Saturday, August 11, 2007

Once Again, "There Are No Easy Cases in Genealogy"

A key objective of the trip to Missouri had been to further identify Sarah Gilbert Johnson, the presumed wife of my great-great-grandfather Ezekiel Johnson. Unfortunately, I made no progress at all on this issue and it continues to frustrate me. I would have to say that this is my leading research objective right now.

So I had begun to write a post called "A Research Trip Failure," this afternoon when, as these things will, something unforeseen occurred. To understand where I am now (since this afternoon) on Sarah Gilbert Johnson, we have retrace my steps on this relative's history.

Perhaps 45 years ago, my mother told me that her grandmother's mother was an Indian. My mother did not know her great-grandmother's name or anything else about her. I didn't really think any more about the matter for the next four decades. About four years ago, my mother's sister, my Aunt Delorise Gines, published a family history calendar which identified our Indian forebear as "Sarah Gibson." At that point, I took up my current interest in genealogy.

I searched for sometime for "Sarah Gibson" without success. Then one day, I came across the Clay County (Mo.) marriage records for 1867. There, "Ezekil" Johnson and Sarah Gilbert were listed as being married on September 5, 1867. I then focused on the surname Gilbert. I could not find a Sarah Gilbert who really matched the person I believed I was looking for. I came across Ezekiel Johnson's death certificate and it listed Sarah Gilbert as his predeceased spouse. Gradually, over the years, I learned the names of some of Zeke and Sarah's children. I acquired some of their death certificates which also listed Sarah Gilbert as their mother. I became comfortable with the surname "Gilbert."

Nonetheless, I still could not find any individual information on Sarah Gilbert. I found a family in Clay County that conceivably could be her siblings, but the probative evidence was thin. Then, most recently, I found a family in Kansas that, again, conceivably, could be her parents. There are some reasonable theories and assumptions that support this idea, but again, the probative evidence is skimpy.

So my idea was that being on the ground in Missouri might be useful to this pursuit. For a number of reasons, it did not prove useful. Morosely, I began to write the story of my failure. Then I thought, let's take one last shot at this. I began to go through the Missouri Death Certificate Index to examine every person who could be Sarah Gilbert Johnson and every person who could be one of her children.

I came across a death certificate for one Robert Franklin Johnson who died in Kansas City in May, 1955. This man had been born in 1893. I almost skipped over him because I had already (I thought) positively identified a Robert Johnson, born 1876, as the son of Zeke and Sarah. What brought me up short was the address on the death certificate: 2444 Chestnut Avenue. At various times, my grandmother, my great-aunts, my mother and some of her siblings all had lived in that block of Chestnut Avenue. I knew 2444 as the house of my great-aunt Rosie [Rosetta Bell Long,1898-1994].

Looking closer at the death certificate, I noted that Rose Long was listed as the informant. Aunt Rosie would surely know the right information. The father's name was given as "Ezekell" Johnson and the mother's name was given as . . . Sarah Agnes Lewis!

I immediately called Aunt Dee. She said she recalled that "Uncle Rob" had lived in Aunt Rosie's house for awhile and had died there--about a week after her father had died. But she had never heard the name "Lewis" in our family tree.

With this strange turn of events, I went to work looking for plausible Lewises in the census records. And there, things got weirder! In the 1860 census for Wyandotte County, Kansas (the present-day Kansas City, Kansas), there is a 35 year-old Jane Lewis living with 22 year old Eliza Grezinger and 2 year old Sarah Lewis. Both Jane and Eliza are said to have been born in Ohio; Sarah is a native of Kansas. Then the shocker: both Eliza and Sarah are listed as Indians!

I can't find this people anywhere else so far. We know that this Sarah is too young to be the wife of Zeke Johnson.

So am I onto something new or on another wild goose chase?

There are no easy cases . . . .

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