Pauline C. Merrick – Research, Analysis and WritingA Father for Martha
Pauline C. Merrick
I adore my mother-in-law. No, seriously, I hit the mother-in-law jackpot when I married. Born in 1922, June Merrick is a product of her generation; raised by hard-working parents she scorns any idleness. Rarely still, she sews and knits and crochets, donating most of her output to various charities. When she speaks of her parents, her love for them comes through, and it is obvious that she misses them greatly. So it was difficult when, as a genealogist, I broached the subject that her beloved mother was probably illegitimate.
Many years ago, when first bitten by the genealogy bug, I had looked at her family. It didn’t seem as though there was much for me to do – her father Anthony Hjalmar Hall was born in Sweden, and in that pre-internet age, I had no plans to research Swedish ancestors. Her mother, Martha Haase, was born in Minnesota, of German immigrant parents. And there it all lay for many years.
DNA tests are such a wonderful addition to a genealogist’s toolkit. I tested, my mother tested, my sister tested, my brother tested. With those results, we proved out what had been a weak paper trail to HAMLIN cousins in the Midwest. I made a start at unwinding my tangle of WILLIAMS ancestors, and found some HANEY cousins who were stalled in their family research. Along the way, I started to help others figure out their own results and make similar discoveries. One of the most important things I learned was the importance of testing older relatives, before that DNA is lost forever. Hence, I asked my mother-in-law to submit a sample – not for any particular research problem, but just to have it “on file” so to speak.
In spite of the dry-mouth problem that plagues so many older folks, she produced a decent sample and I sent it off to Ancestry. While waiting for her test to process, I worked expanding her family tree. I entered what little I knew about her HALL ancestors in Sweden, and then started on her mother’s HAASE family in Minnesota. It didn’t take long to run into trouble.
Martha Augusta (Haase) Hall
Martha Haase was born 3 March 1893 in West Albany, Wabasha County, Minnesota to Anna Haase, and a father who died shortly after, name unknown. Familysearch.org has (unindexed) birth records for Minnesota so I dove in; found the correct book for Wabasha County, paged through to births recorded in West Albany in 1893, and there was Martha, born March third. Oddly, no father was listed. I checked for the birth date of her younger sister, Helen. No father listed. I looked through the index at the beginning of the book for her brother. There was an index entry for William Haase, born in West Albany in 1888 – book B, page 63, line 7. I found the book and page, and line 7 was – blank. Well, not exactly blank. Before the image had been scanned, someone had carefully run a strip of white-out tape across the entry. In the “condition of birth” column, you can read through the tape. Illegitimate. So much for the “father died young” story – Anna Haase bore 5 children between 1887 and 1902 without the benefit of marriage.
My mother-in-law took it well. Turns out, she always suspected the truth. She knew that her grandmother had been a cook in a lumber camp filled with men. Naturally, she assumed that I could research and find the father with ease. After all, didn’t she just do a DNA test? Suddenly this had turned from a lark into a burden. I had work to do.
When her results were available on Ancestry, I carefully scanned her matches. The close ones were known family members. Fanning out, I found connections to the Haase family in Minnesota, and lots of Swedes. Gedmatch provided much of the same – no match close enough to pin down; no family trees with a young man in the right place, at the right genetic distance, and at the right time (an 1890 census would be helpful!) Once again, I had to set it aside.
Months later, I received a curious email. “*TT” informed me that June Hall Merrick was his closest match on Gedmatch, which he had just joined. He could see that I was in the US; he has no relatives in the US. His great-grandfather had come here in 1881, but returned to Sweden in 1884. The great-grandfather had a brother who traveled with him. The brother remained here, married but had just one child who never married. I asked him if he was related to the Hall family of Vetlanda. He did a bit of research and confirmed that he was not. Please, I asked, send me the information on that one brother who came to the US and remained here. After several agonizing days, *TT responded.
Alexander Olsson was born in Sweden 22 April 1859. He arrived in Boston in 1881. His whereabouts for the next few years are not known, but on 15 March 1893 he married a woman named Christina. In Minneapolis, Minnesota, 70 miles up the Mississippi River from West Albany, where Anna Haase had just given birth to her daughter.
Laying out a family tree based on Alexander Olsson, June and *TT are second cousins, once removed. The expected amount of shared centimorgans for that relationship is 106 cM. Their actual number is 113. June’s ethnicity estimates show approximately 75% Scandinavian, with the remainder being Western European, indicating that 3 of her 4 grandparents may have been Swedish, and the other German.
Alexander Olsson, welcome to the family. I never would have found you using standard genealogical research. And thank you, *TT, for randomly deciding to do a DNA test!