Where’s Merrill? A Genealogical Thriller by Gearoid O’Neary is a cross between a research paper and a mystery. I really did not know what to expect with this book initially, but was won over fairly quickly. Trying to find Merrill in a family history reminded of my days a history major and searching for minor historical figures. In fact, my classmates and I had done this sort of thing so often in so many Latin American history classes that this research took on its own name. No matter who we were researching, the joke was his name is Juan Obscuro. So reading about someone searching down a person using historical records was not that intriguing to me. The author, as the main character, searching for someone else’s Juan Obscuro really seemed monotonous to me.
But, my initial thoughts were wrong. Jed, the main character, was a former engineer riding high on the building boom in Ireland when it crashed. Corporate backlash and Jed’s feeling of duty to his people, left him out on the street. He, in turn, turned a hobby into a career: Genealogy. Well, here was something positive I could relate to. I was a project manager riding high on the telecom wave when it crashed, and likewise, I found myself unemployed. I turned my hobby into a career: Bicycle mechanics. I was surprised that someone could earn a good living researching people’s past as I am sure that people are surprised a bicycle mechanic can earn a good living. Anyway, that sealed my bond with Jed, and his wife Susan. No high-life, but real hard working people and a reasonably good life.
Tim is the American, who asks Jed to help find his past. Tim’s mother, when she was alive, hid her family’s past. Now that she was gone, Tim could discover his past without upsetting his mother or going against her wishes. Here too, I was pleasantly surprised. Jed and Sue had a far more interesting time researching Tim’s family than I ever did researching Juan. The history crosses the American Midwest, from Iowa and up in to Minnesota. It spreads to California and Washington, D.C.. There are several twists and turns in the research too. What is expected and reported is not always what happened. Merrill, is particularly a difficult subject to track and not always by accident. The story jumps back and forth between Jed and Susan and the search for Merrill. The Jed’s and Susan’s story runs chronologically. The genealogy part of the story jumps back and forth as new pieces of information are found and new family members are found and traced, but it does flow very logically.
I was expecting a novelization of a dry research paper when I started this book. I was pleasantly surprised by the actual story. It was far more than I could have expected; interesting is an understatement. The writing is very well done, although at the beginning chapters the conversation seemed a little forced, but that impression also disappeared as I read further in the book. I also found the process of the research interesting too. I never realized that there was that much of an infrastructure for records going that far back. I had expected many records to be lost, destroyed, forgotten, or just simply no longer worth keeping by the local government. A very interesting read whether you are interested in genealogy or not. The story resulting from the search is definitely worth the read as historical fiction — the research is real the names have been changed and conversations inserted. Very well done.