Did great-great Grandpa Meek run off with a Revival?

My Dad has always said that his great-grandfather on his father’s side abandoned his wife and children and ran off with a traveling revival. That is the family legend. Dad knew his great grandfather’s name to be Charles Wesley Meek, and Dad’s great-grandmother was Martha Ellen Clark Meek.

Charles Wesley Meek and Martha Ellen Clark were both born in Indiana and they had 4 children together between 1870 and 1885, all born in Indiana: Alonzo, 1870; Dad’s grandfather, John Henry Meek born in 1872, [1] ; Frank, 1880; and twins Ora and Cora, 1885. [2] My Dad has mentioned Ora and Cora.

My great-great grandparents were married in Indiana on Sep. 25, 1869 [3]. In 1870, “Wesley” Meek, 25, and “Ellen” Meek, 22, ¬†were living in Decatur County Indiana, next door to Hiram and Polly A. Clark and their children. [4]. I believe Wesley and Ellen to be my newlywed great-great grandparents, and I believe this Clark family to be her parents and siblings.

These are the only facts I have found that I can attribute to my Meek great-great grandparents with any degree of certainty. I have found some other records that may very well be my great-great grandfather, but because many people share the same name, I cannot make any assumptions. I have used each of them as leads to try to find out more, but so far, nothing. He may have taken another wife named Annie and moved to Michigan. He may have been living without his family as a border in Indiana in 1880, but the twins were born five years after 1880. He may have been living in a community of 3 large Meek households in Indiana in 1860. But if that was him, then he later gave an inconsistent age and place of his parents’ birth.

My Uncle, Don Meek also did a lot of research looking for his great grandfather, and he participated in a DNA project involving the surname “Meek.” Still grieving his death, I have not gone back over his research to follow up on anything he may have discovered. I did recently contact the DNA project and advise them of Don’s passing, and they informed me that his DNA did not match any of the other groups of Meeks in their project, and specifically, it did not match the ancestor that Don believed most likely to be his.

My family bears the Meek surname that we inherited from Charles Wesley Meek, but his branch is the shortest In my family tree and he is the most elusive of my ancestors. I don’t know where he came from, nor where he went when he disappeared. As for the family legend, I have been skeptical ever since I learned that it is a common genealogy joke- every family has a legend of an ancestor who ran off with a traveling salvation show. (They also say that everybody has an ancestor who jumped ship off of a German freighter, and I have one of those too!) I have considered many possibilities for Charles Wesley Meek- murdered, tragic accident and body never found, insanity, amnesia, bigamy, secret life of crime, another identity. Who knows. How would they know he left with the revival anyway if he just disappeared?

This week, while researching a different issue, I learned something that shed new light on this legend and on my family mystery. I learned that the holiness movement geared up in the United States with Methodists in the mid-19th century, and a holiness revival took place in 1865-1880, especially in Indiana. The revival consisted of traveling camp meetings that were extremely popular, attracting tens of thousands of people to a single meeting. Eventually, the holiness movement took on a life of its own. It split the Methodists into several denominations, gave birth to a whole slew of new holiness denominations, and it was the genesis of the Pentecostal movement. It was a big deal in American Protestantism, and Indiana was the epicenter. A German immigrant in Indianapolis walked away from his job one morning to join the Holiness movement, and he teamed up with a friend who claimed a similar calling from God. The immigrant was asked by his Bishop to travel to Chile, which he and others did. This German immigrant and his friends were responsible for an ensuing revival in that Country. All of this tells me a couple of things. First, it shows me that Wesley and Ellen Meek lived in a place and time where the family legend could be true. Second, it could explain why so many families have such a legend.

I shall get to the bottom of this mystery.

[1] Florida State Census 1935, John Henry Meek

[2] 1900 Federal Census shows “Ellen” Jones and her second husband named Jones, and the 4 Meek “step” children ages 29, 27, 20, and 15

[3] Indiana Marriage Collection, 1800-1941

[4] 1870 Federal Census, Decatur County, Indiana