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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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Mom Keeps Men at Stewart Field Air Force Base on High Alert. 1944.

My mother was born 99 years ago today. She was an adventurer!

Voices of Ancestors

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The newspaper did not report that Dad took Mom up in the plane that day. But I know he did at least once. Dad said he knew she was a keeper when he turned the plane upside down and she laughed. Mom was always cool as a cucumber in the face of unexpected events.

Interestingly, Dad planned to take Mom up in the plane for a rollover for some time. I present the evidence. He wrote on the back of his picture.

“A snap of me. Do you think I’m getting fat? 177 lbs. I did go 152 lbs. I guess the instrument formation day and night and cross country do me good. The planes will do over 200 and sometime if I ever get the chance I’ll really show you how a stomach can roll.”

Mom never lost the trait of staying calm during an adventure. One day in the…

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Book Recommendation: “Vital Records of Lubec, Maine Prior to 1892”

compiled by Patricia McCurdy Townsend. I searched for my Rier ancestors. My grandfather, Frank Rier, was born April 30th, 1890. Grandfather Frank’s parents were Burpee and Emma Batron Rier. I knew these names and dates but it is nice to have them verified.

In previous research I found my My Great Great Grandparents, Ingraham and Mary Rier, had four children born between 1860 and 1868: Burpee, Bertha E, Alice A and Ida May. Ingraham and Mary were born in Nova Scotia as were their children. They immigrated to Lubec, Maine between 1868 (the date their last child Ida May was born) and 1876, the year Alice died in Lubec. Ida May died there in 1883.

Then, I found a record that I had not seen. Emma Batron was Burpee Rier’s second wife. His marriage to Hattie E Williger of Whiting was published on February 13th, 1883. This book lists their marriage date by Reverend Thomas T. Smith as March 13th, of 1882. There must be an error in one of these records. Burpee’s marriage to Emma Batron of Pembroke was published on February 18th, 1888. There is no record for their marriage. I wonder what happened to Hattie Williger. There is no record of her death in this book.

Bertha Rier’s marriage to Norman A. Gavaza of Annapolis, Nova Scotia was published on September 23d, 1889. They were married September 30th, 1889.

I knew that Burpee’s two younger sisters died young. According to the vital records, Alice died on May 15, 1876 at 16 years of age. Alice’s date of death and age on the Rier gravestone is May 14, 1876, age of 13 yrs. two months. Ida died October 26, 1883 at the age of 15 years and 9 months as recorded in the vital records and on the Rier gravestone. Burpee and his three sisters were all born in Nova Scotia so perhaps the dates of birth for Alice and other family members were not accurate in Maine records.

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To read more about my great grandfather, Burpee Rier, and his parents Ingraham and Mary Rier, see this post:

Visiting the Gravesite of My Great Great Grandparents.

 

“Voices of Ancestors” 2nd Anniversary

was December 8, 2018. The blog has had over 25,000 views from over 13,000 visitors from 62 countries!

All Time Top 10 Blog Posts

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2. Businesses in Lubec, Maine. 1861.

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

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4. My Ancestry DNA Results Arrived Yesterday!     

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5. Visiting the Gravesites of My Great and Great Great Grandfathers.    

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6. 1913. The Means Family.   

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7. My Dad James Eugene Rier.   

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10. Me and Muriel Watts.   

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Top Ten Visitor Countries/Number of Views

United States/23,303

Canada/507

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Ireland/152 

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Christmas Traditions: My Mother’s Cookies

Every Christmas when I was growing up, we made Christmas cookies. A wonderful sugar cookie made with lemon extract and decorated with colored sugar and cinnamon hots. My children learned to make these cookies when they were growing up, then my grandchildren learned too. This year, my daughter Liz and her children, Hayley (14) and William (11) made Christmas cookies with me on Christmas Eve, after having a ham dinner together. What fun! Oh, the memories it brings back and the joy of making more memories. We used many of the same cookie cutters that Mom had and gave to me, horns, curlicues, birds and hearts.

I love looking at my mother’s writing on the recipe card. I have no desire to make a new one. I hope this one lasts for decades into the future. My only alteration of the recipe is to roll the cookie dough a bit thicker than 1/4″. It makes a moist, “fatter” cookie. Cooking time 10 to 12 minutes.

It appears the the lobster (center cookie) had his tail eaten. Who did it? I will not confess. Nibbling while cookies are hot out of the oven is part of the tradition!

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My Grandfather, Ezekiel (Zeke) Johnson

From my mother’s old photo album. Circa 1920s. At the Edgemere cottage, Roque Bluffs.

Zeke was born in 1885 and died in 1968. I remember my grandfather well, and his stories. He was a barber – and an inventor.

His parents were Jesse Warren Johnson (1857 – 1924) and Sarah Jane Marston (1856  – 1937). To my knowledge, Zeke had three brothers: Percy W (1880 – 1932), Charles E (1882 – 1971), and Adin L (1896 – 1972);  a sister, Effie M (1889 – 1985).

To his granddaughter (me), he was quite handsome and debonair. I can understand why my grandmother, Harriet Means, eloped with Zeke in 1908. She didn’t tell her parents, William and Nellie Means, because Zeke was from the wrong side of the river. You can read more about that saga here.