Ok, this one is making me angry.
I’ll set the scene: I was searching for an ancestor to write about for Amy Johnson Crow’s “Namesake” prompt this month, and I eventually decided that it had to be someone on the Merrill side of my family tree. I mean, there’s my great-great-grandmother, Celestia Melvina, who was named after her aunt, Celestia Lurania; her father, William Oliver, got his name from a paternal uncle; and his great-grandfather, Nathaniel, was named after the first Merrill in America. I had a few options, luckily, and it was just a matter of choosing which story to tell. So I started with the local newspaper, and–well, it’s probably best if you just read the article for yourself:
A familiar figure about town, that of “Push-me-quick” or “Doctor Scissors” as he was known, is no more. The old man was killed by the flyer, No. 4, near Finck’s brewery west of town this morning at about half past seven o’clock. He was walking down the track, and appears not to have heard the whistle. He was struck behind, and thrown off the track. His hip, ribs and the back of his head were fractured and death was instantaneous. The train backed and brought the body down. It was taken to Coroner Blood’s morgue shortly after arrival.
“Push-me-quick” was a sobriquet given the deceased by the boys. His real name was Merrill, and his brother, Lyman B. Merrill, a teamster of Laona, is his only relative. Merrill had been in the poorhouse, and was a confirmed vagabond. He was well-known around the city, where he has had many reencounters with his adversaries, the boys, who teased him. He picked up what he could get, and lived on charity. When found he had only one shoe. He was between sixty and seventy apparently.
The inquest was held this afternoon, Coroner Blood having impaneled this jury: C.F. White, foreman; J.W. Perkins, John Hilton, Clark Bloss, A.S. Roberts, J. Thomas and O. Hiller. Dr. Smith and the officials of the train testified. It appeared that Merrill had got outside the rail when struck by the bumper.
William Merrill, a nephew of Laona, arrived in the city this afternoon. The deceased’s name was Allan H. Merrill. He was eighty last October. He has three brothers, one in Jefferson and one in Laona, and one in Yorkshire. (“Killed By the Cars: An Old Man Struck Down To-day,” Dunkirk Evening Observer, May 27, 1885)
I would like to know what constitutes “teasing” in this reporter’s opinion, and I would love to know how the town “confirmed” that Allen was a “vagabond.” I would also be interested in knowing why this reporter decided to start off with the “sobriquets” given to him by “the boys” before finally finding the decency to share his name in the final paragraph (he spelled Allen wrong, but at least it’s there?). And while it’s completely plausible that this was an accident–my great-great-grandmother was struck by a train in 1950, and it wasn’t anyone’s fault at all–I’m not convinced that “the boys” weren’t hanging around the brewery at the time, either.
See, I told you. Angry.
And now, I could use some advice, because Allen is proving to be very elusive. Here’s what I’ve found: he was born on October 5, 1805 in Fairfax, Virginia to Allen and Tamma (Smith) Merrill, the third of ten children. Within five years, his parents had packed up and moved to Johnstown, New York, and that’s where I’ve lost him. Allen doesn’t show up in the records again until the 1870 census, when he’s living alone and working as a stage driver in Pomfret, New York. By 1875, he was unemployed and living with his older brother (my 4th great-grandfather, Lyman Burton Merrill), and in 1880, he was serving a 60-day sentence in the Chautauqua County Jail for “vagrancy.” He passed away on April 5, 1885 at the age of 79; I don’t even know where he was buried.
There are two more clues that haven’t led me anywhere yet, but I’m hoping that they one day will. William Richard Cutter’s Genealogical and Family History of Western New York lists Allen’s name as “Alton,” and I’m wondering if he went by Alton earlier in life. The other? The 1880 census lists him as a “widower,” indicating that he was married before he moved to Pomfret in 1870–maybe he even had children of his own. All I know is that Allen deserves a better obituary than the mess printed in the Dunkirk Evening Observer on May 27, 1885, and I’m determined to write it for him. If you have any advice–or are up for a new challenge–I could really, really use the help.
Somehow I keep adding onto my list of summer projects. I guess we’re never really finished with our family’s story, are we?