Tuesday 24 October 2017

What do you do when you want to find families named Miller?

My mother was a Miller, not the kind that ground grain, although there were a few members of at least one line who did own a mill in Virginia, USA in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Miller is one of those very common names, probably originated from the occupation, that seem to be prevalent everywhere.

I wrote about the Miller family history in North America back in 2016 (Moving 7 – The Miller Family Goes West).

We in North America are descended from a man named John Conrad Miller, as discovered by my aunt in the 1970s. In her family history summary she said:

John Conrad Miller is the first American of this line we have found.  There were many German settlements, both in Ohio and Indiana, with numerous Millers among them.  But whether John came to the United States with his parents or came on his own cannot be answered.

Since John was a blacksmith, it is easy to conclude that he met Hannah Mayfield through her brother John, also a smithy.  The marriage of John and Hannah probably was performed in Jefferson County, Indiana, but the exact date is not known. It was not unusual in those days for a Justice of the Peace, living in a community, to perform a marriage then fail to record it when he made a trip to the county seat.  This may have been the case in this instance.

After their marriage, John and Hannah remained in Jefferson County for about a year. Their first child, Matilda Ann, was born there in September 1839.  In 1840, they were in Cincinnati, Ohio.

From the time Cincinnati was founded, through many decades that followed, the city was frequently devastated with Bubonic Plague. [Note: I think my aunt might have meant Cholera as I cannot find any mention of the plague as she described.]  This is cause to wonder if he took his family north to Mason in Warren County where their third child, Isaac M., was born, although the family was back in Cincinnati before the end of that year, 1843.  According to all reports available, John Conrad Miller died in Cincinnati in 1846 at a young age.

In 2010 I did finally find a marriage license for John and Hannah, issued in Tippecanoe County, Indiana, USA. John was a resident of Tippecanoe while Hannah lived in Jefferson County at the time. Now these two places are 150 miles apart and it is difficult to envision how John and Hannah came to meet considering people may not have travelled all that far in those times. My aunt might be right in her supposition that they were introduced by her brother. But then how did those two gentlemen meet?

The frequency of the Miller name is currently actually higher in North America (4,544 per million) than in Germany (241 per million) where my family line apparently originated - according to search information from the publicprofiler website. And John is the most frequent forename.
World statistics for the surname Miller from the publicprofiler worldnames website
We have only one reference to John Conrad’s birthplace, that on the 1880 US census for my great-grandfather, Isaac Mayfield Miller, one of John Conrad’s sons. It says his father and mother were born in Wertenberg [sic]. We know his mother’s birthplace is wrong – she was born in Maryland, USA – but the place name for his father is certainly interesting. We believe John Conrad was born in 1815 but that has not been confirmed either. His forenames could also have been Johann or Johannes and Konrad; his surname could just as well have originally been Mueller.

We cannot know if Wurttemberg is the right place as it was recorded on the census 34 years after John Conrad’s death, but it is a start. FamilySearch.org has a number of people of that name in its library, but none of them ever left Germany.

There is no Miller or Shepheard research going on with the Guild of One-Name Studies. There is a Miller DNA project though whose participants might prove useful one day.

Before his death I persuaded my cousin, a direct male descendant of John Conrad Miller, to take a Y-DNA test with FamilyTreeDNA. I wrote about that in a blog post, DNA Matches, earlier this year. There have been some matches but no one with whom we can definitively connect our roots. I live in hope!

Common names like Miller have their difficulties in separating families and finding roots, especially when migration occurred before passenger lists were saved. And without specific documents that indicate where individuals came from, it can be most disappointing.