Finally! My Journey Through Ruth Connell’s Merner Genealogy Is Complete

Back in mid-April, I happened upon a book compiled by the late Ruth Merner Connell on the Merner family genealogy. Ruth’s effort to produce the book must have been enormous. 

The book, published in 1976, is about 600 pages long, all hand typed (no computer word processing software available in those days) and includes old family photos and an index of the 2000 Merner family members that Ruth was able to document.

Ruth Merner Connell is my wife Ellen’s third cousin, once removed. Their common ancestors are Ellen’s 3X great grandparents, Jacob Emanuel Merner and Susanna Schluchter. It is these common ancestors that Ruth Merner Connell used as the focal point of her family research, essentially setting out to identify and document all of the descendants of Jacob and Susanna.

Ruth did not enjoy modern social media opportunities, no Facebook page, no Tweets, and no email. She completed her project through ‘snail’ mail and numerous trips to cemeteries and archives.

When I found Ruth’s book, I undertook to enter the information she had compiled into my genealogy software database. Now, some two and one half months later, I have finished the task. Entering all of the information into my database is not without risks. It’s a bit like copying someone’s public family tree, like those found and much maligned, on the Ancestry.com site. I not only entered Ruth’s genealogy information but ran the risk of entering all of her mistakes and fact errors as well.

In order to mitigate this very real risk, I checked her facts as I entered the information by taking advantage of using online databases and record collections. Certainly I found some errors in dates, for example a birth or death date being incorrect by a day, but for the most part Ruth’s information is accurate. She received the information she published directly from the family members that she was documenting. Ruth also cited her sources although certainly not in the citation form that would be preferred today. On each page Ruth listed where she obtained her information; from family members, family bibles, cemetery records, etc.

As a result of completing my task of entering the Merner family information, my database has swollen to 15,763 people in 5105 families. And, perhaps most importantly, I have entered the source of the information for each and every fact that was entered. I have uploaded this updated family tree to Ancestry.com as a public member tree.

The sad note on the Merner genealogy that Ruth published is that on page 272 of her book, Ruth lists Ellen’s great great grandparents, Anna Merner and Jacob Staebler. There is also a note from Ruth on the page: “No contact has been made on this family.” The result is that Ellen’s family is not included in the book beyond the information about her great great grandparents.

This may be remedied though as there are efforts underway to update Ruth’s book. I hope to do my part in assisting in those efforts in any way that I can or may be asked.

British Columbia, Canada Showing The Way With Free Online Records

Searching for many of my Canadian ancestors has been facilitated by them having lived for many generations in the province of Ontario. Records in Ontario for births, marriages, and deaths have been available through the Ancestry site. The Ontario records are indexed and there are digital images available of the records that can be saved on a personal computer. But, it is not free. Access to these records requires a subscription to the Ancestry site.

There are some means that can be used to obtain the same records for free but none of those opportunities mean staying at home. You could visit the Archives of Ontario or a Family History Centre to search through microfilm reels and print copies of the records you want, or perhaps your local public library has an institutional subscription to Ancestry, allowing you to find the records and save them to a USB key. Those research trips can be fun but still are not free with the cost of transportation and most importantly, time.

The province of British Columbia (B.C.) however, is leading the way by becoming the first Canadian jurisdiction I am aware of to post their vital records online and for FREE! As was reported by Dick Eastman on December 2nd, B.C. has posted more than 700,000 digital images attached to their fully indexed vital records.

My research has been halted, or at least slowed at times by what seems to be the inevitable migration of families to the west. So for example, a family living in Ontario during the latter half of the 19th century is attracted to and leaves Ontario for the chance at greater prosperity, often with free land awaiting, in the Canadian prairies. Eventually, family members venture a little further west into Alberta and B.C. That is certainly the migration pattern that I have seen with my wife Ellen’s family.

I’ll use Ellen’s paternal grandfather, Louis Jacob Gordon Wagner (pictured to the right) to illustrate this point. Louis was born in Ontario in 1886 but by the early part of the 20th century, Louis had moved to Saskatchewan where he married Ellen’s grandmother, Charlotte (‘Lottie’) Faulkner in 1912. By the end of his life, Louis was in B.C., living near his son Gordon in Comox on Vancouver Island, where he died in 1968.

BC has made available their records for births (1854 – 1903), marriages (1872 – 1936), deaths (1872 – 1991), colonial marriages (1859 – 1872), and baptisms (1836 – 1888). The records, as stated, are indexed and can be searched using a basic search or advanced search screen.

Here is what the search result looked like when I searched for Louis Wagner’s death record.

In addition to basic data being provided in the listing such as gender, age, date and location of event, the listing includes a link to the digital image of Louis’ death certificate. Louis’ death certificate is typed so it is easy to read with the exception of the attending doctor’s certification as to cause of death which is hand written and may be difficult to decipher.

With this record (and several others for other family members in both my family and Ellen’s), I was able to enter additional facts with source citations included in my RootsMagic database and attach the record digital images to the events that each supported.

I’m hoping more Canadian provinces follow the lead of BC in making these records available and easy to access. As a Canadian researcher, life would be so much better.

Tracing Ancestry to Adam and Eve

While I researching the recently concluded series about the Vermilyea murder and trial, I read many old newspaper pages from the Toronto Star’s Pages of the Past newspaper archive. Reading old newspapers can be fascinating and I was especially taken by the prices of houses, goods and services through the 1930’s period that I was reviewing.

One story on the front page of the February 25, 1935 edition caught my attention in particular. Genealogists may not get mentioned often but here they were on the front page of the daily newspaper in a major Canadian city debating the topic. Here for your enjoyment is the story.

The story’s headline reads:

Tracing Ancestry to Adam, Eve Absurd, Say Toronto Genealogists

There are many people in Toronto with the name of Stewart who are descended from the Stewart kings, but they can’t prove it, Col. Baptist Johnston, a fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, told The Star today, branding as “absurd” the claim of Mrs. Christian Sells Jaeger of Columbus, Ohio, that she has succeeded in tracing her ancestry back through 159 generations to Adam and Eve.

Col. Johnston declared, however, that Harry Drummond, of Deer Park Cres., is able to trace his ancestry back to the Earls of Perth, whose pedigree can be proven to approximately 1200 A.D. So quickly does the human race multiply, he pointed out, that Edward III of England now has tens of thousands of descendants.

“Some people have become almost insane on the topic of genealogy,” Col. Johnston commented. “Very few people can prove their ancestry prior to 1100.

“The late Henry O’Brien K.C. [King’s Counsel], of Toronto, was a descendant of the earls of Thomond, one-time kings of Munster.”

“In the first place I don’t think there is any such individual as Adam,” declared Rabbi M. N. Eisendrath. “How can she trace her pedigree back through Zedekiah, David, Enos and Seth to Adam” he asked, “when many biblical names are not names of persons, but of tribes. In the Old Testament the union of two clans is expressed as a marriage.”

“It is quite impossible to go back with any degree of accuracy beyond the time of the Norman conquest.” observed Prof. R. Flenley of the University of Toronto. “Even the ancestry of kings cannot be traced accurately much more than 1000 years.”

So now we know, we who “have become almost insane on the topic of genealogy.”