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Where's Merrill? a genealogical thriller

Where's Merrill? a genealogical thriller

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Where's Merrill? a genealogical thriller

Length:
233 pages
3 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Feb 27, 2013
ISBN:
9781500851309
Format:
Book

Description

“Where’s Merrill?” is a uniquely crafted mystery thriller based upon real life historical events. In fact, it is two inter-related stories in one novel set in different time-frames, namely the past and the present. An Irish genealogist called Jed is commissioned by Tim, an American client, who needs to understand more about his mysterious maternal ancestry. Fate had dictated that Tim never got the chance to meet his grandparents, and he didn’t even know the name of his mother’s father. She refused to tell Tim, even on her death bed. Why?

That was a question which troubled Tim as he witnessed his mother's melancholy throughout his adult life, and after her death he resolves to find some answers - and some peace of mind.

It was also a question which intrigues Jed after he learns that Tim’s grandfather simply “disappeared”. No death record, no burial - nothing. Jed identifies the “missing” grandfather to be Merrill Harrison. Within weeks, Jed becomes obsessed with Merrill’s life, as he embarks on a personal crusade to find Merrill’s resting place on Tim's behalf. More fundamentally, Jed needs to fully understand the complex twists and turns linked to Merrill’s existence and eventual disappearance which take the Irish researcher on a fascinating trail stretching back to the pioneering immigrants of Midwest America all the way to the White House during WWII.

A web of worrying deceit woven by Tim’s ancestors is gradually unraveled. Once hidden family secrets are exposed. Jed turns from genealogist into cold case detective as he comes to the conclusion that multiple criminal misdeeds have been covered up … but where is Merrill?

Publisher:
Released:
Feb 27, 2013
ISBN:
9781500851309
Format:
Book

About the author

Gearoid O'Neary is the pen name of Gerard Neary, a genealogist and writer based in County Sligo in Ireland.


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Where's Merrill? a genealogical thriller - Gearoid O'Neary

PROLOGUE

Where’s Merrill? is a fact-based story about genealogy—the tracing of one man’s lineage and a study of the associated families throughout history. However, you will soon discover that this is no ordinary family tree. It is a tree inhabited by a very remarkable and unique set of ancestors.

In most ancestry research into normal everyday families, words like suicide, insanity, false ID, deceit, greed, the U.S. President, disappearance, and so on, do not crop up. But in this particular research project commissioned by Tim, an American client, bizarre happenings cropped up time and again.

At the beginning of the project, Tim had many unanswered questions concerning his ancestry. He also had some highly personal reasons to explore his forefathers. For starters, he knew very little about the backgrounds of both of his parents.

In his father’s case, the motivation to dig deeper was the loss of a parent in childhood. This is probably the most common reason to commence a family history research project. In middle to late adulthood, people often develop a desire to understand their roots. They want to discover what makes them the people they are.  Or, what brought them to the place in which they reside. Sometimes, though, it is more fundamental or even critical. For instance, the contracting of a genetic disease can trigger a frantic search for a detailed family history.

On his maternal side, Tim‘s desperate desire to learn more was of a similar crucial nature and went far beyond a lack of information about a long-deceased parent. His mother lived into old age.  From little quips she occasionally made to Tim, he knew that his mother had had a difficult upbringing. But, she refused to engage in any real discussion about what had happened before Tim was born. A loving son knew that his mother hurt from it, but the trouble was, Tim never really knew any details of it. As his mother grew older and steadfastly refused to reveal much about her birth family or her childhood experiences, Tim developed the feeling that his own peace of mind demanded at least a good faith effort on his part to establish the facts. Why was she so sad, and secretive, about her childhood and parents?

Tim knew that repeatedly asking his mom these personal questions only created tension and discomfort for her, so he eased off from trying to discover the truth while she was alive. It was not until after the death of his mother that Tim stepped up his family history research efforts and subsequently commissioned some professional assistance.

I am honored to say that I became good friends with Tim. As he opened up more and more about his private feelings, my respect for him increased. We regularly discussed the personalities of his deceased family members, as each one was uncovered and examined in detail. These individuals started coming to life. We were more than fascinated by them as the truth about his mother’s background was gradually exposed.

As a researcher of the past, it was also a rare treat to be introduced to Tim’s living family. We shared in current traumas, at the same time as we worked to understand the devastating or ostensibly weird events witnessed by his ancestors. We were regularly puzzled or shocked. We empathized, we laughed, we tried to hold back tears.

The telling of the Where’s Merrill? story has been intentionally crafted so that the reader discovers the often conflicting and confusing family history facts in the same sequence as the researching genealogist. As a result, Where’s Merrill? is deliberately structured in flashback sequences set in the USA, interspersed with scenes that occur in the Ancestry Research HQ in Ireland. The story begins with Merrill as a child in Kansas and then jumps to other states and other parts of his life in unanticipated ways, reflecting the alternating horizontal and vertical research trail that became a remarkable journey of discovery.

In the passages of this book set in decades gone by, the events which unfold are based firmly on our findings, right up until near the end. In spite of thorough investigations, the complex multi-dimensional research trail came to a mystifying halt each time it was sensed that the ultimate goal was around the next bend. As a result, parts of the closing chapters have been composed by bringing together all shreds of available evidence, thereby formulating a logical and totally plausible conclusion. It is for the reader to determine how much fiction has been added in order to enhance or explain the strange goings-on.

However, all the direct references to the ancestors researched from present day Ireland are factual in terms of relationships and vital events, except for one key ingredient. After a lot of soul-searching, Tim conceded that the names of his newly-discovered ancestors should be changed for this novel, as a mark of respect for his past and present extended family —regardless of the good deeds or misdeeds attributed to various individuals.

With regard to the decision of Tim and I to respectfully change the names of our book’s characters, it is ironic that a recurring theme of this story is the interpretation of the truth, and in particular, understanding the reasoning why some people conceal their true identities to differing degrees. Ultimately, I believe that Tim made a very honorable decision regarding the concealment of names. Family privacy is important on many levels. After reading this tale, you might like to consider whether the deviousness of some of Tim’s ancestors was as praiseworthy.

I wrote this book with a soundtrack in my head; a tune which I regularly listened to during the long research process. I told Tim to listen to it as well. He got the point straight away. The accompanying piece was Music For A Found Harmonium by the Penguin Café Orchestra. The simple melody is relentless, echoing the never-ending search for more information. The volume increases as more instruments come together. Just as the listener (or researcher) tires, the tune erupts into a different variation of repeated notes. You are jolted awake by a new discovery. And then it speeds up, but gets complicated. You are briefly lifted, but confused—soon ready to return to a more basic melody and rhythm. Start again, maybe a bit quicker this time around. Go over it all one more time. Don’t give up. Maybe another surprise is around the corner...

Chapter I - Who’s Merrill?

Early 1890’s, Kansas

Occasional strong breezes whip up dust storms across the wide open fields of Midwest America. Oblivious, the Harrison family is getting dressed up in readiness for a formal family photo. "Where’s Merrill?" shouts Mom. Around the back of the farm buildings, Merrill is already dressed to the nines in an over-elaborate child’s suit. He is playing a game that he has invented with a much dirtier-looking neighbor’s child. The game involves throwing a pocket knife towards a strip of soil in front of the barn wall. The objective is to get the knife to enter the earth blade first, as near as possible to the barn. If the knife sticks in the wooden barn wall, or simply fails to penetrate anything, then it is a no throw, scoring no points. The winner of each round is the child who gets his knife closest to the ramshackle timber outhouse.

Hearing his name shouted from afar, Merrill rushes his last throw. I win, he says, dashing to retrieve his prized folding knife.

"But the handle was laying on the floor," complains the scruffy kid.

"The tip was in the soil. That’s a score." And with that, Merrill scoops up two Indian Head pennies: the stake.

The objections of Merrill’s play pal are brushed aside, It’s my game. I make the rules. I’ll let you try to win your money back when I get home from town.

At the front of the farm shack where Merrill currently resides, his father Thaddeus Harrison (known as Pop) has brought around an elegant buggy, now attached to the Harrisons’ horse. Pop the carriage-driver has borrowed the buggy for the day from his employer. Today he looks every inch the country gentleman in his three-quarter length dark overcoat. His best colorful necktie is emphasized against a crisp white collar. Merrill’s mother appears on the front porch, trying not to get dust on the hem of her long, deep blue dress. She had worked late into the previous night stitching on the new matching lace epaulettes and collar yoke.

Leroy, go find your rascal of a brother, shouts Mom.

Mom then hitches up her skirts, taking proud Pop’s hand, as he guides her to the steps of the buggy cart. Year on year, Matilda Wall Harrison had pestered her husband that they had no photographs of the complete family as a group. Thaddeus had always answered that they would book a photographer next summer, when their income was better; or when a real good harvest had been gathered. The problem was that, for several summers, there never seemed to be any spare cash, regardless of crop prices and quantities. Now, Thaddeus‘s sons were being asked to attend school. They were not the tiny toddlers that Mom had wanted in the family photo—the toddlers her sisters asked about in letters. It was over three years now since her relatives back in Iowa had received mail with never a photographic print enclosed.

Without any planning, the Harrisons had just ended up drifting farther and farther west. Now they were in Goodland, Kansas, over 500 miles from the places Mom called home. They couldn’t head westwards for much longer and remain in the heart of the central farmland plains; the Colorado peaks of the Rocky Mountains now rose up on the horizon. The mountains formed a threatening barrier skyline to Thaddeus Harrison, a troubled man in his mid-thirties, who was starting to go a little thin on top.

Today was different, though. Thaddeus had made a secret promise to himself and somehow he had stuck to it for a few months. He had curbed his occasional binge drinking visits to town. He never could afford a decent Red Eye, preferred by the respectable Western gents, but there was always some cheap local brew on offer in the saloons he frequented, and this was enough to help him forget why he had become a drifter. The real problem was that these saloons always had a card table, and Thaddeus was always just a card turn away from owning his own farm ...... or completing yet another furtive overnight move far away from the Harrison family‘s rented temporary home.

The two Harrison boys in matching ornate garb suddenly appear, racing each other towards the horse and trap. I win! shouts the younger boy.

At last, scolds Mom. Here’s Merrill.

2011, Sligo, Ireland

Jed the genealogist is studying a whiteboard showing the completed paternal family tree of his U.S. client Tim. Jed the Genealogist was quite a recent invention. Jed had started out in his working life as a qualified civil engineer. He had developed and refined the knack of grasping new technology and seeing how it could be utilized for financial gain. As a consequence, he rose quickly through the ranks of his eventual long­-term employer. Before he knew it, Jed was managing the affairs of a multi-million turnover arm of a worldwide engineering specialist—a monstrous organization driven by making money at all costs. Jed was the Golden Boy, delivering record profits for his paymasters with apparent ease. Now, years later, Jed has the chance to put his technical know-how to the extreme test when clients like Tim commission his research services.

The nature of Jed’s prior engineering work had meant postings to many locations around the globe: some exotic, and some the exact opposite—grim industrial landscapes often deliberately sited miles from upmarket civilization. When his native country of Ireland got its hands on some generous European Union development funds at the beginning of the 21st century, Jed heard from home that major building projects were springing up all over the island. As soon as an opportunity arose, Jed took a long overdue holiday to visit his homeland and witnessed the changing skylines for himself. This period of time coincided with his employer’s desire to move full-scale into evolving economies. Jed put forward a business plan to get a slice of the action in Ireland where the trend-setting economic boom was being christened as The Celtic Tiger. As he expected, his company chairman in Paris soon called him up to discuss the Irish proposal in detail, via a video conference. And as he anticipated, Jed knew that the Irish business plan could only succeed with a native Irish boss to muscle in on the proudly parochial scene, so the video call had ended with Jed being asked to consider whether he himself would be prepared to head up the proposed Irish branch. Jed put on his best false frown and muttered, Oh, I don’t know not long before the video screen went blank. He knew that he had successfully manipulated another impending pay raise and associated perks.

A few weeks before this, Jed had toured Ireland on a whistle-stop vacation with his long-term girlfriend Sue from England. Their deep affection for each other had always been interrupted by Jed’s overseas postings to supervise special projects. Whilst on holiday, Sue had fallen in love with Ireland; and without a word being uttered, Jed and Sue knew that they had also truly fallen for each other.

The master plan was falling perfectly into place. Jed could now offer Sue a more fixed first residence together provided that she was prepared to uproot permanently from her home city of Liverpool. Sue had been irritated in the past by the prospect of a life in Jed’s short-let apartments, which mirrored his itinerant work schedule, so she had stuck to her Liverpudlian roots. Jed had logistically pinpointed Dublin as the fairly obvious choice of the Irish head office location. With Liverpool and Dublin separated only by a short stretch of water, Sue wouldn’t really feel that she was in a foreign land, and she could get back to Merseyside for family visits in less time than it took to travel between London and Northwest England. All it took to finalize the deal was Jed’s insistence that fellow employee Sue should be offered the important role of Irish Office Manager, if he was to drop everything and take up the grand title of Director of Operations: Ireland. With a feigned what the hell reluctance, Jed accepted the Irish challenge and all that went with it.

Oh - My - God! Sue exclaimed with deliberate slowness (for maximum effect) when she first saw her new palatial home in Dublin. Even a virtual house tour on the internet did not do this place justice. Jed and Sue’s electronically-gated and exclusive detached new home was set on the edge of a glorious golf course, separated from the spectacular par-three ninth hole by a line of heli-pads.

Well, Susan, we’ll just have to get used to the drone of choppers when visiting millionaires pop in for some exercise, joked Jed as hand-in-hand they inspected one tastefully decorated fully furnished room after another. It was the sight of a double-Jacuzzi bathtub and private sauna room that led the excited couple into a naked housewarming celebration as soon as the estate sales manager handed over the keys and departed. The Dublin house might only have been rented, but Jed had negotiated rent-free as far as his bank account and new employment contract were concerned.

For the next five years, everything had been beyond perfect. Jed experienced the satisfaction of developing a successful business empire on his own turf, and mainly on his own terms. Jed and Sue socialized by rubbing shoulders with rich and famous, and occasionally infamous, Dubliners. Jed would point out to Sue the typically Irish spoofers or the downright dangerous bull-shitters, but in the main their instincts guided them along a fun-filled adventure. Many of their new neighbors were to become friends for life. Sue, in particular, could spot the heart of gold in a one-time stranger whether he be the gardener’s laborer or a local TV or sports celebrity.

Sue certainly turned a few heads on the Dublin social scene. During earlier overseas vacations, Jed had been asked on more than one occasion by male admirers whether his companion sunbathing on the beach was of Mediterranean extract. Jed never took offence. He felt privileged that Sue’s sultry, dark good looks made other men, and sometimes women, jealous. In their new neighborhood, impressionable girls of Sue’s age were often dazzled by the nouveau riche playboys, with their Ferraris and Rolexes, resulting in meaningless relationships that usually ended in tears. Sue was different—she was Jed’s rock. Sue reminded him when stressed that he was "a hundred times more

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