The Story So Far

THE MERKLEE FAMILY IN AMERICA first settled in two cities beginning in the early 1800s: New York and Philadelphia. Traditions in both branches declared the family name to be of Dutch origin. Some records supported this view, while others pointed toward a German origin. In a way, they are all correct.

When I began my research, the earliest reference to the Merklee name came from the autobiography of Wandle Mace, available on line through the Brigham Young University web site: "On the 9th day of November, 1828, I married Miss Margaret Merklee." This marriage took place in New York City.

The personal records of Miss Jane Judd of Kanab, Utah -- a descendant of Wandle and Margaret Mace -- named Conrad and Anna Margaretha Merklee as Margaret Merklee's parents. These same records listed the following other children for Conrad and Anna: Nancy, Louise, Maria, Margaret Elizabeth, John, George, and Charles.

While no mention of a Conrad Merklee could be found in the New York City directories of the period, I found a listing for a C. Merkle in the 1809 and 1810 editions, residing at 28 First. In 1811 the name is spelled out: Conrad Merkle. The entry is repeated in 1812, missing from 1813, and reappears in 1814 with Conrad's occupation listed as "laborer." This was the last mention of him in the directories consulted (1809 - 1848). Several other Merkles were listed throughout these directories.

In the 1822/23 New York City directory, I found a listing for a widow, Margaret Merkle, residing at 86 Reed. In the 1823/24 edition, she was listed as living at the corner of Pump and Orange. Margaret was missing from the 1824/25 edition, but reappeared in the 1825/26 book as Margaret Merklee, residing at 46 Thomas. This entry repeated in the 1826/27 and 1827/28 editions. She was missing from the 1828/29 book, and did not reappear until the 1832/33 edition as Margaret Merkler residing at 86 Laight. In 1833/34, she was listed as Margaret Merklee, widow of Conrad, residing at 86 Laight. She did not appear again until 1835/36, again as Margaret Merklee, widow of Conrad, this time residing at 178 Mercer. This was her last appearance in the directories consulted (1809-1848). My cousin Paul Dean found a death notice for Margaret Merklee in the 14 July 1838 edition of The New Yorker newspaper. A subsequent search of New York death records revealed she was buried at the German Lutheran Church on the corner of Frankfort and Williams. The area is now occupied by the NYC municipal building and the Manhattan approach to the Brooklyn Bridge. It is hoped that a search of Lutheran Church records from the period will yield more information.

The death certificate for John Merklee (1808-1888) did not list his parents by name but gave their country of origin as Germany. (His information in the 1880 US Census named the places in Germany his parents came from, and these places correspond to information in the Lutheran Church records for Coenraad and Anna Margaretha mentioned below). The death certificate for his brother George (1809-1885) named the parents as Conrad and Gertrude Margaret Merklee, both from Amsterdam.

U.S. Census records also failed to show a Conrad Merklee in New York City, but a Conrad Merklee residing in Philadelphia was well documented in both the census records and the Philadelphia city directories.

The personal records of Miss Merklee Arnold (1935-1998) offered a connection between these two Conrads. They mentioned that her ancestor, John Merklee, came over from Holland along with his half-brother, Conrad. John, a goldsmith, settled in New York while Conrad went to Philadelphia.

Lutheran Church records in Amsterdam seemed to tie all of this together. They contained baptismal records for Conrad's (spelled "Coenraad" in Dutch) four sons by his first wife, Elizabeth Huijbers, including a son named Coenraad. The elder Coenraad's divorce from Elizabeth is mentioned in the record of marriage banns to his second wife, Margaretha Meerkard. These records also state that Coenraad and Margaretha were from Germany. Lastly, the baptismal records are given for four daughters from this second marriage: Maria Elisabeth, Anna, Anna Catharina, and Anna Margaretha Elizabeth. (A recently obtained transcript of George Merklee's will has proven that Conrad Merklee of Philadelphia was indeed his half-brother.)

What is interesting here is that in the baptismal records from his first marriage, Coenraad's surname is spelled "Merkle." This is a much more common surname, especially in the area of Württemberg (Germany) from which, the records state, he emigrated. His surname is still spelled "Merkle" at the time of his marriage banns to Margaretha. But beginning with the baptism of his first daughter by his second marriage, the family name is spelled "Merklee." It should also be noted that witnesses to some of the subsequent baptisms include Casper Merklee and Johannes Merklee. To make things more interesting still, a recently obtained copy of the record of Coenraad's marriage to Elisabeth Huÿbers spells his name "Merglee" and he signs it that way!

No information has been found as to why Coenraad (and possibly his more extended family) changed the spelling of the family name. One possibility might have been to make the name appear Dutch by having a double vowel. Given that his later children were given more Americanized names when the family was in New York, it seems likely that Coenraad was someone who did what he felt necessary to assimilate.

The elder Coenraad Merkle(e) is believed to have come to America from Rotterdam in 1804 aboard the ship Rebecca. In the 200 years since, his descendants have ranged across his adopted country and its history.

Margaret Merklee (1811-1854) and her husband Wandle Mace (1809-1890) converted to Mormonism and were part of the original trek westward with Brigham Young and Joseph Smith. They lived through the Mormons' tribulations in Missouri and Illinois, and Wandle and the surviving children eventually made it to Utah. Their descendants can be found throughout the western United States, some carrying the name Merklee as a first or middle name, presumably in remembrance of Margaret.

Elizabeth Anne Merklee (1831-1892) married James McGee (1827-1898), one of the original founders of Standard Oil of New Jersey, now known as Exxon/Mobil. Disillusioned by the greed and corruption he saw rising around the enterprise, he sold his share of the company early on, and he and his wife devoted their time and energy to various Methodist causes. Their daughter Adelaide (1866-1958) married Herbert Welch, who became a bishop in the United Methodist Church.

Mary Cornelia Merklee (1876-1945) marched with the American Federation of Labor for equitable wages and working conditions, and paraded with the suffragettes in support of voting rights for women.

In Philadelphia, Charles Henry Merklee (1859-1934) became a city councilman, and the family was supposedly listed in the society "Blue Book." His father, along with a partner, acquired a great deal of land, some of which became home to Temple University. The Haverford School of Haverford, Pennsylvania, offers a scholarship named for Abraham Merklee Beitler.

One Merklee is known to have fought in the War of 1812, three fought for the Union in the Civil War, two served during World War I, and four others during World War II.

Merklee gravesites can be found from Philadelphia to Waltham, Massachusetts, and as far west as Willits, California. The largest plot, purchased by John Merklee in 1850, is in Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn. Thirty family members are buried there, but only four of the more recent graves are marked.

No trace of the name Merklee has been found in present-day Germany or The Netherlands.

- W. H. Merklee
Wanaque, NJ
April 2004