Old photographs are some of the most exciting finds you can make when researching your family history, but they’re not often useless without background or context. Unless a relative has handily marked names and dates on the back, that beaming smile is sure to soon send you spiraling into despair, yelling in exasperation “WHO ON…
Voices of Ancestors blog was launched less than three months ago. Today the hits topped 5000 views from nearly 1900 visitors in the US and fourteen countries worldwide. Wow!
Have you read about my grandmother Harriet yet?
My paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Keegan Rier was born in Trescott, Maine, September 15th, 1892. I never knew the names of her father and mother except to know that her maiden name was Keegan. Grammy told me that her mother died when she was about four years old and she had no memory of her. I could not imagine what it would be like to lose your mother as a little girl, and wondered how her father had raised her. I never knew the name of all of Grammy’s siblings. She talked about two sisters, Mary who lived in Leominster, Massachusetts, and Theresa, who lived in Boston.
According to the 1910 census, one Keegan family lived in Trescott. James Keegan was the head of household, had four daughters and one son who lived with him, but had no wife. Two daughters matched the names of Grammy’s sisters, Theresa (spelled Tresa in the census) and Mary. The son was named James E which may be James Eugene, my father’s name.
Where is Grammy? She would have been 17 or 18 years of age at the time. Grammy told me that she had only completed school through the third grade as she criticized her own penmanship writing letters. Her writing was meticulous, but I sensed that Grammy was self conscious about her lack of education. My Uncle Barney said that Grammy went to work in the Lubec sardine industry as a young girl to help support the family. I searched the 1910 Lubec census and found Lizzie Keegan (her nickname) age 17. She is listed as a domestic servant in the household of Henry and Ella Godfrey at 18 Summer Street, Lubec. There are two boarders and another domestic servant in this home. In 1910, Grammy was working for a family and lived in Lubec. She probably worked in the sardine industry too, work she enjoyed into her 80s.
I note that the eldest daughter of James Keegan, Winnefred, age 23, is listed in both the Trescott and Lubec census. Winnefred was a domestic servant in another Lubec household, the Trecartin family.
I don’t know why Grammy never talked about her brother and sisters, except Theresa and Mary. Perhaps they moved away and she was disconnected from them or they died before I was born and didn’t hear their stories. My father is likely named for her one brother. Her sister Katherine is listed as the same age as Grammy but I doubt they were twins or I would have heard about it, perhaps they were only a year apart, and Grammy turned 18 in September of 1910 after the census.
I searched for the burial site of James Keegan and found his grave at the Chapel Hill Cemetery in Trescott. He was born in 1847 and died in 1927 at the age of 80. He is the son of James Keegan, my great great grandfather who first came to Trescott from Ireland.
From his gravestone, I learned the name of his wife, my great grandmother, Margaret Murray Keegan, date of death 1897. Their eldest daughter, Winnefred died in 1918 at the age of 31, was buried with her parents. It was the year of the great flu pandemic that killed millions of people worldwide, but I do not know if flu was the cause of her death.
Now I must document my Keegan ancestors using vital records. I found Grammy Rier’s birth certificate although she was not yet named. This verifies that she is indeed the 5th child of James and Maggie Keegan, born September 15th, 1892 in Trescott, Maine. James Keegan’s occupation was farmer. I’ll bet he had a fine Irish root cellar in his home.
I found the death certificate for Maggie (Margaret) Keegan. She died May 21, 1896 at age 38. Cause of death: Pneumonia/Bronchitis. Place of birth: St John, New Brunswick. Gravestones and websites are not always correct.
Grammy Rier lived with us in Machias at the home of my maternal great grandparents every winter when I was growing up. She taught me how to knit mittens when I was barely 10 years old. I can still smell her bread, hot from the oven. Her bedroom was at the end of the hall, close to mine. As I drifted off to sleep, Grammy whispered the rosary, kneeling beside her bed. “If you don’t finish the rosary and drift off to sleep, the angels will finish for you,” she told me.
Grammy died in April 21st of 1985 in Lubec at the home of her son Barney and his wife Rebecca, just months from her 94th birthday. I still miss her.
I celebrate her life.
This post has been updated with a full scanned copy of the Means Family notebook found here: 1913.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 great-great-great Grandfather and family.
Robert Means born 1689 married Jeane Armstrong, daughter of James or John Armstrong. Robert Means died Saco Dec 29, 1769 aged 80 years. Jeane died aged 102 years.
They had six children.
“In the autumn of 1718, vessels came from Ireland via Boston to Portland (then Falmouth) Maine (from Drakes History of Boston). They were descendants of a colony [from] Argyllshire in Scotland and settled in the North of Ireland about the middle of the 17th century. They were rigid Presbyterians and fled from Scotland to North of Ireland (Ulster) to avoid persecution of Charles I. Among them was James Armstrong with his sons John, Simon and Thomas and Robert Means who married his daughter. This colony with Rev Wm Mc Gregor at its head left Ireland in 5 vessels containing 120 families and arrived in Boston August 4, 1718 part settled in Maine and part in New Hampshire. “This company of immigrants among other important services rendered to the land of their adoption, introduced the Potatoe plant which had not before been cultivated in the country: Also the Linen spinning wheel, and the manufacture of Linen.
The spinning wheel had not appeared [on] our shores until the advent of these strange people, and it produced quite a sensation in Boston.
Societies were formed and Schools established to teach the art of spinning flax and the manufacture of its thread. At the first Anniversary of its introduction ladies with their wheels paraded on the Boston Common for a trial of skill in spinning and prizes were awarded. During four years this novelty held its attraction and then gave way to some new excitement.”
Robert and Jeane Armstrong Means.
John born 1722 our ancestor
The little notebook went on and on. I was hooked. I had two weeks to complete the assignment. I began to transcribe the whole notebook for my own copy – or at least most of it – and wrote an essay about my ancestors. I remember counting how many people descended from Robert and Jeane Armstrong in the ensuing two hundred years. Hundreds. I was one of them.
My Great Great Grandparents’ Family. Otis and Elsie (Berry) Means.