“Alsace”, he said. “I was always told we came from Alsace”. Steph’s father was adamant about this fact. However, the town of origin for Michael Meehl given in the North East Breeze article was San Quintain, France. This created three problems. The first—there is no town in France called San Quintain. Most likely this was referring to Saint-Quentin, which leads us to problem number two—there are several places throughout France called Saint-Quentin. And, finally, the third problem—none of these Saint-Quentins are in Alsace.
This contradiction led me to review more closely the records I had collected for the Meehls. What did they have to say about place of origin? What I found was curious. On some records, Michael Meehl, or his children, claimed that he was from France. On others, it was Germany. France. Germany. France. Germany. These are not the same country. While researching family history, it’s common to find records that contradict each other. Usually these mistakes are just a one time misunderstanding or clerical error. This was different. Both France and Germany were listed as the place of origin about an equal number of times. Surely there was something unique going on here. Below are a few examples of these records. (Sources are on the last page of each document.)
The first record is the 1860 U.S. Census in Concord, Erie County, New York for Michael Meehl. The place of birth for Michael is France.
The second record, also for Michael Meehl, is the 1870 U.S. Census in North East, Erie County, Pennsylvania. Again, the place of birth for Michael Meehl is France. North-East-1870-US-Census
The next three records are for William Meehl, Michael’s youngest son.
On the 1910 U.S. Census in North East, William Meehl is the head of family. This record has some additional, intriguing information. William claims that his father was born in France, but that his native tongue was German. North-East-1910-US-Census-for-William-Meehl
On the 1920 U.S. Census William states that Michael was born in Germany. North-East-1920-US-Census-for-William-Meehl-1
Then on the 1930 U.S. Census, the birthplace of his father is listed as France again. North-East-1930-US-Census-for-William-Meehl
I’ll leave it to Anne at The French Genealogy Blog to explain:
Alsace and Lorraine are two areas in eastern France that have often been in western Germany and before that, the Holy Roman Empire. Being border territories, when the border shifts, so does their legal nationality…This is a part of the world where French and German identities intermingle. Thus, when researching ancestors from this region, one must recognize this fluidity and expect that documents on the same person could say that he was French or German, came from Alsace or France or Germany or maybe Baden, and that all would be true. Ancestors who said they were French could have spoken a variation of German, and vice versa.
And if all of this wasn’t enough evidence, Catherine Meehl Schiefferle, one of Michael’s daughters, on the 1920 U.S. Census in North East, states that her father was born neither in Germany nor France but in Alsace-Lorraine specifically. Catherine-Meehl-Schiefferle-1920-US-Census-in-North-East
There was no doubt about it. The Meehls were from Alsace, not San Quintain/Saint-Quentin. We didn’t yet know which of the several hundred towns in Alsace they were from, but at least we were now on the right track. The article was wrong about both the date of birth and the place of birth. I was beginning to question the entire thing.