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 […]
Preservation pays off—read stories of family discoveries people have made due to the preservation efforts of others. Piles of old documents sitting around in the attic. Old family keepsakes gathering dust. Each piece of your family’s past has a story to tell, but unfortunately, these stories can be forgotten or lost if steps aren’t taken…
The cover detail of these albums is intricate. When I first pulled them from a trunk in the attic of my parents ten years ago, I didn’t recognize anyone. I wondered why no one wrote any names in these family albums. Who did they belong to?
I expect the owner/collector of these photos did not envision a time when no one would know the family members in the photos. It was a reminder not to make the same mistake in my lifetime. Have I written on the back of my memorable photos? Rarely. Are photos collected in my lifetime organized? Not yet. I’m working on it.
This year, I open the ancestors’ albums again while sitting in the old rocker my grandmother rocked me in. I gingerly remove the photos to look at the back. There are no names written there; some have the photographer’s stamp. I decide to investigate one album at a time, beginning with the smallest leather-bound one with the clasp, pictured in the front above.
In this album, I find photos of ancestors I now recognize for I have been immersed in them for a time now. The first two photos are of my great-great grandparents, Otis and Elsie Fuller Berry Means by photographer E. Vose in Machias, Maine. The same photos were in the Grace Means’ photo collection sent to the family in 1924. The next two photos are of a young woman that I cannot identify. I turn the page and find my great grandfather William, nearly the same photo is in his autograph book. The photographer was J.M. Goins, South State Street, Chicago. Was William doing business there I wonder?
Most of the album pages are empty, either never filled or distributed among the family. I do not recognize ten of the photos in the album. Are most of these men, women and babies William and his four brothers and sisters at different ages? Perhaps one of the women is William’s eldest sister Harriet, for she was not included in the Grace Means’ photo collection. Whoever she is, she does not resemble William’s other sister, Francis. The photos of this woman were taken in Boston where Harriet lived, as did William’s eldest brother, Andrew Means. I don’t see his two brothers’ likeness in these faces either, Andrew or Eliphalet. But then, I didn’t recognize William’s younger self in the autograph book at first. The elders in the album may be members of the Berry family.
I ask myself questions, think about the research required to find answers. I suppose it will help to just hold each album in my hands and ask whether I have spent enough time with my ancestors to answer these questions.
From the age of my great-great grandparents in the photos, I estimate the date as 1870s. The photographer, Ezekiel Vose, was listed in the 1876 Briggs’ Maine Business Directory. The photo of my great grandfather William is from 1875 or 1876 as the photographer, JM Goins, was located on State Street in Chicago for those two years. William’s age was 20 or 21 years old at the time, as he was born in 1855. The tintype photo of the baby in the carriage could range from 1855 to 1870s. My grandparents, William and Nellie Means were married in 1880. It seems likely that this one album originally belonged to William’s parents, Otis and Elsie Means of Machiasport, Maine and was handed down and stored in the attic where I discovered four old albums over 120 years later.
I’ve explored and documented one album. What might I discover in the other three?
My great-great grandparents Otis and Elsie Means; My great grandfather William Means.
Photos that I cannot identify. Yet.
Every summer from the year I was born, my family lived and played on Indian Lake in Whiting, Maine. We were “upta camp” as mainah’s say. We spent most days in or on the water swimming, boating, fishing, or sailing, only coming out to refuel on Mom’s lunches and dinners. 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. By the age of eight, I learned to water ski; I had to keep up with my elder brothers, David and Jimmy, and their friends. In this video of multiple 8mm movies, I am the wild child, most often in the yellow bathing cap. For the life of me, I cannot understand how my parents let us (no – encouraged us) to do all these antics. They were having fun too!
Lately, I have spent days sorting and organizing my parents possessions, a collection comprised of years of calendars, newspapers and magazines that tell a story about their lives. In among decades of every greeting card ever received, I pulled out this article from 1985 about Dad’s marine engine business “Rier Marine.” I broke out laughing when I read how he managed to buy a large inventory of engines at low cost. I remembered the stories told at home. Dad bought a train load of Buick engines to marinize for the boats of fishermen and lobstermen.
And 1964 is when Gene’s big break came – the opportunity to buy a large inventory of engines at a reasonable price. The government was after certain specifications in marine engines. Buick had 500 engines for Grumman Allied Industries to put in their Pearson Yachts. The eight engines the government had been given all blew up.
Rier, by this time, had years of experience marinizing Buick engines. He also had a reputation for mechanical wizardry, which was backed up by credentials earned with the US Air Force during World War II. “Well Buick wanted me to check this out [why the engines blew up]. The chief engineer on the project asked me what college I’d graduated from. After I told him Lubec High School, he wasn’t interested in finding out what happened. So I ended up buying the whole mess for very little.”
Dad knew he could marinize the engines, prevent them from blowing up, and make them extraordinarily reliable. He could fix anything, but he was a genius with engines. The chief Buick engineer couldn’t repair the engines and didn’t believe anyone else could, especially a hick from Machias, Maine, who had only graduated from Lubec High School and had no college education. Dad bought 500 Buick engines for a song. The article continues:
This photograph of Mom was found in the old barn at 24 Broadway in Machias in the later years of my mother’s life. It was in an old trunk strapped up under the stairs to the second floor. I had never noticed it before. Mom said that Dad put the trunk there when they moved into the house in 1952 just before I was born, in an effort to store old things in a hurry. The forgotten trunk belonged to my grandmother Harriet and was filled with antique linens, her scrapbook, and old photographs. When the photo was discovered, I took it, along with other items from the trunk, for Mom to see.
“I haven’t seen this picture since I was young,” she said and smiled up at me from the chair where she sat most of the day, her mobility limited by severe arthritis.
“Wow! You’re so young and pretty, Mom,” I replied in excitement. I wanted to add that she still was but I knew that remark would irritate her. She hated getting old and no compliment could assuage her disdain for her reflection in the mirror. Wistfully, she fingered the linens I set in her lap and then looked through her mother’s scrap book which she did not remember. No wonder. It was 2007, seventy one years after that photo was taken.
Today, as I went through cartons of storage in need of one more round of organization, I found the photo in the original frame and another treasure: my mother’s writing.
“We are the storytellers– called by our ancestors. In each family there is one who seems called to find the ancestors. To put flesh on their bones and make them live again, to tell the family story and to feel that somehow they know and approve. Doing genealogy is not a cold gathering of facts […]