I hold the small book in my hand. I’ve sat down with it more than once, staring at the pages, reading the autographs accompanied by a few words, hoping the leather gold-embossed book will tell me its secrets.
The first page has a photo of a man that I do not recognize but must be a younger version of my great grandfather, William Means, age twenty two.
The first entry is a greeting from his father, Otis Means. The page is faded and hard to read. I take out a magnifying glass.
“May Heaven bless you is the wish of your Father.” ~ Otis W. Means. Machiasport, February 10, 1878.
The next page, his mother Elsie writes: “There is a [no] friend that sticketh more than a mother.” Elsie F Means. Machiasport. February 9. The year is not noted.
I surmise the book was a gift from father to son. But, wait. Half way through the book, I find the earliest signature is that of William’s niece Grace, dated February 16, 1877.
“Grace A Means. South Boston. Celebrated Case,” she writes. Perhaps the book was her gift to her beloved uncle for she was raised as his little sister. Grace had a habit of giving gifts to document family history. And by now, I know she had a sense of humor.
A few blank pages before this entry, I find a mystery, a conundrum. It is the signature of Grace’s mother, Francis Adele Means. The Grace Means collection of ancestors’ photos and written documentation of family history clearly states that her mother Francis died in 1871 when Grace was small. Grace produced that collection and distributed it to family in 1924. She was likely in her 50s or 60s. Could Grace have made a mistake in her mother’s date of death? Anything is possible. It’s unlikely there is another Francis A. Means in the family at the time.
So it is possible that Francis Means lived at least seven years longer than I previously thought. I will need to do a search of death certificates.
Francis writes in her brother William’s autograph book:
“I’ve looked these pages through and through. To see what others have written to you. And now I write to thee. These simple words. Remember me.” Francis A. Means. February 28, 1878.
Her words sound prophetic to me, for I know Francis died young, leaving her daughter Grace to be raised by her parents, Otis and Elsie Means.
William’s eldest brother Andrew signed : “What’s in a name? Your Aff Bro. AF Means. His sister Harriet Means Putnam wrote: “Honor Thy Father and Mother.” Your Aff Sister, HE Putnam. South Boston. February 24th, 1878.
By 1877, many of the entries in the book are to William and Nellie, my great grandparents who married on July 1st, 1880. Nellie’s brother Deola C Getchell writes:
“Nellie and Will. I hope the change that you are to make will be for the best.” Your brother, DC Getchell. Marshfield, 1887.
That entry sounds as though William and Nellie have announced plans to marry and her brother is not all that convinced about the impeding marriage. Or, I am unfamiliar with language from 130 years ago.
A few pages before these words, I find the writing of Nellie’s mother and father, my great great grandparents, Marshfield and Martha Getchell:
“In my Father’s house are many mansions.” Marshfield S Getchell. Marshfield, Maine. March 1887.
“When rocks and hills divide us. And you no more I see. Remember it is – Mother. Who wrote these lines for you.” Martha J Getchell. Marshfield, Maine. March 16, 1887.
On other pages, I see the signatures of Nellie’s sisters: Thirza Getchell Flynn, and Dora Getchell Flynn. Sisters married brothers, not uncommon. I know that Thirza had a millinery shop in downtown Machias and made women’s hats. By the early 1900s, Dora lived in Brewer. She was watching over my grandmother Harriet, just before Harriet eloped in 1908 without telling her family. Other members of the Flynn family and numerous friends also wrote greetings. They were from Machiasport, Cherryfield, Columbia Falls, and Pembroke, Maine, and as far away as Boston and Jamaica Plains, Massachusetts.
A list of friends’ signatures from near and far:
“Ain’t she horrid.” Katie L Farrell. Columbia Falls, Maine
“Little Man.” Amy H Johnson. Machiasport, Maine. Feb 8,1878
“May you always be as happy as you are now is the wish of your true friend.” Fannie F. Crocker. Machias, Maine. Aug 22, 1881
Edward L. Lincoln. Jamaica Plains Mass [in] Machiasport. Sept. 22nd ’77
“Remember the clock winder.” Lizzie E. Tobey 1877-10-21
“May there be just clouds enough in your life to make a golden sunset.” Your friend, Emma G. Nash. Cherryfield, Maine. February 24th 1880.
“Great thoughts, noble deeds, a life true and holy. Charity open-handed, constant and brave. Good to your fellows, kindness to the lowly. Is the mission of man this side of the grave.” Lydia Bradbury. Machias, Maine. December 22nd ’77
Your friend, Stella A Tarbell. Feb 6th ’91
“Remember me as your friend.” Mrs. OS Lowe. Machias 2-6-91
W. O. Merrick. Boston, Mass [in] Machiasport. Aug 3/79
Edward Merrick. Boston, Mass [in] Machiasport. August 3, ’79
W.E. Tarbell. Meddybemps, Maine.
Emma B. Stewart. Machiasport. Oct 27, 1877
Sarah E. Tobey. Machiasport. Sept 27th, 1877
“Your cousin” Georgia J. Robinson. Machiasport, Maine. Feb 9 1878
“Sincerely your friend” Ida F. Warde. Machiasport, Maine Sept. 20, 1877
“That you many aspire to that which is pure and noble. Is the wish of your sincere friend.” Abbie A Grant. Machiasport, Maine. Sept. 17, 1877
“Peanuts are nice.” Annie M. Thompson. Machiasport, Maine. Feb. 5, 1878