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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

 

 

 

 

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My Updated Ancestry DNA Results Arrived!

According to the Ancestry DNA website, my ethnicity estimate is based on the data that Ancestry collects and the methods used to compare my results to that data. Because Ancestry DNA is always collecting more data and their methods are constantly improving, my estimate may change over time. Read more here.

My ethnicity profile changed. The one surprise in the original results, received just eight months ago, was 6% Iberian Peninsula. That disappeared in the updated version. I can genuinely say that nothing is a surprise in my new results and reflects what I know from my genealogy research. My maternal ancestors (Means, Getchell, Berry, and Johnson families) descended from the Scots-Irish and the English. My Scottish ancestors, the Clan Menzies, were originally from Mesnieres in Normandy. My mother’s blond hair and blue eyes (and two of my sons) hinted at Swedish descent, although the percentage dropped from 35% Scandinavian to 10% Swedish. Vikings raided and settled in Scotland and Ireland in the 9th century so that makes sense. My paternal ancestors, the Rier and Keegan families, originated in Germany and Ireland, respectively.

I knew ancestors from both sides of my family immigrated to America in the early 1700s to late 1800s and settled in Downeast Maine (Machias, Machiasport, Trescott and Lubec).

It’s nice to see that my DNA results match the family tree I have been researching!

This is my original DNA results for comparison.

AncestryDNAStory-Sherry-220118

 

 

 

Dad and Mom sailing on Indian Lake. 1970s.

Dad (James “Gene” Rier) and Mom (Louise Johnson Rier) loved to sail on the Sailfish. When I was small, Dad built a sailboat they both enjoyed on Indian Lake.

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Dad sailing with my brother David in the Bucks Harbor Race, 1981. This is one of my favorite photos of Dad. Now that’s a happy face!

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As kids, my brothers and I spent many hours on the Sailfish, and we continued to sail as adults.

Me sailing on Indian Lake about 2006.

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My son, Jason, sailing on the Sunfish, summer 2018.

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This year, as in other years, the Passamaquoddy Yacht Club taught children ages 10 to 17 the basics of sailing. Wonderful to see!

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Me completing the boat captain course in Rockland, Maine. 2012. Now that’s a happy face!

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Related post:

Growing Up in the 50s and 60s, We Knew How To Have Fun!

 

Noni MacBride’s Blueberry Cake

Whenever our family visited Dr. Bob and Noni at their home in Lubec, there often was fresh blueberry cake in the kitchen this time of year. Mom made it too over the years. Now when I make this cake and the delicious smell wafts through the air, I am filled with memories. Noni’s blueberry cake recipe was published in my favorite old cookbook of Lubec recipes (1988). It’s one of my most valued cookbooks.

I made this cake for family visiting this week. There will be another before August is over.

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Of course, I alter recipes a bit for the times. I use real butter, not oleomargarine, and substitute organic sugar for white. I cook it in an 8″ x 8″ pan so it’s nice and thick, wicked moist, adjusting the cooking time.

In my family, great recipes must be handed down. I taught my grandchildren how to make this blueberry cake. This is my eldest granddaughter, Hayley, learning how to make Noni’s cake in August, 2012. She was eight. Hayley won a blue ribbon and first place in the cake section at the Machias Blueberry festival.

Hayley baking 2012.

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My grandson Odin, age six, won a blue ribbon for a two-crusted blueberry pie in 2010 and for several years afterwards. See that awesome story here.

 

 

Mom’s Record of Trout Caught in Indian Lake, Whiting, ME. 1976 – 1979

Indian Lake Trout Record “Birch Point” USA. 

The record begins in September, 1976.

Mom wrote: “1976 was a great summer for trout.” She decided to keep a record of all the fish caught from the Rier wharf, their size, and time of day.

• Rare “sock” fish (15″ trout) caught at 9:30 AM on September 11.

• 13 1/2″ trout caught at 3:00 PM on September 12th.

1977

May Total Catch: 21 trout, including one 7″ trout caught by my daughter Monica on May 24th. She was 7 years old.

June Total Catch:  6 trout, including four 8 1/2 – 9 1/2′ caught by my nephews, Matt and Bob, ages nine and eight.

July Total Catch: 60 trout, including one 9 1/2″ trout caught by my nephew Matt.

August Total Catch: 31 trout, including six (9 1/2″ to 10 1/4″) caught by me.

September Total Catch: 13 trout

1977 Total Catch: 131 trout.

1978

May Total Catch: 7 trout

June Total Catch: 12 trout, including two 9″ trout caught by me on June 18. On June 29th, two 8″ trout were caught by me and my daughter Monica, and one 9″ trout was caught by my son Jacob, age two!

July Total Catch: 13 trout

August Total Catch: 22 trout, including a 10 1/2′ trout caught by my niece Jessica, age seven. Monica caught 3 trout (8/12′ – 10 1/2″). My son Eric (age six) caught one 8″ trout.

September Total Catch: 19 trout

1978 Total Catch: 73 trout. Mom wrote 71. She’s usually right 🙂

1979

May Total Catch: 3 trout

June Total Catch: 6 trout, including 10 1/2″ trout caught by Jessica, and a 9 1/2″ trout caught by Eric.

July Total Catch: 27 trout, including a 10 3/4″ trout caught by Eric.

August Total Catch: 19 trout, including a 10 1/2″ trout caught by Eric. On the 25th, Mom caught a 17 1/2″ trout after 5:30PM Mass. She writes: “Wow! Wow! Wow!”

September Total Catch: 23 trout. On the 17th, Ray McWaters visited, caught a 11 1/4″ trout and left with his fish and rolls. Three fish (11 1/4″ to 12″) were deemed “fat” in the August catch.

1979 Total Catch: 78 trout

“All in all a good season “

The record book for 1976 through 1979 can be viewed here.

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To Be Continued. Mom recorded all fish caught from the Rier wharf through 1992.

Long journey home: 170 years later an American family reconnects with their Irish island roots

170 years after their ancestor departed from the Ballygill area of Rathlin Island, all 18 members of the Black family journeyed from America to Ireland to reconnect with their Irish roots. From a 4th of July Céilí to meeting living relatives – like singer Frances Black – it was the trip of a lifetime.

Source: Long journey home: 170 years later an American family reconnects with their Irish island roots

My Dad James Eugene Rier

Thinking of my Dad this Father’s Day week-end. Love and miss you Dad!

Voices of Ancestors

The Early Years: 1914 – 1942

Dad was born September 9th, 1914 in Lubec, Maine, the second child and first son of Frank and Elizabeth Keegan Rier. He had an elder sister Marion. As the years went by, Dad had four brothers: Francis (“Babe”), Julian (“Barney”), Paul, Raymond and three more sisters: Evelyn, Patrica and Carolee. In all, Grammy had 10 children. A younger brother, Louis, was born premature and did not survive long. Dad remembered burying the baby in a shoebox in a cemetery in Leominster, MA where they lived when he was young.

Grammy Rier told me that she never intended to have children and was surprised when she was pregnant with Marion soon after her marriage to Frank. “The doctor told me to nurse the baby so I wouldn’t get pregnant right away. It didn’t work. Your father was born little more than a year later.” Grammy…

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