Y GRANDMOTHER, Grace Merrill, was born in Avon, Illinois in 1893. Nearly seventy-five years later she would sit in a little cottage in Airdrie, Alberta and write the following:
“…It records the travels of the Merles from the Province of Aisne, France, where they had perpetuated their name by founding and naming the village of Merle before the year of 1600 A.D. In England they became Merrells, then Merrill.”
How this extraordinary conclusion was arrived at is unknown. The only certainty is the surname Merrill was present in England in 1600 where my 9th great-grandfather, Nathaniel Merrill II, was born in 1601.1 A little more about him later.
Conflicting origins and meanings ~
The Internet Surname Database entry for Merrill lists many variants and claims it’s “usually a surname of Scandinavian Viking, English, French-Breton or Irish origins. If the latter it means ‘sea-bright’ ”.
Ancestry.com gives the name an English origin and says it derives from the Old English place name myrige — meaning “pleasant” (or merry) and hyll”.
A couple of explanations are offered up by A Merrill Memorial — one that the name is German, specifically Anglo-Saxon; the other that it’s French and means “blackbird”.
Was a medieval French chateaux really where it all started?
A quick search for Merle, France produces just two possibilities — one a set of ancient caves with prehistoric paintings, the other a medieval chateaux. Tours de Merle (Towers of Merle) is the kind of picturesque ruin that simply oozes mystery and romance. Can’t you just hear the ghostly chink of knightly armour?
Reading the description of the castle, which is now a tourist destination, I discovered there is also a ruined village nearby *shivers with excitement*. But there’s a problem — the castle is in Limousin, not Aisne. There are other problems too, like absolutely no evidence to connect this village to my John Merrill, or the name Merrill in general.
Patrilineal Line Ends
Nathaniel Merrill II, born 4 May 1601 in Wherstead, Suffolk, England arrived in Ipswich, Massachusetts Bay Colony in 16382, and is believed to have helped found the town of Newbury. He’s also believed to be “the ancestor of the vast majority of those who now bear the Merrill name in this country [U.S.]…”3
In the Switzer-Merrill tree, 9 generations can be traced from Nathaniel through a direct male line:
- Nathaniel Merrill — 1601–1655
- John Merrill — 1635–1712
- Abraham Merrill I — 1672–1744
- Abraham Merrill II — 1702–1788
- Abraham Merrill III — 1737–1821
- Calvin Merrill — 1765–1820
- Horace Merrill — 1789–1873
- Frederick Henry Merrill — 1819–1892
- Frederick Horace Merrill — 1860–1947
My great-grandparents Frederick Horace Merrill & Mary Alice Belding had three children: Kent Frederick who died in the Spanish Flu epidemic at the age of 18, Clement Robert who never married, and my grandmother who married Louis Switzer… and with that, in the space of a generation, the name disappeared from our branch of the Merrill tree.
Merrill Research Resources
Should the Merrill name show up in your tree you’re in luck as it’s quite well-researched. Here are just a few of the resources available:
- The Merrill Surname Project
- Merrill DNA Project
- Merrill/Merrell Genealogy (all families)
- Merrill Family History - Howard and Jean Merrill have been building and maintaining a database of Merrill descendents for more than thirty years
- A Merrill Memorial