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Richard Colles Johnson - Colles Family Papers

Identifier: Midwest-MS-Johnson

Scope and Content of the Collection

Correspondence, clippings, articles, photographs, postcards, and publications by and about members of the Colles and related families who form the genealogical heritage of Richard Colles Johnson, 1939-1998, and which provided information for his genealogical research.

Includes contemporary letters and cards to Rick Johnson; some correspondence by family members, including original handwritten letters dating to the 18th Century; genealogical charts and lists; and Colles family histories; plus pamphlets and brochures, newspaper clippings and pages from publications, extracts from archival documents, photographs, and art work. Also included are copies of publications written by Johnson, or to which he made significant contributions.


  • Creation: 1746-2002
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1956 - 1998



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The Richard Colles Johnson – Colles Family Papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Richard Colles Johnson – Colles Family Papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections.

Biography of Richard Colles Johnson

Bibliographer and librarian at the Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois.

Richard Colles (“Rick”) Johnson was born at Petoskey, Michigan on September 7, 1939. After graduating from Yale University in 1961, he earned masters’ degrees from the University of Michigan, in Library Science, in 1962 and from Northwestern University, in English Literature, in 1966.

He began his career at the Newberry Library as a Reference Librarian in 1963, and remained there for the rest of his life. His last position was as Bibliographer of American History and Literature. At the library, he played a key role in collection development, being instrumental in expanding the library’s collection of books, documents, and letters pertaining to English and American history, especially the rare book collection donated by Everett Graff, a former Newberry trustee. He was also an invaluable member of the staff of the Northwestern University - Newberry Library Edition of The Writings of Herman Melville.

Johnson was known for his doggedness and persistence in tracking down obscure sources and refuting overlooked erroneous statements. His intellectual curiosity, expertise, and knowledge were acknowledged by scholars who continually sought his counsel and assistance. Although he did not publish extensively, the scholarly quality of his articles was recognized by readers and publishers. Despite his pedantic interests, he did have a lighter side and, even, provided onsite help (with a stack tour) to an author for a mystery story set in the bowels of the library. Johnson’s loyalty, likeability, and friendships were evidenced by the large turnout for the memorial service at St. Chrysostom’s Church in Chicago after his death in 1998.

From his maternal grandmother and great aunt, Johnson gained an interest in his Colles family heritage, which some claimed went back to the twelfth century in Worcestershire, England, and to the Sixteenth Century in Ireland. As early as 1956, Rick began contacting and corresponding with Colles relatives to seek information and documentation on the family. Using the indefatigable research skills carried over from his bibliographical studies, Rick was able to amass 13 boxes of correspondence and copies of documents that attest to the family's longevity, intermarriages, and prominence.

Among Johnson’s Colles twentieth century relations was the first wife of the renowned cellist, Pablo Casals, and, also, the woman who attempted to assassinate the Italian Fascist leader, Benito Mussolini in 1926. His earlier relations include Christopher Colles, 1738-1816, an engineer, surveyor, and architect who emigrated to America where he became instrumental in laying the infrastructure of early New York, planning and proposing locks, canals, including the Erie canal, and other projects to open up inland navigation. He also proposed an early telegraph system. Another Colles relation, Abraham Colles, 1773-1843, was a prominent Dublin citizen, Professor of Surgery and President of the Royal College of Surgeons, for whom the Colles fracture is named. Still another, John Taylor Johnston, 1820-1893, was a founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Other Colles family and relations include prominent persons in Ireland, England, and America in government (e.g., a mayor of Kilkenny, Ireland), publishing, cartography, and musicology. Rick continued this lustrous and lasting work by his contributions to bibliography and librarianship until his death from lung cancer in 1998.


8.3 Linear Feet (13 boxes and 1 oversize box)


Material relating to the genealogy of Richard Colles Johnson’s family, especially his Colles ancestors and relations, including correspondence, clippings, copies of documents and publications, memorabilia, and photographs.


Papers are organized in the following series

Series 1: Colles Family Correspondence and Subject Files, 1755-1998
Boxes 1-5
Series 2: Colles Family in Australia, 1883-1988
Box 5
Series 3: Christopher Colles: Biography and General, 1769-1998
Box 6
Series 4: Christopher Colles: Letters and Family Papers, 1746-1814
Box 7
Series 5: Colles Family Genealogies, 1872-1997
Box 8
Series 6: Phepoe and Shiels families, 1757-1998
Box 9
Series 7: Nannestad, Egeland, and Johnson families, 1897-1998
Box 10
Series 8: Photographs, approximately 1860-1998
Box 11
Series 9: Art Work, approximately 1775-1860
Box 12
Series 10: Richard Colles Johnson - Personal and Professional Papers, 1939-2002, bulk 1956-1998
Box 13

Collection Stack Location

1 22 6-7


Bequest, Richard Colles Johnson, 1998.

Processed by

Richard R. Seidel and Lenore Glanz, 2006-2007.

Inventory of the Richard Colles Johnson - Colles Family Papers, 1746-2002, bulk 1956-1998
Richard R. Seidel and Lenore Glanz
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States