If you blink, you just might miss the Lingelbach Cemetery, a small cemetery located just east of the village of Shakespeare, Ontario.
Last month, while en route to the Merner family reunion, I almost missed it. Of course, I wasn’t expecting to see it either.
When planning our trip to the family reunion, I knew that our route would take us through one of Ellen’s ancestral towns, New Hamburg, Ontario, and so, I allowed time for us to visit the Riverside Cemetery there (I documented this stop in a previous post). After leaving Riverside Cemetery and new Hamburg, we journeyed along; Ellen likely happy that my cemetery roving was finished and me, well, I was happy to have finally turned Riverside Cemetery into something more than a name on a record.
My “Oh My God!” exclamation caught Ellen off guard as we traveled down Highway 7/8 towards Stratford, Ontario and our eventual destination of the reunion location in Seaforth, Ontario. No, I explained, nothing was wrong but I had just seen the sign for Lingelbach Cemetery, something we definitely had to stop and explore on our trip home.
Lingelbach Cemetery is small, well maintained and is located on the corner of the highway and regional road 104, just outside the eastern boundary of Shakespeare. Like Riverside Cemetery is was just a name, albeit a bit of a strange name, that I had seen many times contained in death and burial records for some of Ellen’s ancestors. Now it was real and I had a chance to walk it’s few rows of graves, occasionally stopping to photograph the grave of a known ancestor and pay my respects to them.
Below is one of the ancestral graves found, that of Israel Eby (1850 – 1903) and his wife Mary Anne Witwer (1854 – 1932), Ellen’s first cousin, three times removed.
Earlier this month, Ellen and I attended the Merner Family reunion, held in Seaforth, Ontario. You can read more about the reunion and our participation by clicking here.
After having researched Ellen’s family history for several years, there are certain places that I just feel compelled to visit. Perhaps it’s because I have entered the same village or town name into my genealogy database or maybe it’s an intriguing family event that I hope a visit might allow me to feel like I am experiencing the event in its proper context.
Riverside Cemetery is one of those places. For many years, as I have ‘found’ more of Ellen’s Merner ancestors, typically they have been buried in New Hamburg’s Riverside Cemetery. Even many of those ancestors who had moved away from the New Hamburg community, were returned to their ancestral town for burial.
The trip to the reunion location took us right through New Hamburg so I couldn’t resist the temptation to locate the cemetery and try to find the graves of Ellen’s ancestors whom I have come to know so well.
Riverside Cemetery is located in the south end of the town, away from the business section located north of the highway. It is a large, well maintained cemetery which, with some pre-trip Google map planning and a GPS unit, was very easy to find. Unfortunately, we visited on a Sunday so there was no office staff available to provide directions on where to locate the graves I wanted to find. Even though it was possibly the hottest day of the year, I was okay with that as I am like a ‘kid in a candy store’ when it comes to walking around an ancestral cemetery searching for family members; and, I found Merners, lots and lots of Merners.
It is important to note, if you are planning a trip to this cemetery, that the east side of the cemetery is also known as Holy Family Cemetery; the eastern part serving as the Roman Catholic section. Although the Merner family as well as the other main branches of Ellen’s family tree were predominantly Methodists or Lutherans, there were many Roman Catholic Merner family members. The graves of these family members were eventually located in the eastern Holy Family section.
Below is a photo of Ellen at the grave of her 3X great-grandparents, Jacob Emanuel Merner (Muerner) and his wife Susannah Schluchter. Jacob died in 1869 and Susannah in 1875. Their gravestone is well worn and the inscription is not in English but their names, dates of birth and death, as well as their ages at death are clearly legible.
Perhaps the most touching family gravestone was found at the graves of Jacob Ernst and his wife Clarissa Merner. Jacob and Clarissa are buried together in Riverside Cemetery along with their son Walter who died in 1901 of appendicitis at the age of just 14. Below is a photo of the statute erected as a memorial to Walter. The base of the memorial statue is inscribed “Our Darling Boy.”
Recently, I was in New Hamburg, Ontario and specifically I was visiting Riverside Cemetery.
While I have seen photos of Riverside Cemetery through websites such as Find-A-Grave, this was my first time visiting and searching for the gravestones of Ellen’s ancestors who had lived and died in the area.
While wandering through the cemetery (on one of the hottest days of the year!), I came across the gravestone for Earl W. Burchatzki and his wife Grace A. Irvine. Neither Earl nor Grace have any family connection to Ellen or I but their gravestone gave more information about them than most. In addition to providing Earl and Grace’s years of birth and death, their gravestone provided their date of marriage – September 29, 1945, likely I’m assuming soon after Earl returned home from military service in World War 2.
Okay, maybe that’s not so remarkable in and of itself but the inscription on the reverse side of the gravestone shows the pride and love Earl (again I’m assuming) had for the love of golf.
On the reverse side of the gravestone, neatly chiseled and preserved for future generations to see are the dates and lengths of the two holes on which Earl achieved a hole-in-one at the Foxwood Golf Course in nearby Baden, Ontario.
For several decades, a Merner family reunion has been held in southwest Ontario. Typically, about 50 descendants of Jacob Emanuel Merner and his wife Susannah Schluchter, gather to catch up on family news, spend fun time together, and share a meal. A few years ago, on the reunion’s 50th anniversary, between 200 – 300 Merner descendants attended. This year, the reunion gathering was held on Sunday, July 14th in Seaforth, Ontario. Ironically, Ellen and I have been to the town of Seaforth previously on a genealogy quest as her direct maternal family line, the Latimer family settled in Seaforth following their immigration from Ireland. The Merner family is one of Ellen’s paternal ancestral lines.
One set of my wife Ellen’s 3X great grandparents are Jacob Emanuel Merner and his wife Susannah Schluchter. The descendants of Jacob and Susannah Merner have been documented in Ruth Merner Connell’s book on the Merner family genealogy. As I mentioned in previous posts, Ellen’s family was not documented in the book because, well, simply put, whomever in her family might have been contacted by Ruth Connell in the early 1970’s didn’t reply to the inquiry.
Fortunately that changed this year. One of the reunion organizers, Marg (Merner) Nicholson decided to search out some information about Senator Samuel Merner, one of Jacob and Susannah’s children. Ellen is descended from Samuel’s sister Anna Merner, whereas most of the reunion participants are descended from a younger brother, Gottlieb Merner. As a result of her information search, Marg found my blog post about Samuel and his connection to Ellen. Emails were subsequently exchanged between Marg and I and the invitation to the family reunion was extended and accepted.
The reunion was held at the Seaforth Golf and Country Club where family members were able to enjoy a round of golf together while their children participated in various games at a nearby park. The event was capped off with a barbecue dinner. Below is a photo of Ellen (centre) with her new found cousins and family reunion organizers Liz Bartliff (left) and Marg Nicholson (right).
What a great experience to find and meet so many family members who warmly welcomed their long ‘lost’ cousin!
Take away all of the current databases and you are left with the archives, cemeteries, registry offices, courthouses and unknown family members that Ruth Merner Connell had available to her when she decided, in 1971, to explore her Merner ancestry. Ruth is pictured below with her husband Robert Connell in a screen shot captured from her book.
Six years after she began ‘climbing her family tree, Ruth produced, and self-published with the financial assistance of a Merner cousin, the almost 600 page book, Murner, Muerner, Merner: genealogy and related branches. The book, now out of print is available to be viewed as images on a page by page basis through Ancestry as well in several library special collections and genealogy society holdings.
Ruth Merner Connell used Jacob Emanuel Merner and his wife Susanna Schluchter, Ellen’s 3X great grandparents, as her starting point for research. As Ruth, whose exact cousin connection to Ellen I have not yet determined, soon discovered, Merner family members were to be found all across North America, Europe, Africa, and even in Japan.
Ruth chose Jacob Emanuel Merner as her starting point as he was the first Merner to arrive in North America. She worked backwards from Jacob and Susanna using the Family History Centers of the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter-Day Saints along with letters written to records office in different villages and towns in Switzerland. She even made regular contact with the Consulate of Switzerland in Cleveland, Ohio, not far from where she lived.
The records she found allowed her to trace her Merner ancestry back to Gwer Murner, born in 1545. Ruth was able to locate and identify records showing the eleven children of Jacob and Susanna who lived to adulthood and the ninety-three grandchildren they produced for their parents. New Hamburg in Waterloo County, Ontario, Canada became the central location from which the Merner family branches would fan out.
Ruth kept at it and found living Merner relatives through what had to have been onerous amounts of letter writing, receiving over time additional information about the lives of Merner descendants, usually derived from family bibles. Strangely, Ellen’s connection to her Merner great-grandparents is not documented in the book as, unfortunately not all branches of the family responded to Ruth’s letters requesting assistance with her project.
All of this was completed without a computer and was eventually, organized and published for the benefit of someone like me who came upon a connection to the Merner family, through marriage, and who unlike Ruth, can enjoy the fruits of her labour quickly through online resources providing me with information for my computerized genealogy database.
I began researching my family history about five years after Ruth’s book was published. There were no computers and online was where you hung the clothes to dry. It was really tough work, not the least of which was figuring out how various archives organized and stored the records you wanted to review. You had to spend time learning the filing system before you could even hope to actually look at a microfilm reel of records. I wasn’t very successful and so I am all that more amazed at the success that Ruth had and even more appreciative of her efforts.
Sadly, Ruth passed away at the much too young age of 57 in 1983. A true genealogist and a gift to future Merner researchers like me.
Anna Merner (name variant Muerner) was the seventh of eleven children born to Jacob Emanuel Merner and Susanna Schluchter. I married Anna’s great-great granddaughter 179 years after Anna took her place in the Merner household in the Canton of Berne, Switzerland in 1824.
I don’t know when Jacob and Susanna Merner brought there family to Canada but they had arrived by the time the delayed Census of 1851 covering Canada East, Canada West, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia was compiled in January of 1852. The family can be found in the village of New Hamburg, located in the County of Waterloo in what is now the province of Ontario. The Merners would come to be long associated as one of the leading families of this community for years to come.
While New Hamburg may have served as the family ‘seat’, it was also the launching pad for family members seeking adventure and prosperity in other parts of North America. For example, in 1875, Jacob and Anna’s son Johan set off for the United States where he settled on a farm of his own in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
While a number of Merners ventured shorter distances to surrounding towns and villages in what is now southern Ontario, some saw the opening of Canada’s west as their ticket to a better way of life.
And so it was that Levi Merner struck out with his young family in the late 19th century. It is believed that Levi died enroute to his dream, probably in 1900 in what is now the province of Manitoba. His widow, Mary Merner however ‘soldiered’ on and can be found living with her children in Didsbury, Alberta in 1901. Levi and Mary Merner’s descendants can still be found enjoying the beauty and richness of Canada’s western provinces today.
I owe a debt of thanks to Ellen’s fourth cousin Glenn Swanson for contacting me, through this blog, and providing some of the breakthrough information that assisted in deepening my knowledge and understanding of the family.