Emma Johnson’s Autograph Book from December 25, 1885

This book is 136 years old!  (Dec 25, 2021 – Dec 25, 1885)

A dealer from Main Street Mall in Denison, Texas saw my note at the front desk indicating I was interested in autograph books.  He contacted me because he has an autograph book from the 1880s.  Maybe I’d be interested?    

I bought the autograph book the next day (Dec 18th) and stayed up all night researching.  Then I stayed up the following night researching and haven’t stopped.

The most challenging aspect of this hobby is gathering my findings to present in a blog.  I like to be thorough.  But thorough means I’ll never finish.  In the interest of time, I will share bits and pieces as time permits.  

First, I’ll outline the research from Ancestry.com, Newspapers.com, FindAGrave.com and Google Maps.  There are discrepancies but I have cross-referenced the information and feel confident with my findings.  My goal isn’t to correct a date or misspelled name.  I’m trying to tie this autograph book to Emma Johnson and anyone associated with her and the autograph book.

Note, all photos can be enlarged by clicking on them.  

Emma Johnson received the book while she was a child, living in Prairie Lea, Texas.  Below, courtesy of Google Maps, is an image showing the location of Prairie Lea.  


Data below courtesy of Google/Wikipedia search of “Prairie Lea”.  The population in 2000 was 255.  

Owner of Autograph Book:  Emma Johnson
Lived in:  Prairie Lea, Texas
Born:  Either 1873 per census or 1874 per obituary and tombstone
Death:  Oct 22, 1952 per tombstone and obituary
Maiden Name:  Emma Johnson
Emma Johnson married:  Judge Miles Ulvin Smith / M. U. Smith
Marriage Date:  May 4, 1892

Emma Johnson’s Married Name:  Mrs. M. U. Smith
This detail is critical. I found what I believed was Emma’s tombstone but her name is very common and an obituary often includes helpful details to confirm the identity.  But I was unable to locate an obituary when searching “Mrs. Emma Smith”.  Once Emma married, she went by Mrs. M. U. Smith.  This detail made it easy to locate her obituary.  

Emma Johnson’s Father:  A.C. Johnson / Albert Carroll Johnson
Born:  Feb 5, 1832
Death:  Oct 15, 1902
Age at death:  70 years
Profession:  Wagon maker / wheelwright

Emma Johnson’s Mother:  Sarah Angeline Cardwell / Sallie Cardwell:  “Sallie” seems to be a nickname for “Sarah”.  The tombstone indicates:  “Sallie A. Johnson”
Born:  Oct 2, 1838
Death:  March 18, 1937
Age at death:  98 (she was months away from her 99th birthday)

Emma’s parents, A.C. Johnson and Sarah “Sallie” Cardwell married on Dec 27, 1866.

Emma Johnson and her siblings*

*The table below is based on the 1870 and 1880 census, which list the ages of the children in the household.  Note, a census lists the people in a household at the time.  Non-family and extended family can be counted in the census.  If children aren’t in the household at the time, they aren’t included in the census. It should also be noted I believe there are 6 children in the family, however I found a newspaper article indicating the Johnsons had 6 children.** 

** The Austin American, Austin, TX; Oct 14, 1934.

Children of A.C. Johnson and Sarah Angeline Cardwell JohnsonBorn / Death
Lou A. Johnson
variations: Lou Allis Johnson
variations: Lou Alice Johnson

Married Name:  Lou Alice O’Banion
b:  1859
Martha Ada Johnson
Married Name:  Martha Ada Flowers

Martha’s Children: 
Emma DuBose
Addison Johnson Flowers
Alice Flowers
Eula May Pettus
b:  March 16, 1863
d:  June 14, 1958
George C. Johnsonb:  1867
Minnie Mae Johnson

variations: Mamie Johnson
Married Name: Minnie Mae Malloch
b:  Sept 13, 1869
d: July 22, 1960; 90 years
Monroe Johnson

variations: Monroe A. Johnson
b:  1871
Emma Johnson
Married Name: Mrs. M. U. Smith
b:  1873 or 1874
William Johnson
variation: William A. Johnson
b:  1877

Emma’s siblings signed her autograph book.  I know this, because they signed it “your brother” which made it very helpful in confirming I found the right Emma Johnson.

With this data as the foundation, we can have some fun looking at the autograph book!

Front cover

Emma Johnson’s Autograph Book from the 1880s

Back cover

Emma Johnson’s Autograph Book from the 1880s

It looks like the book has moisture damage, as if it was used as a coaster for a drink.  Think of this autograph book the next time you consider not using a coaster.  Yes, I will remove the antique store labels from the back cover of the book…

Inside front cover

Text:  “$1000 wouldn’t touch this book.  No! No!”

I am grateful to have purchased the book for my threshold price of $18.  It is among my prized possessions.  

Page 1 (opposite inside front cover, right)

Emma Johnson’s Autograph Book from the 1880s

“Presented to Emma Johnson by her Friend

E. J. Crosthwait

Christmas, 1885″

Special thanks to my friend Kathryn Land and her daughter who deciphered and even researched the name, “Crosthwait”.  Unlocking this name led to discoveries.

Full name:   Miss Eugenia Josephine Crosthwait 
Born:  April 1845 or 1847 in Alabama
Death:  February 26, 1913
Buried:  Oakwood Cemetery, Austin Texas

Eugenia would have been 38 or 40 years old when she gave the book to Emma.  Emma would have been 11 or 12 years old. 

Miss Eugenia was a teacher.  I found multiple city directories that listed Eugenia’s name, address and profession of “school teacher”.  

Image from Austin City Directory, 1910-1911.  

Austin City Directory 1910-1911

Page 3 (right)

“Autographs” was printed in black on the page.  The style matches the front cover.  However, someone colored / embellished the lettering with brown ink.  There are also some embellishments in pencil.  

Page 2 (left)

Why is this page worth showing?  The physical page was out of order in the book.  The clue of its proper place in the book was the back of the page, where you can see the word “Autographs” was transferred on to the page.  By relocating the page, it also put the note from Miss Eugenia (Page 1) in logical order. 

Page 4 (left)

You can see the back of the printed “Autographs” page.  Someone started outlining the word in pencil.

Page 5 (right)

“For Emma

Straight is the line of duty

Curved is the line of beauty.

Walk in the first and thou shall see

The other ever following thee.”

Christmas Day 1885

Your friend

Mils Eugenia”

The title in front of Eugenia’s name looks like Mifs.  However, I found only one website on the entire internet that indicates it is Miſs and it means ‘Miss’.  More info from Quora here.  

Eugenia Josephine Crosthwait did not get married.  So it does make sense that she signed her name in this manner.  

Obituary from Austin American-Statesman (Austin, Texas), Thu, Feb 27, 1913, page 6, courtesy of Newspapers.com.


Miss Eugenia J. Crosthwait, 68 years old, died yesterday at the home of K. C. Miller, 2300 Red River Street.  She was one of the oldest residents of the county.  She was born in Lawrence County, Alabama in 1845 and came to Texas in 1852, settling just south of Austin at what was then called Springlane.  She was a niece of Washington D. Miller, who was General Sam Houston’s private secretary.  Funeral services will be held at 10:30 o’clock this morning from the Miller residence.”

This residence where Eugenia passed away is demolished but is now Sid Richardson Hall at the University of Texas at Austin.  

How fascinating that this autograph book given to Emma on Christmas has lasted 136 years and ended up in my care a week ago.

The map below from Google Maps shows the book somehow traveled from Prairie Lea to Denison, a 336 mile / roughly 5 hour journey.  Who knows how many detours it made before arriving in Denison!  

I have more findings to share in future blog posts.  In the meantime, buy some coasters for yourself, family and friends. 

Also, it may be time to start a new trend:  the return of the autograph book!  Anyone want to sign mine?  Aside from an interesting message, I’ll need you to include your full legal name, nicknames, date of birth, birth place, parents’ names, siblings, residence, profession, spouse’s name, associations or clubs, headshot and blood type… just to make it easier for future generations to research!  😉

4 thoughts on “Emma Johnson’s Autograph Book from December 25, 1885

  1. Denise what a wonderful book to find. The cover is so beautiful & the history inside is priceless! I have done lots of genealogy so I loved reading this!

    1. I love this! Autograph books and research are a wonderful combination – I recently spent time pouring over the rhymes and poems in my mom’s autograph book from the 1940s. Looking forward to seeing more of your book!

      1. Pauline!
        I was tickled pink when I saw this come through! I love that you have your mom’s autograph book from the 1940s. That’s the same time frame as my red autograph book from Ramona Holmes! I’ll have to text you for photos!


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