Looking for advice researching for the mystery parents of Abel Johnston from Kentucky 1803-1878

+8 votes
Hello all. This is my first post in this community. I'm asking for advice on finding a specific ancestor's parents. It's been a dogging mystery for dozens of us descendants and researchers for years.

On my direct paternal line, I am descended from an Abel Johnston. He was born in Kentucky, possibly Bourbon County, on Aug 9, 1803. According to the our sources, we believe he had at least two older brothers. One named John Miller Johnston (1793-1819) and another named William Johnston (1797-1870). They all traveled and lived together in their youth.

They migrated south into Maury, Tennessee and by 1813, John Miller Johnston married Mary "Polly" Stephenson. In 1814, he also enlisted into the army during the overall War of 1812 and the Creek Wars. Not long after, John Miller Johnston along with a large number of other Kentucky war veterans, were given land in Lawrence County, Alabama. Sadly, John Miller died not long after arriving there from a sudden illness possibly yellow fever in 1819 at the age of 26.

The guardianship for the family then passed over to William Johnston. When Abel matured, he married Jane Leech and had eight children with her. My 3rd great grandfather Albert Monroe Johnston was one of those sons, born in neighboring Marion, Alabama in 1840. The family fell on hard times as we have found a couple court records from Lawrence, Alabama where William and Abel Johnston were both defendants in lawsuits over unpaid debts in the 1830s.

Jane Leech died in childbirth in 1844 and from there Abel moved the family over to Lafayette, Mississippi in 1850 close to lands owned by his late wife's brother. Abel remarried and had five more children. He passed away on Nov 4, 1878 and is buried in Old Dallas Cemetery. His older brother William died in Cherokee, Texas in 1870. Most of the rest of these Johnston male descendants migrated to Texas after the Civil War.

So I understand it is difficult researching folks in Kentucky in this time frame. The 1790s was a chaotic time there as it was a brand new state just created from Virginia and native American raids were still common. And we know for certain our line is Johnston with the "t" but census takers and court records often arbitrarily spelled everyone as Johnson in those times. From time to time, we see mention of a William Johnston Sr in Shelby and Bourbon County in the tax lists in those years. We also see a William Johnston Sr in Lawrence, Alabama on the 1830 census. But that's the only mention of him and uncertain if he is related. In 1834, President Andrew Jackson signed a land grant to William Johnston Jr in Alabama that we think may be referring to Abel's older brother. No one in the Johnston, Stephenson, or Leech family history accounts seemed to mention or know the name of these Johnston boys' father or mother. But then again that was long ago.

I wonder if there are any other forms of records to look for that we might have missed.

We are confident that our Johnston line came to America from Northern Ireland sometime in the late 1600s or early 1700s. And from before that, they most assuredly came from County Dumfries, Scotland.

I've done Y-DNA testing and we seem to be descendants of the so-called "Johnstons of Poldean". Poldean is an estate just south of Moffat. I match four people that specifically list Herbert Johnston of Poldean 1430 as their ancestor. I am haplogroup I-M223 and our SNPs suggest a possible Norse heritage for our line. I do have four or five Y-DNA matches in America but they are dispersed over a wide geographic area. My closest two matches are a descendant of John Miller Johnston, Abel's brother. And a "Phillip Sherman Johnston" born in Ontario, Canada sometime in the early 19th century.

A long post I know, but felt I needed to share what I've already discovered. Now I ask for what steps I should take and what clues would be useful in my search.
WikiTree profile: Abel Johnston
in Genealogy Help by Jerry Johnston G2G Crew (370 points)
Jerry, welcome to the WikiTree community. We’re glad you’re here and asking questions.

I can’t help you with an answer,  but I feel for you. My wife’s family is early Kentucky and I know your struggles to find sources. I’m hoping someone will come along and dig up something for you.

2 Answers

+5 votes
Hello. I just perused all the biographical sketches listed in THE HISTORY OF BOURBON, SCOTT and NICHOLAS COUNTIES, KENTUCKY, but could find no Johnstons. I know there are errors in this book as some of them have been corrected in pencil by my great aunt, but even the few Johnsons did not seem to match any of your names. Good luck!
That's odd. On the Tax Lists from 1792-1800, I generally found around six or seven Johnstons in Bourbon. James's, Roberts, Thomas's, Johns, Williams, and Samuels. There is a historic building there known as Johnston's Inn that was ran by a Captain Robert Johnston in Bourbon.

I've been looking at Bourbon since on a few of Abel's census records it suggested it as a birth place but it may not be accurate. However, his brothers we think may be born in Shelby County.

Thanks for looking!
+3 votes
I have quite a few ,related to me, Johnstons that were, in late 1700s ,Ohio Co Ky,then and more or less random order ,Mo,Ind Pa,NC,Tn Ark Tx in 1800s. I loosley trace my direct line Pa/NC>Tn abt 1810 Tx,Ark , mid 1800s >Ca 1920s. So, contact me and we may find something that narrows this down
by Living Johnston G2G2 (2.8k points)
In the two years that has passed since I posted this question, we have successfully pinned down the parents of Abel Johnston (1803-1878) to William Johnston Sr and Elizabeth McGaughy. William Johnston Sr was a Cumberland Presbyterian elder that often founded churches in the places he migrated to. In the 1830 census, it states he was born in the 1760s. We have found court, land, and tax records on him and he was apparently a land owner in both Green and Adair County, Kentucky. Not Bourbon county like we originally thought. We haven't yet found direct records of him prior to 1792 when he arrived in Kentucky.

A grandson of his in another family wrote in an autobiography in 1906 that William Johnston was from Pennsylvania, but did not elaborate. William's wife, Elizabeth McGaughy, was born in York County, Pennsylvania in 1763. Her brothers fought in the Revolutionary War and it's possible William could have as well since the land he later acquired in 1818 in Alabama was military bounty land for prior war service. William's sons John Miller Johnston and William Johnston Jr are confirmed War of 1812 veterans and were granted lands in that same county by Andrew Jackson.

I'm not really sure how to trace William Johnston Sr backwards because he often is written in records as "William Johnson" and that name was very common back then. I'm altogether unfamiliar with how to go about researching old Pennsylvania records. With the pandemic, I cannot travel to visit their libraries.

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