this claim, but it is certainly a possible explanation for the confusion.] Here are the two brief accounts of record: (Cousin Alfred’s version)—Bill (Rough) Elliott, an uncle, came to Calif. during the Civil war. [Both William Johnson and William Elliott came to Calif. first in 1849 or 1850, well before the Civil War began.] As soon as the war ended, he returned to Arkansas to see his sister, Mrs. John Johnson, and found that she had just died leaving three orphan children. He had himself appointed administrator of the estate, and guardian of the three children. He sold the plantation and grist mill and moved to Calif. with the children. He was captain of the wagon train overland to Calif. [So far this is a reasonably accurate description of William Johnson, except for the relationship to Mrs. John Johnson.” Apparently William Johnson’s trip to Arkansas was not happenstance; he had been notified of the death of his brother and his wife, and returned for the express purpose of taking charge of his young nephews.] He was a big man with a hot temper and inclined to take the law into his own hands. Family legend states that he killed a man in Arkansas before coming West. At one time in Calif. he organized a posse and captured a band of bandits. [This is definitely W. T. C. Elliott, who was a principal in the famous lynching of Lucky Bill Thorrington in the Carson Valley of Nevada; Elliott some years later killed a man named John White and was sentenced to death, though a series of legal maneuvers led to his eventually being set free. There was some question as to whether the killing was in self-defense.] He was so mean that the children left home as soon as they were able to get jobs and care for themselves. Bill Elliott never gave the children any money and never made any accounting of the estate. Willie was the first to leave, and went to work for a cousin, Billy Wilson. Soon after that Bill Elliott whipped Alfred unjustly—so hard that Columbus crept out in the night, took a horse and went to see Willie about getting them away from Bill Elliott. In a short time, both Columbus and Alfred left and went to work for Billie Wilson. (Carrie Johnson [widow of the Alfred J. Johnson who was the son of William B. Johnson] might be able to give you more information as she is quite a historian. In case you do not have her address, it is Rt. 4, Box 17, Hood River, Oregon.) [This generally agrees with the story told by Alfred. The cousin Billy Wilson was the son of William and John Johnson’s sister, Nancy (Johnson) Wilson; she and her husband apparently died leaving two children, who were raised by their grandparents and brought to California in 1852 by William Johnson.]
The following is an exact copy of notes taken by Ila Johnson as told by Columbus: The three boys were all born in Franklin County, Arkansas and in 1862 the family moved to a plantation in Crawford County, near Little Rock, Arkansas, where they remained until they were brought to California. [Basically correct, except that Crawford County is adjacent to Franklin County, and nowhere near Little Rock.] The father, John S. Johnson (middle name not mentioned), served in the Confederate army and died in Texas on the Red River, May 11, 1865. He was born Sept. 3, 1826. [There is uncertainty about the middle name; a biographical sketch of W. B. Johnson in An Ilustrated History of Baker, Grant, Malheur, and Harney Counties, Oregon (Western Historical Publishing Co., 1902) gives the initial as “L,” and tax records in Crawford co. AR seem to confirm that, with an 1865 listing for the estate of John L. Johnson and a subsequent listing for Mrs. Jane Johnson, same parcel; but on the other hand is quite possible John was named for his maternal grandfather, John Sanford.] The mother, Frances Jane Elliott, was born April 8, 1833 and died Feb. 27, 1868. The three boys lived with a neighbor, Mr. Dyer, until 1869 when an uncle, William Johnson, came from California and got the boys in March and came across the plains to California by oxteam. [“Mr. Dyer” was Joel Dyer; the story in the family of W. T. B. Johnson, told to me in the 1970’s by his granddaughter Marguerite Stanley, is that it was actually Dyer’s daughter, Caroline, who cared for the boys and contacted Johnson. W. T. B. Johnson married Caroline Dyer while he was in Arkansas and brought her back to California with him.]
The father, John Johnson’s business was farming and operating a grist mill. Jane Elliott’s grandfather’s name was Booker. His business was shoemaking, operating a tannery, and cotton farming. Jane Elliott’s father was a cotton farmer. In 1849 John Johnson’s father moved to Calif. and settled near San Bernardino. (We find no mention of John Johnson’s father’s first name but wonder if perhaps it was also John.) [His father was Alfred M. Johnson; he came to California in 1852 and settled at El Monte, but after his death in 1855 his widow Huldah and most of the family moved to San Bernardino.] Bill Johnson and Frank Johnson were brothers of John Johnson and all moved to California during the gold rush in 1849. [While Bill Johnson apparently first came in 1849, Frank, the youngest son, came in 1852 with his parents at the age of 8.] There were 21 children in all in that family, most of whom were not known to Columbus. [Ten children are known to have lived to maturity; census records indicate there were at least a couple of others who possibly died young. If there were in fact 21 children, many of them must have died in infancy.] John Johnson was probably one of the younger children. [Actually he was one of the older children--probably number four.] Columbus mentioned only four sisters of his father, a Huldah James, Mrs. Wilson, Mrs. Merrill, and a Mrs. Russell. All of these raised their families in California. [Hes on the right track here, but again these aunts have been conflated. The women he mentions are really as follows: Nancy (Johnson) Wilson, the oldest sister who apparently died in Missouri or Arkansas, mother of Billy Wilson; Margaret (Johnson) James, who raised her family in San Bernardino; Lucy (Johnson) Russell, who died after the birth of her only son; Huldah (Johnson) Pearl, who lived in San Bernardino; and Susan (Wilson) Merrill, actually not an aunt but a cousin, though much older than Columbus. Nancy Wilson, Lucy Russell, and Susan Merrill were all dead before Columbus and his brothers came to California, so he never knew them personally.] One sister, a Mrs. Raglyn, lived and died in the East. [This woman has not been identified. There is some indication that Frances Jane Elliott may have had a sister who married a Ragsdale; a young woman by that name is listed in the household of her mother, Elizabeth (Booker) Elliott, possibly a granddaughter of Elizabeth.] The grandmother Johnson (your great-grandmother), the mother of 2l children, lived to the age of 98. [She was actually 75 years old when she died.] Billy Wilson’s mother was a sister of John Johnson.
Both John Johnson and Jane Elliott were probably born, and spent their entire lives, in the same area, in the vicinity of Little Rock, Arkansas. They were married Dec. 11, 1851. [John was born in Missouri and came to Arkansas in his late teens; Frances Jane was born in Tennessee and came to Arkansas as a young child. They lived near each other in Crawford and Franklin counties, again nowhere near Little Rock. The marriage date is correct; it took place in Franklin co. AR and is recorded there.]
The Johnsons were tall, slender people of Scotch ancestry. The Elliotts were shorter and stouter, of sandy or reddish complexion, of Welsh ancestry. William, Columbus and Alfred had a younger brother, Cyrus, who died at the age of 4 during the civil war. Cyrus was a family name on the fathers side. [There is no other evidence for this fourth son, but no reason to doubt it. Cyrus was a family name in the Sanford family. It seems somewhat more likely that Cyrus was between Columbus and Alfred in birth order (which would place the boys all two years apart).]
John Johnson served three years in the Rebellion. Grandmother Elliott (your great-grandmother Elliott) died in 1863 and is buried on her father’s plantation (which would be the old Booker plantation). There is no record of Jane Elliotts fathers name or when he died, but he must have died young. [Probably correct. Elizabeth Elliott “of Crawford County, Arkansas” was granted a federal land patent in 1843 for land in Franklin co., and is listed in the Franklin co. AR census for 1840, 1850 and 1860. (Franklin was formed from Crawford co. in 1837.)]
The three boys started across the plains to California March 15, 1869 with a wagon train of 47 wagons and between 200 and 300 people. They landed in Stockton October 7, 1870 [Thomas notes in a footnote that this must have been 1869], rested a few days then moved on to Merced County, making 7 months for the trip.
The above compiled from scattered memos March 12, 1963 in San Jose, California.
E. W. Thomas

Monday, July 15, 2013

A tale of two uncles

When I first became interested in family history (at the age of 13!), one of the first stories I heard was that of my great-grandfather, Alfred John Johnson. I was fascinated by him because I can actually remember him (I was 7 when he died). The story was that he was the youngest of three brothers who had been left orphaned in Arkansas after the civil war. Their father had not come home from the war, and their mother died soon thereafter. They were brought by an uncle to California. The uncle treated them cruelly, and so they essentially ran away from home and became cowboys and later ranchers in Modoc county. That was about the extent of the story as far as my grandfather remembered it. He wasn’t sure of the uncle’s name, or even if it was a paternal or maternal uncle.

One time when my great-grandfather was visiting my grandparents, who lived in Susanville, my grandmother got him a history of Lassen county from the library to read since he was interested in the old West. There was a prominent character in the history named W T. C. Elliott, known as “Rough” Elliott. My great-grandfather said, “Well, that’s my uncle—my mother’s brother.” He proceeded to tell a story about how he and his brothers had heard that this uncle had been arrested for murder down in Bishop, CA; that he, being the youngest of the brothers, was the one deputized to ride horseback from Modoc county down to bishop to see if he could help; that when he got there, he found his uncle had been exonerated and released, and he didn’t know where he had gone. My grandfather said he thought Grandpa Johnson would have mentioned if that was the uncle who had brought him to California, so he thought it probably wasn’t.

My grandfather had a cousin who he thought might know more. Unfortunately my grandmother didn’t get along with this cousin, so they got my grandfather’s sister, who did get along with the cousin, to write and ask. The response came back that it was actually the boys’ father’s brother, William Johnson, who had brought them to California. The cousin provided a bit more information—the uncle lived around Merced. So this set me off on an effort to find out more.

I went to the 1870 census of Merced county, and there I found them—the uncle, W. T. B. Johnson; his wife and some children; and the three brothers. So now I knew I was on the right track. I discovered that William Johnson was quite a prominent early settler in the area, in the town of Plainsburg. I found a photograph of him in a historical library in Stockton, CA:

I eventually learned that he had actually made three trips to California—the first in 1849, during the gold rush; then he went back to Arkansas and brought his father and several of his siblings out in 1852; then he went back to collect these three nephews after their parents died in 1869. I learned also that while he had settled in Merced, when he brought his parents and family out in 1852 they had settled in San Bernardino. So I wrote to the historical society there, inquiring about any information they might have. Very shortly I received a letter from an 84-year-old woman named Marguerite Stanley. She was, she said, the granddaughter of William T. Barry Johnson, and the woman at this historical society had given her my letter. She knew that her grandfather had brought these three orphaned boys to California—and she figured I must be the son or grandson of one of them.

So we had a great time swapping stories. The version of the story from her side of the family was rather different. Remember from my side the uncle had been cruel and the boys had run away from him as soon as they could. But Marguerite’s story was that her grandmother had always spoken of these three boys whom she had taken in in response to their mother’s dying request. She had then contacted the uncle in California, who came to get them. The uncle was a widower, and when he came back to Arkansas he fell in love with this young woman who had cared for his nephews, and they were married. She came with him and the nephews back to California. She had loved and cared for these boys as if they were her own—and then one day they just disappeared, and she never heard from them again. Marguerite went on to tell several stories of how generous and kind her grandfather had been.

How to reconcile the two versions? Well, we sort of concluded that the boys had essentially been without a father most of their lives, since they were just very young when he went off to war. Now having a “father figure” was perhaps a little more discipline and expectation than they were used to! At any rate, not long after this, Marguerite came and visited me, and we both a little teary at the idea that this family rift from 100 years ago had now been healed! I’ve since learned a lot more about Uncle William, and have been in touch with many of his descendants.

Now back to the other uncle, William “Rough” Elliott. He’s always been one of my favorite ancestors. I mentioned that we first learned about him when my great-grandfather read stories of him in a history of Lassen county. Turns out Uncle Rough, as I call him, had a pretty colorful life here on the frontier. He also came in 1849 or 1850, and actually lived first in Rough and Ready, a gold rush era community in Nevada county, about ten miles from where I now life—that’s allegedly where he got the nickname “Rough.” He wasn’t in Rough and Ready too long, though there is a brief mention of him in the little history of the town that was published a number of years ago. He then headed for Honey Lake Valley, the Susanville, Calif., area, where he ranched for a number of years. Here’s a photograph of him:

How I got this photo is an interesting story in itself. My grandfather had a friend who was a grandson of Isaac Roop, the founder of Susanville. After my great-grandfather had revealed that Rough Elliott was his uncle, my grandfather mentioned it to his friend, who said, “Oh, he was a good friend of my grandfather’s. We have a photo of him!”

One of the things interesting about Elliott was his involvement in a rather notorious lynching that took place over in Carson Valley in the 1860s—the hanging of Lucky Bill Thorrington. This is a very dramatic episode that still causes controversy. Some are convinced that Lucky Bill himself was a murderer, and got what was coming to him; others are equally convinced that he was framed, and that he was really kind of a folk hero, sort of a Robin Hood character who often robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. Rough Elliott was closely involved in the capture and hanging of Lucky Bill, so he looks like a villain or a hero depending on what you think of Lucky Bill. One common theme in this story is that Rough Elliott was quite a glib talker—very persuasive, a good orator, altogether a smooth and polished speaker who could talk his way into or out of just about anything.

But of course I was interested in the story of the murder accusation, and so I set out to see what I could learn. I first found a brief mention of it in a San Francisco newspaper from 1888. Having narrowed down the date, I spent hours looking through microfilm of the Inyo Register, the newspaper in Bishop in that time. I found a full account of the alleged murder, and extensive coverage of the trial. It seems the dead man was the uncle of Rough’s estranged wife. Rough claimed that he had killed him in self defense, but nobody in Inyo county bought that. The dead man was an old and respected settler, and Rough was regarded with a great deal of suspicion (and the stories about Lucky Bill kept coming up!) Rough was convicted of murder and sentenced to be hanged.

Then I found that his case actually went to the California Supreme Court. It overturned his conviction on what would be called a technicality, though the court’s decision made it clear that they thought the citizens in Inyo county and the inflammatory press coverage made it impossible for him to have gotten a fair trial there. So they ordered a new trial, with a change of venue. The trial was moved to Bakersfield, and it ended in a hung jury. A third trial also ended in a hung jury, and Rough was released and not tried again—not quite the “exoneration” my great-grandfather had claimed, but at least he avoided the noose!

A few years ago I found the entire transcript of the first trial in the California State Archives, which was lots of fun to read. I also found in the file a letter from Rough’s attorney which mentions that my great-grandfather was presently in Inyo county trying to assist his uncle.

A couple of other interesting things. First, I mentioned that Rough Elliott was a polished and accomplished speaker. I learned some years ago, much to my surprise, that his grandson was a prominent figure in the 7th Day Adventist Church, and in fact taught speech and preaching at their seminary near Napa, CA!

Some years ago I got into a conversation with Tony Waters, a friend who teaches sociology at California State University, Chico, about Rough Elliott. Tony was very interested in his trial (he teaches criminology), and actually ended up using Rough Elliott as a case study in a book he wrote about murder!

A couple of years ago I was contacted by a woman in Massachusetts who was doing genealogy and whose husband, it turns out, is a great-grandson of Rough Elliott. They knew a little about him, but not much. They were out in California for a family wedding last Labor Day, and invited us to meet them at Lake Tahoe and have lunch. We had a grand time talking about old Rough!—though when I told my sister I was having lunch with Rough Elliott’s great-grandson, she asked me if I was going to take a gun for protection!  (I didn’t.)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

There's always something new to be discovered

After posting the timeline for my great-grandpa Milton Richard Likins, I was doing some "web surfing" in one of the digital newspaper sites and found some very interesting notes about him--a couple of them rather dramatic incidents, neither of which I knew anything about. Here they are:

27 Oct 1891 Jeffersonville News, Jeffersonville, IN:  Broad Ripple, Ind. Oct. 27—Milton Likens, of this place, took his five-year-old boy quail hunting with him. He left him by a stump, while he circled around a covey of birds, but when the time came to shoot, he forgot his bearings, and thirty shot took effect in the boy. The lad was badly hurt, but he will recover.

15 Nov 1892 Connersville Daily News, Connersville, IN.  “Broad Ripple, Ind., Nov. 15—Milton R. Likens, the village baker, was terribly burned by an explosion of natural gas. The pressure increased, extinguishing the fire and filling the oven with gas. Mr. Likens opened the door and the explosion followed. He was thrown across the room, his beard and hair was burned off his face and head, and he was frightfully burned and bruised about the body.”

10 Aug 1894 Milton R. Likins, Broad Ripple post office, commissioned Justice of the Peace for Marion co. IN. Annual Reports of the Officers of State of the State of Indiana . . . for the fiscal year ending October 31, 1894. [Similar listing in 1898]

This one about the explosion is particularly interesting, and helpful for a rather odd reason. I have an old photo which was in my grandmother's effects, but had come from her mother. It is a picture of a couple, the man with a rather generous beard. My grandmother said she didn't know who they were. I thought it was her parents--and I've continued to think so, in studying the photo carefully and comparing features with photos of her parents.; but she told me one time that it couldn't be her parents because she was sure her father had never worn a beard. But here, in this account of this gas explosion, is evidence that in fact he did have a beard at the time of the accident--four years before my grandmother's birth, so she may have never known him with a beard. 

Here's the photo that I think is Milton Richard and Nettie Belle (Hastings) Likins:

And here's one that I know is Milton Richard and Nettie Belle (Hastings) Likins, with eldest son Ford Likins (b. 1885, so this photo ca. 1889 or so):

Sure looks like the same couple to me; what do you think?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Milton Richard Likins

My great-grandfather, Milton Richard Likins, came to California around 1916. A native of Indiana, he had brought his family to Arizona when my grandmother was a young child, where Milton (and his wife Nettie?) were employed on an Indian reservation. They then had a similar job in Santa Fe, NM, where my grandmother graduated from high school. Around 1916 they relocated to the Indian school at Ft. Bidwell, CA. They were apparently only there for a few years. It isn't clear to me just what his jobs were on these reservations; he's usually listed, in the records I have found, as an "engineer" but I believe that by profession he was a baker. I really don't know a lot about him; my father never knew him, and my grandmother didn't talk much about him, so I've been trying to put together whatever I could find. Here's a timeline showing what I've learned about him:

Milton Richard Likins

Born Fortville, IN 25 July 1862, son of Peter and Mary (Alfont) Likins

1870 census of Fortville, IN, in household of his parents, age 8

1880 census of Fortville, IN, in household of his parents, age 18, “works on farm”

20 Nov 1884, married Nettie Belle Hastings in Fortville, Hancock co. IN

28 Feb 1898 Known to be living in Broadripple, IN, where his daughter Katharyn was born.

27 Sep 1899 obit of father-in-law Oliver P. Hastings refers to his daughter as “wife of Milton R. Likins, formerly a justice of the peace at Broad Ripple” (Indiana State Journal)

1900 census Fortville, Hancock co. IN, age 38, with wife and four children; baker

1907 listed in directory of civil servants, address San Carlos, AZ (listed as engineer; Nettie also listed as housekeeper)

June 1908 received payment from federal government Dept of Agriculture as “rainfall observer” (no location specified)

1910 census, San Carlos Indian Reservation, Gila, AZ, age 48, with wife and three children; engineer, Indian agency

1914 listed in The Native American v. 15 p. 558 as employee at Santa Fe (both Milton, engineer, and Nettie, cook)

Jun 1916 daughter Katharyn Mary Likins graduated Santa Fe (NM) High School (note in Santa Fe New Mexican 2 Jun 1916)

1916 Son Virgil registered to vote in Modoc co. (Bidwell precinct)

1918 registered to vote in Modoc co. (West Bidwell pct). Engineer, Republican; listed as Likens; Nettie registered, listed as Likins.  Housewife, Republican. Not registered 1920.

1917-18 son Virgil registered for draft in Modoc co. CA, so Milton likely there (Ft. Bidwell) at that time

1918 automobile registered in Stewart, NV [note: Indian School in Stewart; Willis Richard Cameron b. Stewart 1918]

28 October 1918 signed petition in Modoc co. relating to cutting of timber on land in NV

Surprise Valley Record 5 Nov 1919
M. L. Likins and wife departed last week for the southern part of the state,
where they expect to spend the winter and possibly locate. Mr. Likins
recently disposed of his mail contract from Bidwell to Adel, Ore., to Jesse

1920 census, Vacaville, Solano co. CA, age 58, with wife, farmer

1920 Registered to vote (Republican) in Vacaville, Pct. 1, Solano co. CA; occupation farmer.
[Nettie as well, occupation housewife]

1922 Registered to vote, same info except occupation “carpenter”

11 Sept 1924 died, Vacaville CA

1 Oct 1924 Surprise Valley Record
M. R. Likins, former resident of Fort Bidwell passed away at his home at
Vacaville, Sept. 11th, after a lingering illness. He was the father of
Mrs. Olin Johnson, formerly of this place.

1930 census, Nettie in El Segundo, CA, widowed, head of household, living alone

Nettie arried Grant Hagey some time between 1930 and 1940.

1940-44 Nettie and Grant Hagey both registered to vote in Paradise (Grant not listed in final list of this volume, presumably the 1944 list)

Nettie died Eureka CA 27 May 1945

 Here's a photo of Milton Richard Likins, taken around 1910:

Monday, July 8, 2013

Family breach healed

Here's a little essay I wrote for a genealogical writing contest. I didn't win, but I think it's an interesting story:

I only vaguely remember my great-grandfather, Alfred J. Johnson, who died when I was six. I do remember hearing the story, though, of how he came from Arkansas to California by covered wagon. He was ten years old at the time; his father had died on the way home from the Civil War, and his mother died soon thereafter, leaving three sons of whom he was the youngest. An uncle who had gone to California shortly after the gold rush came back to Arkansas about 1869, took custody of the boys, and brought them to his ranch in the Merced area. The uncle, it was said, treated the boys harshly; the oldest one, Will, left as soon as he could. When my great-grandfather was whipped unjustly, the middle brother, Columbus, snuck away at night, went to Will and told him what had happened. They went back to the ranch, got Alfred, and left without saying goodbye—left not just the ranch, but the area. They settled up in Modoc county—about as far away as you could get and still be in California. That was the tradition, though no one seemed to know any more details than that.

            A good bit of genealogical investigation revealed that the uncle who had brought these boys to California was their father’s brother, William T. Barry Johnson (named after his grandmother’s uncle, Kentucky politician William T. Barry). W. T. B. Johnson had settled in Plainsburg, near Merced, around 1852; the 1870 census showed him, with his household including these three nephews from Arkansas. As I pieced the story together, I learned that his wife had died (she is buried in the Plainsburg Cemetery, along with some minor children). When their mother died, the three orphaned boys were taken in by a neighboring family, the Dyers. When W. T. B. Johnson went to Arkansas to take custody of the boys, he returned to California with a new wife—Caroline Dyer, a daughter of the family who had taken the boys in.

I eventually learned also that the boys’ Johnson grandparents had actually come to California in 1852—indeed, most of the family had come; the boys’ father and his wife were the only ones who remained in Arkansas. I established that most of the family had ended up in San Bernardino. Wanting to learn more, I wrote to the San Bernardino Historical Society with an inquiry.

One day, out of the blue, came a letter from a woman named Marguerite Stanley. She had been contacted by one of the staff at the San Bernardino Historical Society, and given my letter. She reported to me that her grandfather was “William Teaberry Johnson” who had lived in Merced. “But who are you?” she asked.

She told a story that was quite different, yet clearly the same. Her grandfather, she said (though she had never known him), was well-known as a kind and generous man. He had married her grandmother and then brought these three orphaned nephews to California; her grandmother, she said, had essentially raised them after their mother had died, and they all came to California together, to her grandfather’s ranch. One night the boys just disappeared, and no one knew what had become of them. “It broke my grandmother’s heart,” she said.

One day, not long after this, Marguerite visited me in my home in the East Bay. She was then in her 80’s (old enough to be my grandmother), and was quite a character. She had been briefly married, but had no children. She lived with “a young man” named Vince who drove her places (he was actually probably in his 60s). She was rather eccentric—a poet, an unconventional person in many respects. When I visited in her home a couple of years later, I saw that she was also a hoarder; her house was crammed with stacks of magazines, books, files, and who know what else.

But at that first meeting, we had such a delightful time sharing family stories! Given the reputation of her grandfather (and she had plenty of stories illustrating his kindness), we decided that perhaps the young boys—who, after all, had been without a father probably since the beginning of the Civil War, when they were 8, 6, and 2 years of age—were likely unaccustomed to what was typical “family discipline” in those days; and that while they may have felt badly treated by their uncle, it may not have been quite as desperate a situation as my later family lore had made it (allowing, of course, for ideas about child discipline in the 19th century very different from those of today).

Be that as it may, both Marguerite and I were thrilled and moved to think that a family breach that had occurred some 125 years ago now had in some sense been healed, as we sat and enjoyed lunch together.

We continued to correspond occasionally; when she died, Vince was thoughtful enough to pack up a box of Johnson family material he thought might interest me and mail it to me. Marguerite remains one of the most interesting and colorful “cousins” I’ve met over the now nearly 50 years of my genealogical research.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Alfred M. Johnson timeline

"Timelines" are all the rage among genealogists these days, and with good reason. I've long used a kind of timeline to help sort out what I know and don't know about a particular ancestor. Here's one for Alfred M. Johnson, whom I discussed in the last post.


ca. 1800: Alfred born North Carolina 

20 Nov. 1804: Huldah born in Kentucky

11 March 1821: Alfred Johnson married Huldah Sanford, Howard co. MO

1830: Census of Boone co. MO, Rocky Fork twp., listed as Alfred Johnson
            Males:             1 30-40 [Alfred]
                                    1 5-10 [W. T. B.] 
                                    1 under 5 [John]
            Females:          1 20-30 [Huldah] 
                                     2 5-10 [Nancy and Margaret]
                                     1 under 5 [Armenia]
31 July 1830: “Alfred M. Johnson of the county of Boone” purchases from John and Lydia Turner of Morgan co. IL for $220 160 acres in northeast quarter of section twenty in township fifty of range twelve. 

18 Nov. 1830: “Alfred M. Johnson and Huldah his wife of the County of Boone” sell to Zadok Riggs 160 acres in Northeast quarter of section twenty in township fifty of range twelve in Boone co. MO for $280. 

26 Feb. 1833: Alfred M. Johnson filed an instrument indicating that he had traded a slave named Dick for another (female) slave named Siller, and that the slave had actually belonged to his mother-in-law Nancy D. Sanford; the trade was made with her consent, and while Johnson's name appears on the papers, the understanding is that the negro woman Siller is to be her property during her natural life. 

1835: Charter member of Perche Christian Church, Boone co. MO (according to 1882 History of Boone County, Missouri)

2 Nov. 1837: Alfred M. Johnson of Boon co. MO registers land with federal land office, Certificate 9613, SW quarter of SE quarter of Section 7 in twp. fifty one, north of the base life of range 13, west of the fifth principal meridian in the District of lands subject to sale at Fayette, Missouri, containing 40 acres.

9 Jan 1840 Hannah Hardin grants land to Alfred M. Johnson  J-516

24 Nov 1838  John Lewis grants land to Alfred M. Johnson I-607

10 Jan. 1840: Alfred M. Johnson of Boon co. MO registers land with federal land office, Certificate 10142, East half of the SW quarter of Section 7 in twp. fifty one, north of the base line of range 13, west of the fifth principal meridian in the District of lands subject to sale at Fayette, Missouri, containing 88 and 41/100 acres.

1840: Census of Boone co. MO, Persia twp. listed as Alfred M. Johnson
            Males:             1  40-50 [Alfred]
                                    1 15-20 [W. T. B.] 1 10-15 [John] 
                                    2 5-1 0 [unknown sons]
            Females:          1 70-80 [Nancy Sanford, Huldah's mother]
                                     1 30-40 [Huldah] 
                                     2 15-20 [Nancy and Margaret]
                                     1 10-15 [Armenia]
                                     2 5-10 [Lucy and unknown daughter]
                                     1 under 5 [Huldah]

9 Jan. 1840: Indenture between Alfred M. Johnson of the County of Boone and Henry Christman of the County of Howard, selling said Christman for $73.10 a tract of land in the northwest quarter of the northeast quarter of section eighteen in township fifty-one of range thirteen, containing 40 acres; but this is actually a mortgage in which Johnson agrees to pay Christman by 1 May with 10% interest, in which case the sale is void.

10 Nov. 1841 Alfred M. Johnson of Boon co. MO registers land with federal land office, Certificate 18222, NW quarter of SE quarter of Section 18 in twp. fifty-one of range 13 in the District of lands subject to sale at Fayette, Missouri, containing 40 acres.

18 Jan. 1842: Alfred M. Johnson conveys to George C. Jackson “one dark bay mare ... named Pocahontus; also bayhorse colt... of said mare ... also one crop of tobacco, the growth of 1841 now on hand supposed to be 1500 or 2000 pound” for what is apparently a mortgage. The instrument is confusing, but seems to suggest that Johnson owed.Jackson a considerable sum of money; the property apparently was security for Jackson who agreed to wait twelve months for payment of the debt at 10% interest.

1845: Alfred M. Johnson appears on tax list for Crawford co. AR (one poll). 

1847: Alfred M. Johnson appears on tax list for Crawford co. AR (one poll).

30 March 1848: Indenture between Thomas C. Maupin, Sheriff of Boone Co., and Andrew J. Herndon, administrator of Henry Chrisman. Herndon recovered before judge 9 Nov. 1844 a judgment against Alfred M. Johnson; on 21 June 1845 Herndon did sue out an execution against said Alfred M. Johnson” which ordered the sheriff to sell “goods and chattels, lands and --- of the said Alfred M. Johnson.” Sheriff subsequently did sell “the right title and interest of Alfred M. Johnson in and to the North West quarter of the North East quarter of Section eighteen Township fifty-one Range thirteen containing forty acresin Boone co.; which sale was duly advertised in the Missouri Statesman of town of Columbia with description etc., and was sold at auction on 21 Aug. 1845. Herndon was the highest bidder, and the land was subsequently “struck off to him at the sum of one dollar.” Sheriff therefore now conveys land to Herndon.

1849: Alfred M. Johnson appears on tax list for Crawford co. AR (one poll).

1850: A. Johnson appears on tax list for Crawford co. AR (one poll). 

1850: Alfred Johnston appears in census for Crawford co. AR: [enum. 27 Nov.]
            Alfred Johnston 50 Farmer real estate of $500 b. NC
            Huldah 46  b. KY
            John  22   b. MO (as are all the rest)
            Armenia  20
            Lucy  17
            Huldah  13
            Francis  7
            William Wilson 8
            Susan Wilson  6 [children of Nancy (Johnson) Wilson, deceased]

1851: Alfred Johnson appears on tax list for Crawford co. AR (one poll).

1852: Alfred Johnson and family, according to several sources, left Arkansas for California, arriving in EI Monte in October or November. 

21 Sept. 1854: Los Angeles Star notes A. Johnson part of coroner's jury in death of James Ellington. 

25 Aug. 1855 (Saturday): “Died--In the Monte on Wednesday evening last, of Typhoid Fever, Mr. Alfred Johnson, formerly of Texas, aged 55.” 

1860: Hulda Sandford (sic) appears in census for El Monte, Los Angeles co, b. KY age 55, with son Francis M. Johnson. 

29 Aug. 1868: Note in San Bernardino Guardian that “Mrs. Johnson, mother-in-law of John M. James, broke her arm . . .”

11 Nov. 1879: Death of Huldah Johnson in San Bernardino (according to tombstone); also listed in Mortality Schedule for 1880 census, age 75, 16 years in county, b. KY, parents both b. VA.