I am thrilled to say someone in my family had enough money to make the pages of several county histories—including pictures—giving me a bunch of good (if occasionally confusing) leads to track the family back and I am extremely thankful considering we’re talking about a man with the highly original name of William Johnson. He was my 3rd Great Grandfather and today is his 182 birthday.

William Johnson is a great example of the inconsistencies in family stories as their shared over the years. From Chapman’s History of Kent County (1881) I learned that he was born May 8, 1930 in Norfolk, England and he came to America with his brother Matthew when he was eighteen(p. 685). From A. W. Bowen’s 1900 City of Grand Rapids and Kent County I learned he was sixteen when he crossed the Atlantic alone and settled in the Empire State until he came to Kent County in 1854 (p. 793-794). And according to Grand Rapids and Kent County, Michigan (1918) William lived in Orleans County, New York until 1852 when he came to Solon Township (p. 261). All a little contradictory… but certainly worth looking into.

Here’s what I think I know… William was born on May 8, 1830 in Horsey-Next-the-Sea, Norfolk, England to Richard and Sarah (Suffling) Johnson. He did cross from England and neither he nor his brother Matthew was listed in their father’s household as of the 1851 Census for Horsey, Norfolk, England. I haven’t been able to isolate either on a passenger list but by 1855 the family was reunited and enumerated in the stats census for Orleans County, New York, though the household had added their cousin Elizabeth (Gibbs), who married Matthew in 1854. In October of 1855 William married Mary Gordon of Kent County, Michigan and the pair started their family on a farm in Solon Township. In the 18 years they lived there they had 10 children (5 died young) the youngest surviving child was my 2nd Great Grandfather William Amos Johnson.

William was a successful farmer and served his community as one of the organizers of Solon Township and Township Treasurer. The family removed to 160 acres in Section 30 of Cannon Township in 1873 and there William continued to be involved with his community serving again as Township Treasurer and giving generously to support and advance the congregation of West Cannon Baptist Church. William died December 24, 1908 and was laid to rest at Cannon Cemetery.

Everything in the histories gave me new source material to look into and a rough time frame to work with—and I needed it. As it happens not only is William Johnson one of the most common names in my family but there was a second highly successful William Johnson family in the Rockford area during the same period as my own.

So, don’t forget to check out local histories. You never know what you might find. Seriously, check out the picture of William and Mary from a 1907 county atlas  (p. 129). It was a fabulous surprise when I found it.

Happy hunting,

Jess

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