Life & Death of Leona Miller Johnson
The thing that fascinates — and at times, frustrates — me about good, honest, thorough genealogy is that it doesn’t take one interview with a relative, or a hectic week of research, but years, many of them, to continually deepen and fill in, untangle and add detail to the family record.
This sustained bit of exercise runs counter to my usual sprinter impulses, the hustling act of “getting ‘er done” after first encountering the vision of what it could be, what it should be, hot and inspiring.
Maybe not the way most people think about genealogy, but there we are.
When I first began digging into my grandma Erma Johnson Foutz’s side of the family in 2008, I’d encountered a bit of a legend about great-grandpa Charles Arthur Johnson’s first wife, who’d died the same year he married her.
A few years later, visiting with great aunt Nellie Johnson Fitzgerald in 2011, I put a face with the name, since Nellie had, of all relics, a portrait of her father’s first wife hanging in her bedroom, along with other actual blood relatives.
It was a sign that this tale had legs, but probably a beating, even anguished heart to it. Nellie related the story in this way:
Leona Miller and Charles married shortly after Valentine’s Day, 1907. She was 23; he was 20.
Charles, a coal miner, came home one day, perhaps as early as the week they were married, and found Leona on her hands and knees, scarlet-faced, scrubbing the floor.
As he knelt down to tend to her, Leona collapsed. She died shortly after.
Charles returned to the home of his parents (as noted in the 1910 census), and wouldn’t remarry until 1911, when he wed a girl from nearby Dennison, my great-grandmother, Viola Palmer.
We didn’t know much more about Leona than that. But in the idle hours over Christmas break, nearly four years after hearing Nellie’s version of things, I turned up the printed record, researching on newspapers.com.
In the Monday, Feb. 18, 1907 edition of the New Philadelphia, Ohio Daily Times:
JOHNSON — MILLER
A quiet wedding occurred at the home of the United Brethren pastor, Rev. H. H. Davis, 146 East Front street, this city, Sunday evening, February 17 at 6 o’clock, the contracting parties being Miss Leona Miller and Charles Johnson, both of this place.
The bride is a daughter of Mrs. Mary Nixon formerly of Pennsylvania, who for the past seven or eight years has lived with Albert Kensler, corner of Fair and Seventh streets. The bride is a young woman highly spoken of and commanding the respect of a large circle of friends. Mr. Johnson is the son of Clement Johnson living at 397 East avenue. He is an energetic young man and is employed by the Goshen Hill Coal Co. He is held in high esteem by all who know him. They will reside on East Avenue.
Just over three months later, the young couple were separated by death, according to the Wednesday, May 22, 1907 edition of the Times:
HOME EARLY BROKEN.
Leone (sic) Miller Johnson, 24 years of age, married to Charles Johnson only three months ago, died at 11 o’clock Wednesday forenoon of quick consumption following an attack of the measles. Mrs. Johnson was born in Belmont county. The funeral will be held from the residence on East avenue Friday afternoon at 1 o’clock followed by an interment in East Avenue cemetery.
As far back as 2010-11, I’d learned that a Leona Miller Johnson was supposed to be buried with Charles, great-grandmother Viola (Palmer) Johnson and sons Carl, Joseph and Charles Jr. in the family plot at East Avenue Cemetery in New Phila. But I could find no marker during trips back home.
Interestingly, though I have yet to confirm the significance of this, Charles and Viola named their first son Thomas Leonard, perhaps in homage to Charles’s first wife. Something, perhaps, we’ll uncover in the coming years.