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The Morrill Story

Dan Morrill

August 2007

My grandfather was James Roy Morrill (1886?-1957).  The 1910 Census reveals that his parents were English-speaking Canadians.  At this point we do not know their names, although anecdotal evidence holds that it was Bremner or Williams and that the couple put my grandfather up for adoption because he was born out of wedlock.  Another version of the story is that my grandfather was left on a doorstep.

There is an intriguing entry in the 1910 Census.  First, all the Bremners in Michigan lived in Wayne County, in which Detroit is located.  There is a couple, William and Margaret Bremner, listed; and their birthplaces are listed as Canada-English.  He was 60.  She was 55, which would have made her approximately 30 at the time of my grandfather's birth.  He was a machinist.  Obviously, there is no evidence other than anecdotal that the name of my real great-grandparents was Bremner.  This is a lead that would be worth following, however.  I did find a listing in the 1901 Canadian Census that lists a William and Margaret Bremner living in Wallaceburg, Ontario, which is not far from Detroit.  Bremner's occupation is listed as "Hardware."  They had no children.

This is the actual page from the 1910 Census in which William and Margaret Bremner are listed.  It reveals that the couple immigrated to the United States in 1908 and that their parents were English Scots.  This would fit a family legend that the Bremners attempted to establish contact with my grandfather but that he was so bitter over their abandoning him that he would not agree to it.  It is also noteworthy that their year of immigration would be the year after my father's birth.  Click Here For Large Image Of 1910 Census Page For Bremner.

1910 Census.  This information is from  In other censuses my grandfather stated that his parents were born in Michigan.  One can assume that he was then referring to his adopted parents.  This was the one time he told the truth.  I presume Wilhelmine Lincoln was somehow related to my paternal grandmother. My paternal great-grandmother was Mary Rounds Lincoln.  My paternal great-grandfather was William Lincoln.  Click Here For Large Image of 1910 Census.

James Roy Morrill's adopted parents were Frank and Nancy Morrill.  That is where we get the Morrill name.  The 1880 Census documents that Frank Morrill was then an unmarried farmer living in Somerset, Wisconsin with his mother.  There are no census records for Michigan for 1890 (they burned), but in 1900 Frank Morrill was living in Grand Rapids, Michigan with his wife Nancy, a native of Indiana, and two children, a daughter Cora and my grandfather James. 

1880 Census.  This information is from Frank Morrill, born in Maine, was living with his mother, who was most likely a widow. Somerset in St. Croix County is located just east of St. Paul Minnesota, in extreme western Wisconsin.  It was a logging center just like Newago, Michigan.  I am not sure that Frank Morrill was born in Maine.  Other census records list his birthplace as Wisconsin.

1900 Census.  This information is from Frank Morrill was then married and living in Grand Rapids with his wife Nancy and two children, including my grandfather.  Click Here For Large Image of 1900 Census.
1900 Census.  This is the actual census page.  It states that my grandfather was "in school."  Also, Frank Morrill's birthplace is listed as Wisconsin, not Maine.  Also, the page states that my grandfather was born in December 1885, not 1886.

Frank Morrill (1854-      ), my adopted great-grandfather, married Nancy Morrill (1857-     ) (maiden name unknown), a native of Indiana, sometime after 1880 and most likely before 1885 or 1886, when my grandfather was born.  The Grand Rapids City Directories do not list Frank Morrill as a resident until 1900.  This suggests that my grandfather spent his first 13 or 14 years in Newaygo, Michigan.

Main Street of Newaygo, Michigan

This is the Newaygo Furniture Factory in Newaygo.  The town was booming in the late 1800s as factories located there because of the abundant waterpower provided by the Muskegon River.  This is what probably attracted Frank Morrill

City Directories reveal that Frank Morrill and his family, including my grandfather, established residency in 1899 or 1900 at 5 Hodgson Place in Grand Rapids.  The house and the street no longer survive.  Cora, my grandfather's adopted sister who was 10 years older than him, became a waitress at the Kent Country Club -- Grand Rapids is located in Kent County.  Frank Morrill is listed as being an inspector for the G. R. Felt Boot Company.  My grandfather's started work as a "nailer" for the G. R. Refrigerator Company and by 1908 was a salesman for the Fox Typewriter Company.

My grandfather, James Roy Morrill, married Ethel Lincoln, my grandmother, on July 3, 1906, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  On the marriage license he lists his birthplace as Newaygo, Michigan.  It was common for an adopted child to give the place of residency of his or her adopted parents as his or her birthplace.  His adopted sister Cora is listed as a witness for the marriage.  Interestingly, I never heard my grandfather mention Cora's, Frank's, or Nancy's names.  My father, James Roy Morrill, Jr., was born on January 19, 1907.  Clearly, Ethel Morrill was pregnant on her wedding day.  Click here for copy of my father's death certificate.  His brother, Clinton Lincoln Morrill or our "Uncle Buss" was born on October 7, 1908.  These were Ethel and Jim Morrill's only children.

James Roy Morrill and Ethel Lincoln Morrill

Note that the marriage license states that my grandfather did not know his adopted mother's maiden name.  Also, my grandfather's occupation was listed as repairman.

This was my grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary celebration in 1956.  My father, James Roy Morrill, Jr. (1907-1963) is on the left, then his father, James Roy Morrill, then Ethel Lincoln Morrill, my grandmother, and then Clinton Lincoln Morrill (1908-1969), my father's brother. Click here for a  testimonial to my father's brother.

My father, James Roy Morrill, Jr., graduated from Kenyon College in Gambier Ohio, just outside Mt. Vernon, Ohio, in 1929.  His transcript reveals that he was an excellent student.  Note that he lists his home address as 740 Kellogg St., Grand Rapids, Michigan.  The photograph below was taken at Kenyon College in July 2007.  Mary Dana Morrill Paradis, J. R. Morrill Jr.'s granddaughter, and her son, Dan Morrill Paradis, are standing in front of the Kenyon College Chapel.

This is the house presently at 740 Kellogg St., Grand Rapids, Michigan.  We did not have time to check the Sanborn Insurance Maps to determine if the house number has changed.  If not, this is the house my grandparents were living in when my father graduated from Kenyon College in 1929.

The 1930 Census reveals that my grandparents were then living in South Bend, Indiana.  I do not know the circumstances that caused my grandparents to relocate there.  Presumably it had to do with my grandfather's employment in the office supply business.  I do remember my mother telling me that she traveled to South Bend, Indiana to meet her future in-laws and that the house was on a river.  Indeed, it is.  The St. Joseph River.

Page from 1930 Census showing James R. Morrill and his family living at 629 Riverside Drive in South Bend, Indiana.

My grandmother, Ethel Lincoln Morrill, wrote the note below to Margaret Caldwell soon after Margaret's husband's death in January 1962.  Little did my grandmother know that she would soon suffer the death of her two sons -- my father in September 1963 and his brother in July 1969.  Life has its sad and mournful incidents.  Nana was visiting for the only time in our home when word arrived that her second son had died.  It fell to me to have to tell her.


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