I met Hannah Ellen Frantz last June in the Vital Records department of the Butler County Courthouse in Butler, Pa. and I haven’t been able to get her out of my thoughts since.
Hannah Ellen, often called “Ella”, was my great-great grandmother, born in 1854 in Farmington Township, Pa., the youngest child of Jacob Frantz and Susanna Nichols Frantz. And up until June 2011 I had never heard of her.
In fact, I learned her name from her signature “Ellen Merriman” on the 1897 marriage license to grant permission for her 17 year-old daughter — my great-grandmother — to marry my great-grandfather. But in the 18 months since our first encounter, I’ve learned so much about my great-great grandmother.
Hannah Ellen didn’t have a cushy life. Her father died when she was 13 and she lost two older brothers during the Civil War. Following her father’s death, she lived with her mother, most likely working on the farm until she married in 1875 at the age of 21. There are no school or church records for that little town in Pennsylvania, so I don’t have any idea whether she attended school or where and when, exactly, she was married.
By the by the time she was enumerated in the 1880 Federal Census at age 26, she had two daughters: Bertha Bee, born in 1877, and my great-grandmother Charlotte Venetia, born in 1879. Pretty typical stuff for her time, I guess.
But here’s the strange part: There’s no Mr. Merriman listed in their household in the 1880 Census. Doubly strange is the fact that her third child, Grace, was born in 1881 and her son, Albert Leroy, in 1884. So where was her husband and why is there no record of him in the 1880 Census? I’ve got to assume he was in the picture, somewhere…
I’ve tried a number of ways to track down the man that my mom and I have dubbed “The Mysterious Mr. Merriman.” Unfortunately, a fire in the U.S. Department of the Interior destroyed most of the 1890 Census, and Pennsylvania did not require residents to record birth, death and marriage records until the early 1900s.
After 1897, Ella shows up a few times in City Directories in Butler and New Castle, Pa. (I have to say that I’ve fallen in love with these late 19th and early 20th Century city directories; they are an absolute wealth of knowledge and I’ve used them to trace the residences of Ella and her four children all over Pennsylvania over a period of 20 years.) But no mention of “MMM” in any of these records.
I had a breakthrough earlier this year when I connected with Albert Leroy Merriman’s grandson via Ancestry.com. He had a “delayed birth certificate” issued in 1945 for his grandfather that listed the mother’s name as “Ellen Hannah Frantz” and the father’s name “Keller Smith Merriman.” Another round of searches confirmed that Ella Merriman was listed as (widow, Keller S.) in many of the city directories.
Unfortunately that’s where the trail goes cold. According to my mother’s 87 year-old cousin, their great-grandfather Merriman was killed in an accident in the oilfields near Bradford, Pa. I haven’t been able to get any information online, most small papers have yet to make their back issues available via the Internet, so at some point in the next year, I’m going to have to travel up to McKean County, Pa., to go through microfilms and see if I can learn anything about Keller Smith Merriman.
Even if I do uncover the details of his death, I’ll never know how he and Hannah Ellen met, or where he was during that gap in time. So for now, the Mysterious Mr. Merriman remains a mystery.