This is a companion piece to my A Look at Northern Slavery Personified blogpost.
This blogpost is a cautionary tale of genealogy research done somewhat wrong. I am using it as an example about how not to do genealogy research as well as discussing the importance of adhering to Genealogical Proof Standards.
The Back Story
Five years ago, I was contacted by an individual who claimed to be a descendant of my 2nd cousin 3XR, Edward Mayo Merritt. He asked a lot of questions about my Edward and finally said he was Edward’s 3rd great-grandson. As proof, he told me that he had a photo of Edward’s father, Samuel Henry Merritt, from Greenwich, CT. He said that his 2nd great-grandfather was John Sherman Merritt who was Edward’s illegitimate son. At the time, I did not question him. My mistake. He was also very reluctant to share his family tree. He kept asking for photos and more info about Edward. I finally stopped communicating with him. He popped up two years later asking the same questions. I ignored him because he wasn’t sharing anything. Fast forward to Fall 2015, I reached out to him unknowingly because he was recommended to me by someone who knew we were both researching the same surnames. He had been going by aliases previously which is why I didn’t recognize his name. We exchanged emails and I confirmed my descent from Peg and Anthony. I corrected some of assumptions he had about Peg and Anthony. Again, he kept asking for more info and photos. I went ahead and shared photos that I had of Edward’s children. We were supposed to meet in Harlem when he was home on school vacation and then he disappeared.
This person was recently interviewed in a newspaper about our shared ancestor, Peg Merritt. I noticed that some of the information published in the article was wrong. It was also through the divine intervention of our ancestors that I happened to be in Greenwich meeting three other Green-Merritt cousins for the first time, as well as visiting the cemetery where our ancestors were buried, that I was lucky enough to even see this front page article. It made me curious about his tree to say the least especially since he located a critical family document and never wanted to share his family tree or DNA results with me. Something was telling me that something wasn’t right. That’s when I launched an investigation into his 2nd great-grandfather, John Sherman Merritt family tree to see if he was really related to my Edward. I am glad I did.
John Sherman Merritt: Genealogical Proof of Descent from Edward Mayo Merritt?
I began a thorough investigation of John Sherman Merritt’s genealogy using all resources available to me. This included vital records, census records, and any other documents I could find. Here is what I found:
His death record states that he was born on December 10, 1889 and died on July 3rd,1921 in Greenwich, CT. He is buried in Putnam Cemetery in Greenwich, CT.
His Greenwich Town Hall birth record confirmed his birth date as being Dec. 10, 1889. The birth information given was from the physician. His mother was listed as being a Mary Wayland, born in VA, recorded as being black, and as being 18 years old. His father is listed as being Edward Merritt, born in Port Chester, NY, recorded as black, and as being 22 years old which would make his birth year around 1867. The physician gave this information so it may not be correct.
John Sherman’s July 3, 1921, death certificate records his mother as being Mary Whalen of VA and Edward Merritt of Port Chester, NY. The informant was a Mrs. James Glover. This is the same Mary Rosell Glover listed below as being John’s mother on his marriage certificate/documents.
At this point, I couldn’t determine who Mary Wayland was. Was Mary Rosell’s maiden name Wayland? I couldn’t find a Rosell marriage record. I did find a black Mary Rosell living in Staunton, VA listed with her parents, Isaac and Elizabeth, and her siblings in 1850. There are also some black Mary Waylands born in the Staunton-Augusta VA area around 1871. Or, was John Sherman’s biological mother a black Mary Wayland who was impregnated by Edward Merritt and her baby given to Mary Rosell to raise? This makes sense especially as it seems that James Glover migrated first to Greenwich, CT before moving his wife Mary, and possibly John Sherman, back to Greenwich after 1900. There is a high possibility as well that John Sherman may never have known that Mary Roswell Glover was not his birth mother and hence listed her as his mother on his marriage certificate. This would explain why Mrs. James Glover gave the correct parents on his death certificate.
John Sherman is in the 1910 and 1920 census residing in Greenwich with his wife and children. We haven’t found a record of him in 1900 when he would have been around 11 years old.
His marriage record to Leila Robinson states that his mother was Mary Rosell and his father was Edward Merritt from Port Chester, NY. This is significant as our Edward Mayo Merritt (1869-1905) was born in and lived his entire life in Greenwich, CT and never lived in Port Chester, NY. This is a MAJOR clue that he should have investigated more in detail. This is also the point where I strongly believe that he then, with photo of Samuel H. Merritt in hand, made the crucial mistake of thinking that John Sherman was Samuel’s grandson.
John Sherman has several marriage documents that indicate that he was 19 years old and Leila was only 16 years old when they were married on June 21, 1909 and they both required a Certificate of Consent as they were underage. Charles Taylor was a witness as was his mother Mary (Rosell) Glover. Leila may have already been pregnant with their son Joseph.
Mary Rosell was born around 1872 in Staunton, VA. She was the daughter of Isaac and Elizabeth Rosell. Her siblings were Laura, William, Joseph, and Charles.
Mary was married in VA to a James Glover around 1892 a year or so after John Sherman was born. In the 1900 census from Augusta, VA, she is living as a boarder and states that she has been married for 8 years. Her husband is recorded as living in Greenwich, CT in the 1900 census working as a servant for the Brush family. Again, we are unable to locate John Sherman at this time. At his age, he may have been hired out as a laborer in either VA or CT. Again, did Mary Wayland return to VA with John Sherman and give him to Mary Rosell Glover to raise as her own? Did James Glover migrate to Greenwich before his wife who then brought John Sherman back to Greenwich, CT?
Mary Glover returns to Greenwich, CT sometime before 1910 joining her husband James.
Mary Glover died on 4/27/1965 in Stamford CT at the age of 93.
Potential Points of Interest?
When I was investigating, I found two potential points of interest for me to further investigate.
1) In 1910, John Sherman Merritt is sharing the same address as a Henry Merritt (b. 1860 in Greenwich, CT) at 60 Northfield St, according to the Greenwich City Directory and the 1910 census. From 1910-1958, Mary Glover, John Sherman’s mother, also resided at this address with Henry Merritt. The 60 Northfield address was confirmed as a multi-family unit. This Henry is the grandson of Robert Merritt and Betsey Freeman. This 2nd Merritt line is African-American and can be traced back to Robert Merritt, who was born in Greenwich in 1732, and was the son of Whitman. Our Peg Merritt/Green line has always been mulatto. Is John Sherman related to this 2nd Merritt line? We can’t draw any conclusion at this point as we can’t find any relationship between him and this Henry Merritt. In addition, we also can’t trace this Henry Merritt back to our Edward Mayo Merritt as of this writing. Again, John Sherman Merritt and Henry Merritt living together may be just coincidental.
2) In 1900, my 3rd great -uncle, Charles E. Green, is living in Greenwich with his family. There are also two boarders living with him, William Rosell, a brother of John Sherman Merritt’s mother Mary, and his wife Minerva. We are investigating if Charles’s wife Frances/Fanny, who was from VA, is related to the Rosell family. That being said, there were many African-Americans who arrived in Greenwich, CT from VA in the 1800s. So, we can’t be sure if there is any relationship between Fanny Green and William Rosell. It may be just a coincidence. However, there is no known relationship between Charles E. Green and William or Minerva Rosell.
There was no relationship of descent between Edward Mayo Merritt and John Sherman Merritt. None whatsoever.
On My Genealogical Detective Trail: A Working Hypothesis Thats Ready To Be Proven
When I went over the emails that this individual sent me in 2011, he made mention that he found a photo of Samuel H. Merritt, our Edward Mayo Merritt’s father, in a family photo album. This bothered me as I was researching John Sherman Merritt’s genealogical trail and found no link whatsoever to our Edward Mayo Merritt. So, I dug a little deeper still giving him the benefit of the doubt. I found a potential nugget that may provide a clue as to who John Sherman’s father is. Of course, this is all a working hypothesis that must be proven. A DNA test administered to his uncle, another John Sherman Merritt, could clear this up for certain.
Charles Merritt and Sons:
My 4th great-grandmother Peg had 7 sons. Her first son, Charles Merritt (1791-?) who was fathered by a white Merritt, had 5 children with his wife Catherine. They were Samuel H., Abraham/Abram, Jarvis, and Isaac and their daughter Ann. All his children were born and raised in Greenwich, CT. When I looked at potential fathers of John Sherman, only one potential person came to mind.
Charles’s son Abraham (1821-1880) resided in Greenwich for the duration of his life. He passed away on June 11, 1880 after the 1880 census was recorded. He is listed on the 1880 census as being black and living with his wife Hulda (Peck) Merritt and their children — Emma, Norton and Edwin. Could Edwin be Edward? That was the question I had to investigate. There is no 1890 census so I had to look at where Hulda was in 1900. I found her listed, as Negro, residing in Rye Township, Port Chester Village, Ward 4, Westchester, NY. Hulda is with her children, Emma, Norton and EDWARD. Edward is listed as being 30 years old. Hulda is still there in 1910 with her daughter Emma. I couldn’t locate her 2 sons in 1910.
Was there another way that I could substantiate that this Edward was in Port Chester earlier than 1900? I dug further deeper and was able to locate the 1896-97 Turner’s Annual Directory Embracing the Residents of Larchmont, Mamaroneck, Harrison, Rye and Port Chester, NY, and Greenwich and Rocky Neck, CT, along the Line of the New York, New Have & Hartford Railroad. This directory listed all the Merritts who were in Port Chester in 1896. I was able to find Hulda, living at 33 Oak Street, with her sons Edward and Norton— the only 3 black Merritts listed in the town. Edward is listed as a clerk. Clearly after Abraham died, Hulda packed up her family and left Greenwich and rented a home in Port Chester, NY. This probably occurred in the early to mid-1880s.
This Edward Merritt was born around the same time as our Edward Mayo Merritt. They would have been first cousins born within a year of each other. In 1890, Edward, son of Abraham, would have been close to the age of 22 which was the age of the father listed on John Sherman’s birth certificate. This hypothesis would also explain how a photo of Samuel H. Merritt popped up in this individual’s family’s photo albums. Someone in his family kept a photo of a great-uncle around since Samuel and Abraham were brothers. Mary Wayland may have assumed that Edward was born in Port Chester, NY, because he was living there when she was pregnant and told the physician this and that was what was written down. Hence, the fact that his birth, marriage, and death record all list Port Chester, NY as being Edward’s place of birth though his real place of birth was Greenwich, CT.
Is Abraham and Hulda Merritt’s son Edward the father of John Sherman???? This is the ONLY hypothesis that I can come up with at this time. If this individual is indeed related to the Port Chester, NY Edward Merritt, he would still be a descendant of our Peg Merritt and we would gladly welcome him to the family. If there is a link between John Sherman Merritt and Edward, son of Abraham and Hulda, then again let’s prove it based on a DNA test of his uncle, John Sherman Merritt. This person has nothing to lose if my hypothesis is correct. Of course, this confusion as to which Edward it was could have been cleared up 5 years ago if he had only shared information with us. I would hope that this person would welcome definitive proof of a relationship between his family line and our confirmed legitimate Green-Merritt line.
1) It helps to share information with others at the onset. This sets the tone for your future interactions. Witholding info while asking others to share is not copacetic. I am of the mind that sharing benefits everyone. I actually had sent this person photos of Edward Merritt’s children before I knew better. I used to have a public tree on Ancestry, but I have since made it private. I will continue to share my tree, but only very judiciously.
2) Do not assume a relationship based on a photo without documentation to back it up. Assumptions like that can ruin genealogical progress on your tree. In this case, this individual followed down the wrong family branch — though ultimately his family tree might be correct — for 5 years.
3) Always employ the 5 Genealogical Proof Standards in your genealogy research. The most important standard here was the one involving conflicting information. If all of John Sherman Merritt’s documents listed his father as being born in Port Chester, NY, but Edward Mayo Merritt was born, lived his entire life, and died in Greenwich, CT then this should have been investigated further. When I looked initially for Edward Merritts born in Port Chester, they were all listed as being white. John Sherman’s birth certificate indicated his father was black. Again, a conflict. I only kept looking to resolve these conflicts because this individual had a photo of Edward Mayo’s father. This is what kept me digging deeper. I am really a big fan of doing exhaustive research/fact checking and highly recommend that people pay attention to details that don’t jive together. Be meticulous in your research, in other words.
4) If your ancestor was born “illegitimate” and you have taken a DNA test, why not share the results with distant cousins, on the alleged family line, who have also DNA tested? Not sharing in this case boggles my mind as a DNA test is the ultimate paternity test. Better yet, why not test the direct male descendant, in this case, the person’s uncle? The information that a 23andme or FTDNA Y-DNA test could give would be very telling. His Y-DNA haplogroup could definitively prove that he was a descendant of a white Merritt and we could see if he matched all my other family members on our Green-Merritt line. A FTDNA Y-DNA would definitely give him DNA cousins on his Merritt paternal line. Again, more definitive proof regarding descent from a Merritt.