Posted by: downtothesea | January 14, 2009

A well-traveled clock.

This is our grandfather clock, Clock Miller.


Clock Miller, our patriarch.

He originally stood in the Crown Hotel, of which some of you had heard me speak before.  It was a hotel run by our family, the Millers (John and his wife Robina), in the latter half of the 19th century.  It stood on the corner of West Register Street and Prince’s Street in Edinburgh, Scotland until it was torn down in 1923.  It is where my great-great-grandfather George Miller grew up, and according to his marriage record, it was also the very place where he married his wife Elizabeth Aitken Hislop in 1872.


The Crown Hotel, Edinburgh, 1854.

I’m not entirely sure when Clock Miller would have made the trip across the ocean.  He could have come along with George and Elizabeth when they emigrated from Scotland with their young son John in 1874.


John "Jack" Miller, the first son of George and Elizabeth Miller, b. 1872.

On the other hand, that’s a big old nuisance of a thing to lug around with your family on a ship and then put in a train and finally a carriage and move first to Clifton, Ontario, and then across the border to Niagara Falls, New York. Perhaps they shipped it separately? Perhaps it came over to the family alone as part of Robina Miller’s estate when she passed away in Edinburgh in 1908? It would take some more sleuthing on my part to find out. 

My grandmother Jean (Miller) Tanzer, who passed away in 2008, inherited Clock Miller from her aunts Kate and Mary Miller.


My wonderful Gram and myself, Christmas 1999.

Gram’s father was William Miller, the brother of John, Kate, and Mary Miller, who were all the children of George and Elizabeth Miller, my intrepid Scottish immigrant ancestors.


William H. Miller, my great-grandfather, b. 1876 (Canada).

My dad remembers the day he (a young boy at the time) and his parents moved Clock Miller from Kate and Mary’s apartment in Niagara Falls to their home in Rochester, New York.  My grandfather Tanzer was convinced they could fit the clock in the car, and so my dad had to make the 3 hour drive with the clock across his lap in the backseat and the clock’s hood and face poking out the open window of the car.

When my grandparents decided in 2004 that they could no longer live in their house and had to move to a retirement home, Clock Miller very nearly went out with the rubbish.  There was simply no way my grandfather Tanzer would agree to bring the clock to their new apartment.  I think it eased my grandmother’s mind a great deal when my dad and I stepped up and said we’d take the clock.

Though of course, that meant poor Clock Miller had to be loaded up again, this time into a miserable moving van, packed with bubblewrap and a host of pillows, and moved to the coast of New England.  But something about the journey didn’t agree with him this time (he was about 175 years old at this point), and even when we had set him up in my folks’ comfortable living room, he refused to work. Stubborn Scot.

It took three years before we found a clock restoration expert who would agree to drive out to my parents’ house and have a look at our ailing clock.  On principle, my dad refused to send the clock out on another journey, even if only to a clockmaker’s workshop.  The gentleman who did finally come to our rescue was taken with our beat-up old clock, whom he took to calling his “Scottish friend.”  He got Clock Miller working again, and insisted that my father and I watch the repair process so we would each know at least the basics of how the clock worked.  Bless the man.

Today, Clock Miller is still ticking away and chiming brightly at every passing hour.  He needs more work someday, but that may fall to me.  At any rate, Clock Miller is part of our family, really.  He was even there on the morning of my wedding as I relaxed with my maid of honor before the big event–just as he had “overseen” the wedding of my great-great grandparents 3000 miles away and 136 years before.


Me, Clock Miller, and Maryann my maid of honor: July 12, 2008.



  1. This is absolutely one of the best genea-blogger stories I have read! As described by you, Clock Miller comes across with a real personality of his own and when you told of how he almost ended up in the rubbish heap, my heart was in my mouth (even though I could tell from the pictures that he survived). Here’s hoping he will always be with your family.

  2. Thank you Greta! That’s so kind of you! Truth be told, we’ve referred to Clock Miller as if he’s just another family member for so long, it’s hard for me to believe he doesn’t have his own personality. I don’t even think I’ve ever wound him up without having a little conversation with him (seems only polite)!

  3. Wonderfully written! We should all be lucky enough to have such long lived family members.

    • Thank you so much for your lovely comment!

      “We should all be lucky enough to have such long lived family members.”

      That’s a wonderful way of putting it! Oh, if only Clock Miller could speak…ha!…I’d probably quiz him senseless about genealogy!

  4. Amy, What a delightful account of a family heirloom — I’ll always remember your MILLER CLOCK as the gold standard for writing family history. You’ve set the bar very high for all of us — thank you!

    Terry Thornton
    Fulton, Mississippi

    • Dear Terry,
      Thanks so much for your kind words. I am humbled!

  5. I absolutely love this story about your beloved family member Clock Miller. It is intriguing to think that it might be missing Scotland and feeling happy having moved a little closer back to the land of its birth. 🙂

    What an amazing family treasure to have made it to your generation – and to still be in working order! Please tell it “hello” from my husband’s grandfather’s pocket watch, circa early 1900s. He is the member of my family that would get along best with your clock, I imagine, although he is much, much smaller and hasn’t yet traveled so widely.

    Keep up the great family stories on your blog! I look forward to reading more.

    100 Years in America
    Small-leaved Shamrock
    A light that shines again
    Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture

    • Dear Lisa,
      Ha! You know, my dad has also taken to saying that Clock Miller’s next voyage will have to be back to Scotland as he seems to be heading in that direction anyway! I think it’s a thinkly veiled ploy for me to move to Scotland so dad can visit and play golf at St. Andrew’s!

      Rest assured that wherever I go, Clock Miller will come. He’s a given.

      And he’d probably have some interesting conversations with your treasured pocket watch! Maybe they’d reminisce about how much handier “wind-up” mechanisms are than any of our modern electronics. When I was visiting my folks over the summer, they had a power outage from a thunderstorm. The house went dark and silent all save for Clock Miller’s continuous, unbroken “tic…toc.” We couldn’t even cook dinner, but we knew exactly what time it was!

      Thanks again for reading and commenting,

  6. What a lovely story. Though parts remain unknown, that adds to Clock Miller’s charm.

    I think I have a third clock to add to the conversation; my great-great grandfather received a black mantlepiece clock (I’m sure there’s a more precise name for that type of timepiece, but I don’t know it) in around 1909 in honour of his many years of service on the Scottish railways. My gran said he worked on the Flying Scotsman, the proper one. ;^)

    The clock didn’t work for many years, but gran found someone who was able repair in and get it ticking again. I’ll try to learn more of its history next time I go home, you’ve got me curious now.

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