Tag Archives: lederhosen

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!

 

Stupid is as Stupid Does

If we’re friends on Facebook, you already know this story.  For the rest of you:

Commercials are posted on a site called ispot and the commercial I’m in is there as well.  It doesn’t really get many comments, although I do get lot’s of “thumbs up!”.  I did get one comment a while ago from a guy who liked the commercial, but noticed that the kilt was wrong.  I wrote back in private, basically telling him that the wardrobe people dressed me, and that there were crimes against lederhosen as well.  It was a fun exchange.

The few comments I got, on ispot, facebook, and by email, were all positive, until today when someone commented “now he should trade his kilt for some testicles. What a pansy” [sic]

Here he is: Mr. Tim Price, a genius and a criminal!
Here he is: Mr. Tim Price, a genius and a criminal!

It didn’t really bother me, but me being me I googled the gentleman.  Several hits right away–because he’s a convicted child sex offender and is on the watch lists!  You would think he’d rather keep is head down and STFU.  But no: Stupid is as Stupid Does.

So I hit him back.  I told him I was Firefighter of the Year in 2012, and I’m OK with “Pansy”, much better than Sex Offender.  You can see the exchange here (you’ll need to scroll down to see the comments), and you can view his sex offender registry here.

 

2015-07-24 11.29.13

and, by the way, testicles?  I think I’ll let Betty White handle this one:

cartoon-Betty-White-on-Balls-jpg

On a positive note, the guys at KiltedBros.com (NSFW!) are sending me a free kilt!  I suggested they put their label upside down on the inside front hem, and they did it, plus they loved my commercial!

 

I’m going back to Sea next week! Stay tuned….

 

 

(Update:  He either deleted his post on ispot, blocked me on facebook, or both!  Ha!)

 

© Kyle Merker 2015

 

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

 

My Ancestry Commercial: How it Happened, from Soup to Nuts

In my previous post, I explained that I first joined Ancestry.com in 2011 to try and track down Uncle Phillip. I wound up getting lost in my own genealogy, having lots of fun along the way.

In March, while we were in Ecuador, I received an email from them. This is not unusual; they are kind of like Pottery Barn, in that they relentlessly bombard you with emails. I’m surprised I even opened it. Here is the email I received:

 

The Email That Started It All
The Email That Started It All – click to enlarge

 

I thought, huh, I have an interesting AncestryDNA story. So I sent it off. Then they asked me to submit my story in a short video, so I did. (Click here to view my submission)

About a week later, the casting director both called and emailed me. She invited me to have a Skype call with her, which would be recorded, so I could tell my story without any time constraints. George and I were back from Ecuador by then, so I made the call from my sister-in-law’s kitchen table. It was a  simple, straightforward conversation, and I was relaxed as I told my story. After about 30 minutes she stopped recording the call and told me that I “had everything they were looking for” and she would be in touch.

The next step was a call from the director, Matt. I was at the beach for that call, and we spent about a half hour chatting. Toward the end of the call, I asked him what my chances were to be selected. He said he would be very surprised if they didn’t use me. I was shocked.

A few days later the casting director called to tell me I was officially chosen. She said the competition was pretty fierce, they had about a thousand submissions and were only taping 5 stories. She said I would soon get a call from wardrobe, and they would be flying me out to Los Angeles to tape the commercial.

Wardrobe said to bring casual slacks, a nice pair of jeans, a solid colored button down shirt, a sweater or two and comfortable leather shoes. I flew to Los Angeles on Jet Blue early on a Thursday morning, and, after checking into my hotel, I was picked up to go to a wardrobe fitting.

I did have a quick laugh on the plane.   There was a woman on the plane, a couple of rows ahead of me on the opposite side of the cabin. You couldn’t miss her.  I would describe her as unfortunate looking, and she kept jumping up out of her seat.  Sometimes she’d use the restroom, sometimes she’d grab a snack.  Often she would get treats for the people in her row, and the people behind her.  She seemed to be treating everyone very nicely, even if she was a bundle of nervous energy.  When I walked by her to use the restroom, I realized my mistake.  This wasn’t a homely woman at all–it was actually Rod Stewart!  I should have said hello–we might be related.

Mr. Rod Stewart.  I should have introduced myself, we might be related!
Mr. Rod Stewart. I should have introduced myself, we might be related!

 

Wardrobe was set up in the hallway of the ad agency. It was great fun. First they looked at what I brought. They liked my jeans, my Cole Haan shoes, and my plaid Penguin button down shirt. They vetoed my sweater, so they supplemented my outfit with a sweater of their own.

Wardrobe Department - German Costume
Wardrobe Department – German Costume

Then they had me in lederhosen, shirt, hat, hose and what I would describe as peasant shoes, which I thought were kind of cool. They wanted me in a jacket, too, and I explained you wouldn’t wear a jacket with lederhosen. They took me at my word.

While they had several pairs of lederhosen, shoes, and shirts in different textures and sizes, they only had one hat. They had asked for all of my measurements before I arrived, but they never asked about my giant bulbous head. The hat, of course, was too small, but they managed to cram my cranium into it and make it work.

Wardrobe Department - Scottish Costume
Wardrobe Department – Scottish Costume

Next was the kilt. It was a little tight, so they let it out. They also rented a big swooping sash, which would go over the shoulder. They never really got the sash to hang right at the fitting, so when I returned to my hotel room I googled examples which I brought to the shoot. They tried another hat, but there are simply times in your life when scissors, glue and tape can’t compensate for your supersized skull.

The fitting took about 2 hours, even though only 45 minutes were allotted. While hanging out in wardrobe I got to meet a couple of the other people also cast in the commercials.

My overnight research
My overnight research

 

There was a set of twins who looked familiar to me. They are African-American OBGYNs living in Chicago. I was wracking my brain, it sounded so familiar, so I googled them. They were on a The Amazing Race. I’ve never watched it, but I must have seen some promos. They were here because they thought they might be descendant from John Quincy Adams, but they couldn’t prove it one way or the other. They did find, however, that they could trace sets of twins back hundreds of years.

One young woman, also African-American, told me her story. Her  great-grandfather was a doctor in Alabama, but it was against the law for African-Americans to have a medical license. The most advanced license they would give him was Pharmaceutical. It was also illegal for him to treat white people and, since blacks were living in abject poverty, he could not make a living treating them. He finally ended up working for a pharmaceutical company and had a fairly good career. Unfortunately for him, Alabama was NOT a place to be making money while black. He was murdered, and his land was taken away from his family. His murder was never solved.  If you think we’ve come far from this behavior, read Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. It is a great read and, sadly, shocking.

Two other people were going to be filmed, a woman from Oregon who, from what I could tell, simply had fun tracing her lineage. She told me her story but there was no draw-dropping moment. The other woman, who was from Ohio, was pretty sure she was descended from the Vikings, but her DNA showed inconsistencies from her family members. I don’t think any conclusions were drawn here, either. I guess we will know if they air her commercial!

I returned to my hotel room. They were picking me up at 6 AM to take me to the studio, and I knew I’d be pretty bright-eyed if I kept to East Coast time. I went out for some pizza, was in bed by 8, and awoke at 5 in the morning, feeling pretty great. I couldn’t believe I slept so well—I was pretty excited!

The twins and I were in the same car, so I asked them about The Amazing Race. They were very personable and charming—I bet they are a casting director’s dream.

There was no traffic, but the studio was pretty far. It took about an hour to get there. We were met by a production assistant who showed us where the catering tent was and told us to eat. I took a muffin and coffee. Then I tossed the muffin away—I was convinced it would get stuck in my teeth. If I knew there were still a couple of hours before I would be in front of the camera, I wouldn’t have worried. I was too nervous to eat, anyway.

Once inside I met the wardrobe team again. They had taken some things in and let some things out, so they wanted to give them a final once-over. Then they dressed me in my own clothes, the ones they picked out the day before. Then they were called up to the set with their pins, tape, elastic bands and racks of clothes.

Make-up
Make-up

Make-up was next. They had two make-up chairs, and they worked on the twins first. Once the twins were beautiful, they were led up to the set. They would be taped first. I took a seat in the make-up chair and, well, they did their best with what they had. I thought it would take a bucket of paint to spruce up this old barn, but it was pretty minimal. The day before the director instructed me NOT to shave, and the make-up crew was unsure this was best. I told them I brought my razor just in case the director changed his mind, but I returned home with it untouched.

Then I sat and waited. A long time. A very long time. I tried reading, but couldn’t concentrate, so I really just sat there.

Twenty-one years ago, back when I was a probie training for my Fire Department, my friend Jon Gilbert and I were at the Fire Academy to try our hand at the smoke maze. Our masks were covered so we could not see. We were kneeling on the floor getting ready to force the entrance door open when Jon had trouble with his mask. Prior to this I had no anxiety at all. As I sat there, blindfolded, waiting to “go in”, I got the chance to worry. “What is on the other side of this door?” “Do I know what I’m doing?” “Can I get hurt?” “Will I make myself look the fool?” Things like that. By the time they fixed his mask, I had used up most of my air bottle. Once we got started I calmed down a little bit, but worrying about the unknown had unnerved me. I’m sure–had we just gone in right away as planned–I wouldn’t have given it another thought. Within five minutes my pass alarm went off and we were forced to retreat.

We weren’t allowed on-set until they were ready for us, so sitting and waiting to be called was a similar experience. Other than pitching my muffin in the trash, I really hadn’t given this any thought. At all. Up to now, I was remarkably calm. Now I was sitting in a very big room, alone with my thoughts. My mouth stayed dry no matter how much water I drank. I leafed through magazines and struck up a conversation with anyone who came by, just to distract myself. Mercifully, after about two hours, I was brought to the set.

Me on my set
Me on my set
They decided to lose the shelves.  Apparently the X in the back of the shelves was distracting.
They decided to lose the shelves. Apparently the X in the back of the shelves was distracting.

Wardrobe pushed a sweater over my head and make-up dusted me with final flourish of magic powder while my set was put into place. My very own set. It had a big wooden chair, and shelves with books, beer steins, a boat and some framed family pictures. One of my great grandfather, and two of me in my lederhosen. They put a piece of tape on the floor and told me to stand there. So I did, for a long time, while they adjusted the lights. Then, with a flourish, the bookshelves were deemed unsuitable and stricken from the set. My family pictures were set up on the floor behind me, and a small table appeared to hold the beer steins and a photograph. And then they began to tape.

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

There was no script, of course, I was just telling my story. On the teleprompter, where an actor’s lines would be, was superimposed the director’s face. Like the Great and Wonderful Oz, his slightly green face floated in front of the lens. This way I could respond to him, but be looking  directly into the camera. It was great fun. He asked me a few questions to warm me up, then asked me my story. I think I did pretty well—although I kept calling it “Ancestry.com” when they wanted me to simply call it “Ancestry”, so we had a couple of “do-overs”. Sometimes they would stop and adjust the lights, and sometimes they would come up from a huddle and ask me the same question again.

That was difficult. I think I sounded natural when they asked me a question the first time, but to go back and do it again, it felt weird. I was also concerned because I realized how much I say “ummm” and “uhhh” when I’m thinking, but someone on the crew told me not to worry—they can just cut those out.

At some point they asked me if I was going to continue tracing my tree back even further. I said that I planned “to trace my tree back to an acorn!”. There was a brief silence in the room, then from the far corner we heard laughter. Apparently it was the client. The folks from Ancestry.com loved it. If they do chose to air my commercial, I hope they put that in!

German Kyle on set
German Kyle on set

Then it was time for the lederhosen. He asked me more questions, some of the repeats from before, and then he asked me to do something I hadn’t anticipated: The Schuhplattler. I was impressed with myself, actually, I nailed it—even though the last time I danced was 45 years ago! There was one thing I noticed that was different from my childhood. I was now wearing a costume, it was made of cotton instead of leather, so it didn’t have the right sound when I slapped it. It surprised me that I even noticed that, but I did.

Me in the monitor doing the schuhplattler
Me in the monitor doing the schuhplattler

2015-04-24 11.02.11

Next came the kilt, which, thanks to my research, was correctly worn over one shoulder, instead of hanging in front of my like drapes. A touch-up by make-up, a few more questions from the director, and I was done.

Scottish Kyle on set
Scottish Kyle on set

After I was changed, the Ancestry.com people wanted to have a chat and said how much they liked my “audition tapes”. We chatted for a bit, and I told them the story of how I used Ancestry.com to find evidence that Karlyn had no family. They thought it was an interesting story and had me tell it again so they could tape it. They were very nice, and seemed to genuinely like my enthusiasm for their product.

I was released. I had the option to go back to the hotel and stare at the walls, or wait around for lunch. I chose lunch—I wanted the full experience, including Craft Services! Afterwards I returned to my hotel and got ready for my very early flight home.

 

So, it was great fun. It was interesting to be on a set, especially one built just for me! I had a wonderful time. Even if they never air my commercial, I have to admit this has been an amazing experience and I’m grateful it happened.

Last week, they asked for pictures of my family—Siblings, Aunts, Uncles, Parents, Grandparents, and Great Grandparents. They want to build my tree to show on-air. I hope they use my family pictures—I think it would be fun to have everyone in the commercial together. This could be a great experience for everyone.

So, that’s the story of filming the commercial. Keep your fingers crossed, and perhaps you’ll see me, and my extended family, on TV. I didn’t notice any gauze on the lens, so I hope HD is kind to this 53 year-old face.

 

 

Please like and share with your friends. Remember you can click on any image to enlarge it, and don’t forget to click the links!

 

© 2015 Kyle Merker

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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