I love learning about the colorful history of Lubec. My great great grandparents Ingraham and Mary Rier immigrated to Lubec from Nova Scotia in the 1870s with their four children. My grandparents Frank and Elizabeth (Keegan) Rier lived most of their lives there. Growing up, I visited Grammy Rier often at her home overlooking Johnson’s Bay, and my aunts, uncles and cousins who lived nearby.
In this photo, they were in Lubec, Maine with Marion, Dad, and Paul the newest baby. Frank’s garage is in the background.
From Frank’s World War I draft registration in June of 1917, I gleaned that he worked at the FA Whitney Carriage Co in Leominster as a “striper.” This company sold English carriages and go carts. No wonder Dad said he never saw anyone run a stripe to detail cars like his father! But, I never knew that Frank gained experience as a striper of baby carriages and used that skill to detail cars.
I believe that Grammy’s sister, Mary, lived in Leominster and opened the way for the young couple with a growing family to earn a living. In 1917, my grandparents lived at 15 Spring Street, not far from where FA Whitney was located.
My father’s older sister, Marion, the first child of Frank and “Lizzie” Rier was born in Leominster on January 15, 1913. Dad (James Eugene), the second child, was born September 9, 1914 in Trescott, ME. A third child, Lewis Edwin, was born in Leominster on November 26, 1916 and died there just over a month later, on January 2, 1917. Cause of death: Natural Causes, Premature Birth.
It seems that Frank and Elizabeth Rier moved around, or perhaps Grammy returned to her family’s home in Trescott for a brief period of time to give birth to Dad. Their fourth child, Paul, was born in MA on January 5, 1920. In the family photo shown above, Paul was the baby in Grammy’s arms and they are in Lubec. He looks to be about eight months old dating the photo to the summer of 1920. Were they visiting their families? Was the work in Leominster seasonal and they returned to Lubec for the summer season or longer, Frank working in his garage as he did when Dad was growing up?
Francis was born in Leominster October 21, 1921. Evelyn W, their sixth child, was born November 12, 1923, also in MA.
It appears that my grandparents lived in Leominster between 1911 and 1923 when Evelyn was born. The rest of their children were born in Lubec: Julian Vernon on September 16, 1926; Raymond G born on February 27, 1929; Patricia Ann on November 29, 1931. Carolee E was born about 1936. The only record I found for her was in the 1940 Lubec census when she was four years old. Interestingly, Julian’s name was noted in this census as Vernon, an error. It did cause me some confusion at first, I thought there might be another child I did not know about. In my memory, Dad told me that a brother had died as a young boy, Patrick, but I found no evidence of another child’s birth and death. I may have missed it.
Growing up, I knew all my Aunts and Uncles, spent time with them and my cousins, especially the families in Lubec, not far from Machias where I lived. My Uncle Paul and his wife Alice (Aunt Winkie) moved to California before I was born. They had four children. I remember one visit they made to Maine and I visited them once when I had a science meeting in Anaheim. Grammy went to California for an extended visit most winters well into her 80s. Aunt Evelyn and her husband Stan lived in Lexington KY but they visited Maine often in the summer with their growing family (eight children). Aunt Carolee and her four children lived in NY also visited. Aunt Pat, her husband Vernon, and their six children lived in Machias. Whenever I begged my mother for a little brother or sister (I have two older brothers), she told me to go visit Aunt Pat to get my fill of holding babies – which I did often. I was always jealous of the large families of many of my Aunts and Uncles and that led to my wanting a large family too – and my five children.
The rest of my Aunts and Uncles lived in Lubec: Marion who never married or had children; Uncle Babe (Francis), his wife Betty, and their two children; Uncle Barney (Julian), his wife Rebecca, and their six children; Uncle Raymond, his wife Pat, and six children.
It will take a lot of time to document all of my grandparent’s descendants. A rapid count of cousins and my family puts Grammy Rier’s grandchildren count at 39. I couldn’t even begin to number her great, GG and GGG grandchildren. In tracing the Rier family back in time, I realized that now is the time to document her descendants. I have enlisted my cousins in the effort!
“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 […]
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, 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 is the head of household, has four daughters and one son who live with him, but has no wife. Two daughters match the names of Grammy’s sisters, Theresa (spelled Tresa in the census) and Mary. The son is 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. Truthfully, 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.
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.
Grandfather Frank was born in Lubec, Maine, in May of 1890. He died before I was born on December 21, 1946 at the age of 55, his date of death recorded in a family bible. Mom told me he had a stroke and was disabled for some period of time before that. According to the census, Frank was a mechanic. We know that he had a garage in Lubec beside his home, that he fixed and detailed cars. The photo, circa 1919, shows my grandparents Frank and Elizabeth (Keegan) Rier. Grammy is holding their son Paul, standing beside Marion and my father, James “Gene” Rier.
The Rier family did not keep much for records, not beyond my father and his eight brothers and sisters. There were only stories. I need to spend some time this summer in the cemeteries of Lubec. There, I must search for the first Rier in Lubec, who according to legend, arrived not long after the Revolutionary War. According to that legend, there were two Rier brothers who crossed the Atlantic from County Hess Germany to fight for the British. They “jumped ship,” defected to the American cause. One brother went to Canada, the other to Lubec, Maine, USA.
Now there are a couple of problems with this story. Yes, the Rier brothers may have defected – or been captured and put into service for the American rebellion. But, if so, both brothers would have remained in the US.
In my lifetime, another scenario emerged. The Rier brothers fought for the British and after the war took ship from New York City to Shelburne, Nova Scotia with other loyalists and British soldiers who did not wish to return to Europe. African slaves who served the British also were sent there by ship and granted their freedom. All met harsh conditions, white and black, overcrowding, starvation and disease. Eventually, one brother set out for Lubec, or perhaps it was his descendants that did so. After the first ship of loyalists arrived in 1783, the conditions in Shelburne rapidly deteriorated with a population that swelled to 32,000. There were race riots in 1784 and the economy collapsed by the late 1780s. A lack of agricultural land, a collapse of the whale fishery and poor inland trade routes led four fifths of the population to leave. Thus, one Rier brother may have sought safety and better conditions to establish his home. It would not have be too difficult for a former soldier who fought for the British to find his way to Lubec, a hop, skip and jump from nearby Canada. After all, Benedict Arnold took shelter across the bay on Campobello Island.
Residents of the Maritimes and the coast of Downeast Maine did not live by borders of countries, Canadian or American. Smuggling of goods and people was a way of life. American goods could be smuggled into Canada, British goods in the opposite direction, at great profit, for it seems neither the British nor the US customs could control Maritime residents and bend them to their laws. These people were bound to the sea and the land to eke out a living any way they could without dependence on country borders or their laws.
According to my cousin Frank, the original Rier homestead on this side of the Atlantic was in Shelburne, Nova Scotia. Had the first Rier in Lubec already left Canada? Was there one surviving family or two?
Well, for now, it is a mystery.
There could be practical reasons for maintaining the two family story. One day in the 1970s, my father got a call at his car dealership. The caller introduced himself as Robert Rier, a professor at Howard University in Washington DC. He had done extensive genealogical research, said he was a descendent of the Canadian branch of the Rier family, and was related to Dad.
This man paused and said, “I’m black.”
Dad replied, “Well, I’m white.” They had a long conversation and Dad stayed in touch with Robert and his family over the years. Dad was not surprised to find relatives of a different color. The family story was that the Riers held the genes of many races, Caucasian, African, Native American. Who knew? Robert had traced the Rier family back to Germany which matched our own stories, the name had been changed as many did in the Revolutionary War. His ancestor had married a black woman. Nearby Birchtown was the largest free settlement of ethnic Africans in North America in the eighteenth century. Eventually, Robert’s family had immigrated from Canada to the Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao, Rier descendants now scattered over North America, the Netherlands and a tropical island. Cool.
We don’t know whether the family of Robert Rier is our direct line of ancestors. As my brother David said, our own family must be traced back from Lubec to Germany. There is research to be done. I shall begin in Lubec cemeteries, documenting gravestones. In my memory, the first Rier there was Ingraham, a name of decided German origin. Dad used to point at his grave site as we drove by. Surely I can find it. Hopefully, I can still read the engravings on his stone. I’m guessing that the first Rier came to Lubec in the late 1780s to escape the conditions in Shelburne.
It is likely that Robert Rier’s ancestor and mine were brothers who came to America among 30,000 Hessian soldiers hired by the British in the Revolutionary War. One branch stayed in Canada, one came to Lubec. We know Paul Rier’s family lives in New Brunswick (who are white) and strangely own a car dealership as did my Dad, their names and facial features are similar to my family from Lubec, although there are no records to show that we are related.
Robert’s genealogical research is our first lead back to Germany – so valuable – and lends color and diversity to our family.
Photos. The family home of Frank and Elizabeth Rier in Lubec.
Photos of my grandparents, Frank and Elizabeth, and their family taken outside their Lubec home with Grammy’s sister Mary, and Dad’s younger sisters Patricia and Evelyn.
One last story that Mom told me about Frank. Toward the end of his life, he was disabled by a stroke. Grammy had a special chair to keep him comfortable during the day. Before Frank went to bed each night, he said, “Put out the clock and wind the cat.” It is possible that only people from Lubec (or carry genes from there) understand this type of humor, twisting sentences around for fun. It gives me a peek into grandfather Frank’s personality.