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The Puzzling Case of John Cord Meyer

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 03, 2016 2:28 pm    Post subject: The Puzzling Case of John Cord Meyer Reply with quote

This story illustrates the unreliability of secondary sources of information. While primary sources (such as birth, marriage, or death certificates) have a high level of confidence, secondary sources (such as historical accounts or newspaper articles, e.g. obituaries) are less reliable and should always be verified with collateral information. It begins with a query from a message board member about her Meyer ancestors. The death date for Thees Meyer in the St. Paul's church records was posted on this website.

But this date presented a problem with other information that had been collected for the family.

The first piece of information obtained for John Cord Meyer was his death certificate from the Missouri State Archives.

The date of death on Jan 4, 1949 is, of course, very reliable; however, the date of birth on May 7, 1869 that is also included in the certificate is a secondary source of information. Note, that the name of the father was listed as 'John'. This is incorrect because it was well established that his father's name was 'Thees'. It is a red flag bringing into question the reliability of this extra data. One must keep in mind that this information was provided by the informant. In this case, it was Joe Flair, a much younger step-brother of John Cord. Therefore, the date of birth needs to be verified because it was more than a year after his father died.

A source that is generally used is the census records that give the age of a person. This number depends on what a person told the census enumerator and is sometimes off by a year or so. However, the census of 1900 is a little better in that the person had to provide the month and year of birth. So, looking at the entry in the 1900 U.S. Census records for John Cord Meyer we see the following:

John Cord was 31 years old at the time and surely should have known his year of birth.

Another source to check is the tombstone listing posted on the FindAGrave website. In this case, we have a photo of the tombstone.

Here we have the date carved in stone. That should settle the question; but then we need to resolve the sixteen month gap between his father's death (Jan 1868) and his birth (May 1869). So we should check some more sources to settle the problem.

The next thing that was checked was the census record shortly after John's birth, namely the one that was taken in July 1870. Note that John's mother Anna Catherine had remarried Barney Flair by that time.

One would assume that the mother would have known the age of a young child. So it appears that he was born in 1868. Note also that he had a 3 month old step-sister Anna. That is cutting it a little too close for him to have been born in 1869, his mother remarried and had another child.

Another thing to do is to recheck the church records. The date of Thees' death as shown earlier was verified in the St. Paul's Church records. Since a child was typically baptized within a month or so after birth, John's baptismal record should also be in the records. The only Meyer baptism for that year was the following:

While the date appears to be correct, note that the middle name is listed as 'Ferd' not 'Cord'. Was the middle name transcribed incorrectly? The early records were handwritten in the old German script which is difficult to read. Surprisingly, there is little difference between the two names as shown below:

The church office graciously checked a more detailed transcription of record and found the following:

John Ferd. Meyer
born May 7 and baptized May 24, 1868
Parents: The widow of Thees Meyer
Sponsors: Cord Meyer, F. Reith, L. Becher(?)

Note. Cord Meyer was the brother of Thees and Fritz Reith was probably a relative, having come from the village of Selsingen, Germany, which was the home of the Meyers.

Case closed! John Cord Meyer was born in 1868, not 1869. He apparently did not know his birth year and told others that it was 1869.

Rebecca was interested in obtaining more information about her Meyer ancestors. She had obtained the date of Thees Meyer's marriage to Anna Viebrock from the following obituary. This was a copy of a newspaper clipping (probably from The Concordian).

Now we have another problem. How could they have been married over a year after Thees had died?
Recall that the St. Paul's record for Thee's death (posted above) had a note that he was from Selsingen, Germany suggesting that he was a recent arrival to Concordia. I was able to find a German website ( that has posted a number of Ortsfamilienbücher for various locations in Germany. (If you are not familiar with an Ortsfamilienbuch, it is a collection of vital records for families in a particular community that is compiled from various sources, such as church and civil records.) The one for Selsingen has the following entry:

Thees and Anna were married Nov 17, 1867. So what was the reason for the error in Catherines's obituary? The 1869 date sounded familiar to Rebecca. It happens to be the date of Catherine's second marriage to Barney Flair.

[A side note. Whoever indexed this marriage record had interpreted Pastor Biltz's handwriting of the last name of Bernard as 'Flochr'. Actually, the fourth letter was an 'e' for 'Floehr' (i.e Flöhr) which in German is pronounced like 'Flair', hence the anglicization of the name to Flair. Census records indicate that Barney could not write English, so Pastor Biltz must have picked up the German spelling from his pronunciation.]

The person that wrote the obituary had confused the two marriage dates. (Was it Joe?)

The actual date for Thees and Catherine's wedding in Germany was quite close to his death in Concordia. So I decided to check the immigration records to see if this was possible. An entry was found in the following passenger list for 14 Dec 1867 voyage of SS Atlantic:

Although the first names were listed as 'Thomas' and 'Anna', the ages match and the date of the voyage fits between the marriage and his death. The person who recorded the names was probably not familiar with the name 'Thees' and apparently entered 'Thomas' instead. They must have had their bags packed and were ready to leave immediately after the wedding to have arrived in New York by Dec 1867. She was three months pregnant at the time of the marriage and would have been anxious to leave.

Finally, we now have a corrected timeline for John Cord Meyer and his parents.
- Thees was born on 5 Dec 1833 in Haassel, Germany
- Thees and Catherine Viebrock were married on 17 Nov 1867, not 27 Apr 1869 in Selsingen, Germany
- They arrived in New York City on 14 Dec 1867
- Thees died on 29 Jan 1868, six weeks after arriving in the U.S.
- John Cord was born on 7 May 1868, not 1869, three months after his father died
- John Cord was baptized on 24 May 1868 at St. Paul's Church
- John Cord died on 4 Jan 1949 in the Blackburn, MO area

Thanks to Rebecca Nielsen and Melissa Heath for information provided in this posting.
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