Who Are the Parents of Mary Johnson of Vermillion County, Indiana?

I started on a journey to map every Hendricks, Hendrix, Hendrickson and Hendrixson in Kentucky from 1780-1840 to make sure I knew who everyone was, and which families they belonged to.

Along the path, I stumbled across a Polly Hendrixon who married Isaac Johnston in Hardin County, Kentucky in 1816.

This immediately captured my attention: the only two Hendrickson families in Hardin County at that time are brothers, John and William Hendrickson.

John married Sarah Hardin in 1801, Washington County, Kentucky. William married Virginia Jane Kemp in 1807 Hardin County, Kentucky.

John and William both take their families to Dubois County, Indiana in the 1820s. William stays in Dubois, while John goes first to Shelby County, Indiana, then Vermillion County, Indiana, and finally to Green County, Wisconsin.

It was likely that Polly was from one of these Hendrickson families. She was either the daughter of John or William, or their youngest sister.

Is she Mary Johnston who marries Thomas Foster?

When I looked around to see if anyone claimed this Polly Hendrixson Johnson, other trees did claim her.

Here’s the story-line that some trees had: Isaac Johnston died and she married Thomas Foster as “Mary Johnston” in 1822 in Hardin, Kentucky. (Polly is a common nickname for Mary.) The officiant is a Catholic priest, William F. O’Brien.

Then Mary dies, or they’re divorced, because Thomas remarries to a different Mary Johnson (no “T” in the surname) in 1825 Hardin, Kentucky.

This seems plausible and it happened all the time back then. A young woman would die in childbirth, and the husband would remarry shortly after.

I traced the Thomas Foster tree. It’s easy because Thomas Foster is born in Maine. Thomas moves his family to Perry County, Indiana and that’s where he dies sometime in the 1870s. Mary (let’s call her Mary #2) is with him until 1860.

It seems like a reasonable story, but…

Our Hendrickson family isn’t Catholic, and Mary Johnston who marries in 1822 is married by a Catholic priest.

When Mary “Polly” Hendrixson marries Isaac Johnston in 1816, she’s married by Jacob Enlow, a Methodist minister. He’s the same minister who married William Hendrickson to Virginia Jane Kemp in Hardin in 1807. Enlow migrates to Dubois, Indiana with the Hendrickson brothers. Enlow’s family helps establish the Methodist Church in Jasper, the county seat of Dubois. So, it’s unlikely that Mary “Polly” Hendrixson Johnston would have remarried in a Catholic ceremony.

One of Thomas Foster’s descendants wrote a book that said these two Mary’s were cousins (I can’t find the cousin connection, but there are many Johnson and Johnston families in the area at the time. But there’s no Hendrickson “cousin” I could find.). 

If Mary Foster Johnson in Vermillion County, Indiana is the same one who marries Thomas Foster, then you’d have to assume Mary JohnsTon Foster was divorced from Thomas, and then married Isaac JohnsTon. There’s no proof of that, and, besides, Isaac Johnson of Vermillion is already married by 1816, and they have child in 1817.

So both Mary Johnston Foster AND Isaac Johnston would have had to divorce in order to marry each other and move to Vermillion, and there would need to be a marriage record in Kentucky for them — there’s not. And Mary “Polly” Hendrixson Johnson’s first child is born in 1817 in Washington, KY – per her census record in 1860 which lists county and state of birth — so how would that birth fit into all of this if Mary of Vermillion IN is Mar of Hardin KY?

Is sounded implausible, so I took a step back and asked “What If” questions:

  • What if Mary “Polly” Hendrixson Johnston didn’t marry Thomas Foster?
  • What if she didn’t die young?
  • Where is Mary and Isaac in 1820, 1830, 1840, and 1850?

I began to look for other Isaac Johnston or Isaac Johnson men in later census records, born in Kentucky, and married to a woman with the possible surname of Hendri___.

And I discovered Isaac and Mary Johnson, in Vermillion County, Indiana.

This set off delightful alarm bells, because Isaac and Mary are in Vermillion exactly at the same time John and Sarah Hardin Hendrickson are in Vermillion.

But there was one catch: all the other online trees said her maiden name was Foster, not Hendrixson or Hendrickson.

So I rebuilt Isaac Johnson’s tree from scratch, using only source documents and not blindly copying from other people’s trees, to see if I could discover anything helpful. I looked at census, land, religious, and marriage records. I looked at newspaper obituaries and historical books.

Here’s what I discovered…

  1. From the 1850 census, we can see that Isaac and Mary are both born in Kentucky.
  2. Mary is born October 21, 1801 in Kentucky per her FindAGrave record. (John and Sarah Hardin Hendrickson are married January of 1801 in Washington County, Kentucky.) There’s no photo of her gravestone so I’ve requested a photo be taken via FindAGrave. She’s born about 1801 on both her 1850 and 1860 census records, but I don’t have proof of this exact birth date.
  3. Mary’s first child, Jane, is born in Kentucky in 1817.
  4. Because both Mary and Isaac are born in Kentucky, and Jane is born in Kentucky, it’s reasonable to assume that Isaac and Mary are married in Kentucky. There are only a few Isaac-Mary or Isaac-Polly marriages that would be the right timeline for a child to be born in 1817. Isaac Johnston and Polly Hendrixson are married in 1816 in Hardin County, Kentucky.
  5. Mary’s daughter, Jane, marries James Chambers in 1835 Vermillion County, Indiana. On her 1850 census in Edgar, Illinois, she says she was born in Washington County, Kentucky. That would be circa 1817.
  6. Mary’s third daughter, Lucinda, has both a biography in the History of Vermillion County, Indiana book (written when she was still alive) and an obituary in the Newport (Vermillion) Hoosier News, presumably written by one of her children after her death. In the History of Vermillion, she says she was born in Shelby County, Indiana in 1830. In her obituary, it says she was born in Dubois County, Indiana.
  7. Sure enough, there is Isaac Johnson in the 1830 census for Shelby County, Indiana, with just the right number of ages and children. Also living in Shelby at this time, John and Sarah Hardin Hendrickson, and several of their children.
  8. In 1832, John and Sarah sell their Shelby land and buy land in Vermillion County, Indiana. Several of their children and grandchildren marry there over the next 10 years or so.
  9. According to Lucinda’s obituary, the family moved to Vermillion County in 1833.
  10. In 1837, Mary and Isaac Johnson are founding members of the United Brethren Church at Hannaman Chapel in Vermillion. William Hendrickson, John’s brother, is also a trustee of the United Brethren Church back in Dubois, Indiana.
  11. In the late 1840s, John and Sarah Hardin Hendrickson move to Green County, Wisconsin. Their son William’s children (James Hendrickson, John R Hendrickson, Sarah Hendrickson Shewmaker, and Mary Ann Hendrickson Lee Russell) stay in Helt Township, Vermillion County with their mother and their step-father, John Russsell.
  12. In 1850 and 1860, Isaac and Mary are living in Helt Township, as well.
  13. In 1852, Mary’s daughter, Lucinda, marries Simeon Hollingsworth, and Lucinda has a son named Joel Hollingsworth.
  14. Joel Hollingsworth marries Sarah Hendrickson, great-granddaughter of John and Sarah Hardin Hendrickson, via their son William (who died in his early 30s) and his son, James Hendrickson of Helt.
  15. Mary has a son, John J. Johnson. John J. Johnson first marries Jane Russell, daughter of John Russell. John Russell’s wife dies, and he remarries to Sarah Thompson Hendrickson, the widow of William (the one who died in his early 30s), son of John and Sarah Hardin Hendrickson. (In John Russsell’s will, he leaves money to “the heirs of William Hendrickson” and names those children.)
  16. If you’re having a hard time visualizing these relationships, and if you’re on Ancestry.com, you can see John and Sarah Hardin Hendrickson’s tree here.
  17. When Jane Russell dies, John J. Johnson marries Elizabeth Meliza, and he names his son John Hendrix Johnson. Why would he use that middle name?
  18. John J. Johnson and Elizabeth Meliza have a daughter named Margaret Kathryn Johnson, who marries Samuel Raymond Lake. Samuel Lake is the son of William Lake and Elizabeth Thompson. Elizabeth Thompson Lake and Sarah Thompson Hendrickson Russell are sisters.
  19. John J Johnson has another daughter, Martha “Mattie” Johnson. She marries William A Lake, grandson of William Lake and Elizabeth Thompson.
  20. Mary’s son, William, on his death index says his mother’s maiden name is “Henslein” – but it’s an index, not an original document, so could be poorly transcribed. I can easily see Henslein being Hendrix when someone was transcribing it. (I looked on FamilySearch but there’s no original document online that I can see.)
  21. There is no record I can find that says Mary’s maiden name is Foster.

What about the Vermillion land sales?

In 1832, John Hendrickson purchases land from the Federal Government in Vermillion County, Indiana. It is: Northeast 1/4 of the Northwest 1/4, Section 5, Township 15, Range 9.

In 1835, he “registers” that land, meaning he paid off his three year mortgage from the government.

When I was researching Hendrickson land and military files at the National Archives (NARA) in Washington, DC a few years ago, tucked into John Hendrickson’s land folder was an affidavit from the person who had purchased this land from him. I didn’t think it meant anything, so I took a photo of it, and filed it away on my hard drive.

It was Mary Johnson who bought the land (or a portion of the land) from John Hendrickson. As far as I can tell, John Bilsland has no family relationship.

Why Hendrix and not Hendrixson or Hendrickson?

If the Johnsons are like my own family, the reason we’re seeing “Hendrix” and not “Hendrickson” stems from 1880, when Joel Hollingsworth, the son of Lucinda, marries Sarah Hendrickson, great-granddaughter of John and Sarah Hardin Hendrickson. 

It’s a rocky marriage. They have one son, Caleb, then divorce. Caleb goes to live with Joel. 

In 1880, Mary’s father, James Hendrickson, gets the idea that he’s going to kidnap Caleb from Joel’s house. There’s a gun fight. They shoot each other, but no one dies. They all get arrested and there’s a big court case. It’s in ALL the national newspapers at the time. 

After 1880, my side of the family (and James’ brother, John, and almost all of James’ kids) began using Hendrixson instead of Hendrickson… and still use Hendrixson today. 

And it gets worse… 10 years later in 1890, the same James tried to kill his wife, then commits suicide. And that’s in all the national newspapers, too.

You can see how this family would want to distance themselves from all this attention.

What about DNA?

One of the best proofs of any family tree is the matching of DNA along a family line. So, I looked to see if I had any DNA matches to Isaac and Mary Johnson and their children.

Because of all the intermarriages, I could easily match this family along the Hendrickson, Thompson or Lake lines, and it wouldn’t be proof.

I needed better proof, and the best way to prove that is when one of the children have a second marriage, so that only one line of DNA is passed down to their children. I needed to find one of the Johnson family who didn’t intermarry with a Hendrickson, Lake or Thompson.

I have many matches to Joel Hollingsworth via his second marriage to Elizabeth Stewart. The only way I can have a DNA match to Joel is through his Johnson mother.

I’ll be searching through my DNA matches for more matches like this over the coming weeks.

I also have guest access to a dozen or so DNA kit reports via AncestryDNA to Hendrickson researchers on other parts of the bigger Hendrickson tree. These researchers are not through John and Sarah Hardin Hendrickson (or have any Hardin connection), so I’ll be looking for matches on those trees, which will help prove out the DNA line.

I have guest access to some DNA reports for Thompson, Lake and Hardin researchers, and I checked — they, too, have links to this Johnson family.

The best test I can recommend to any Johnson (or Thompson or Lake) researcher is see if you have a DNA match to the Hardin family from Stafford County, Virginia. That’s Sarah Hardin Hendrickson’s line, and if you have matches that you can’t account for in another part of your tree, AND the “shared in common” matches with those people are also your Johnson family matches, that could be a strong clue for you. Sarah Hardin’s parents are Moses Hardin and Mary Ball.

If you are a Johnson researcher who has done a DNA test, please contact me so we can compare our kits to see where the common matches are.

Who is the father of Issac Johnson?

That is a great question! There are many Johnson and Johnston families in the Washington, Hardin, Nelson, Kentucky area at this time. But one clue is that some are from Maryland and they are most likely Catholic. Another line is Separate Baptist and move to Perry and Spencer, Indiana.

So find out who the minister was on each marriage and see if you can find a trend of which religion they belonged to, as well a where they were born.

And we need to find the census records for Isaac and Mary in 1820. They might be living with other family members, or they might have their own census. They would have two small children, a boy and a girl under 10 years old. They’re likely in the Hardin/Washington/Nelson/Mercer area of Kentucky or the Dubois/Shelby/Johnson area of Indiana.

4 thoughts on “Who Are the Parents of Mary Johnson of Vermillion County, Indiana?

  1. Joel Hollingsworth was my great grandfather via the youngest son (Phillip) of his second marriage to Elizabeth (or Eliza) Belle Stewart, not Elizabeth Meliza as you state in your blog. Though we aren’t related to his first wife, Sarah Hendrickson, she is the mother of our great uncle Caleb, the 2 year old baby who was “kidnapped.” I don’t know what Caleb ever knew about the situation (he died long before we had any clue about the scandal), but my grandfather grew up under the illusion that his father’s first wife had died. We would love to know more about what happened to Sarah. We’ve heard that she remarried several times and ended up in Chicago. You may also be interested to know that in the 1860 census, a Mary Johnson, age 56, was living with Simeon and Lucinda Johnson Hollingsworth and was listed as “sister-in-law.”


    1. Thanks for the heads-up on Elizabeth Belle Stewart. I have her correct in my tree on Ancestry, but somehow that didn’t make it to my blog post!

      Sarah Hendrickson lived a long time. She first married Joel Hollingsworth in 1875, then had the following marriages: John/Joe Peterson (and had two sons, Clarence Peterson and William Peterson, half-brothers to Caleb Hollingsworth); Clarence Hardgrove (and had one daughter, Marie Hardgrove who died young), finally William Irkfitz. She died 1940 in Chicago at 82 years old.


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