The North East Meehls Part I: A Family Legend

French 4th Hussar at the Battle of Friedland

Vive L’Empereur by Édouard Detaille

I’ve been digging into the family history of my wife Stephanie, a Meehl from North East, Pennsylvania. To aid my research, her family gave me a copy of two articles detailing the history of the Meehl family first published in the North East Breeze in the 1930s. The first of these articles covers a family legend which the Meehl clan has passed down from generation to generation.

It goes something like this—Michael Meehl, the earliest Meehl ancestor to come to North East in 1865 (after living in Erie County, New York for approximately 35 years), had a father, Jacques de Mealle, who was a captain in Napoleon’s army during the disastrous Moscow campaign of 1812. Also, according to the legend, Jacques had two brothers, James and Louis, who, at 6 feet and 11 inches tall, were bodyguards for the Little Emperor himself. All three survived the Russian campaign and lived to tell the tale.

If the prestige of the above-mentioned Meehls wasn’t enough to stoke the family pride, the article assures us that the de Mealles were “an important people in France” and briefly mentions some 17th and 18th century adventures of the family in the New World. We are told that they were “sent” there to help with the colonization of the new French settlements. Whether these de Mealles stayed in the New World or traveled back to France is not mentioned. So from this story we cannot tell whether Jacques and Michael were descended from these particular de Mealles or from another branch that remained in France. We’re also never told why Michael, a scion of such a noteworthy family, emigrated to America, only that the de Mealles were well off and were able to live in some comfort (which makes one wonder why Michael emigrated at all).

Additionally, this first article states that Michael Meehl was born in 1807 in San Quintain, France. Using this information about his birth and his father’s name, Jacques de Mealle, I spent countless hours scouring the internet for records. I never found any.

Repeatedly frustrated by my lack of progress, I started my search over from scratch. I worked from the present backward in time to build the Meehl family tree. All of the records and clues found along the way eventually led me to the truth. And it turns out that Jacques de Mealle and his impossibly tall brothers are, in fact, pure fiction. Who knows how these stories started and took root. They were the creations of some mischievous prankster perhaps. Regardless of their origins, this legend, like many family legends, has withered under the eye of scrutiny.

That said, the second of the North East Breeze articles was tremendously helpful with information about the family after their arrival in America. But most everything said about the family in the first article is nothing but good old-fashioned yarn spinning.

Over the course of the next several posts, I plan on laying out in detail how I discovered Michael Meehl’s actual parents—George Meehl and Anne Wolff, his place of birth—Geudertheim, Bas-Rhin, Alsace, France, and the original surname of the family—Mühl. There are descendants out there still looking for Jacques de Mealle, but they’ll never find him. I want to set the record straight in the hopes that they will stumble upon these posts and learn the true origins of the Meehls.

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