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Oklahoma Family Tree Stories

This beautiful sculpture of three redbud trees is located just outside the Eleanor and John Kirkpatrick Research Center in the Oklahoma History Center. Each leaf of the Oklahoma Family Tree memorializes an Oklahoma family with the family surname, first name(s), and the town or county where they lived. In addition, a short family history is preserved in the digital family history book at the base of the tree. Sponsoring a leaf is a special way to recognize your family history and benefit future generations at the same time. To find out how to honor your own family with a leaf visit the Oklahoma Family Tree Project page.

Johnston Family

Family Tree Leaf
Johnston, Willard & Catherine
Pottawatomie County

The Johnston family's history in the New World began in Ireland in 1764 when Hugh and Ephemia Johnston boarded the Good Ship John to join what came to be known as the Great Migration. Although their precise reasons for leaving their homeland may never be known, they surely stemmed from the same toxic stew that sent millions of their countrymen on a perilous journey across the Atlantic. Their trip ended in Salem, New York, where they and their descendants carved out a community of Scotch-Irish immigrants.

Most members of the Johnston family were content to stay put in and around Salem, but a few decided there was more to America than their wooded valley, pulled up stakes, and struck out for Kansas. One of them, Willard Johnston (born January 21, 1863), made his way to the Oklahoma country, where his career typified frontier entrepreneurship. After failing to claim a homestead in the run of April 22, 1889, into the Unassigned Lands, he decided to try his luck in the September 22, 1891, run into the Pottawatomie and Sac and Fox reservations. His second attempt to claim a homestead was successful, and he quickly became a pillar of the Pottawatomie County business community.

Following his marriage to Catherine Moore (born April 15, 1868) of Howard, Kansas, on October 19, 1893, Willard became involved in the banking business and never looked back. As a pioneer banker based in Shawnee, Willard Johnston and his ilk hastened Oklahoma's inclusion in the nation's expanding web of credit and commerce.

Willard and Catherine's son, Willard Ross (born November 8, 1896, and best known as Ross), learned the ropes from his father before striking out on his own. Catherine died on March 18, 1924. Following Willard's death on March 23, 1939, Ross relocated to Oklahoma City and carved out a niche in the mortgage banking business.

Ross's daughter, Nancy Kathryn (born June 20, 1934), married George Jeffrey Records (born September 10, 1934) in Oklahoma City on August 2, 1955. Shortly thereafter, George joined his father-in-law to build Midland Mortgage Company into the nation's largest privately held servicer of residential mortgages. Following Ross's death in May 1976, George purchased a bank charter from a tiny savings and loan company in Adair County, Oklahoma, as a repository for the money his company was earning. George rebranded his bank in 1982 as MidFirst Bank and, over the ensuing years, built it into a financial powerhouse with branches throughout Oklahoma.

In 1995, leadership of MidFirst Bank passed to George and Nancy's son, George Jeffrey Records, Jr. Since then, MidFirst Bank has become one of the most successful banking enterprises in Oklahoma.

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