Some members may recall the lengthy series of posts beginning last Christmas Eve that focused on discovering the past of my grandfather John Fleming Denison Johnson who was born in Liverpool in 1891 but after marrying and producing four children mysteriously ‘disappeared’ in the mid-1920s. He died in Liverpool in 1973.
I now have some intriguing updates to add – and a couple of requests for more help.
[For any members who find my comments below interesting - but confusing – the original thread was called ‘Was he Dennison or Johnson?’ and runs for 9 forum pages. However, I have also written the whole story out in narrative form as a Word document which may make easier reading and I’m happy to email this to anyone who wishes. Beware, it runs to 40+ pages including all appendices.]
My grandfather’s 1891 birth certificate recorded his mother as Sarah Dennison and his given names as John Fleming. However, his father’s name was not recorded.
The questions needing answers a few months ago were: who was his father, how did he acquire the surname Johnson, and what happened to him in later life?
Several members, notably Bertieone, MaryA, AndyJ and SuffolkSandry97 contributed to uncovering some fascinating details about my grandfather’s origins and later life.
The search began with a Sarah Dennison, the daughter of Irish immigrants living in the squalid Courts of the Liverpool docklands in the late 19th century. This proved a false trail but further research using Ancestry and other sources coupled with Bertieone’s intuition identified my grandfather’s likely mother as Sarah Ann Dennison born in Leeds in 1865, the daughter of a Jonathan Dennison. At the time of her son’s birth Sarah Dennison was living in Prescot Road, seemingly unmarried, next door to a certain John Fleming. This led to the suspicion that she had named my grandfather John Fleming because her neighbour was in fact his father.
The 1901 census recorded a John Johnson, aged 9, living with one of Sarah Dennison’s sisters, Elizabeth Mary and her husband Walter Taylor and described as their nephew. Also living in the household was a mysterious Lillian Johnson, a widow, possibly John Johnson’s mother. However, Elizabeth didn’t have a sister called Lillian. So who was Lillian Johnson? Bertione conjectured that Lillian Johnson was in fact Sarah Ann Dennison who for unknown reasons had changed her name. This hypothesis was strengthened by the discovery that in 1906 a ‘Lilly Johnson’ had married a Thomas Thornely Houldsworth and had named her father as Jonathan Dennison.
The 1911 census showed John Johnson still living with his aunt and uncle but now at Bloomfields, South Villas, Liscard. He was described as an analytical chemist the very profession pursued by my grandfather John Fleming Denison Johnson. However, Lillian Johnson seemed to have disappeared.
Bertieone then made contact with a ‘SuffolkSandry97’ who it turned out was the great grand-daughter of another of Sarah Ann Denison’s sisters, Emily. Evidence from SuffolkSandry97 and a cascade of other sources confirmed that ‘John Johnson' was indeed my great grandfather John Fleming Denison Johnson. But this still left open the question who was Lillian Johnson? Was she really Sarah Ann Dennison from Leeds, was she really my grandfather’s mother and if so why had she changed her name and what became of her?
My recent DNA test results confirm that SuffolkSandry97 and I are third cousins thus confirming that Sarah Ann Denison was definitely my grandfather’s mother. Between us we set about trying to clarify the identity of Lillian Johnson who we suspected to be the Lilly Johnson who had married Thomas Houldsworth in 1906. The death certificate for a Lily Holdsworth who had died in Chester in 1921 verified this to be the case giving her previous address as ‘South Villas’, Wallasey. Sadly it also recorded that she died after suffering dysentery for 15 days in Chester Asylum. Subsequently I obtained her medical records (including a desperately sad photograph) from Chester archives to find that she had spent 8 months in the asylum suffering from melancholia and depression after being transferred there from Birkenhead Union (the workhouse). These records, 100 years old, make for sad reading and an insight into a very troubled mind; again, I am happy to email a copy to anyone interested.
I have been unable to find any records for Birkenhead Union so any help would be welcome. How long was she there, is there a record of next of kin, previous address, etc.?
Using FindaGrave we located Lily’s resting place in Overleigh New Cemetery, Chester and laid some flowers there exactly 100 years after her death. She was buried in unconsecrated ground in a communal grave along with 6 others one of them a stillborn child. We still do not have conclusive proof that Lily/Lillian Johnson actually was Sarah Ann Dennison from Leeds but there is no other credible conclusion to draw other than that this is the case.
Although we have almost closed the book on Sarah/Lily/Lillian, mysteries still surround my grandfather John Fleming Denison Johnson. His death certificate recorded that he died in Newsham General Hospital in 1973. Liverpool archives provided the following details from hospital records: “614 NGN 2/9 death register states that John Fleming Johnson was aged 90 and was admitted on 1/10/1969 was buried on 21/3/1973 by the state at Walton Park. 614 NGN 1/10 states that the Dr recommending admission was a Dr Pottinger and that he (JFJ) had come from Westminster House for which we do have the registers: Admitted 8/9/1967 discharged to NGH 1/10/1969 born 1883 agnostic admitted from the John Bagot Hospital, name of relations: none. Unfortunately we don’t have any records for the John Bagot Hospital nor do we have any records for Walton Park cemetery for this time.” (Actually he was born in 1891 and was 81 when he died.)
Does anyone know what type of hospital John Bagot was and if there is any way of telling how long he might have spent there and where he was before that?
About 10 years ago I visited Walton cemetery and was guided by someone to what was believed to be his grave. I think that grave records do exist somewhere, does anyone know where?
Between about 1925 and the late 1960s there is scarcely a trace of my grandfather. Did he have another life, another family or was he just a mentally disturbed drifter?
In November 1939, on (re)enlistment to the army he provided three addresses in the London area (see my January posts), strangely one of these was dated 1930 when he would have had no contact with the army. At some time between 30th August 1956 and 1957 (by which time his wife Ethel was dead – although he may not have known this) he was likely in Ward 6 Horton Hospital, Epsom (another mental institution) going by the will of Walter Taylor who left him £250. Records of Horton hospital appear to be held as London Metropolitan Archives Reference H22/NT (NRA 41337 Horton) but I can’t work out how to access them. Help!. I am curious to know if he ever mentioned a next of kin other than his wife.
Finally, there is still the mystery of John Johnson, ship’s officer, who he twice mentioned as his father. Did he ever exist; did Sarah/Lillian/Lily even perhaps marry him? We will probably never know.
I am happy to post copies of any of the records SuffolkSandry97 and I have accessed.