Tag Archives: Kyle Merker

Do YOU want to follow in my footsteps?

I need to apologize that I’ve been so obsessed with my Ancestry Commercial–it must get pretty boring for most of you.  It has been lots of fun, I’ve heard from friends I haven’t heard from in years and years.  When they put my mug on their homepage (click here) and other pages (click here), well, it kind of exploded.  As a result, I’m not so bored.

But I learned today that the end is nigh: Ancestry sent out an email to all its members, asking them to submit their stories to possibly be made into a commercial.

I clicked-through the email, and there I was, again.  Plus, they created a video about shooting the commercial.  If you’re not too sick of me, click here for the webpage and here for the video.

So I guess this star is starting to  collapse on itself, soon to be sucked back into the black hole of obscurity.   It’ll probably take them a month or two to have the new commercials ready, so I’m still going to enjoy my little piece of fame while I can.

But this is good news for youyou might have your moment to shine–why not submit your own Ancestry story?  Tell them the guy in the Lederhosen sent you.

 

Kyle

PS – click here and give my commercial a few thumbs up now and again, maybe they will keep it running!

PSS – any idea how I can send this out to casting agents or casting directors?  I would love to parley this into something more, but don’t really know anyone or how to go about it.  I do need a retirement career.

PSSS – or maybe I’ll be come a Genealogist?

 

© 2015 Kyle Merker

click on the links, dammit!

 

Finally…My Commercial!

Me on my set--long shot
Me on my set–long shot

 

My commercial started airing last night.  I’ve asked them to give me a schedule of when it will air, but I doubt they will.

You can see it by clicking here.

Please give it the thumbs up, and have everyone you ever met in your life do the same.  Daily.  Is that asking too much?

If you see it on television, please let me know!

(For the full story about how this came about, click here, and if you’re interested in what it was like to tape the commercial, click here.)

 

©Kyle Merker 2015

 

What my DNA had to say, and how it took me to LA.

I am writing this on an airplane, flying from LAX to JFK. I have a story to tell, all true, and it requires your patience. It’s kind of long. And it goes back in time. Way back.

But I need to start closer to the beginning, back to 2011 when we cruised to Alaska. Our entourage included my mother, my Aunt Georgie, and my future in-laws Glen and Elsa. During the cruise we learned from our fellow passengers Jeff and David that marriage equality had passed in New York, which was kind of a shock since we always said we would only get married if it was legal in our home state. We never imagined they would call our bluff. With our families looking on, we were immediately engaged.

After dinner, Aunt Georgie told me that Uncle Phillip was gay, and so begins my tale. My response was “who the hell is Uncle Phillip? I never heard of Uncle Phillip!” and instantly realized I needed to know more. My mother later whispered in a matter of fact tone “Uncle Phillip was not gay!” Still, I was intrigued.

 

A few years earlier I had poked around on Ancestry (formerly Ancestry.com) and thought I’d fire it up again and try and track down my Great Grand Uncle Phillip. The way Ancestry works is you input what you know, like you parents’ and grandparents’ information. If you’re lucky, Ancestry comes imageback with “hints” to their past, include who their (and by definition your) relations might be. You can see other people’s family trees, along with public records like wills, deeds, census information, passenger lists, etc. From there you can find kernels of information to help build your tree. So, finding Uncle Phillip took a little searching, but wasn’t hard. Getting some dirt, well, that is more of a challenge.

I became obsessed with trying to figure out if Uncle Phillip was a Friend of Dorothy’s or not. I learned a few key facts about him and used them to my advantage. Mom said he was a bachelor, a geologist who lived in El Paso, Texas. I tried to make a survey of the people around him, just to see if there was a “friend” who would consistently appear. Unfortunately the government–with the possible exception of the FBI–doesn’t keep records of who your buddies are. I compared census records at Uncle Phillip’s residences over time to see if the same name would pop up with his (didn’t happen). I googled is name and address (he mostly lived in a boarding house), I searched newspapers, land records, and wills. There wasn’t much, until I discovered that he had lost his passport. I hoped that this was my break.

Back then, if you lost your passport, you basically had someone certify that you’re American. This was 80 years before 9/11; things were a bit looser back then. I somehow stumbled upon the letter written by his friend to secure his documents. “Eureka!” my inner voice rang out. I started investigating his buddy who wrote the letter. His name was Clarence Chester Chase, and it turns he was indicted in The Teapot Dome Scandal in 1924. He was Collector of Customs and, his Father-in-Law, Albert Fall, was a former US Senator and Secretary of the Interior, serving in the cabinet of Warren Harding. Fall went to jail. Nice people you’re hanging with, Uncle Phillip.

Interesting, but my digging didn’t reveal anything about their relationship, in fact Mr. Chase had a wife and kids. Not that that disproves anything–back in the day gay men had a family at home and a boyfriend at the Athletic Club. I never did figure out Uncle Phillip’s orientation, but it really doesn’t matter. I hope he had a full and rich life.

 

Great Grand Uncle Philip
Great Grand Uncle Philip

 

The arrow points to my Great Grandfather, Albert Zimmermann.  If you look where the hose curves, you can see my Grandfather holding my Mother.
The arrow points to my Great Grandfather, Albert Zimmermann. If you look where the hose curves, you can see my Grandfather holding my Mother.

But now I’m deep into the Ancestry website, and I continued tracing other relatives. I didn’t realize my maternal great-grandfather was, like me, a volunteer firefighter–until I found him mentioned in the The Daily Star newspaper. My mother confirmed that he was a volunteer firefighter, and she even had his shield and some pictures, which she gave to me as a present. But the real gift was the connection I now felt with him and my family’s past.

 

I traced as much of my mother’s family as I could, but the trail would sometimes grow cold. My Mom gave me lots of oral history, filling in the blanks where Ancestry could not. I’m still working on it.

image

 

We didn’t really know my Dad’s family, the only person I ever met was his half-sister, Marie, who served as my Godmother, but my christening was the last time we laid eyes on each other. The extended family I knew and loved was solely on my mother’s side. So it was ironic that tracing Dad’s side of my tree was much easier—the Merker branch of my tree lit up like Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

Melvin Edgar Merker II, DDS.  This is a page from his book, Dependable Dentistry, published in 1938
Melvin Edgar Merker II, DDS. This is a page from his book, Dependable Dentistry, published in 1938

I knew his grandfather–my great grandfather–was a dentist, but not much more. Through published business listings I found the address where he practiced, which was on 39th Street in Manhattan. Since we lived on 30th street I strolled over, just to see the building. I also found him on a passenger list from Bermuda. Digging deeper I discovered he held a patent on what seems to be the precursor of the dental implant, and he wrote a book titled Dependable Dentistry, which the University of Michigan digitized in 2008. Apparently it’s still referred to today!

Research was a bit slow. Ancestry allows you to copy information from others’ family trees, but who’s to know if they are right? I found lots of people whose dates didn’t line up—daughters giving birth to mothers, people married to themselves, or, my favorite, the 102 year old woman bearing children. Lots of people had that one. To avoid perpetuating such errors in my tree, I built each branch slowly, adding ancestors only when enough circumstantial evidence was discovered to support it.

Information would come in waves. When Giles Claude Merker drowned in Illinois in 1892, it was covered by the local paper, which disclosed the names of many grieving relatives—this helped me greatly in filling out even more my tree.

 

Newspaper story on Gile's downing.  (Click to enlarge.)
Newspaper story on Gile’s downing. (Click to enlarge.)

 

Karen and Kirsten with their dance partners, me on the floor.
Karen and Kirsten with their dance partners, Kyle on the floor.

Merker. It’s a German name, and my late father’s own genealogical research traced us back to a small town in Germany called Groß-Bieberau. Dad embraced his German heritage. Big time. We ate German food like leberkäse, schnitzel, landjäger and wursts. He belonged to a German social club and we were member of it’s kindergruppe. We were dancers, performing the schuhplattler in parades, fairs and festivals. My father danced the schäefflertanz. I wore lederhosen, Karen and Kirsten wore dirndls. My sisters were even on TV—The Bell Telephone Hour: The World of Christmas with Victor Borge.

Christmas was a celebration of our German Heritage. A miniature Bavarian village glowed under our tannenbaum while we munched on stollen and marzipan. My parents spoke German, but usually just when they didn’t want us to know what they were saying.

We did everything but goose step. We were as German as anyone could be.

 

Kyle with his dance partner.
Kyle with his dance partner.

 

I was understandably confused, therefore, when Ancestry told a different story. Sure, the Merker line went back to Germany, but only one person named Merker. In fact, I couldn’t get back to anywhere else, not for generations. I traced the Merker tree through Illinois, Kentucky, and Maryland. I connected us to several revolutionary war fighters (MERKER FAMILY: get your DAR and SAR applications ready–you’re in!). It’s seems like we fought in every major conflict, including both sides of the Civil War.

Then I found something remarkable. I came upon an ancestor, my fourth great grandfather Samuel Magruder Thrift, in a book called City of Decatur and Macon County, Illinois: A Record of Settlement, Organization, Progress and Achievement. Once upon a time they published these biographies of the local prominent families. These books told where they lived, how much land they owned, and, if it was even remotely interesting, a bit of ancestry. Toward the end of Sam’s entry was a line about his wife, Sarah Fleming Cowan, my fourth great grandmother. It made me sit straight up in my chair while my neck hair did the same. It says:

“Samuel Thrift was united in marriage to Miss Sarah Fleming Cowan, a descendant of the Stuart family of England, her ancestry being traceable directly to Mary, Queen of Scots.”

Now I’m dumbstruck. Could this be true? My research went into overdrive. Before I get your hopes up, let me say this: I am NOT a direct descendant of Mary Queen of Scots, although at the time I didn’t know that, so I was motivated to do a lot more research.

 

But hey, back up! Wait. Breathe. Deep breaths. What about Germany? I still hadn’t gotten there, except one person on my father’s side. What the hell am I doing in Illinois, trying to make my way back to Scotland? What about the beer steins decorated with edelweiss I was supposed to find? This can’t be right: We’re German!

So, what does Kyle do? He gets his DNA analyzed. Yes. Yes I did.

Ancestry has a DNA testing service, so I spit into a vial and mailed it off. The results came back fairly quickly, and my jaw dropped when I opened the page with the results.

The first hit was, understandably, 52% British Isles. No surprise there. My maternal grandmother, who I miss dearly and think of almost every day, her family was from County Cork. 52% seemed high, but it made sense. 52%, I’m good with it.

The next hit: 28% Scandinavian! What? Hold on, think. OK, Scandinavia is up there, just northeast of Germany. Right. But 28%? Hmmm. Borders were fluid back in the day, and everyone was always invading each other so, maybe. But I never heard of Scandinavian as a background for us.  OK, Scandinavia. Great. Maybe I’ll get a discount in Ikea. Wait ‘till I tell Chief Fridsberg!

Next hit: less than 10% Central Europe. Huh? Really? 10%? Even if all 10% is from Germany, we’re not really very German. Still confused, I called my sister Kirsten and we tried to do the math. “Maybe I should get my DNA tested” she mused. “Uh, unless you know something I don’t know, they should be the same…” I suggested before we both laughed so hard my sides hurt.

Not even 10% German, but rather the more generic and ordinary Central European.  Alright, 10%. I wish I knew that when they called me Kraut in grade school, and–maybe–I could have been a good guy once while playing war.

From time to time Ancestry reruns your DNA, and they eventually got back to me. That 10% turned out to be…wait for it…: Greek and Italian! Now it claimed my DNA is less than 4% Central European. My world, and my lederhosen, were turned upside down.

 

My DNA results!
My DNA results!

 

As I said, thanks to Sarah Cowen’s mention in her husband’s biography, coupled with the revelations hidden in my DNA, I really buckled down and went to work, painstakingly finding evidence to get to the bottom of this. What I found was pretty remarkable. If you’re still with me and haven’t fallen asleep yet, or decided you had better things to do (the high dusting comes to mind, have you seen the top of your bookshelves lately?), I’d like to get on with walking you through the more interesting part. The Scottish part. And I’m going to start with me. Let’s climb a tree!

 

To quote Dickens opening title in David Copperfield: Chapter One: I am Born.

Little German Kyle
Little German Kyle

And I was, on August 17, 1961, the third child and only son to Melvin Edgar Merker III (1925 – 2001) and Arlene Zimmermann. Dad wanted to name me Melvin Edgar Merker IV but my mother dug in and named me Kyle. I love you mom, clearly you had my back from day one. Unfortunately I need to leave my mom here and climb a few rungs up the Merker side of my tree.

 

My grandfather was Melvin Edgar Merker II (1903-196?) and my great grandfather was, obviously, Melvin Edgar Merker (1873-?). He was the dentist, and was born in 1873. Think about it—no Novocain. Ouch.

My great-great grandfather was born in 1834, his name was Charles Lewis Merker (1834-1886) and it was his son, Giles Claude who drowned in 1892. It was Charles Lewis’ father who came from Groß-Bieberau.

But we are going to leave the Merkers here in Illinois. It is Charles’ wife, my great-great grandmother, we follow next. Her name was Isabella Lorraine Thrift (1840-1886), and she came from a fairly prominent family. She was born in 1840 to AJ Thrift and Minerva Jane Hawkins (1819-1851).

Her father, Andrew Jackson Thrift (1815-1888) was a jackpot of information. He was my 3rd great grandfather. I found his application to the Sons of the American Revolution, and once I input my ancestors listed on his application, my bonsai-sized tree started to grow into a sequoia. Both of his parents came from very wealthy families, so there is a very discernible trail. Rich people leave wills, deeds, newspaper stories and marriage records in their wake. The poorer you are, the more anonymous you are.

AJ’s parents both have interesting pedigrees. I can trace his father’s ancestors back to Nathaniel Thrift, my 10th great grandfather, who was born in Scotland in 1598 and died in Virginia in 1675. But, while AJ’s Dad’s roots are fascinating, it’s his mother–my 4th great grandmother–Sara Fleming Cowan’s (1792-1864) tree we will continue to climb today. She’s the one who erroneously thought she was a direct descendant of Mary Queen of Scots.

Samuels family goes back for generations in America, and then further back to Scotland
Samuels family goes back for generations in America, and then further back to Scotland

I’m going to climb faster now: Her father was Issac Cowan (1755-1809); his mother was Susannah Fleming (1702-1751); her father was William Fleming (1662-1726); his dad was Patrike Fleming (1657-1754); his Dad was Jon Fleming (1635-1665); and he was fathered by John Richard Wigtown Fleming (1610-1665). It was William and his father Patrike who moved to the United States from Scotland, settling in Pennsylvania.

This is the part of the tree we just climbed.
This is the part of the tree we just climbed.

Whew, let’s rest here a second and catch our breath, and I’ll quickly tell you that during my research I found five men I am descended from with the title Sir, and their wives with the title Lady! Those family names include Kerr, Steuart, Stewart and Fleming. We aren’t climbing any of those branches now, but I was pretty stoked—if nothing else I descended from fancy people with fancy titles!

Let’s climb. I told you that because it gets even better, because John Richard Wigtown Fleming had to address his Father’s Day card to Lord John Second Earl of Wigtown Fleming (1589-1659). My 11th great grandfather was both a Lord and an Earl! Pretty cool, ey? Of course, he was the Second Earl because his father was the first. His name was Lord John Montrose Fleming (1566-1619), who inherited his title of “Lord” from his Dad, John the 5th Baron Lord of Montrose Fleming (1528-1572).

The Flemings
The Flemings, back to Lady Janet

 

He was the 5th Baron Lord and, if we continued to follow his tree we would find a succession of titles. But, as interesting as that story is, it’s his wife we are going to follow now. Her name was Lady Janet and she was my 14th great grandmother. Her full title? Lady Janet Baroness Fleming Princess of Scotland Stewart.   Princess? Of course, because “Pops” was King James IV King of Scotland! Lady Janet was Mary Queen of Scots Aunt and Governess. (Sarah Fleming Cowan was close, not a direct descendant of MQoS, but a distant relative instead.)

Kings of Scotland, my 15th, 16th, 17th great grandfathers and beyond! I’m blown away. One more thing: King James IV’s mother was Margarete Oldenberg and her parents, my 17th Great Grandparents on her side, were the King and Queen of Denmark and Sweden!

 

Lady Janet's, and our, Royal Lineage.  I plan to take it back further, much further.
Lady Janet’s, and our, Royal Lineage. I plan to take it back further, much further.

So that’s my family tree and DNA story, or an interesting fraction of it:  I found the dirt on Uncle Philip, although not the dirt I was looking for.  I feel a new connection with my great grandfather, a volunteer firefighter.  And, after living my life as a German-American, it turns out we’re not only Scottish, but descendant from royalty.

I recently found a book that claims to trace Lady Janet back to Charlemagne, so I still have more digging to do.  Lots more.

I’ve been working on this for years, but never told anyone because, well, it sounds like bullshit. How do you bring this up in conversation without sounding like a pompous jerk?

 

So, what does this have to do with my trip to LA?  I’m coming out of the Royal Closet now for a reason: I was in Los Angeles because Ancestry.com was so interested in my story that they cast me in a commercial! They need to decide which of the 5 commercials they shot will be aired, and let’s hope they choose mine! Those that are chosen will air starting June.  Keep your fingers crossed and I’ll keep you posted.

Me on my set!
Me on my set!

 

But this missive was long enough. I’ll tell you all about taping the commercial in my next post, but it was super fun and I’m very excited!)

 

©2015 by Kyle Merker

 

 

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