Stephen Merrill — birth date analysis

The date of birth for Stephen Merrill, son of Philip, who died in 1883 on the Merrill Farm in Garrett County, Maryland, is not known.  There are no available primary sources for his date of birth.  However, as is often the case in genealogy, especially with the ever-expanding use of internet-based information, if you repeat something long enough, it seems to become fact.  I believe such is the case for the birth date of my 3-great grandfather, Stephen Merrill.  What follows is my analysis of the information currently available to me, and my best estimation of his true date of birth.       — tmg

Hoye’s Date of Birth for Stephen Merrill

Captain Charles E. Hoye’s genealogical and historical work was compiled by the Garrett County Historical Society and published in 1988 as Hoye’s Pioneer Families of Garrett County.  A review of the Merrill Family information published in this work reveals errors for multiple individuals.  Therefore, the age for Stephen Merrill given in this book must be somewhat suspect as no source for this information is given by the author.  Hoye states “Stephen Merrill, son of Philip, died September 28, 1883, aged 92 years, 10 months, 21 days.”  From this information, Stephen Merrill’s calculated date of birth is November 7th, 1790.  This is frequently cited by various genealogical researchers.

Obituary from “The Republican”, Oakland, Maryland

The Republican newspaper in Oakland published Stephen Merrill’s obituary on October 6th, 1883, titled “An Old Citizen Gone”.  In the article, Stephen Merrill is said to have died “in the 93d year of his age”, placing the birth year as about 1790.  However, no source for this information is known.

U.S. Federal Census Records

An analysis of the census records from 1800 to 1870 provides a range of possible birth dates for Stephen Merrill:

Census          Age (range)               Census date             Range of possible birth dates

1800               < 10 years                  4 Aug 1800               5 Aug 1790 – 4 Aug 1800

1810               10 thru 15 years       6 Aug 1810               7 Aug 1794 – 6 Aug 1800

1820               16 thru 25 years       7 Aug 1820               8 Aug 1794 – 7 Aug 1804

1830               20 thru 29 years       1 Jun 1830                2 Jun 1800 – 1 Jun 1810

1840               40 thru 49 years       1 Jun 1840                2 Jun 1790 – 1 Jun 1800

1850               65 years                     1 Jun 1850                2 Jun 1784 – 1 Jun 1885

1860               60 years                     1 Jun 1860                2 Jun 1799 – 1 Jun 1800

1870               70 years                     1 Jun 1870                2 Jun 1799 – 1 Jun 1800

The 1850 census information appears to be in error and must be disregarded.  The subject was not listed in the 1880 census.  Only two of the eight census records allow for a birth year of 1790.  Minor errors (+/- 1 year) occurred if the census taker did not list the subject’s age as of the census date, which was usually different from the date the information was collected.  Within this range of error, the birth range that would correlate with all seven census records would be mid-1799 to mid-1800.

Age of Spouses

An analysis of the census records from 1820 to 1840 provides a possible birth date for Stephen Merrill’s first wife, Catherine Workman:

Census          Age (range)               Census date             Range of possible birth dates

1820               16 thru 25 years       7 Aug 1820               8 Aug 1794 – 7 Aug 1804

1830               30 thru 39 years       1 Jun 1830                2 Jun 1790 – 1 Jun 1800

1840               30 thru 39 years       1 Jun 1840                2 Jun 1800 – 1 Jun 1810

Allowing for the minor errors (+/- 1 year) occurring when the census taker may have listed the subject’s age as of the date the information was collected, the birth date would be about mid-1800.  Catherine Workman was likely very close in age to her husband, Stephen Merrill.

An analysis of the census records from 1860 and 1870 provides a possible birth date for Stephen Merrill’s second wife, Nancy [-?-]:

Census          Age (range)               Census date             Range of possible birth dates

1860               55 years                     1 Jun 1860                2 Jun 1804 – 1 Jun 1805

1870               66 years                     1 Jun 1870                2 Jun 1803 – 1 Jun 1804

Again, allowing for the minor errors (+/- 1 year) occurring when the census taker may have listed the subject’s age as of the date the information was collected, the birth date would be about mid-1804.  Nancy [-?-] was likely slightly younger in age than her husband, Stephen Merrill.

Timing of Birth of Children

Stephen Merrill’s first child was born in 1824 (Philip M. Merrill).  If both parents were born about 1800, then both parents would be approximately 24 years of age at the birth of their first child.  Their last child was born in 1841 (Isaac Merrill), making both parents about 41 years of age.

Scharf’s History of Western Maryland

J. Thomas Scharf, in his History of Western Maryland, published in 1882, made mention of Stephen Merrill in the chapter on Garrett County.  “Oakland was on the old road from Winchester, Va., to Kingwood.  Among the oldest settlers in this region were Stephen Merrill, yet living, and over one hundred years old, and Isaac McCarty, John Steyer, George Loar, Henry Lower, and William White, all deceased”.  The age given for Stephen Merrill was simply not true.

Conclusions

No primary source information as to the birth date of Stephen Merrill is known.  The only known secondary source information is from the eight census records documented during his life.  Therefore, the greatest weight in determining his approximate date of birth must be derived from an analysis of the census records as shown above.  This would place his date of birth in late 1799 or early 1800, or “about 1800” for our genealogical purposes.

This date is also supported by an analysis of the ages of his two spouses and by his age at the time of his childrens’ births.

The information from Hoye’s work and from Stephen Merrill’s published obituary is hearsay at best, and no source has been identified to support either one.

Scharf’s claim of Stephen’s age being over 100 years in 1882 is lacking of any evidence whatsoever.

Unless further data comes to light from credible primary or secondary sources, Stephen Merrill’s date of birth should be documented as “about 1800” based on all presently available information.

______________________________________________________________

© 2013 by tmgfamilyhistory.com     (revised 1-28-2014 by tmg)
Any use or reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Please contact tmgfamilyhx@gmail.com for information.
 

Comments? Questions? Further info?  Contact:  tmgfamilyhx@gmail.com

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