You may be surprised at the answer.
Almost all of the records available for Samuel (1839-1931) do not list a middle initial or name. Even his death certificate and obituary omit his middle name. Fortunately, we can find a few instances where his middle name is listed. One is the 1910 census.
Census records are fun! You can learn a lot about people from a census record. The far left of the census record below shows the street that was being surveyed. Here we learn that Samuel lived on Rockland Street Pike in Lancaster Township on April 22, 1910, the date the census survey was taken. We also learn that some Parmer families lived close by each other, at house 84 and 89. Our Samuel was born in 1839, which would make him about 71 years old. Do you see him listed on the bottom line?
Notice his middle initial, “M.” But are we sure this is the right guy? Well, he’s listed as the “Father” of the head of household, who is Luther J. Parmer. Luther is Samuel and Hetty’s youngest son; so, yes, this is the right guy.
So here’s our Samuel M., widowed, 71 years old, and living in 1910 with his youngest son, Luther, who had been married one year. Down the street lives another of Samuel’s sons, Samuel E. Parmer, and his family. The similarities of the names might be one reason that Samuel M. has been known as Samuel E. for so long.
Notice that at 71 years old, Samuel M. was working as a fireman at a stone quarry. He was working on April 15th, but had been out of work 10 weeks. The two “No” marks at the end of the line signify that he cannot read or write, which is interesting because all his other census records do not indicate such.
Is it possible that the “M.” is a mistake on the census record? Of course it is! Luckily we can find a few other instances where his name is recorded as Samuel M. One is the marriage license of his daughter, Margie, who was 18 years old when she married. Consent to the marriage was given by “Samuel M. Parmer the father of the said Margie Parmer…”
Finally, one additional record that records Samuel’s middle name is in the Genealogical Card File at the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The record is for Martha S. Parmer, who was born October 21, 1873 and died January 26, 1877 at 3 years old. According to the record, Martha is the daughter of Samuel M. Parmer and Hetty A. Parmer.
So how did Samuel M. become Samuel E.?
Way back in high school, I started collecting family history. Of course the first source was family records. Information collected from family has always listed my Samuel Parmer ancestor as Samuel E. Parmer. Likewise, if you search the public member trees on Ancestry.com for Samuel Parmer born in 1839 in Lancaster, PA, you will see a lot of Samuel E. Parmer results.
Family history is collected in a variety of ways. Often an informant provides information that they believe is correct. However, informants can, unintentional, provide incorrect information that gets perpetuated. Perhaps that’s what happened with Samuel.