My Search for the Ancestry of Bill and Almyra Johnson

Some Genealogical Notes About William and Almyra Johnson of Batavia, Illinois and Elsewhere

William Johnson was born in Vassalboro, Maine, in 1806, back when it was still part of Massachusetts. By the mid-1830's he was living in New York, married to a woman named Almyra Lee. They had had the first of their five daughters. By 1848 the family was living in Blackberry Township, Kane County, Illinois, trying to make a go of farming. By 1855 they were off the farm, and William was working as a stonemason in nearby Batavia, Illinois, where he resided until his death in 1887.

I'd like to know where William's wife Almyra Lee was born, and who her parents were. I'd like to know some more things, but I'll settle for these. William and Almyra's youngest daughter, Elizabeth, married Thomas Benton Short, of Blue Rapids, Kansas, and had a daughter Pearl, who was my great-grandmother. Almyra is my current biggest brick wall. I've made a lot of progress since I first put this page online in 2011, but she's still a mystery to me.

Very few printed sources discuss Almyra, but one biographical page was written about her grandson Edward Wigton and published in 1898. This gives a partial timeline for William and Almyra, but little detail.

What I know about Almyra Johnson can be seen on the tree for my father's family. A free version for those without Ancestry.com accounts is on Rootsweb, but doesn't show all the data.

William and Almyra had five children, all girls, in this birth order: Mary, Emeline, Caroline, Perlina (or Perlonia), and Elizabeth. They are all identified in the 1850 Federal Census for Kane County, Illinois.

When William was born in 1806, the counties that were to become Maine were still part of Massachusetts. Their eldest child Mary was born about 1835 in New York; Emeline was born about 1837, also in New York (both of these, according to the 1880 Federal census), and Perlonia and Elizabeth were both born in Illinois (according to the 1860 Federal census). I don't have birthplace information for Caroline, and one census claims Perlina and Elizabeth were born in New York; but I think that realistically we have to assume that William and Almyra were in Illinois by 1843, for the birth of Perlina.

William and Almyra were probably still living in New York at the time of the 1840 census, but I haven't yet found them there. There are lots of William Johnsons living in New York state in 1840, and a couple of good candidates, but not many match the family characteristics of two adults and three daughters. Even those criteria are uncertain, what with possible other relatives and hired hands living on a farm. Most New York towns from that period lack good records. End result: No answer.

I haven't found the Johnsons in the 1840 Federal Census for Illinois, either. Kane County was settled by claim, beginning in the second half of the 1830's, with land sold by the U. S. Government to recognized claimants beginning in 1843. William may have been in Kane County in 1843, but we don't know for certain. What we do know is that he was living in Illinois by about 1844, when his fourth child was born (per the 1850 census), and in Blackberry, Kane County, by 1848, when he paid a personal property tax.

William and Almyra do show up in the 1850 U. S. Census (in Blackberry), and in the 1855 and 1865 Illinois state censuses, and the 1860, 1870, and 1880 U. S. Censuses in the village or town of Batavia in Kane County. In the 1850 census his occupation was Farmer, but in the later ones his trade was given as mason, stone cutter, or stonemason. William is also in several extant city and regional directories that include Batavia. By the 1880 census they were living in the household of their married daughter Emeline, with her husband Elihu Wigton and the Wigton children.

William lies buried in Batavia's Eastside cemetery, with a headstone that gives the dates 1806-1887. Near him, in the same plot, are a "W. Johnson" who died in 1865, and D. B. Cornell, 1810-1881. The adjacent plot contains the burials of three Wigton children who died young, so it's close family. I don't know who the W. Johnson is, but it's possible the "W" is a misreading of "M" for Mary Johnson.

The D. B. Cornell was Daniel Briggs Cornell (born in Washington County, New York, January 30 1811, and still living there in 1850; living in Burlington, Kane County, in 1865; died in Batavia 5 March 1881); his wife Adeliza Bull was born in Washington County about 1813, and died in Illinois in 1874. Possibly there's no connection at all.

Genealogist Marilyn Wenburg wrote me in April of 2011:

"William Johnson buried in East Batavia Cemetery Sec 11 Lot 69
1. Johnson, William 1806-1887
2. Cornell, D. B 1810-1881
3. Johnson W. died 1865 (possibly his father or mother?)
loose and broken markers. There may be other burials in this lot.

"In the next lot, Lot 68, are three Wigton burials:
8. Wigton, Gussie 1857-1859
9. Wigton, Walter 1864-1864
10. Wigton, Jessie 1868-1868"

I did determine that Almyra lived until 1890, having moved with the Wigton family to Esmond, South Dakota (see below).

Daughter Elizabeth Johnson married Thomas B. Short and moved to Blue Rapids, Kansas. I know a lot about the marriages and descendants of Elizabeth, Emeline, Caroline, and Perlonia, as described below. I do not know know who daughter Mary married, if anyone; or when and where se died.



Some very detailed Notes about William and Almyra Johnson

The 1850 Federal Census for Illinois

William and Almyra had five children, all girls, in this birth order: Mary, Emeline, Caroline, Perlina (or Perlonia), and Elizabeth. They are all identified in the 1850 Federal Census for Kane County, Illinois. (You can click through to see the original page.) The value of their owned real estate is given as $1900, which was substantial for that time.

Name: William Johnson
Residence: Blackberry, Kane, Illinois
Age: 44 years
Calculated Birth Year: 1806
Birthplace: Maine
Gender: Male
Film Number: 7685
Digital GS Number: 4193361
Image Number: 00445
Line Number: 5
Dwelling House Number: 85
Family Number: 1452
Marital Status:
Free or Slave:
Household Gender Age
William Johnson M 44y
Almyra Johnson F 44y
Mary Johnson F 15y
Emeline Johnson F 13y
Carolin Johnson F 10y
Perlina Johnson F 7y
Elisabeth Johnson F 3y
John Hovey M 15y

When William was born in 1806, the counties that were to become Maine were still part of Massachusetts. Their eldest child Mary was born about 1835; Emeline was born 27 April 1837; and Caroline 1 October 1840; all three somewhere in New York. Perlonia and Elizabeth were both born in Illinois, Perlonia 12 September 1844 and Elizabeth about 1847; the 1850 census incorrectly claims NY as their birthplace.

William and Almyra were presumably married in or before 1835; they would have been 29 that year.

William Johnson's farm is also listed in the 1850 Federal Census Non-Population Schedule, in addition to the regular Census data given above, and he was recorded at Blackberry, Kane, Illinois. At this point he had more than forty acres. I haven't shown the data here because it doesn't seem relevant.

I don't know who John Hovey (or Havey or Harvey) was. He may have been a hired hand to help run the farm, or he may have had some family connection. So far, I have not been able to trace his origin. Also on the same page are numerous of the Sheets family, who were active as farmers in Blackberry. One of the sons, Horace, became involved in building windmills, something for which Batavia became famous. Eventually he emigrated to Esmond, South Dakota, and his presence there probably had something to do with Almyra's ending up there for the last three years of her life.

The 1855 Illinois State Census

William came out to Illinois to be a farmer. By 1855, however, they had apparently left the farm in Blackberry and were living in Batavia, a half township just to the east of Blackberry township.

See the Illinois State Census, 1855 for Wm Johnson (no image of the original page is available):

Name: Wm Johnson
Event: Census
Event Date: 1855
Event Place: Batavia, Kane, Illinois
Total in Household: 8
Page: 588
Film Number: 976183
Digital Folder Number: 004541955
Image Number: 00504

I don't know who the 8th person was. The actual data on the original page show two males age 20 to 30, whom I can't account for; one male age 40 to 50 (William), one female under 10 (Elizabeth), three females age 10 to 20, and one female age 40 to 50 (Almyra). There should be four females age 10 to 20. So...possibly this is a different family.

The 1860 Federal Census for Illinois

By 1860, William was definitely no longer a farmer; he listed his occupation as Stonecutter. Presumably he was working in the Batavia quarries, or finishing the stones that were cut there.

From the 1860 Federal Census for Kane County, Illinois, for Batavia:
FamilySearch.org version

Wm Johnson 54 M Stonecutter $1000 $150 Mass
Almyra Johnson 53 F Wife New York
Mary Johnson 23 F Dressmaker New York
Perlona Johnson 16 F Teacher Illinois
Libby Johnson 13 F Illinois

Libby is the Elizabeth Johnson who later married Thomas B. Short and named their daughter Perlonia (presumably after her sister). Emeline had married Elihu Wigton in 1856, and left home before the 1860 census. Similarly, Caroline had married Wolcott C. Wing, and left home, in 1859. Mary was still living at home, and working as a dressmaker. William's birthplace is shown as Massachusetts, which is technically correct even if Maine is the real answer. Those wacky census takers.

The 1865 Illinois State Census

Familysearch.org does not turn this up as a census result, but Ancestry.com does.

Name: William Johnson
Event: Census
Event Date: 1865
Event Place: Batavia, Kane, Illinois
Total in Household: 7

I don't know who all these seven people were. The numeric data on the original page show two males age 10 and under, whom I can't account for; one male age 30 to 40, ditto; one male age 60 to 70 (which might be William), one female age 10-20 (Elizabeth), one female age 20 to 30 (probably Mary), and one female age 60 to 70 (which might be Almyra). Perlonia had married Alonzo M. Githens and left home in 1860.

The 1870 Federal Census for Illinois

The family is still listed in Batavia in the 1870 census:

William Johnson 64 M W Stone Mason $700 $125 Maine
Almyra Johnson 63 F W Keeping House New York
Lizzie Johnson 21 F W Illinois

Now we see a birthplace of Maine given for William, and a birthdate for Lizzie that agrees with the date of 1849 given in the Marshall County, Kansas, history section covering Blue Rapids, Kansas, but differs from the date given in a marriage record.

The 1880 Federal Census for Illinois

From the 1880 Federal census for Kane County, Illinois, for Batavia:

Elihu Wigton WM 52 Machinist Ohio Unknown Va.
Emeline Wigton WF 43 Wife Keeping House N.Y. Md. N.Y.
Edward Wigton WM 20 Son Painter Illinois Ohio N.Y.
Lewis Wigton WM 18 Son Works in wind mill shops Illinois Ohio N.Y.
Grace Wigton WF 11 Daughter Attends school Illinois Ohio N.Y.
Bertha Wigton WF 9 Daughter Attends school Illinois Ohio N.Y.
Robert Wigton WM 2 Son Illinois Ohio N.Y.
Emeline Polsean WF 17 Servant Illinois Unknown Unknown
William Johnson WM 74 Father-in-Law No Occupation Maine Me. Me.
Almyra Johnson WF 74 Mother-in-Law No Occupation New York Mass. Mass.

By the time of the 1880 census Lizzie had left to marry Thomas B. Short, and William and Almyra were living as in-laws in the home of their daughter Emeline and her husband Elihu Wigton. Note that Emeline's mother is shown as having been born in Md. (i.e. Maryland), while the line for Almyra herself states she was born in New York, and that her parents were both born in Massachusetts.

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A William Johnson, presumably the same one, is listed in the 1878 county directory : "William Johnson Mason Batavia P.O."


The Five Daughters of William and Almyra Johnson

1. Mary Johnson

I haven't yet been able to find out what happened to Mary. Her name is common enough that there are several candidates.

2. Emeline Johnson

In the 1880 Federal Census, William and Almyra were living in the home of their daughter and son-in-law, Elihu and Emeline (or Emily M.) Wigton. This family has been analyzed by Wigton genealogists. The Wigton family left Illinois for Esmond, South Dakota, about 1890. There are a few living descendants of this family, one of whom I have been in contact with but is now not findable. The town of Esmond has been abandoned, and a part-time resident who watches over the church is the only one there.

3. Caroline Johnson

Caroline "Carrie" Lee Johnson married Wolcott C. Wing in 1859, and after some moves wound up in Chicago. The family was not prolific, and as far as I can tell, the last of this line was a Laurence M. Wright who died in Du Page, Illinois, in 2003.

4. Perlina (Perlonia) Johnson

William and Almyra's daughter Perlonia J. Johnson married, 27 December 1860, in Kane Co. IL, Alfonzo [or Alonzo] M. Githens, according to the Illinois Statewide Marriage Index. By 1890 they were living in the Chicago area (listed in the Blue Book for Chicago for that year, and for 1898), and had sons Walter L. Githens and Herbert A. Githens.

Alonzo died age 67, in 1903, according to the Illinois Statewide Death Index, Preľ1916:

Name of Deceased Date City Age Sex Vol. Page Certificate No. County
GITHENS, ALONZO M 1903-03-30 CHICAGO 67 YR U 00005364 COOK

Alonzo and Perlonia's sons Walter and Herbert were active in the automobile trade. Walter and his wife had one daughter, Laura, who married and had one child. Herbert apparently never married, but as an executive with a rubber company he moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and his mother moved into his house shortly afterwards. Perlonia was still alive in the 1930s, living in Milwaukee. Herbert died in the 1950s. I have their newspaper obituaries. As far as I can tell, the last of this line was Laura's son Gerald D. Smith, who died in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1992.

5. Elizabeth Johnson

Lizzie or Libby or Elizabeth Johnson married Thomas Benton Short about 1870-3 in Blue Rapids, Kansas. She died in 1873, apparently as a consequence of the birth of her only child, Pearlonia May Short. Pearl Short was my great grandmother. Thomas Short remarried and had more children, so I do have some half cousins out there.

I don't know how Elizabeth met Thomas, but her sister Emeline lived in Blue Rapids circa 1870-1; so I suspect family visits and introductions were somehow involved.


 


 

Update history: This page created 17 May 2011; updated 25 October 2012; latest update 30 May 2016.

Compiled by Michael J. Ward, San Jose, CA. Contact: mjward at-sign hidden-knowledge.com