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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

 

 

 

 

How the Wrong Information Ends Up in Your Family Tree.

Baptismal record from 1567 where priest has omitted the father’s surname, Onorati.Genealogist Lynn Serafinn discusses 15 common ways we make mistakes in genealogy, and offers tips on how to separate fact from fiction in your family history. It’s easy to get hooked on the act of discovery when researching our family histories. We love finding…

via How the WRONG Information Ends Up in Your Family Tree — Trentino Genealogy | Family History for Trentini Decendants

The 1980s: Dad, Mom and Gordon.

Left to right: Dad (James “Gene” Rier), Gordon Ackley and Mom (Louise Johnson Rier). Gordon’s Model A (or is it a Model T?) is in the background. Gordon was the manager of the shop at Rier Motors for many years, as far back as I can remember. He was part of our family. I miss them all dearly, but it is nice to see them together smiling on a sunny day!

Related posts:

The Beginning of A Business in Machias Maine. Rier Buick. 1949.

After 23 Years in Business, Dad’s Car Dealership Burned to the Ground.

My Dad, James “Gene” Rier: Maine’s Dean of Gas Engines. 1985.

Old, Old Photo Albums. Circa late 1800s. Part II.

There are four old, old photo albums I found in the attic of my great grandparents home where I grew up. This album, with the beautiful leather cover embossed with bright-colored flowers, has the name of the owner on the first page: my great grandmother’s eldest sister, Mrs. G.W. Flynn, Thirza Getchell Flynn.

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I sit and search through this beautiful album, looking for photos that I recognize.

The first photograph in the album is a handsome man I do not recognize. Perhaps he is Thirza’s husband, George W. Flynn. It is also possible he is one of the Getchell men.

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This man’s photo was taken at Edouart & Cobb, a studio located at No. 504 Kearny Street, in San Francisco, California. In 1869, Alexander Edouart joined David Cobb and opened a studio on Kearny Street. Their partnership lasted until 1881. Thus, this photo dates between 1869 and 1881.

On the next page, there is a beautiful child holding a doll. This is one of two photos with a name written on the back. Sophie Palmer, age six years, 1882.

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I search for a connection between the Getchell and Palmer families. I find that my great great great grandfather John Getchell had a sister, Olive Getchell Palmer, born in 1810. Perhaps Sophie is her granddaughter.

On the next page, I find this man and woman. I have seen her before among the Getchell/Means family photos. This couple may be Thirza’s mother and father – my great great grandparents, Marshfield (1821 – 1892) and Martha Jane Holmes Getchell (1825 – 1913). I have Martha Getchell’s linens, blankets and quilts in my home.

I run upstairs and carefully sort through the family photos stored in my great grandfather’s secretary and find two remembered photos of her, one is with a family, likely her son, Lysander or Osgood, his wife and child.

As I search through the secretary, I discover a color tintype photo that resembles this woman at a much younger age.

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I turn the page of the photo album. There is a baby, photographed by Ezekiel Vose in Machias, circa 1870s.

On the same page, there is a photo of young child, the name “Thirza” written on the back.  Unless there are two Thirzas in the family, this may be Thirza Getchell Flynn as a child. Thirza was born in 1842 making that photo pre-1850. Is this even possible? It will take more research to figure this one out.

A young girl photographed with her doll at E Vose in Machias is dressed regally!

Then, I see my great grandfather William when he was young, age 21. I have seen this photo before in his autograph album. William Means was Thirza’s brother-in-law. He married my great grandmother Nellie Getchell Means.

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The rest of the photos in the album are a mystery. These men, women and children could be from the Getchell, Flynn, Means or Holmes families. It strikes me how most of these photos are not stern, instead artistic. I find the clothing, poses and photo settings fascinating!

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Related posts:

Old, Old Photo Albums. Circa Late 1800s.

The Means and Getchell Families.

My great grandparents secretary today.

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My Great Great Grandmother’s Sister Eleanor

My great great grandmother was Elsie Fuller Berry Means. Among the portraits of my maternal ancestors in the Grace Means collection, there is a photo of her sister, Eleanor Berry Phinney.

On the back of her portrait Grace wrote:

Eleanor Berry Means. Second daughter of Benjamin Berry and Sarah Fuller Berry – sister of Elsie Fuller Berry Means.

My grandmother always said “Aunt Eleanor as a girl was the beauty of the family.” This picture – between 70 and 80 – surely confirms that. 

To Will from Grace –

Christmas 1924

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Eleanor was born in 1816, four years before her sister Elsie, and died in 1893 at the age of 77. She was buried with her husband Mattias Phinney (1800 – 1880) in the Churchhill Cemetery, Machiasport, Maine.

Related posts:

My Great Great Grandmother Elsie Fuller Berry Means.

My Great Great Grandfather Otis Witham Means.

My Great Great Grandparents’ Family.

Grace Means Photo Collection. 1924.

Portraits of the Ancestors.

Grace Adele Means.

Andrew Fuller Means.

Eliphalet Scribner Means.

Your Preservation Stories

Preservation pays off—read stories of family discoveries people have made due to the preservation efforts of others. Piles of old documents sitting around in the attic. Old family keepsakes gathering dust. Each piece of your family’s past has a story to tell, but unfortunately, these stories can be forgotten or lost if steps aren’t taken…

via Your Preservation Stories — FamilySearch Blog

Hannah Weston Chapter DAR. Burnham Tavern Open Every Saturday During Summer.

Machias Valley News Observer, Wednesday, June 3, 1936. The Burnham Tavern is a historic landmark of the Revolutionary War.

My maternal ancestor, Joseph Getchell Jr., fought the British in the rebellion for independence of the American colonies to prevent the British from taking their primary resources: timber for ships and their hard-earned money, taxation without representation. Once British demands were made, residents of Machias not only refused to comply by providing timber or paying their taxes, they erected a “liberty pole” in the town square. And then, they set out to seize British ships that entered their harbor.

A group of townsmen met to decide on their plan of action. Once agreed upon at the Rubicon, the brook they all jumped across to seal their pact, these men collectively captured the British ship “Margaretta” and hid her upriver. Joseph Getchell Jr. was among the first men who jumped on board the Margaretta in the assault. The captured British ship captain died. His blood remains in the Burnham Tavern where they took him after their assault. It was the first naval battle of the American Revolution.

The preservation of the Burnham Tavern is overseen by the Hannah Weston chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), as a reminder to future generations never to yield to tyranny.  The DAR chapter in Downeast Maine is named for Hannah Weston, a Revolutionary War heroine who carried ammunition through sixteen miles of wilderness for the men who were engaged in the first naval battle of the war which took place in Machias Bay. I am proud to be a member of the Hannah Weston chapter of the DAR, as was my mother, Louise Johnson Rier. It is the second largest DAR chapter in the state of Maine, second only to Portland.

My great grandmother, Nellie Getchell Means, was the great grandchild of Joseph Getchell Jr., Revolutionary War soldier at the age of 18. His father, Joseph Getchell Sr., was the first Getchell settler at Machias in 1769. My great grandmother’s father was Marshfield Getchell, son of John who was the son of on Joseph Jr. Thus, Joseph Getchell Jr. is my 4X great grandfather.

Reference: History of Machias, Maine by George W. Drisko. Press of the Republican. 1904.

The Burnham Tavern, beautifully preserved, as it is today.

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This summer, the Tavern will be open from 10:00 AM until 3:00 PM, Monday through Friday, beginning on Tuesday, July 5th and continuing through Friday, September 2nd.  In addition, it may be possible to arrange visits at other times if a docent is available.  Please call 207-733-4577 or e-mail <info@burnhamtavern.com> for further information.

 

 

 

 

 

My Dad, James “Gene” Rier and Phil Watts. Just Kidding Around.

July 23, 1963. The trio publicized the celebration of the 200th anniversary of Machias that year.  Men in town grew beards, sported top hats, and dubbed their group “Brothers of the Bush.” Dad and Phil failed to achieve the 10-inch length of Mr. Goat’s whiskers, the original member of the group.

It was the only time my Dad had a beard. I recall it well because he had dark brown hair but his beard was red, revealing his Irish ancestry.