In the previous post, I neglected to include the following piece of evidence. The first document below is the 1855 NY State Census for Michael Meehl’s family in Eden, New York. The second is for George Meehl Jr’s family in Boston, New York. Column thirteen records how long each person had resided in the current town or city. Michael Meehl claimed 25 years, George Meehl, 24. They were both in the general vicinity for roughly the same amount of time. This is not conclusive proof of a connection by itself but, when added to the growing list of facts, it’s compelling.
Now that I had a solid theory about Michael’s parents, I hoped to find the Meehl family’s ancestral hometown in Alsace. I had a decent sized family group to look for—George, Anne, Michael, George Jr., Eva, and Mary. If I could find these names together on a passenger list or in the civil records in Alsace, there was a good chance it would be them.
The main difficulty in this pursuit was the surname. As I’ve said before, I wasn’t convinced Meehl was the original form. Without knowing the original surname, tracing the family back across the Atlantic was going to be challenging to say the least. After perusing a book of German surnames, I developed a theory that the name was not Meehl, but Mehl, which would have been given to a miller or someone who worked with flour. It was only one letter off, a small mutation compared to others I’d seen, and it was particularly popular in Alsace.
Family Search is an invaluable website when learning what records are available for a specific area. They have wiki pages for virtually every region in the world. Their page for Alsace has a section on emigration with some intriguing resources. One of them, The Alsace Emigration Book, I ordered immediately through inter-library loan. This book contains the names of twenty thousand emigrants who left Alsace between 1817 and 1870. Often, it includes the hometown of each family. When it arrived a week later, I searched for any Meehls or Mehls. There were a few Mehl families but none with the right combination of first names to match the Meehl family group. I then scanned all emigrants with a last name beginning with M. Of course they weren’t there. That would have been too easy and no fun at all.
Luckily, I discovered a few more records for the family in New York that were crucial. The first one was the 1865 NY State census for Boston, New York. There are vital pieces of information here. First, we find Anna Meal and Mary Meal living with a Wolfgang and Catherine Miller. Anna is listed as the mother-in-law and Mary, a sister-in-law. Mary is recorded as being deaf, dumb, blind or idiotic. This is Michael Meehl’s mother and sister, which means that Catherine Miller is Catherine Meehl, another sister of Michael’s. Now Catherine could be added to the family group, another name to help with the search.
Wolfgang Miller is Catherine Meehl’s second husband according to this census. The two other residents of the house are William and Charles Andrus (I’ve also seen the last name spelled Endress). These are two of Catherine’s children from her first marriage (she had a total of four children). Finally, one last fact that proved pivotal in identifying the family in Europe, Anne states that she had ten children. So far, I knew of Michael, George Jr., Eva, Mary, and Catherine. That was only half of them.
Thanks to these next two records, I finally discovered the original last name of the family. It wasn’t Meehl or Mehl. The following are baptism records from Trinity Lutheran Church in Buffalo, New York for two of Michael and Sallie Meehl’s children. The first record is for George, their second son, born in 1841 in Hamburg, New York. The second record is for Jacob, their third son, born in 1843 in Eden, New York. Not surprisingly, these records are all in German, confirming that the Meehls originally came from a German-speaking area (Alsace). Sallie is listed on George’s record as Salomé Volmer. On both records, the father’s name is Michael Mühl.
Mühl. This name, unlike Meehl, has a meaning. In German, it is a topographic name given to someone living near a mill. (Keep that in mind for something I’ll cover in a later post.)
Using Family Search’s wiki pages, I found this page which has links to name distribution maps for France. The first one I tried, http://www.geopatronyme.com/, divides France into its departments (which, instead of states or provinces, is how France has been politically organized since 1791) and shows in which departments the name appears most frequently in the historical records. The Bas-Rhin department, the northern portion of the former province of Alsace, was overflowing with Mühls.
The next distribution map I analyzed showed, not just departments where the name appeared, but individual towns. By far, the town with the most Mühls in the historical records was Geudertheim. This is where I started my search. And this is where I found the Mühl family—George, Anne, Michael, George Jr, Eva, Mary, Catherine, and, the other five children, giving us a grand total of ten.