Historical Albion Michigan
By Frank Passic

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Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.

By Frank Passic, FR Calhoun County, MI.
Team 24 News, U.S. Census Bureau, Detroit Regional Office. September-October 2006.

This being the “Halloween edition” of this newsletter, I’d like to switch gears and write about a very grave matter. In fact, it’s one in which you’ll be encourage to participate: It concerns the www.findagrave.com website. Findagrave (FG) is the 5th largest look-at genealogy site in America. At present there are over 12 million graves listed, with over a quarter of a million viewers each day.

This website is also free. Only a short registration is required. You can post the burial sites of your deceased loved ones, friends, neighbors, or just tombstone transcriptions row-by-row from your local cemetery. You can include biographies and even photographs of the person. You can also leave “virtual flowers” and leave public notes--all on an individual’s burial listing.

Let’s begin with a name that should be dear to our hearts: William Rush Merriam (1849-1931). Merriam served as the first permanent Director of the U.S. Census Bureau from 1899 to 1903, which included the 1900 Decennial count. Merriam is considered the “father” of the modern-day U.S. Census Bureau, as he helped convince the U.S. Congress to make the Bureau a permanent government agency (1902). In other words, we have him to thank that we are working “those other 9 years.”

The Bureau was originally placed under the auspices of the Interior Department, but was transferred to the Department of Commerce and Labor a year later in 1903. Merriam subsequently went back into private business, but served as an advisor to the Census Bureau in future years when called upon.

During his tenure, Merriam instituted professional businesslike statistical-gathering policies which formed the foundation by which the U.S. Census Bureau operates today. He appointed experts in their fields, rather than non-professional politically-appointed cronies. The Census was not his first public service job, however. Merriam, a banker by profession, had served as Governor of Minnesota from 1889 to 1893, and was active in Republican Party politics through the years.

To see how the FG process works, access the website www.findagrave.com. On the right, click on “Search 12 million graves.” You’ll get a form. Type in William Merriam, choose “District of Columbia” as the state and click “Submit.” Don’t worry about filling in the dates. You’ll then get a page that shows three persons with the name of William Merriam. Choose the one who died in 1931, by clicking on his name on the left. If you had clicked on the name of the cemetery on the right, you’d get the cemetery homepage. Notice that Merriam has several icons next to his name. These mean that there is a photo of him posted, a picture of his tombstone, that flowers and notes have been left, and a star for him being a famous person.

You should now be looking at Merriam’s listing page which contains his biography, photograph, flowers, etc. Notice there are several “action boxes,” including “Leave Flowers and a Note.” I hope our readers will register and leave “virtual flowers” on the grave listing of our first permanent Director of the U.S. Census Bureau on this site. Go ahead, get started and give it a try. I’ll be looking for them.

Merriam died February 18, 1931. Finding where Merriam was buried was a challenge for this writer in order to post it. After all, the website is “FIND a grave.” The www.politicalgraveyard.com website stated he died in “Fort Sewall,” Florida which was a typographical error. Rather, he died in PORT Sewall, which this writer took a lucky guess at. I then wrote to obtain a copy of Merriam’s Florida death certificate, which I promptly received. For the record, (just in case you want to know) the official cause of death: senility. Moving along, I then looked on the certificate for the burial location. Unfortunately, it only stated “removed to Washington DC.”

Not finding his name on any website burial listings, I then obtained a list of cemeteries in the District of Columbia, and started writing them one-by-one to find out where Merriam was interred. In the meantime however, I looked in the New York Times newspaper on microfilm at the State of Michigan Library in Lansing, and fortunately found his obituary in the February 19, 1931 issue on page 25. His obit stated that he was to be interred in Rock Creek Cemetery. This cemetery, located next to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, has many famous persons interred in its grounds. An Act of Congress established this cemetery in 1840 to serve the needs of the growing population of the District of Columbia.

Knowing that information, I then posted Merriam’s listing on FG. There is an option to “request a photo” on each listing page, which I did. I was fortunate to get a quick reply from a Mr. Bob Farnum who lives right near the cemetery. He went to the Cemetery office and obtained the section and lot number of Mr. Merriam’s grave, which is Section 10, Lot 6, Grave 6. Bob also took pictures of the tombstones of all who were buried in the family plot there. These I added to the FG listing. The FG administrators in the meantime, deemed Mr. Merriam a “famous person.” That means when you search for his name, there will be a yellow star next to it in the initial listing.

Findagrave has hundreds of volunteers across the country (including yours truly for my location) who will take photographs of tombstones for free for those requesting it. There is also a “Discussion” section of the website (this requires a separate registration) where you can ask questions as well as give answers. There also is a state-by-state message board section included here. I encourage our readers to access the FG website and start posting burials on this popular website.

As a postscript, William Merriam’s simple tombstone does not give any information about his important Census position. The back of the large Merriam family marker nearby however, is blank. Wouldn’t it be fitting if U.S. Census employees could have a special bronze plaque mounted there that stated “William Merriam, the first permanent Director of the U.S. Census Bureau” as a memorial to him at his gravesite? Just a thought.

William Rush Merriam (1849-1931)

William Merriam’s simple tombstone

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