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This Old House: Secrets in the Attic

The Means home. 1896. L to R. William Jr., Elsie, Otis, William and Nellie, Harriet. Descendants of William and Nellie Means lived in this home for 120 years.

I grew up in the house on the corner of Broadway and Gardner Avenue, built by Nathan and Ruth Gardner in 1869. My great-grandmother Nellie Getchell Means bought the house in 1887, not long after her marriage to William Means. The home was inherited by my maternal grandmother, Harriet Means Johnson in 1937. My mother and father bought it from Harriet’s estate in 1948 and moved in just before I was born in September of 1952.

This visit to my childhood home, I was cleaning and organizing the sprawling home and barn, filled with 90% junk, 10% priceless family heirlooms, my history. Dad was gone, a stroke victim. Mom could no longer come upstairs, her mobility limited by osteoarthritis. It was my task now, or all would be lost.

The attic was stuffed with cartons and boxes amid glorious, old wide boards and beams, another universe. The outgrown clothes of all my five children rested in a corner under the eves waiting for my grandchildren. Beside the old wooden stairs, I found the petticoats I dearly loved as a five-year old, the insulated skipants and jacket I last wore in the 60s, my mother’s square dancing outfits. How will I ever sort this stuff? I kept the baby clothes and blankets for little ones and my skipants, then packed the rest to donate to a non-profit. By one of the chimneys, I opened one of the old shipping chests of my great-grandparents and gazed at their wedding clothes, well preserved. I moved to another chest, dug deep under school work by me and my two brothers, and found a trove of old letters dated 1908. I carried them downstairs to my bedroom, lined them up according to their date. Each night, I read the letters written by my grandmother Harriet who died before I was born. For as long I could remember, I longed to talk to her, imagined she had written something that told me what she thought about, her struggles, hopes and dreams. It was as though I knew the letters were there, waiting to be found. Through her words, I got to know Harriet and realized that she was a lot like a younger version of me. She fell in love, took risks, defied her parents. Born into a prestigious family, she eloped in 1908 with Ezekiel Johnson from Kennebec, the wrong side of the river, and traveled to Oregon by train without telling her parents.

In 2015, I transcribed Harriet’s letters to share with my family. And, I began to write about the grandmother I never knew, weaving my mother’s stories with the letters written in 1908. To read these eight posts in sequence, begin with “Harriet” and end with “Home at Last.”

Harriet

The Train Can Take Us Anywhere

Papa’s Letter

Papa To The Rescue

Sightseeing and Homesick

Nellie’s Sister Dora Pleads: Please Write To Your Daughter

Christmas Eve 1908

Home at Last: Tough Times Ahead

 

 

 

 

Family Photograph Circa 1940s

Lubec, Maine. Grammy (Elizabeth Keegan Rier), three of her daughters, and two sisters.

Pictured above L to R: Patricia Rier, Marion Rier, Grammy, Carollee Rier Dinsmore, Mary Keegan Foley, Teresa Keegan.

Related posts:

My Grandmother’s Sisters, Teresa and Mary Keegan.

Searching for Grammy Rier’s Parents and Siblings.

I’ll be an Ancestor One Day

As a retired endometriosis researcher, I’m pleased to see endometriosis all over the BBC today!

Voices of Ancestors

Even though I don’t like talking about myself, here’s a story about me.

Tampa Tribune. June 20, 1994. Front page: “Illness Turns Life in New Direction.” It’s a story about a young mother with five children, who lived in Whitneyville, Maine, pursued a Biology degree at University of Maine at Machias, became very ill with a disease called endometriosis, and then found a career in medical research.  To learn more about my career after 1994, click on the “Author” link above.

In my life, the worst of times, led to the best of times. And, I’m proud to be from Downeast Maine.

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Note: There have been many advances in the diagnosis and treatment of endometriosis since this article was written.

Related post:

What Will Our Descendants Say About the Earth We Leave Behind? Part II. 

Resources:

The Endometriosis Association

Endometriosis and Dioxins

Endometriosis: Complete Reference for Taking Charge of Your…

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A Young World War I Sailor: Pete Foley?

Recently, I found these old photos of a handsome, young sailor in family photos kept by my grandmother and her sisters, Mary and Teresa. There was no name on the back but many of the other photos were labeled with names. I learned that my grandmother’s sister Mary was married to Pete Foley. There are photos of Pete in later years. He has such distinct facial features, I believe this young sailor in a World War I navy uniform must be him. What do you think? 

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These are photos of Pete at an older age for comparison.

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Next time I’m in Lubec, I must look at the Lubec Veterans Honor Roll Memorial to see if Pete Foley’s name is there!

My Grandmother’s Sisters, Teresa and Mary Keegan

Pictured above L to R: Pete Foley, Mary Keegan Foley, my grandmother, Lizzie Keegan Rier, and Teresa Keegan on the lawn in front of Grammy’s house in Lubec.

Grammy Rier (Elizabeth Keegan Rier) was the fifth of seven children, born in Trescott to James Keegan Jr. and Margaret Murray. She had three elder sisters: Winnifred (born in 1887), Teresa (born in 1889) and Mary (born 1891); one elder brother, James (born 1890). Winnifred died at the age of 31 in 1918. James went off to fight in World War I and was never seen again, according to stories handed down in the family.

From family stories I heard growing up, Teresa went to Boston to live, possibly in Charleston; Mary lived in Massachusetts, perhaps Leominster or Charleston. My Aunt Marion, Dad’s elder sister, went to live with Teresa when she was young and did not return to Lubec to live until the 1950s, in her late 30s. 

I found Grammy’s siblings in birth and/or census records. But, there were many gaps. Teresa and Mary disappeared off the map because I have not been not sure if they married or where they lived most of their lives. 

Newly discovered photos may aid tracking them down. Some photos of Teresa have “Teresa and Max” written on the back; Was Max Teresa’s husband? Alas, no surname was on the photo. 

Mary is often pictured with Pete Foley, names written on the back. One photo of her is labeled: “Mary Keegan Foley.” A discovery! 

Mary married Pete Foley. Mary had a daughter, also named Mary, indicated in one photo with “Aunt Mary’s daughter, Mary Keegan,” written on the back. I’m not sure whether this Mary was born out of wedlock, or the person labeling the photos made an error.

I’ve searched for documents to no avail, lacking a defined location for marriages and census records. But, there are labeled photographs of Teresa and Mary, some with Grammy Rier. I now know what these sisters looked like and I can identify them. It’s a start!

There are lovely portraits of My Dad’s Aunt Mary

 

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Mary’s daughter Mary

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Mary with a baby, perhaps her daughter Mary pictured above.

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L to R above: Mary Keegan Foley, Pete Foley, Lizzie Keegan Rier and her youngest daughter Carolee.

Marion Rier and her Aunt Mary

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Teresa Keegan and Max

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Teresa and her niece, Marion Rier

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L to R below: Teresa Keegan, my grandparents, Frank and Lizzie Rier. Circa 1940.

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L to R below standing: Lizzie Keegan Rier, Teresa Keegan, Patricia and Evelyn Rier. Far right: Carolee peaking around Evelyn’s dress. (Patricia, Evelyn and Carolee are Lizzie and Frank’s children.) Sitting: Frank Rier. Circa 1940.

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Related posts:

Searching for Grammy Rier’s Parents and Siblings.

Marion Rier, Circa late 1930s

My Aunt Marion was born January 5, 1913 in Leominster, MA, the first child of Frank and Lizzie Keegan Rier. She lived in Lubec at 28 Main Street from sometime in the 1950s until her death January 11, 1974 at the age of 61. 

Related links:

My Dad James Eugene Rier

My Paternal Grandfather Frank Rier and the Rier Brothers from Germany

1913 Photograph in Lubec or Trescott, Maine

Seven women on an outing. What makes this photo so special to me is my grandmother’s elder sisters are in it: Winnie Keegan (Winnifred; 3d from right sitting) and Teresa Keegan (2nd from right sitting). One other name is written under the women sitting 2nd from left: Kate Knulty? I can’t make out the last name very well.

Winnifred was born in 1887 and died in 1918 at the age of 31, perhaps during the influenza flu pandemic. Teresa was born about 1888; date of death yet unknown. The Keegan women were born in Trescott but Winnifred lived and worked in Lubec by the age of 23. She was a domestic servant in the household of the Trecartin family. My grandmother, Elizabeth Keegan Rier, was their younger sister in a family of seven children.

It’s apparent these women love to be outdoors, one holding binoculars!

Related posts on the Keegan family:

Searching for Grammy Rier’s Parents and Siblings.

My Great Great Paternal Grandfather, James Keegan. 

Bringing Your Ancestors to Life: The History of Irish Immigration into Maine.

Visiting the Gravesites of My Great and Great Great (Keegan) Grandfathers.

 

 

 

Book Recommendation about Living in Maine

Old Maine Woman by Glenna Johnson Smith

A delightful book of short stories and essays, full of humor. I found myself giggling often!

Published by Islandport Press. Read an excerpt here.

About this Book:

Glenna Johnson Smith writes with eloquence and humor about the complexities, absurdities, and pleasures of the every day, from her nostalgic looks at her childhood on the Maine coast in the 1920s and 1930s, to her observations of life under the big sky and among the rolling potato fields of her beloved Aroostook County, where she has lived for nearly seven decades. The book also includes some of her best fiction pieces.

This book is available through the Maine library system.

Reviews:

“The writing in these essays and short fiction pieces is lyrical and steady, humorous and yet pensive, nostalgic but always optimistic. That could be a description that perfectly fits the author as well. ”
—Cathie Pelletier, Author

“These pieces are funny, profound and poignant, offering an honest, sensitive and nostalgic portrayal of childhood, growing up, marriage, children and single motherhood in Hancock and Aroostook counties.”
—Bill Bushnell, Bushnell on Books, Kennebec Journal

“Glenna captures rural Maine with great insight and humor.”
—George Smith, georgesmithmaine.com

 “This collection of essays and short fiction is fun and insightful to read. Her humour is endearing”
––The Miramichi Reader