Wednesday, May 27, 2020

A Moon River Mercer

Like a meandering river, the route of family history research can sometimes feature swirling eddies and beguiling detours. Discovering, in the process of sorting out the many George Mercers in my family's history, that one of them might have been related to someone famous named Johnny Mercer was a clue I couldn't resist following.

Granted, I shouldn't have followed that research bait. The chance of anyone being related to the line I was researching, merely by possessing the same surname, is slim. After all, Mercer is among the top one thousand surnames in the United States, and is a family name which has been here for a couple centuries. Of the more than forty five thousand Americans bearing that surname, quite a few of them became known well enough to, at least, merit their own Wikipedia entry.

It was to that very online resource I went when I stumbled upon that newspaper clipping I mentioned yesterday. Never mind the fact that it concerned a ransom demand on behalf of someone with the same name as a man on my ancestral Tison line. What I really wanted to know now was just who that "songwriter Johnny Mercer" was.

Don't we always perk up when there's a possibility our family history may brush tangentially with the rich or famous? So excuse me while I scurry down this rabbit trail. Today, we'll take a peek at what can be found about that Johnny Mercer.

As you may have suspected, Johnny Mercer was a man known for his musical talent. If his heyday was before your time, as it was for mine, it may not help to learn that he was a shining star of the Tin Pan Alley era. His, however, was a musical influence which reached far beyond the lyrics he wrote for the music which grew out of that collective of music publishing houses.

Fortunately, Wikipedia is not only a great resource for a quick rundown on biographies, but it often provides a brief genealogical sketch, as well. Thankfully, the Wikipedia entry for Johnny Mercer went far beyond the litany of all the songs he was famous for—and yes, "Moon River" lyrics go to his credit—and gave a brief sketch of his early years and family life.

Whether that sketch helps me connect this well-known musician with the several men named George Mercer in my Tison line may be another issue, but I did learn that Johnny Mercer was born in Savannah—a promising start—and that his father was a well-known attorney and real estate developer. Intriguingly, that father's name happened to be George Mercer.

I didn't have enough time to light on that fact in the Wikipedia article before succumbing to another beguiling rabbit trail: juxtaposed with the "Early Years" portion of the Mercer article was a photograph of a stately Georgia manor with the caption, "The historic Mercer House in Savannah Georgia."

With that, I was off to see whether there were any connection between this home and my multiple George Mercers—any of them.


  1. Replies
    1. Perhaps...or I am digging in deeper than I'd hoped to get...

  2. Lots of interesting things in this book (courtesy of Google Books), among them this quote:

    "These three boys - Johnny Mercer's half-brothers George, Walter and Hugh - also spent time with their grandfather and invalid great-uncle Robert and other kinfolk in the brick house on Whitaker Street."

    Johnny Mercer: Southern Songwriter for the World by Glenn T. Eskew (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2013).

  3. It's time you read "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil", a great book! That will tell you about the Mercer house!

    1. Oh, it certainly does, John...and in a way no other book could. We are on the same wavelength here.


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