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.”


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






Visiting the Gravesites of My Great and Great Great Grandfathers

Celebrating my Irish ancestors today!

Voices of Ancestors

James Keegan Sr (1812 – 1879) and his son James H Keegan Jr. (1847 – 1927) were laid to rest in Chapel Hill cemetery in Trescott, ME. James Sr. immigrated to Trescott from Ireland in 1836. I had seen their gravestones on the findagrave.com website but I wanted to go there myself. I had hit a roadblock in tracing James Sr in Ireland. My cousin Teresa had visited Ireland and requested information about him from the Meath Heritage & Genealogy Centre in Trim, Ireland, County Meath. The Centre found one listing for a James Keegan born March 27th, 1812 to Pat Keegan and Elizabeth Keating. But the birth date for this James did not match the birth date on his gravestone (October 6, 1812). I noted that County Meath was misspelled on his gravestone as Meade, perhaps the date of birth was not accurate either. The Centre’s search covered 1812…

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Find Your Maine Mason Ancestors

In Maine, when a man petitioned to join Freemasonry, a three by five membership card was created.  You will find links to the nearly 200,000 cards that record deceased members who joined between 1820 and 1995 at mainemason.org. There are some newspaper clipping obituaries included.

I found my great grandfather William Means Sr. who was initiated August 19, 1878. His eldest son, Otis, was initiated in June of 1906. His youngest son William Jr. (Billy) was initiated in November of 1918. William Sr. and his sons were all members of Lodge 91 in Machias.

Dates of death are included, as well as notations if your ancestor moved to another state.

A great resource!

Dad and Aunt Evelyn. Circa 1943.

Stewart Field, Newburgh, NY. Dad‘s “little” sister Evelyn visited when he was stationed at West Point during World War II. There Evelyn met her husband, Stanley Marcinek and they raised their family of eight children in Lexington, KY. Aunt Evelyn and her family visited Lubec and Machias often when I was growing up and I got to spend time having fun with my cousins.

They are cute together. Love their smiles!

This is another photo of Dad and Aunt Evelyn. L to R. Evelyn, Aunt Lillian, Dad, my grandmother, Harriet Means Johnson, her son, Uncle Bob. Kneeling: Uncle Warren Johnson (married to Lillian) with their son, William (Bill) Johnson.




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.


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. 


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!