Tuesday, May 6, 2014

My Miller Mystery

My surname is Miller. It is believed my great-grandfather was known by the surname Müller at least until he came to the United States. We have reason to believe one of his brothers went by the surname of Müller even after he came to America. In my experience looking through the record books of Catholic churches in a few villages in Germany, it appears that Müller is essentially just an alternate spelling of Mueller and Miller. It doesn't appear there was any intentional or accidental name change when my great-grandfather, Charles Miller (aka Karl Müller) came to America. It is my belief that he just started spelling it this way and that's the way his children ended up spelling it. Regardless, I'm sure that should we find his baptismal record in Germany in any of these spellings, I know I'll recognize the family.
Charles and Philomena Bixenman Miller ca1900

Charles Miller was extremely secretive about where he came from. He said he was on the run from the German military and if they tracked him down, he would be treated as a deserter. Grandpa Leo H. Miller Sr. said he was confident he had relatives in Germany but he had no idea where.

A few weeks back, I received my initial yDNA test results. It showed that I have no close matches in any surname. My closest match is of a man whose most distant yDNA ancestor lived in Spain around the year 1500. He has a genetic distance of 2 at 25 markers examined. This means we have a 50% chance of sharing an ancestor 12 generations back. However, his surname is nothing at all similar to Miller.

I have a number of matches at a genetic distance of one at the 12-marker level. This means any common ancestors would be past any chance of finding a paper trail. Over half of these matches are in the J-M172 haplogroup. The matches in this haplogroup have their most distant ancestor in the following countries: England, Ireland, France, Georgia, India, Iran, Mexico, Sweden and Scotland. There are multiple matches in Iran and "unknown origins".

Just in the past few days, I've received my yDNA Haplogroup results. These results were very surprising. They are confident I am in Haplogroup J-M172. FamilyTreeDNA says about this group, "This lineage originated in the northern portion of the Fertile Crescent where it later spread throughout central Asia, the Mediterranean, and south into India. As with other populations with Mediterranean ancestry this lineage is found within Jewish populations."

So what does this mean?

First, it is my belief that my Miller line is the last of this line of Millers that hasn't daughtered out. As stated in a previous post, of my father's brothers, only one had children and he had only one son. My grandfather only had one brother and he didn't have any children. It is believed that my great-grandfather had two brothers. It is not known what the name of one of them is. The other's name was Gottlieb and he went by the surname of Müller in New York City. I can't be certain I know about all of Gottlieb's children but I do know about two daughters. This means that there are a total of ten men that I share my surname and yDNA with. These are my four brothers, five nephews and one first cousin.
Leo Miller's children ca 1936: John (my father), Cecelia, Norman, Leo
The Charles Miller Family ca 1910: Back row: Crescence, Annie, Leo (my grandfather), Front row: Philomena, Karl, Cecelia, Charles

The Miller Siblings ca 1890: Not sure of order but Charles E. Miller appears to be in the front center. The rest are Gottlieb Miller, Annie Miller Quenzer, Sophia Miller Schmalzl, Rika Miller Susenberger and an unknown brother

Second, the haplogroup is brand new to me so I'm still trying to figure out what to think about it. It is my current belief that, given my closest yDNA match is in Spain, that my distant Müller ancestors either were part of the Muslim occupation of Spain the Middle Ages or that my great-grandfather or his ancestors were Jewish. It's possible that he fled Germany to get away from some sort of Jewish persecution that was going on in the 1870s. Unfortunately, at this point, we can only guess.

If anyone can provide a little more insight into this particular haplogroup, please post or send me an email. Thank you!

More information about the Miller descendants can be found in this blog post.

--Matt Miller


  1. FamilyTreeDNA has further refined my Haplogroup to J-L25. I don't see that this narrows down the origin however.

  2. The web page at http://eupedia.com/forum/threads/28988-Haplogroup-J2-Romans-Christianity-and-Viticulture discusses various aspects of haplogroup J2 and the Romans. It's a good possibility that my great-grandfather Miller was a descendant of a Roman that moved into the area as part of the expansion of the Roman Empire. According to that page, this haplogroup were typically poor farmers. They had migrated to Italy from the fertile crescent then migrated to Germany as part of the Roman expansion.

  3. My FamilyTree DNA Family Finder Origins suggests that 4% of my ancestry is of Middle Eastern origins. Doing the math, it would figure that Charles Miller's grandfather would have been the one that was from this area.

  4. Hi Matt, my sister and I are researching our paternL family tree and know that our great-great-great grandfather was employed in a Burlington, Ia saloon called Panther's by name, or because a Panther (possibly Ferdinand C.) owned it. Have you ever come across information on this saloon?
    Our family emigrated from the Baden-Baden region of Germany (Kuppenhiem) as had Ferdinand and Amelia. My sister is actually visiting there next week on her way to Stuttgart.

    1. Mary, thank you for your comment. I replied to you in an email and I look forward to exchanging information with you in the future. --Matt