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We Aren't Who We Thought We Were

Updated on October 8, 2013

And Then the Bombshells Started Falling

The next earliest record I found for John Mery was the 1910 Census record for Jackson Township, Monroe County Pennsylvania. Then two mysteries became suddenly apparent.

#1. My grandfather is listed as adopted.

#2. His mother's last name is not Mery, it is Hajdu, and she isn't listed as John Mery's wife, her occupation is listed as "housekeeper."

So, back to the Ellis Island site I go and do a search for Clara Hajdu, and now I discover her passenger record. How do I know it's the correct Clara Hajdu? Her destination is listed as John Mery, Appenzelle, PA. But something odd strikes me quickly, because the child travelling with her, listed as her son, isn't Stephen Mery, but Stefan Hajdu and their last residence is listed as Kispest (part of Budapest, Hungary), and they aren't travelling from Boulogne-Sur-Mer, they are travelling from Hamburg, Germany and a year later than John Mery. She is also listed as married, yet there is no other man travelling with her and her son. So, who is she married to, and where is he?

Another mystery is the occupation listed for my great-grandfather as a farmer? What farmer comes to America with the ability to speak and write fluently in eleven different languages and with enough cash to buy 32 acres of property? I know there was a garden on the property, but to the best of my knowledge, there was never a farm.

What I Was Told By Those In the Know

My Great-Grandfather was a man of mystery and intrigue. We only knew about him what we had learned from my Grandmother and had no reason to doubt anything she ever told us. He came to America from France, we were told, as a wealthy man, supposedly adopted at a very early age by a weathy French family of nobility, exchanged by his real parents for a trunk full of coins and jewelry, perhaps born of a Russian gypsy family. He was evidently raised in affluence, and when he arrived in America he spoke and wrote in 11 different languages fluently. He was also said to have killed someone, somewhere, sometime in a duel before he left Europe. Who, When, Why, Where, and How are all questions still remaining to be answered.

We knew that he had bought 32 acres of property in Appenzelle, PA becuase it had remained in our family, but none of us knew for sure when he had arrived in America. The deed to this property is the earliest written record I have been able to find that validates John Mery's presence in America. The date 1884; however, the earliest record I can find of his arrival in America as a passenger on a ship is from the Ellis Island New York Passenger Records for 1902. Since his first arrival had to be 1884 or earlier, I though I might be lukcy enough to find some records at Castle Garden, where all immigrants arriving in New York by ship came prior to 1892, but to no avail.

So, 1902 my Great-Grandfather is arriving in New York aboard the Pennsylvania departing from Boulogne-Sur-Mer, France with two uncle, Andras Leo Mery and my aunt, Therese Blanche Mery. But, where is my grandfather? He was born in 1898, so I would think he should be travelling with them? Also, even though his passenger manifest says John Mery is married, there is no other woman travelling with him other than my aunt, who was only 14 years old at that time. All I knew about my Grandfather's parents was that his father's name was John Mery and his mother's name was Clara or Klara. Or were they?

In the process of starting to do research on my family history, I would find out things that would ultimately upset the apple cart, so-to-speak.

I Couldn't Stop Myself From Digging Further

Now, I had more questions than I had answers. A man that I thought was my great-grandfather coming to America with no wife, even though listed as married and not travelling with my grandfather. My grandfather showing up as adopted, and having travelled to America with a different name and without his father, and his mother not travelling with her husband even though listed as married. Then on the 1910 Census, they are both listed as widowed. So, what happened to Clara Hajdu's husband and John Mery's wife, and who was my grandfather's real father? Where were they and what happened in their lives between 1902 and 1910? And why can I not find any arrival records prior to 1902?

I thought perhaps it would be helpful to find birth records of my grandfather, my uncle Andrew and/or my aunt Theresa, but no successes yet. Were they born in America? It is quite uncertain, even though some documents indicate that they were, there are other documents that indicate otherwise.

This is Me

This is me.  John Charles Fisher, born April 8th 1952 to Madaline Clara Mery Fisher and John Hardenstine Fisher in Monroe County General Hospital, East Stroudsburg, PA.
This is me. John Charles Fisher, born April 8th 1952 to Madaline Clara Mery Fisher and John Hardenstine Fisher in Monroe County General Hospital, East Stroudsburg, PA.

The Last Will and Testament of John Mery October, 1910

The first important document I discovered was the Last Will and Testament of John Mery. There is where I found the next piece of shocking evidence in my quest to discover the who's and the where's in the Mery side of my family history. In it, he has listed my great-grandmother (my grandfather's mother), Clara Hajdu, as his "Loyal Friend and Housekeeper." This leads me to believe that John Mery is NOT my biological great-grandfather; however, I do not have conclusive proof of that, because there is still the possiblity that my grandfather is the illegitimate child of John Mery and Clara Hajdu. If he was not my grandfather's biological father, why would he adopt my grandfather? Especially considering the adoption took place at LEAST six years prior to my great-grandmother's death. But if he was the biological father, why is Clara Hajdu only his "loyal friend?"

Naturalization Record for John Mery
Naturalization Record for John Mery
Stefan Hajdu Arrival Record at Ellis Island New York, Nov 12, 1903
Stefan Hajdu Arrival Record at Ellis Island New York, Nov 12, 1903

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The Search for Birth Records

I thought if I could find some birth records for my grandfather, my uncle and my aunt, that might help clear up some of the questions, since the Ellis Island records had pretty much nailed down their birth years. My Uncle Andrew's obituary had said he was born in Philaelphia, and my Aunt Theresa's marriage license applicaiton had said she was born in New York. Uncle Andrew's Social Security application also said he was born in Pennsylvania. The common thread on both of these documents were the names of the father and mother, John Mery and Blanch Seurat. But finding actual birth registration records has turned out to be more challenging, and so far, unsuccessful.

I have found no helpful census records for a Blanch Seurat, other than a young girl born in 1899 to a Louis and Minnie Seurat, and Louis is perhaps the brother of the Blanch Seurat I am searching for. There are no passenger records for a Blanch Seurat or Blanch Mery at either Ellis Island or Castle Garden that would be the proper age to be John Mery's wife or Andrew and Theresa's mother. Nor, have I been successful in finding a birth or adoption record for Stephen Mery or Stefan Hajdu.

The fact that all of the 1890 Census records were destroyed in a fire was an added disappointment. Additionally, all of the 1900 Census records for Jackson Township where Appenzelle is located were severly damaged in the flood in 1955 when they were stored in the basement of the Monroe County, PA courthouse. Thus the records for Jackson Township were obliterated by the flood waters and are no longer legible. Genealogical resource basis such as have attempted to reconsruct data from 1890 by using other records that are still availalbe, such as city directories, etc., etc, but I have yet to find any meaningful information in any of those alternate files.

Clara Hajdu Arrival Record at Ellis Island, New York
Clara Hajdu Arrival Record at Ellis Island, New York
Tombstone of John Mery's biological son, Andrew Leo Mery
Tombstone of John Mery's biological son, Andrew Leo Mery

What I Think I Know and What I Know That I Don't Know

What I know

  1. John Mery bought 32 acres of Property in Appenzelle, PA in 1884
  2. John Mery arrived in America at least one time in 1902 with his two children named Andras and Therese.
  3. John Mery was listed as married at his time of arrival in 1902, but there is no woman traveling with him.
  4. Blanch Seurat is listed as Andras and Therese's mother on the documents that I have found thusfar.
  5. Stefan Hajdu and Clara Hajdu arrived in America at least one time in 1903 on their way to John Mery in Appenzelle, PA.

What I Know That I Don't Know

  1. I don't know who Stephen Mery's (aka Stefan Hajdu) biological father is
  2. I don't know who Blanch Seurat is. where she was from, or what happened to her.
  3. I don't know with certaintiy where Andras Mery and Therese Mery were born.
  4. I don't know with certainty whre Stephen Mery (aks Stefan Hajdu) was born.
  5. I don't know where John Mery was between 1884 and 1910.
  6. I don't know why John Mery adopted Stefan Hajdu and renamed him Stephen Felix Mery
  7. .I don't know if Clara Hajdu was John Mery's housekeeper in France, Hungary, or only in America.
  8. I don't know where John Mery and Clara Hajdu met and under what circumstances
  9. I don't know why there is no Social Security Record for Stephen Mery, even though there is for Andrew Mery (they were only two years difference in age).

In reflection, if I had known at a much earlier age that I would eventually want to know all of these things, I would have asked some of these questions of my Uncle Andrew while he was still living. My grandfather and John Mery had both passed away long before I was born, and their answers to my questions are buried with them. But, my Uncle Andrew lived until 1968. Of course, I don't know if he would have answered all the questions I would have asked truthfully, especially in front of my grandmother, who evidently had no idea that John Mery and Clara Hajdu weren't married, and that John Mery is apparently not my grandfather's biological father. She had been told that my grandfather and my Uncle Andrew were half-brothers (meaing one parent shared in common.) But, maybe they really were... if my grandfather was really the illegitimate son of John Mery and Clara Hajdu. The only way to find out for sure is to find the birth record from Kispest, but that also creates challenges as many of those old records were destroyed by the NAZIs during WWII.

With a Little Luck

With a little luck, someone, somewhere who knows the answers to some of my unanswered questions will read this Hub, and point me in the direction where I might find the answers that I have been searching for. Until such time as I find the answer to the questions "Who Am I and Where Did I Come From," I feel as if I am an incomplete person. I sincerely hope that someday soon I will be able to feel whole again.


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    • pocono foothills profile image

      John Fisher 4 years ago from Easton, Pennsylvania

      @Mr Archer-Thanks for your kind comment. I continue digging, and occassionally, I come up with a small tidbit of information that leads me on the right track to find other tidbits of information. But, so far no leads that are really helpful in establishing who my real maternal great-grandfather was.

    • Mr Archer profile image

      Mr Archer 4 years ago from Missouri

      I had the good fortune to have a mother who delved deeply into our heritage. I have recently taken on the digging and have traveled back (in some areas) to the 600's. I have found, wikitree, myfamilytree, even Wikipedia to be of great help. It is truly enjoyable to rediscover our history. Nice article and very interesting.

    • pocono foothills profile image

      John Fisher 4 years ago from Easton, Pennsylvania

      @Glaenn Stok-I'd kind of like to see where my great-grandmother came from though too. Give myself a few years, and maybe I can learn enough Hungarian to get by without the expense of an interpreter.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 4 years ago from Long Island, NY

      Good luck with that if you ever do make that trip. Maybe you can hire an Hungarian genealogist without you making the trip. The cost of the trip might pay for his or her work researching locally over there.

    • pocono foothills profile image

      John Fisher 4 years ago from Easton, Pennsylvania

      @Glenn Stok--Thanks for your comment. Fortunately, I was already pursuing my family history while my grandmother was still alive, so I knew who my biological great-grandmother was and that she was from Budapest. But, I have no idea what her maiden name was, so finding any records that might tell me who my biological great-grandfather was has been very problematic. Maybe someday, I'll be able to afford to take a trip to Budapest and find a Hungarian genealogist who can help me.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 4 years ago from Long Island, NY

      I made the same mistake you had made. I didn't realize when I was young that I would become interested in my ancestry later in life. If I had, I would have questioned my parents more to get information such as names and dates.

      When my Aunt died at 98 three years ago, the last of my prior generation, I tried to track our family tree. I have no idea what the lives were like for my Great Grandparents. I don't even know who they were.

      Now that I'm older, I realize that I have a void in that part of my life. So I understand what you are going through. Your article is useful for people to understand that these things a important. It's sad that many people never give any thought to the matter until its too late.