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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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I’ll be an Ancestor One Day

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 Health by Mary Lou Ballweg 

Endometriosis: A Key to Healing Through Nutrition by Dian Shepperson Mills 

 

A Tribute to Dr. Eben H. Bennet of Lubec, Maine

by Eleanor Roosevelt (who spells his name Bennett). Dr. Bennet began practicing medicine in Lubec and surrounding villages in 1876. He died in 1944 at the age of 96 when the First Lady wrote this tribute in her syndicated newspaper column “My Day.”

Dr. Bennet delivered Franklin and Eleanor’s son, Franklin Jr., on the island of Campobello in 1914. When Roosevelt was fell ill with poliomyelitis while on vacation at their Campobello cottage in 1921, Dr. Bennet accompanied Franklin and Eleanor back to New York City. His son Dr. DaCosta F. Bennet followed in his father’s footsteps and practiced medicine in Lubec almost until his death in 1975.

I was surprised to find that Dr. E. H. Bennet delivered my grandmother, Elizabeth Keegan Rier, in 1892!

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Searching for a Connection Between Lubec, ME and Leominster, MA. 1911.

My grandfather Frank Rier was born in Lubec and lived there most of his life. My grandmother, Elizabeth Keegan Rier, was born in Trescott and moved to Lubec at age 13 to work in the sardine industry. Grammy married Frank Rier on October 12, 1911 in Leominster, MA. They lived in Leominster until around 1924 – 1926, when they returned to Lubec. Grandfather Frank had a garage in Lubec and was an auto mechanic. The family story told was that Grammy’s sister Mary lived in Leominster and her sister Teresa lived in Boston. I assumed that Mary married before Grammy did and lived in Leominster opening the door for my grandparents to re-locate there; Frank worked at the FA Whitney Baby Carriage Company in Leominster as a striper, a skill he learned while detailing cars, or perhaps it was the other way around.

Yesterday I found that Grammy’s sister Mary lived in Lubec in 1920 and worked in the sardine factory as a packer, as did Teresa (who I thought had moved to Boston by then). Mary and Teresa were single and in their 30s at the time.

Does anyone else have family from Lubec/Trescott area that re-located to Leominster, MA to work around 1911? I’m doing a little detective work to find out how my grandfather Frank found a job and married there. Just when one believes you have the family history coming together, something new turns up!

Featured photo: Frank and Elizabeth Rier circa 1940s.

Below: Circa 1920. L to R. Frank, Elizabeth holding their son, Paul, daughter Marion stands beside Grammy, and their son James “Gene” Rier, my Dad, is on the far right.

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Lubec’s Smoked Herring History

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This article is an excerpt from the book 200 Hundred Years of Lubec History, 1776 – 1976 by Ryerson and Johnsonpublished by the Lubec Historical Society. It is a great reference book to learn more about my family history and can be found at the Lubec Memorial Library.

Related posts:

A Short History of the Sardine Industry in Lubec, Maine.

A Story about My Dad’s Home Town.

A Story about My Dad’s Home Town

and Jabez Pike. Lubec, Maine is rich in history. After the Revolutionary War, the location of this village on the sea, close to Canada and the Maritime provinces, offered a key location for smuggling goods that escaped American and Canadian/British customs officials. It was a land, a sea, and a people set apart from the inland regions of both countries. The residents worked the land, the seas, and all the valuable resources offered, as a means to survive and prosper. The artificially drawn lines of two separate countries and their taxes on imports and exports made no difference to these hearty people. This is story of Jabez Pike as written by his grandson Sumner Pike. It is an excerpt from the book 200 Hundred Years of Lubec History, 1776 – 1976 by Ryerson and Johnsonpublished by the Lubec Historical Society. It can be found at the Lubec Memorial Library.

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To read more about smuggling off the coast of Maine and the Canadian Maritimes:

Borderland Smuggling: Patriots, Loyalists, and Illicit Trade in the Northeast, 1783-1820.

 

My Ancestry DNA Results Arrived Yesterday!

I am a DNA novice so I’m busy exploring what it all means: migration patterns of my ancestors from 1700 through 1925, and my DNA matches with 652 fourth cousins or closer. As yet, I have not figured out the meaning of 150 ethnicity regions and the numbers associated with them in my profile.

I am particularly fascinated by the 6% Iberian DNA. There is much to learn!