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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 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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Lubec Veterans Honor Roll

This Memorial Day week-end, I am thinking of all the brave men and women who served in the military, especially those from Lubec, Maine.

Voices of Ancestors

LEST WE FORGET

This beautiful memorial honors hundreds of men and women for their wartime service. Lubec, Maine is a small seaside town at the easternmost point in the contiguous United States. In 2010, its population was 1359 residents. Despite its size, many sons and daughters of Lubec fought for their country in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. The memorial also honors those who served their country in Peacetime.

Standing in front of the Memorial, gazing at all the names, I am in awe of the patriotic, brave men and women of Lubec.

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The names of my father, James E. Rier, and three of his brothers, Julian V. (Barney), Paul J. and Francis E. (Babe), are inscribed in black granite for their service in World War II.

This memorial is situated in a lovely park, the grounds…

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My Mother Louise Adele Johnson

Happy Mother’s Mom! Love and miss you today and every day!

Voices of Ancestors

The Early Years: 1920 – 1942

Mom was born January 19, 1920 in Machias, Maine, the third child and only daughter of Ezekiel and Harriet Means Johnson. She had two elder brothers: Warren, born in 1908, and Robert, born in 1918.

She was a towheaded toddler who explored the outdoors in a sweater and boots. The back of the photo reads:

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Mom loved to play in her grandparent’s barn at the house at 24 Broadway. One day, she romped with her brother Bob and cousin Charlie on the upper floor where the hay was stored. While big brother Warren stacked hay, Mom got carried away, forgot about the hole to throw hay down to the horses, and fell through to the lower barn. When she told the story to me over 30 years later, she vividly recalled her surprise descent but didn’t get hurt. There was soft hay below to…

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1913. The Means Family

Voices of Ancestors

This post has been updated with a full scanned copy of the Means Family notebook found here1913.Means

When I was in sixth grade, Mrs. Luce gave the class an assignment: write a story about our ancestors. When I got home that day, I told Mom about my homework project. I hoped to write about my grandparents and great grandparents. She retrieved a small brown notebook from a closet draw entitled 1913. Means Family. Compliments of John H. Means Boston to William G Means. William Means was my great grandfather. I knew the book existed for no one could grow up in my home and not hear stories about my mother’s ancestors but I had never read it, nor glanced at the pages.

I opened the little book and read the first page:

Our Ancestors

Our great-great-great Grandfather and family.

Robert Means born 1689 married Jeane Armstrong, daughter…

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Me and Muriel Watts

my second mother. I’ve known Muriel all my life. She and her husband Phil and their son, David, were always in my life. Phil is gone now, my Mom and Dad gone too, but my memories of our two families together are vivid.

Every summer, our families lived at Indian Lake in Whiting, Maine. We swam, we sailed, we fished, we spent hours/days boating. We started water sports on a surfboard behind the family boat. The first time Dad took me out on the surfboard, I was four or five. Soon after take off, Dad lost his grip on me and I slid between and under his legs into the water.  I remember my surprise to see Dad’s legs fly by. When David and I were eight years old, we learned to water ski. We had to keep up with my older brothers. Soon we were slalom skiing.

David and I explored the woods, tented out, and built a tree house with my brothers, David and Jimmy. It was a fine treehouse on the point, with a porch and a great view out over the lake toward the island. The Watts’ lived in the next cove over. When David and I wanted to get together, we went outside and called like loons. It was the signal that breakfast was over and it was time to hit the lake. On rainy days, there were card games and puzzles. There was no phone and no TV. It was a glorious time in our lives.

Recently I visited Muriel at Avita of Stroudwater, in Westbrook close to Portland, with David’s wife Kate. Muriel has Alzheimer’s disease but her memories of life long ago are as vivid as mine. We talked about all of our antics and fun at the lake. In the photo of us together, I was talking about the old photos of Mom and her before they were married, out on a picnic with the Border Patrol guys. She grinned and said, “We girls were trying to get away with some fun without our parents knowing!” We cracked up laughing. Precious moments.

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Mom, far left, Muriel on the right. They were picking cranberries with the Border Patrol guys some time in the late 1930s, or early 1940s.

I have so many photos of our families at Indian Lake. I shall have to pull them out of storage under my eves and scan.

But, for now, if you want to see the fun we had on Indian Lake, watch the old 8mm movies: Growing Up in the 50s and 60s, We Knew How To Have Fun!  

Ancestor Break Sunday. A Passing Otter.

I was outside on a porch break, so lovely in the Spring. I forgot to take my camera. The otter came in close and dove under the wharf. I waited nearly motionless for him or her to come up. Minutes went by. Suddenly the otter slithered up on the wharf to bask in the sun and feast on a fish head as big as my fist. Moments like this, one cannot capture except in memory. The otter stayed a good 20 to 30 minutes on the wharf. I got this shot later in the afternoon. He was swimming fast so the shot isn’t great. But, it was another beautiful day lakeside enjoying the wonders of nature!

5 Hidden Clues in the US Census — Amy Johnson Crow

The US census forms the basis of much of our family history research. It is often among the first things we search for when trying to answer a genealogical question. However, there are clues that are often missed. Let’s take a look at 5 hidden clues in the US census. […]The post 5 Hidden Clues…

via 5 Hidden Clues in the US Census — Amy Johnson Crow