Finding Frank (Or Not)

First, I’m starting to think there never was a Frank.

Second, I’m getting irritated at the census taker who either: A) Wrote the name “Frank” on the 1920 census when he never existed, or B) Wrote the name of a kid named Frank who did exist but wasn’t John Alfred and Madge’s son.

In the Pontiac, Michigan directory for 1920, you can see the Johnsons were boarders at 391 S. Paddock.

The Justus family, who owned the house, is listed in the same directory. Their son, Garner, who was 23 that year, appears at the top of the next page. He lived at the same address and was listed as a metalworker. All three were at 391 S. Paddock in the 1923 directory, although the Johnsons were not even in Pontiac anymore.

You’ve seen these photos of 391 S. Paddock if you’ve read “Finding Frank, Part 1”. I’ve already explored the possibility of seven-year-old Frank being part of the Justus family. I even looked at other families on the pages before and after them to see if someone’s son could have made it to the Johnson family by mistake. There were only a few seven-year-olds in the vicinity, and none were named Frank.

There is always the possibility that Frank passed away as a child. Michigan is really good when it comes to online access to death records. I pored through what felt like every death certificate in Michigan, starting with 1920 and ending with 1930. (It was really only Pontiac and Ludington.) I looked carefully for anyone born around 1913. I found this one, for a Frank Baker, who died in 1920. You’ll notice that his cause of death was listed in part as “La Grippe”. But he was only five, and Frank Johnson was supposed to have been seven.

Frank Baker’s house would be a six-minute drive from 391 S. Paddock today. I didn’t check how long it would take to walk. However, he did live on Johnson Street, and his house number was 391, so I suppose that’s something.

When I found this one, I thought, that had SO better not be him! But you never know. This is how people disappear in history, I guess.

I haven’t given up periodically checking Ancestry and FindAGrave.com, just in case someone adds something to their family tree or posts a photo of a random gravestone that turns out to belong to the elusive Frank Johnson. I found this one and was amazed to see that this Frank died on the exact day and year I was born. But I doubt “our” Frank would have ended up in Elko, Nevada. And if he had lived to be 44, there would doubtless be other clues about his life floating around in the Johnson family memorabilia.

In a time when it seemed that everything anyone did was reported in the “Society” section of the papers, there was a significant amount written about the Johnsons. There was an article about John Alfred when he returned from France in 1919 due to foot injuries, and one about his marriage to Madge several months later at her sister’s home in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

As an added bonus, I was able to find out where Madge’s sister lived in 1920. Here are two different views of the house, where I’m assuming the 1919 wedding took place.

You’ll notice here that Alfred and Madge lived in Grand Rapids in 1930. You’ll also notice it doesn’t say they were accompanied by their son Frank to the John Judge farm. I know this is the right Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Johnson because John Judge was Madge’s brother. But then, Frank would have been 17 by that time and could conceivably have had other things to do.

And so, the search continues. Since I wasn’t able to shed much light on the fate of Frank Johnson, I’ll leave you with this brainstorming scenario from my notebook. Maybe Frank was just a visitor that day, and the census taker assumed he was Madge and Alfred’s son. If so, to the people trying to find him for their own family tree, “I feel your pain!”

11 thoughts on “Finding Frank (Or Not)

  1. Gosh, I really admire your persistence, Debra. I’m still sorting through the things in my mom’s house now she’s in an old-age home and I came across a copy of a family tree of (part of) her mother’s family which someone on the ‘other side’ of the family compiled about 30 years ago. I was semi-intrigued and, of course, I immediately thought of you. If I’d still been in the UK I might have had a little poke about… oh, and there’s a mountain of photos and slides which I’m trying to whittle down so I’ve something manageable to take to her.

    1. Photos are the best, but they can also be overwhelming, because half the time it seems like there are no names on the back! And don’t even tell me about slides!! LOL we have tons of those too. As kids were would beg our dad to show slides and once in awhile he would. The slide projector and screen are still at my mom’s house waiting for me to figure out what to do with them.

      1. What you say about your family’s slides makes me feel so much better! Maybe slides can be converted into something decorative? 🤔

      2. I’ve seen ideas for that on Pinterest, but was less than impressed. There are a few ways to transfer them to digital without having to send them off and pay someone to do it. (There’s an app for that LOL) I’ve done a few with limited success. If I figure it out I’ll do a post about it! 😀

  2. Eileen Johnson

    Hi Debbie,
    Maybe Frank is a nickname. Maybe Frank was a foster child. Maybe Frank ran away from home. It is always possible to have a large gap between children. Maybe there had been many miscarriages. Maybe Frank had been a surprise menopause baby. And like you said, maybe Frank was a kid just visiting. Love, Eileen

    1. Hi Eileen, yes I have thought of all of those except the menopause baby idea. I’ve looked up the names Frances and Franklin also to no avail. I’ve even considered that he could have been sent to the 1920s equivalent of “juvenile hall”. Still he would have to show up in some record somewhere, eventually. The thing is, he was apparently born 6 years before JA and Madge were married…🤔 So where was he before 1920?
      Thanks for commenting. 😀

      1. Eileen Johnson

        Maybe Frank was his middle name which he went by because he didn’t like his first name.

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