When I asked my grandfather how his parents met, he told me it was at a barn dance–but he couldn’t remember where or when or how or why. I’ve always kept that barn dance in the back of my mind; I know my parents met at my dad’s twenty-first birthday party, my dad’s parents were high school sweethearts and my mom’s parents were set up on a blind date by a mutual friend. My great-grandparents, Stanley and Hattie, met one Sunday morning at St. Hedwig’s Catholic Church, but I had never been able to crack the barn dance mystery; that is, not until I started researching the Merrill family a few weeks ago.
Like I said, there are a lot of “namesake” options on the Merrill side of my family tree. There’s my great-great-grandmother, Celestia Melvina, who was named after her aunt; my great-great-great-grandfather, William Oliver, who was named after his uncle; and my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Nathaniel, who was named after the first Merrill in America. I decided to tell the story of the four Content’s (emphasis on the second syllable), but the name “Jeremiah” shows up in my family tree almost as much as Content does. It was while researching the long line of Jeremiah Main’s and Jeremiah Merrill’s that I found a reference to a barn dance–and it just has to be the right one.
It was a newspaper article, of course. The advertisement taken out in the Dunkirk Evening Observer on May 28, 1937 read, “Barn Dance Tonight at Merrill’s Barn;” Jeremiah Merrill was the “singing caller,” Eddie Rushboldt’s orchestra played a set and everyone was planning for the ox roast next Monday nite. My great-grandparents, Tom and Bea, were married on June 14, 1941 in St. Hyacinth’s Catholic Church, and they only dated for a few months before deciding to tie the knot (my great-grandfather had enlisted in the Navy during World War II, and their timeline was cut short). Merrill’s Barn Dance–which seems to have been in operation throughout the late 1930s and early 1940s–is the right time period for their relationship, and it’s even more fitting that Jeremiah and Bea were related.
So who was Jeremiah Merrill, anyway? He was born Jeremiah Sanford Merrill (another family name) on June 18, 1884 in Laona, New York to William Oliver Merrill and Frances Annabelle Nelson, and he was my great-grandmother’s uncle on her mom’s side. Everyone called him Uncle Jerry, and the Merrill and Peterson families were close; Jerry even listed Bea’s father, John Peterson, as his closest relative on his draft card during World War II. He married Jennie Mary Mauhir on August 17, 1908 in Brocton, never had any children and lived on a farm in Arkwright practically his entire life. He was a jokester–never taking life too seriously and always up for a laugh–and based on my grandfather’s stories, I can definitely envision him as a “singing caller” at a barn dance.
What I’ve always loved most about genealogy is piecing together the details to inform an ancestor’s story and motivations; the hook always seems to be written somewhere in the margins, and I only ever find what I’m looking for when I least expect it–when I’m looking for anything else and don’t even know there’s another detail that I need to find. There’s always a story around the corner that I can’t even imagine yet, and I hope I never get tired of searching for the next unknown. That’s why I love this one so much: my grandfather mentioned the barn dance when I was a kid, and it’s only after eight years of researching that I happen upon the right barn. So here’s to the Jeremiah Merrill’s in my family tree, the family’s barn dance, Tom and Bea’s wedding and all of the other stories I have yet to find; until next time–