The Shady Side of the Miller Family

By Connie (Miller) Lenzen

Winner of the 2003 International Society of Family History Writers and Editors Writing Contest; 1st place for original unpublished research story.

If you are connected to this family, please contact me. E-mail:


On a sunny summer day when my children were young, we visited my grandmother, Tzilla (Titus) Miller. The usual pattern was that she would go through the litany of her aches and pains, and then we would sit down for a good visit. This day was different. She brought out a small leather-bound pocket diary and said, "Have you ever seen my grandfather's diary?" This was the beginning of our sessions where we went through the family artifacts—all of them from her side of the family.

When I asked about grandpa's side of the family, she told me that her family was not happy with her choice of a husband. They didn't think much of the Miller family; they were "the wrong kind."  (Grandpa was Charles Frank Miller.)

I loved my grandfather and couldn't imagine why anyone would say that. The worse thing that I could think of was that Grandpa had a tendency to tease, and he loved to win when he was playing cribbage. However, he worked hard to support his family, and he put in a lot of volunteer hours with the Boy Scouts. He seemed to be the ideal grandfather and a good citizen. If he wasn't "the wrong kind," it must be his parents and/or siblings who were "the wrong kind."

Grandma didn't say much about Grandpa's family. All that I learned was that his father was John L. Miller, and his siblings were Nina, John, and Vivian. His grandfather was Mathew Miller, who apparently had no siblings.

The Miller family lived in Charlotte, Michigan a town almost 2,000 miles away, as the crow flies, [1] from where we lived in Portland, Oregon. The only contact my grandfather had with his father and siblings was by letter. Grandma shared the letters with me, and I couldn't see anything that would make me think they were "the wrong kind."

Grandpa's father was a small businessman in Charlotte. The photos of him showed a smiling man, a member of a number of organizations, and apparently a hard worker.

Grandpa's brother, John, shared the same sense of humor and could describe the most commonplace event in a way to make a person double up with laughter. He worked hard as a telegrapher and adored his wife.

Nina, the younges of the family, died in a tragic automobile accident in the 1930s, leaving a son and a daughter— my father's only cousins.

Grandpa's sister, Vivian, still lived in the family home. She married Art Steinhauer after their father died, and had no children. Both she and her husband were well respected in the town.

So, if it wasn't Grandpa's family who were "the wrong kind," it must be his grandparents.

The family joke about Aunt Vivian was that she hadn't cleaned house since 1939, and she had 100 years of family junk in the house. It seemed logical to contact her for family information. I wrote to her, telling about my family history quest. She told me that Mathew Miller, her grandfather, was born in 1827 in Belfast, Ireland. After that, her responses to my letters were the same; she was busy and would get back to me.

I was surprised to find that the Miller ancestry was Irish. My father seemed to think that his Miller surname was German. I guess that tells you how close the family was!

When I wrote to the courthouse for information about Mathew Miller's naturalization record, the court staff forwarded my letter to Aunt Vivian. She wrote back and told me that she would answer when she had time.

One of the first "rules" for genealogical research is to contact all the relatives and to look through family memorabilia. My contacts with the family led to nothing, and the family memorabilia was almost nil. This should have been a clue that there was something that the folks were hiding.

Deeds And Censuses Extend The Circle

Fortunately, the clerk in the Eaton County Recorder's Office answered my request for deed information. Mathew Miller contracted several dozen deeds in that county, and the clerk made copies of all of them. The names found on Mathew Miller's deeds extended his circle of acquaintances and possible relatives.

John T. Miller—a brother?

On 18 October 1855, when Mathew Miller was 28 years old, he made his first Eaton County, Michigan land purchase. He and John T. Miller purchased 40 acres from Jonathan W. Palmer. The land was located in the SE 1/4 of the NW 1/4 of Section 24, T1N, R3, of Eaton Rapids Township, in a farming area. The purchase price was $400. [2] In 2002 dollars, that is worth $8,333.33. [3]

On 1 January 1856, John T. Miller sold his portion of the 40 acres to Mathew Miller for $200. The witnesses were Daniel Palmer, a notary, and James H. Davis. [4]

John T. Miller appears on the 1860 Eaton County Census, living in Eaton Township. [5]  

Miller, John T.; 27; cooper; real estate valued at $200, personal estate valued at $50; birth place unknown

-------, Elizabeth; 19; born Michigan

-------, Edward Henry; 1; born Michigan

-------, Mary; 4/12; born Michigan

Several more deeds between John T. Miller and his wife Elizabeth and Mathew Miller and his wife Frances were contracted. They purchased city lots in Charlotte, Michigan, the town where Mathew Miller is found on the 1860 census. [6]

Miller, Mathew, 27; cooper; $400 real estate, $440 personal estate; born Ireland

-------, Mary; 55; born Ireland

Davis, Margaret; 26; Canada E.

-------, Mary J; 9; Michigan

-------, Emma C; 7; Michigan

-------, Medy M; 3; Michigan

It was interesting that Mathew and John had the same occupation of cooper and that they were listed as the same age. Later census work showed that Mathew's age on later censuses had little correlation to the number of years that elapsed between the censuses.  

Mary Miller, according to the 1880 census, was Mathew's mother. [7]  A Margaret Davis and her family was also living with Mathew and Mary.

Mathew wed Frances B. Whitney on 25 October 1860 in Bedford, Calhoun County. Elder J. P. Frisbie officiated, and the witnesses were John Stringham and Nathan Spencer, both of Bedford. [8]   

The very next week, on 31 October 1860, Mathew Miller and Frances B. Miller of Charlotte, purchased village lots 8, 9, 12 in Block 29, Charlotte for $300.Witnesses were Mary Miller and E. A. Foote, a notary. [9]    

On 13 September 1861, Mathew Miller and Francis [sic] B. Miller, both of Charlotte, sold lot 10 of block 22 in Charlotte Village to John Thomas Miller, also of Charlotte. The purchase price was $250. Witnesses were Minerva Boyd, and J. W. Nichols, a notary. There was no deed of sale to Mathew Miller in the recorded Eaton County deeds, so it us unknown when Mathew purchased the property. [10]

John T[homas] Miller apparently died before 25 April 1864. On that day, Elizabeth Miller of Charlotte sold lots 8, 9, and 12 of block 29 in Charlotte to Mathew Miller. The purchase price was $300. Witnesses were L. D. Green, a notary, and Robert Rix. [11]

On 25 July 1866, Mrs. Elizabeth Miller, aged 27, married Johnson J. Nichols, aged 43. The ceremony took place in Charlotte, and the Rev. N. L. Otis officiated. Witnesses were Mathew Miller and Frances Miller. All were residents of Charlotte. [12] In 1870, Johnson and Elizabeth Nichols were living in Benton Township, with a Charlotte Post Office address. Edward Miller, an eleven-year-old boy, was living with them. [13]

Nichols, Johnson; 47; farmer; $5000 real estate, $1200 personal estate; born New York

-------, Elizabeth; 30; keeping house, born Michigan

Miller, Edward; 11, attending school, born Michigan

Nichols, Dora; 11, born, attending school, born Michigan

------, Bertha; 3; born Michigan

------, Herbert; 1; born Michigan

Based upon the deeds, the ages of the men, the marriage record, and the 1870 census, the evidence strongly suggests that John T[homas] Miller was Mathew's brother.

James H. and Margaret Davis—brother-in-law and sister?

We met James H. Davis on 1 January 1856 when he was a witness to the sale of land by John T. Miller to Mathew Miller. He could be a neighbor, but additional deeds and the 1860 census indicate a stronger relationship.

On 4 April 1860, James H. Davis of Eaton County, sold 60 acres in Vermontville, Eaton County, to Mathew Miller. The land was the NW 1/4 of the SW 1/4 and the S 1/2 of the SW 1/4 of the NW 1/4 of section 35, T3N, R6W. [14]

On 23 April 1860, Margaret Davis, now of Eaton Rapids, sold to Mathew Miller of Charlotte, the property previously sold to Mathew Miller on 4 April 1860 by James H. Davis. The purchase price was $1.00. Witnesses were J. Slayton, a notary, and I. H. Corbin of Vermontville. [15]

Such a small amount of money suggests that Margaret is James' wife.

Margaret's presence in the Mathew's household in 1860 suggests she is kin and that her husband is absent.


Newspapers are a wonderful way to find out about ancestors and their community. In the case of Mathew Miller, a published book of Charlotte newspaper abstracts provides the first clue as to why Grandma's family may have thought they were "the wrong kind."

The abstract for 6 April 1860, two days after James H. Davis sold 60 acres of land to Mathew Miller, includes this:

"Proceedings of the Apr. Term of Eaton Co. Circuit Crt., Hon. Benj. F. Graves presiding. Cases: . . . 3) People vs. Jas. H. Davis. Margaret Myatt, Mathew Miller and Lorenzo Marston are involved." [16]

In genealogy, we are told that we should not reply upon abstracts and to go to the source. The full newspaper article [17] revealed that James H. Davis was sent to the Michigan State Prison, and that Mathew Miller was tried for grand larceny—and found not guilty.

"Proceedings of April Term of Eaton County Circuit Court. People vs. Jas. H. Davis. Information for grand larceny. Arraigned April 3d. Plea–Guilty

He stole a watch and over $300 in money from Margaret Myatt, an old lady, who boarded with him, on the 14th of March last. Two others, Mathew Miller and Lorenzo Marston, were arrested with him. Miller was discharged on the preliminary examination before the magistrate. Davis and Marston were bound over. While in jail awaiting trial, Marston confessed, whereupon Miller was again arrested and held for trial. Davis, seeing that he would probably be convicted by Marston's testimony, disclosed the place where the money and watch were concealed. They were found and restored to Mrs. Myatt. In consequence of the good service which he had rendered to the people, Marston was not informed against, and was, during the term, by order of the Court, discharged from custody. Mathew Miller plead not guilty to the information, and was tried and acquitted by the jury on the 3d inst. . . . James H. Davis, sentenced to three years and two months in the State Prison.

Research the Associates

Why was Mathew Miller involved with James H. Davis? Why was Margaret Davis living with Mathew and his mother?

Genealogists are told to conduct research on their ancestor's associates. 

Research was conducted on James H. and Margaret Davis. The answer to their connection to Mathew Miller may be in their marriage record where it is shown that Margaret's maiden name was Miller. Margaret is probably Mathew's sister.

"This certifies that on this Eighth day of January AD Eighteen Hundred and fifty one Mr. J. H. Davis of the Town and County of Jackson in the State of Michigan Aged 24 Years and Miss Margaret Miller of the Same Town Aged 18 years Were joined in Matrimony by Mr. L Foster VDM. . . Performed at the Parsonage in the presence of L. B. Potter Charles Reynolds and other Jackson Jan'y 8th 1851." [18]

More Scandal

Mathew Miller's name appears in the Charlotte newspapers again. In this news article, he was the proprietor of a saloon, and the Woman's Temperance Union was shutting it down.

Charlotte, March 16, 1874 [19]

Page 2, col. 3.

The Temperance Movement in Charlotte

Whereas—Intemperance has become a great evil in our city, we are admonished that the time has come when the women of Charlotte should engage with united strength and persistent effort to entirely suppress the manufacture, sale, and use of all intoxicating drinks in our city, and for this purpose we will band ourselves together in a society and adopt the following Constitution: Woman's Temperance Union of the City of Charlotte, Mich.

I hereby announce to you that I have this morning closed my Saloon, and am firmly resolved to discontinue the business of dealer in spirituous and intoxicating liquors as a beverage from this date.Charlotte, March 16, 1874. Mathew Miller.

As soon as the reading closed, expressions of "Good," "Good for Matt Miller," etc., were heard in all parts of the house. The President remarked that it would not perhaps be considered decorous in a woman meeting to give cheers, but they would give expression to their feelings by singing, "Praise God from whom all blessings flow." The singing was heartily joined in by the whole meeting—some being affected to tears, by this, the first great success of their labors.

A prayer was offered, thanking God for this recognition of their work, and invoking blessings upon Miller and his family - especially that he might be strengthened in his good resolutions.

Miller kept the "American House" Saloon, generally regarded as a drinking and gambling establishment, and one of the hardest places in the city. The ladies were thereby greatly encouraged by his example.. . . The Saloon Committee reported that on their rounds yesterday they called at the American House (having heard that it was opened) and found it closed.

On 27 March 1874, Mathew Miller ran a disclaimer in the Charlotte newspaper regarding gambling in his hotel. [20]

"Mr. Matt Miller will not be held accountable for the recent gambling which occurred at his hotel without his knowledge."

We have two proven "scandals" surrounding Mathew Miller. He was tried and acquitted for grand larceny, and he operated a drinking and gambling establishment. Is this enough to mark him as "the wrong kind?" 

There is a saying that when you point a finger at someone, you are pointing three fingers back at yourself. It is time to look at Grandma's family.

Grandma's grandparents lived in Charlotte, and they would have been contemporaries to Mathew Miller. It would have been their contacts with Mathew that would have led to the point of view that he was "the wrong kind."

The grandfathers were William Sanford Titus, Sr. and Will H. Dudley.

William S. Titus was a United Brethren minister. Grandma was told he called his children to his deathbed in 1905 to give them his last blessing. When he got to his son, Grandma's father, he bade him goodbye, saying that they would never see each other on the other side. This was because his son smoked cigars, played a musical instrument, and belonged to the Odd Fellows. [21] Rev. Titus might feel that Mathew Miller, a tavern owner, might be "the wrong kind."

Will H. Dudley was a small-business man, owning a hardware store. When he and his wife celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, the guests signed their names in the guest book. Inspection of the book shows no Millers, so they did not travel in the same social circles. Will's wife, Susan (Johnson) Dudley, penned an autobiography when she was 95. [22] In it, she stated that she was "an active member of the Woman's Temperance Union, worked with Frances Willard, helped the boys clubs of Murphy Blue and also the red clubs of reformed boys." The Dudleys, too, might feel that a tavern owner was "the wrong kind."

Was Mathew Miller "the wrong kind?" It really depends upon your point of view. I know that I don't think so.

Was the search for Mathew's shady past a wasted effort? I don't think so, for it took the family out of the shadows and made them into people who had opinions and character.

[1] How Far Is It? Calculates distances between two places, online <> downloaded 30 November 2002.

[2] Eaton County Deeds. Liber 16: 585.

[3] Crest Capital's website, What is Inflation? has useful links for price comparison; viewed 5 August 2009.

[4] Eaton County Deeds. Liber 24: 339.

[5] 1860 U.S. census, population schedule, Eaton County, Michigan. Eaton Twp., page 30, sheet 716 [handwritten], dwelling 232, family 226. National Archives micro publication M563, roll 542.

[6] 1860 U.S. census, pop. schedule Carmel Twp, Charlotte PO, sheet 723, page 38, line 33, dwelling 300, family 294. 14 June 1860.

[7] 1880 U.S. census, population schedule, Eaton County, Michigan, Charlotte City, 1st Ward, ED 72, page 5, dwelling 57, family. 61. Page not dated.

[8] Calhoun County Marriages, Vol. 4: 264.

[9] Eaton County Deeds, Liber 29: 458.

[10] Eaton County Deeds have been microfilmed and are available through the Family History Library. The indexes were read, and the supply of deeds provided by the County Clerk was augmented. Index to deeds v. 2-3 1853-1873 FHL Film 965711. Index to deeds v. 4-5 1873-1888 FHL Film 965712. Index to deeds v. 6 1888-1898. Index to deeds (grantors) v. 7 1899-1905 FHL Film 965,713.

[11] Eaton County Deeds, Liber 29: 564.

[12] Eaton County Marriages. Liber 2: 313.

[13] 1870 U.S. census, population schedule, Eaton County, Michigan, Benton Twp., Charlotte PO, page 23, sheet 73 [stamped],  dwelling 190, family 189. National Archives microfilm publication M593, roll 670. 25 August 1870.

[14] Eaton County Deeds. Liber 24: 396.

[15] Eaton County Deeds, Liber  24: 395.

[16] Joyce Marple Liepins, Eaton County, Michigan Newspapers Vol. I 1845-1867 (Charlotte, MI: the author, 1984), 85, 86.

[17] Eaton County Republican. (Charlotte, Michigan) 6 April 1860. Copy obtained by Joyce Liepins.

[18] Jackson County Marriages, Vol. B:522. FHL film #941,632.

[19] Copy of newspaper obtained by Joyce Liepins.

[20] Joyce Marple Liepins. Eaton County, Michigan Newspapers. Vol. III 1872-1874. (Charlotte, MI: Privately printed, 1990), 91.

[21] Tzilla Titus to Connie Lenzen, 25 June 1974.

[22] "My Life," by Susan Dudley. Handwritten autobiography written in 1924,  in possession of the author.

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Connie Lenzen

CG, Certified Genealogist, is a service mark of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, used under license by board certified genealogists after periodic evaluation, and the board name is registered in the US Patent & Trademark Office.

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