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About Donald B. Johnson's "Book"

Volume 1 of 2, published 1986, revised 1989, online 2007

My dad, Donald B. Johnson, wrote a book length manuscript, one little memory at a time. The worst of it was, he never had a chance to really organize it before he died ... so I inherited Dad's "book project." It was, literally, a "basket case" -- but he apparently had perfect confidence that I would take care of getting his "book" into print ... and I did. Well, the first volume anyway. I'm working on the second volume ... that would be everything that happened after he got married to my mother ... in 1937.

Before Dad died, he got out all the old family pictures and he wrote the names on the backs of the frames, or on tags on the backs of the photos. (You have to be really careful about that because writing on the backs of photos with ball point pens or sharp pencils, etc. will ruin them every time!) Even he didn't know who a few people were, so we were reduced to guessing about some identities, even after asking every surviving relative or friend we thought might know. By all means, if you have family photographs, write it all down!

My sister Mitzi had typed a rough draft of Dad's "memories manuscript" just before he died in 1982. She gave me the typed copy and the original, handwritten notebooks. I photocopied her typed copy and numbered each paragraph. I cut up the copy with scissors and organized the little pieces into piles on the living room floor -- ancestors, family, neighbors, the farm, the town, horses, etc. I typed the piles of copy into 40 digital files in what I hoped was at least semi-logical order. Each file is now a digital page ... of varying lengths.

After Dad died, I rephotographed all the old pictures and organized the information into captions and "married" it to bits and pieces of his "memories manuscript" to make up his book. It took several Alaska winters. I made six handmade copies of each photo in my darkroom, formatted the text on my computer, and put it all into binders for my mother and four siblings in 1986, four years after Dad died. Then I showed "the book" to one of my dad's cousins and she said, "Oh, but I have a whole bunch of pictures you don't have," and she sent me 40 more!

I started over with the pictures -- now close to 250 total in the first volume -- and reorganized them into 60 "plates." I photographed each plate and made eight sepia toned photographic copies of each plate in my darkroom. Then, on the opposite pages, I added detailed captions and matched up some related pieces from his "memories manuscript."

Dad's grandparents and every aunt, uncle and cousin in the first three generations of their descendents are represented here. All of them are pictured at least once. There is also a family tree of his father's people. I was able to photograph it in sections and enter it into a genealogy program. Although we would like to know more about his family's roots in Germany and Norway, we don't ... at least not yet. However, on the web, this is a "living" document and new information is being added as it is discovered. You never know.

I'm working to put the entire collection online or on CD-ROMs -- digitizing the photo plates and expanding the text wherever new information has come to light ... and extending the project via links to additional web pages. There is considerable linked material now, including his uncle Edward Miller's 12-page manuscript from 1960, a page of history on August Miller from a book of Otter Tail County history, and some new photos. More photos are to be added.

Jerrianne (Johnson) Lowther
Anchorage, Alaska
May 2007

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