Friday, April 24, 2009

All Those John Johnstons

Twenty years or so ago, when I was digging into my family’s history, I came to a dead end with the Johnstons. I could trace Dagues and Swifts, my mother’s side of the family, back to pre-revolutionary America, and the Miles ancestors of my father’s maternal line nearly as far. No such luck with the Johnstons.

My great-grandfather, John Johnston, came to America from Ireland as a young man in 1850. His father’s name was thought to be William, but I could never document that or get beyond it. When I looked at the surviving genealogical records for County Armaugh, the trail ended. I found some fifty John Johnstons (yes, all spelled with a “t”) and almost as many Williams. I could never identify which were my ancestors.

Though I have been called “Bert” all my life, I was named John Johnston at birth. That is how my doctors, my banker and the IRS know me.

A few days ago I checked into the Premier Medical Center, a large Mobile eye clinic with thirty or forty doctors, at least six or eight waiting rooms, and perhaps fifty examining rooms. After a short wait, a young woman called my name and led me through another waiting room to an examining room. Her first question was to ask if I was there for my post-op appointment, a puzzling question since it had been half a year or more since I had minor eye surgery.

“Aren’t you Dr. Duffy’s patient?” she asked.

“No. Dr. Vick did my surgery, but I’m here to see Dr. King.”

“You are John Johnston, aren’t you?”


“Age 62?”

“You flatter me.”

To everyone’s surprise, there were two John Johnstons (yes, both spelled with a “t”), with appointments at Premier Medical Center that morning.

Our family has been fond of the names John and William. There has been one of each in five consecutive generations since 1850. My father and uncle, my brother and I, and two of my sons carry on the tradition. It’s about to end, however. We have run out of boys in my sons’ families. I have a grandson named William, but no John.

The Premier Medical Center will be relieved.

~ Bert Johnston, author of Parson Campbell’s Breakthrough

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