When dancing with the ancestors, there's not always a straight path to follow. Such was the case as I tried - and tried, and tried, and tried, and tried, and . . . well, I'm sure you get the picture - to discover the name of my maternal ancestor James Matthew Johnson's father.
I tried all the names of James Matthew's brothers . . . and still no luck. I tried using their middle names. Still no luck. Oy!
Then, I thought, why not look up the 1840 Perry County, IN Census records and see what, if any, Johnsons were living there at that time. I mean, Nancy Johnson, widow by this time, and her children were living in Leopold, Perry County, IN in 1850, so why not 1840?
I came across a Joseph Johnston - more on that in a bit - living in Perry County, IN in 1840. The ages of the children pretty much matched up with what I knew about James Matthew and his siblings. Nancy's age . . . well, not so much. Then again, Census Records are rarely 100% accurrate. Census Takers write down what they think they heard, not actually what they heard. Census Records are a guide. They are not - repeat, not - written in stone. The information is suspect. It is a guide.
An example: my grandmother Osie Smith has a different spelling of her name on every Census Record I found. For a while there, I was like, hey, where's Nannie Lee?, until I realized the Census Taker mispelled her name.
Then, there's the varying ages of my great-great grandfather Alexander Sweat . . . which changes with every Census Record I found. Oy!
So, a guide only, not a 100% thang!
But, back to the missing father (not missing as he abandoned his wife and children, but missing as in I didn't know his name) of James Matthew Johnson and his siblings. Joseph Johnson is that man . . . or at least I'm about 95% positive he's that man.
So, a bit of Googling and I come across the marriage record for . . . Joseph Johnston and Nancy Stevens. Yes, the spelling is different than Johnson and Stephens, but . . . James Stevens signed the document and listed the groom to be as . . . Joseph Johnson. Woo-hoo!
Now, back to Johnston. I was convinced this was my ancestor, but that he, at some point, changed the spelling of his name, until . . . my distant cousin Ellen Smith pointed out the obvious: he didn't sign the marriage bond, only put an X (his mark) which indicated he couldn't read or write. He wasn't the one who wrote Joseph Johnston on the marriage bond, it was a clerk who spelled the name like he heard the name, which included a t that wasn't there. Woo-hoo!
I also came across a blog devoted to the Johnson line and their migration from Hardin County, KY to Perry County, IN. Woo-hoo! So now, the marriage license from Hardin County, KY and the Census Records from Perry County, IN made a heck of a lot more sense.
So, in dancing with the ancestors, not only do you sometimes have to take the winding path to find the information you're looking for, you also have to remember that more often than not, a last name will have plenty of variations, and you'll need to Google using those variations.
p.s. the 1840 Perry County Census Record listing Joseph Johnston had a correction to the last name and listed it as, you guessed it, Johnson!!!!