By Drake Lucas
But you wouldn't know that from his grave site.
John Johnson died between 1685 and 1688, but his grave marker has long since disappeared. And that's something his 12th generation descendant Jodi Salerno plans to remedy soon.
Salerno, of Derry, N.H., will erect a headstone to memorialize Johnson and his wife, Susanna, in North Andover's Old Burying Ground - once a part of Andover - before they disappear into history.
For the past 10 years, Salerno has researched her family's history, in the process discovering that Johnson is only remembered by a few tattered court documents, including one that notes he was fined for not attending a town meeting.
"Doing this whole genealogy, it sort of makes them come alive again," Salerno said. "They really were people."
At the time of John Johnson's death, graves would be marked by a wooden cross, or maybe a stone with initials, but nothing that lasted through the centuries.
The oldest stone in the graveyard is from 1696.
Salerno said it made her sad to think there was nothing to mark the first person who brought her family to America.
"We wouldn't be here if not for him coming over" from England, she said. "It would be nice if he had a memorial stone."
Salerno's mother started the search into the past by gathering what information she could from historical society records and the library.
Salerno was able to track down more information from genealogy Web sites. She knows John Johnson came from England, probably Kent County, and originally stopped in Ipswich before coming to Andover.
She said the research has taken on a life of its own.
"It's a very addicting thing. It is more than a hobby," Salerno said. "It's like a huge puzzle and you have to find all these pieces and fill it all in."
Salerno said birth and death records were not available until the fifth generation of Johnsons, so the best records come from court.
That is how she learned that John and Susanna Johnson's children sold liquor to Native Americans, and some of their wives stole things out of windows.
Other than that, she assumed they lived the typical Puritan lives of work and church.
Salerno said the more she learns about her family, the closer she feels to her long-lost relatives.
"I relate to them as part of my family, but it's a part you can't touch," she said. "You can't place yourself there because life was so different for them."
Researching her genealogy has also brought her closer to some of her living relatives. She recently met Gary Johnson, a distant cousin from Florida, through a Web site she set up about her family history.
He is a relative from John Johnson's son Thomas.
Another distant cousin she met through her research - Michael Johnson - lives in Newburyport, but the only ancestors they share are John and Susanna.
Salerno also has become the Andover town coordinator for the USGenWeb project, which helps people track their genealogy. She is currently putting all of the South Parish Cemetery online.
Getting the memorial stone has taken over a year. Salerno first took her idea to the North Andover Historical Commission.
Kathy Szyska, chairwoman of the commission, said putting in memorial stones is not a common request, but documents showed John and Susanna Johnson are buried in the cemetery and that Salerno is a direct descendant, so they had no objections.
She said the headstone has to be similar to what is already in the cemetery, but slate is no longer used because it does not withstand the weather.
Salerno said she settled on a simple message that she hopes is a lasting reminder of the beginning of her family in America.
The headstone will state:
"Erected in memory of John and Susanna Johnson, early settlers of Andover, laid to rest in this burial ground."