Finding the Johnson farm in Canada

In this post I outline the process I went through to solve a mystery about  my family history. It is an example of the fun and occasional frustration that genealogy and family history can bring.

The mystery began in the early 1980s, when I first began digging into the history of my family. One of the facts I learned was that my aunt Evelyn Johnson was born in Canada in 1922. I wondered about that because my uncle Kenneth (Kenny) and my father, Harold, were both born in the United States, in 1916 and 1919, respectively. I also knew (from the 1920 U.S. census) that in that year the Johnsons were living in the area around Buffalo, New York. Searching the records available at the time turned up nothing about the Johnsons and Canada.

Years later, in 2013, I looked again at my aunt’s birth record and  decided to try to find out what connection the family must have actually had to Canada.

I did a search on the Internet and found that new records were now available online for the 1921 Canada census. There I found the entry for my grandfather Alfred Johnson’s family, which at the time included Eva, Kenny, and Harold. On June 29, 1921, the family was living in Dorchester South, Elgin County, Ontario, on Lot B, concession 11. That place is about 200 miles west of Buffalo, New York, near the shore of Lake Erie. The census record also said that the Johnsons migrated to Canada in 1920, that they were renters, and that my grandfather was working as a laborer.

image of Johnson family, Ontario, Canada 1921
Johnson family, Ontario, Canada 1921

Also in 2013, Anna and I attended the RootsTech conference in Salt Lake City, and while there we spent some time in the Family History Center of the Mormon Church. As a result of some research I did there I found out that my grandmother Eva had relatives in Ontario, Canada.

The Family History Center also had microfilm copies of the Buffalo area city directories, and in the 1923 directory I found that Alfred Johnson and the family were back in Tonawanda, New York.

In 2014 I found a map, published in 1924, of the Dorchester part of Elgin County. The map showed where the various land concessions and lots were located, and from this I found the location of the Johnson farm mentioned in the 1921 Canada census.

Map of Dorchester South, Ontario, Canada, 1924 (lot B, concession 11)
Dorchester South, Ontario, Canada, 1924 (lot B, concession 11)

So the mystery was finally solved: the Johnsons moved to Canada in 1920 and stayed until late 1922 or 1923, when they moved back to the United States.

However, another mystery still remains: WHY did the Johnsons go to Canada? Did they just decide to try farming for a while (my grandfather had been listed as a machinist in the 1920 U.S. census)? Did they suffer financial losses or have a dispute with their New York relatives? These are questions I hope to answer in my future research.

The picture at the top of the post comes from Google Earth and shows how the farm looks today. It is located at the intersection of Century Line Road and Empey Road. Some day I might go there and take a look.

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