The furthest back the Johns(t)on(e) line can reliably be traced is to George W. Johnson, who was born about 1817, likely in Virginia. The family oral history, which has been passed down through Hugh Johnston and Barbara (McCutcheon) Gleye from Cora Johnston, who was George’s daughter-in-law, is that the original family name was Johnston, but that George changed it to Johnson because he did not want it to be the same as his family’s slaves, who had taken the family name as their own. George was also supposed to be related as a nephew or great-nephew to Joseph Eggleston Johnston, a notable Confederate Civil War General. Another piece of information passed down orally is that George had a sister, living in Cincinnati, Ohio, who married into the Ware family who were supposed to be wealthy from a Cuban sugar plantation. George was said to have lived with his sister for a time, but also went to California on horseback and returned by sailing ship via Cape Horn. At this time, however, none of these facts or connections have been either confirmed or disproved.
George Johnson married Nancy Jane Summers (b. 1822), daughter of John and Mary Summers, in 1848 in Lagrange, Indiana. The information passed down from Cora says that Nancy was born in Pennsylvania, but 1850 and 1860 censuses give her birthplace as Virginia, the 1870 census it was given as Ohio, and in the 1880 and 1900 censuses, and her death certificate it was given as Indiana.
George and Nancy may have lived in Virginia originally as the birthplace of their first child was given as Virginia (although Eliza was also born about 8 years before George and Nancy were married which may or may not mean she was from a previous marriage). They were living in Dayton, Kentucky, which is across the Ohio river from Cincinnati by 1850. George’s occupation in the 1850 and 1860 censuses was given as Boatman. Living with George and Nancy in 1850 were Martin (b. abt 1829) and Elizabeth (b. abt 1832) Summers, who were likely either Nancy’s siblings or her brother and sister-in-law.
George and Nancy had 5 children; Eliza (b. abt 1840, Virginia), Mary (b. abt 1847, Ohio), Walter (b. abt 1851, Kentucky), Charles C. (b. Nov 1852, Kentucky), and George Washington (b. Jan 24, 1862, Kentucky).
George’s daughter Eliza likely married John E. Gray as George posted a bond for their marriage in 1857. George’s son Walter last appears in the 1872 Dayton City Directory where he was listed as a steamboat man. Beyond these facts it has so far not been possible to trace either of them.
George disappears from the records after the 1860 Census and it has so far not been possible to determine what happened to him. In the 1872 Dayton City Directory, Nancy is listed as his widow. It is possible he died during the Civil War as there are a number of George Johnson’s (and George Johnston’s) from Kentucky who joined either the Union and Confederate armies and died during the conflict. During this time period, however, steamboat explosions, collisions and wrecks occurred relatively frequently and given his work as a boatman it is just as likely he died on the Ohio river.
After George’s death, Nancy continued to live in Dayton first at 56 Front street, and later at 910 First Street. The 1870 census shows Nancy living with her daughter Mary and sons, Walter, Charles and George Washington. Walter was a laborer and Charles was a belt maker. The 1880 census shows Nancy living with her sons George Washington and Charles, and Mollie (who is most likely her daughter Mary). Charles was a printer and George was a store clerk.
Charles likely married and spent some time in Michigan between 1880 and 1900. The 1900 census shows Nancy living with Charles, and his three children, Harry (b. May 1889), Clarence (b. Oct 1891) and Naomi(b. Sept 1893) who were all born in Michigan. The name of Charles’ wife and what happened to his marriage is not known. In the 1900 census Charles lists his marital status as married, not as a widower so it is likely he was separated or divorced. In 1900 Charles was still a printer and his children are in school.
Nancy died in 1906, in Covington, Kentucky. Charles may have become disabled or contracted tuberculosis because in the 1910 census, he is located in the Union Printer’s Home (which included a tuberculosis sanitorium), in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Charles’ sons, Harry and Clarence, moved to Newport, Kentucky (the next town over, Dayton used to be a district of Newport) where they worked as printers. Harry married Alice Gould sometime before 1909. Harry and Alice had one child, Elma Faye (b. 1909).
George Washington Johnson went to college, most likely in Huntington, West Virginia, and became a doctor. He married Cora Everett Unseld, who was the daughter of a physician and school teacher, on January 16, 1889. George and Cora had five children between 1890 and 1897; Wilbur Unseld (b. Feb 14, 1890, Huntington, WV), Myra Jane (b. Apr 6, 1892, Detroit, MI), Cora Belle (b. Feb 4, 1894, Detroit, MI), Ruth W. (b. Dec 7, 1895, Detroit, MI) and George James (b. Aug 21, 1897, Detroit, MI).
The family name went through several permutations at this time. George Washington gave his name both as Johnson and as Johnston. At different points in his life Wilbur used Johnson, Johnston and Johnstone. The remaining children, Myra, Corabelle, Ruth and George, appear to have settled on Johnston. Cora gave the name Johnson for the 1900, 1910 and 1920 censuses, and in certain legal documents, but in the 1930 census and her death certificate her name was given as Johnston.
George Washington Johnston never practiced medicine, and was instead a salesman or sales manager for a paper company. He died September 29, 1897 in Detroit. The cause of death was given as lung congestion and pertussis due to cardiac dilation. Although it appears that he was moderately well-to-do, given that he named several properties in his will, this was likely a difficult time for Cora and her family. The 1900 census shows that they had at least three boarders lodging with them.
Myra Jane Johnston married Roy Bates McCutcheon about 1913. They had five children between 1914 and 1926; Jane B. (b. Jul 26, 1914), Roy Bates Jr. (b. Apr 12, 1916), Mary Ellen (b. Nov 13, 1918), George E. (b. Sept 12, 1921) and Carol L. (b. Jun 25, 1926). Roy was an executive and was Vice President of a wholesale meat company in 1930. Myra Jane died Sept 23, 1964 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Cora Belle Johnston married twice, first to Fred Streng and then to Roy Kiley. She does not appear to have had any children. She died on May 17, 1972.
Ruth Johnston married Elmer Alles and had two children; Betty and Marjorie. She died when she was only 32, on Dec 7, 1927.
George Johnston Jr. married Elsie Schlaffer and had two children; Patricia and Charles. He was in advertising. He died on Apr 4, 1977 in St. Claire Shores, Michigan.
Wilbur Unseld Johnston married twice. His first wife was Anna Belle Deegan, who he married about 1910. Anna was born in Minden, Sanilac County, Michigan on June 17, 1890. She was the child of Patrick and Mary Deegan, who were immigrants from Ireland and Germany respectively and was a stenographer. They had one son, Hugh Waldoburt who was born in Detroit on May 18, 1912. They were divorced shortly afterwards. Anna died in Detroit on Jan 7, 1918 of peritonitis. Their son, Hugh, was raised by his grandmother, Cora.
Cora continued to live on Avery Avenue in Detroit, her original home with George Washington, through the 1920’s. She supported herself and her family as a dressmaker. Sometime before 1930 she moved to Bloomfield Township in Oakland County, Michigan, with her son George and grandson, Hugh. She died on July 8, 1960.
Wilbur’s second wife was Ida Langley Howitt. Wilbur and Richard Howitt were partners in a business in Windsor, Ontario repairing and remanufacturing car electrical system parts and carburetors, and it is likely through Richard that Wilbur met Ida. She had been born May 1, 1888 to Tantum and Lola (Aylsworth) Howitt in Amhurstburg, Ontario. They were married in 1917 in Windsor, Ontario.
Wilbur and Ida Langley had four children; Richard Tantum (b. Feb 2, 1919), Teddy Wynn (b. Jul 18, 1920), Joan Virginia (b. Nov 25, 1923) and Beverly Shirley Jean (b. Apr 2, 1925).
Wilbur died in Detroit on Dec 12, 1955 of Pancreatic cancer. Ida Langley died in August of 1970.