Washington E. Keen: The Last Word for Now

I’m at a dead end of sorts in my quest to find the parents of Washington, my great-great grandfather. Without his parents’ names, I can’t go further back in my Keen/Keene line.

I’d really like to know where they came from!

And, while I haven’t found that information, I did find something else.

I know that Washington E. Keen and Lydia Ann Kent were married in Hartford, Connecticut, January 13, 1830. Washington was about 20; I don’t know his exact birthday, but it’s estimated to be about 1810, based on an age of 34 at his death in 1844. Lydia was about to turn 21, as she was born April 11, 1809.

keene-lydia ann kent-1809-birth-newburyport MA

I had found their marriage date in an online index of Connecticut marriage records known as the Barbour Collection.


The Barbour Collection is an index-only record, meaning that the information is listed similar to the form above. It is not a digitized version of the original record or book. And, while the information in index-only records is often quite helpful, often there is much more information on the original that wasn’t included in the indexed version.

I also eventually found the listing for their marriage in a Hartford vital records book.



This entry had a little more information, as it gave the officiant’s name, the Rev. Samuel Spring.

But, I had really been hoping for more.

In the meantime, I went on to other bright, shiny objects. Such as reading my emails from genealogists that I follow, including Lisa Louise Cooke of Genealogy Gems.

And, what did I find in the latest email?

No, sadly, not Washington’s parents, but another little piece of the puzzle.

Lisa had section in the email with information on new and updated records on the Family Search site, including digitized records for Connecticut!

I quickly did a search, and viola’!


The official Hartford vital record book image where their marriage was recorded!

Now, I had the name of the church where they married, which added just a little more information to what I already had.

I got to thinking though, why would two people from Boston and Newburyport go all the way to Hartford to get married?


From Newburyport, it’s 136 miles to Hartford. From Boston, it’s 102 miles. Remember, it’s winter. In Massachusetts. There were no interstates. No heated seats in your SUV. No McDonald’s for a quick potty stop and a cup of coffee.


The only explanation I could find was a possible connection between the Kent family and Rev. Spring’s. I did an internet search for him and learned that he and his family came from Newburyport, where Lydia was born. His father, also named Samuel, had been a pastor there.

My next step is to find the location of the actual North Church records, now that I know where to look.

Off to dig a little deeper!



Washington E. Keen: Not Easily Giving up His Secrets

In my last post, I told you about finding Washington’s death date and interment place in the Old North Church, confirming the family lore.

But, I was left with more questions than before, especially the prospect of some sort of relationship between Washington and Shadrack Keen, based on their shared space in tomb #27.

My friend, Jenice, also found two Boston city directories for Washington. The one below is from 1842. Do you see anything interesting about this?

Two entries above Washington (who was a glazier and lived in a house in Princeton) is a familiar name. Once again, Shadrack/Shadrach Keen is found in close proximity to Washington.

Brothers? Father and son? Cousins? Uncle and nephew?

One of the main questions I had set out to answer when beginning this search was who were Washington’s parents, and where was he born? So, I was hopeful that I would be able to find out more information from the church records than was found in the Boston city records, as is often the case.

So, when we got home, I did some research on the Massachusetts Historical Society‘s site, where the educators at Christ Church had told me the records were stored. I found that the records for the church were stored off-site in numerous boxes. Searching through the index on the site, I found in which box the tomb records for 1844 were located. I made a couple of quick screen shots, covering all the bases I hoped, and then I put in a call to the society.

A while later, Alex, a researcher with the society gave me a call back. I explained what I was looking for, and since I was across the country, she was willing to search the records for me. I told her which boxes were probable, based on my screen shots of the index, and she was very appreciative for not having to do that extra step.

About a week later, Alex called back again, after she had done her search. But, unfortunately, the Christ Church records didn’t contain any more information than was found in the Boston city records.

Well, phoo…

So, I am a bit stuck in finding out the secrets of Washington Keen. But, I’m hot on his trail!

More to come…


Washington E. Keen, Still a Man of Mystery

So, when last I wrote, we were deep in the crypt of the Old North Church.

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I had just learned that the church doesn’t store historic records any more. The educators at the church told me that the records are now housed by the Massachusetts Historical Society. I planned to call once I got home.

While we were still in Massachusetts, though, I messaged a friend in the DAR who has an Ancestry subscription. I was hoping that Jenice would be able to dig up some information on Washington before we left Boston.

And, wow!

She found Washington and Lydia’s marriage certificate, two Boston directory listings, and Washington’s city of Boston death record! Thank you, Jenice!

(I’m telling you, without this wonderful community of genealogists, I would never have found out what I have. I can’t tell you the times that I’ve come up empty handed, and then others have dug, researched, or even tramped over hill and dale for me. It’s truly heartwarming, and I always try to do the same when I can. It’s one of the reasons that I write this blog; there may be someone out there, a distant relative or just a curious researcher , who can benefit from what I’ve written.)

But, back to Washington and the Old North Church. From the Record of the Deaths and Burials in the City of Boston for the Year 1844:

keen-washington e-1844-death record-boston ma

He died on June 19th, was interred on the 21st, at the age of 34, from consumption, which was the old name for tuberculosis. His body was prepared by the Whitcomb undertakers and ta-da! was indeed interred at the Christ Church Cemetery No. 27, not No. 28.

“But, Barbara,” I can hear you saying, “Christ Church isn’t the Old North Church!”

But, yes, dear reader, it is. Here is a link to the church’s web site.

Jenice also found a more complete record in Deaths and Interments in Boston, where names have been recorded by year, in order by surname:

wak 1844

So, right there by the arrow is the listing for Washington E., who died at age 34. But, look carefully at the line right above him: Washington Jr., aged 4 years, 9 months, who died Jan. 20, 1839, and was also interred at Christ Church. In Tomb No. 28, according to the Record of Deaths and Burial in the City of Boston for the Year 1839. Hummm…

The record above is just chock full of interesting information listed under the surname Keen. There is a column to the left of Disease for Family. If you examine the page, you will see that the name Shadrack Keen is often listed in this column. And, each name with Shadrack Keen as the family name is also interred in tomb No. 27.


The occupants of No. 27, under the family name of Shadrack Keen, are:

  • Richard, died Aug. 30, 1821, age 1 year, 2 months, dysentery 27 Christ Church
  • Abigail, died Jan. 2, 1823, age 5 years, dysentery, 27 Christ Church
  • John E., died Jan. 5, 1824, age 1 month, 5 days, whooping cough, 27 Christ Church
  • Dorothy J., died Aug. 6, 1842, age 6, dropsy in the head, 27 Christ Church

The occupants of No. 27, under the family name of Washington Keen, are:

  • Mary Ann, died Dec. 28, 1832, age 2 years, scarlet fever, 27 Christ Church
  • Washington E., died June 19, 1844, age 34, consumption, 27 Christ Church

There is obviously a connection between Shadrack and Washington. I just don’t know what it is. Father and son? Brothers?

[Little Washington Jr., is the only outlier. In this record he is interred in 2 Christ Church. So, is it #2 (as in the record above), #27 (with his presumed father Washington E.), or #28 (as in the 1839 record)?]

So, yes, my great-great-grandfather was indeed buried under the Old North Church.

Whether he is still there is another matter.

In the 1800s, families could purchase, or more correctly rent, a tomb. It would be maintained for that family undisturbed until the money ran out. Sadly, it wasn’t uncommon for the church, which needed the income, to empty a tomb into a charnel pit and then rent it again, if the original family couldn’t or wasn’t able to maintain their hold. You can read more about the practice here.

So, one mystery solved, but much more left to uncover about Washington.

Washington E. Keen, Man of Mystery

There’s a much-used term in genealogy, which you will begin to see and hear very quickly after starting to search for your family history: Brick wall.

It’s a full stop in our research. It’s getting to a place where there just doesn’t seem to be any way past this missing person or bit of needed information. It’s a burned out courthouse in the south, a flood along the coast, a fire at the National Archives, or it’s the dreaded missing 1890 US census.

I tend to think that the term is used much too quickly in these days of handy, ever-present internet searches. I’ve gotten very, very spoiled, and I lean toward thinking much too quickly that if the information isn’t easy to come by, well, then, I’ve hit that brick wall.

But, that’s where the good sleuth just goes deeper. It’s time to call, write, visit, or email county records offices, state historical societies, or places where your relative once lived. It’s truly leaving no stone unturned.

And, that’s where I’ve gotten to in the search for information about my great-great grandfather, Washington E. Keen. Or, Keene. Could be either or both.

(His son George is a bit of a problem, too, but I’ll save that for later.)

Here’s the line from me to Washington:

  • Barbara Keene Garrett, to my father,
  • Charles Lawrence Keene, Jr., to his father,
  • Charles Lawrence Keene, Sr. to his father,
  • George Augustus Keene, to his father,
  • Washington E. Keene.

For quite a while, I didn’t have much information about Washington at all. He was listed as the father on his children’s wedding licenses or certificates. He was listed as well as father on his son George’s ( my great-grandfather) death certificate. But, US census records bring up nothing. I can’t find him in vital record searches for Massachusetts. I didn’t have birth or death dates for him.

And, to add a little confusion just to make things interesting, Washington had a son, also named Washington E. There’s plenty to be found about him!

Until just a few weeks ago, when the brick wall began to crack a little.

In the family genealogy papers that I have from my Dad’s family, there was a copy of my great-great-grandmother’s obituary (his wife, Lydia A. Kent Keene, purchaser of the Keene plot at Pine Grove Cemetery), mentioning that Washington had died in Boston and was buried under the Old North Church, in Boston. You know, the “One if by land; two if by sea” church.

keene-lydia ann kent-obit

And, in a handwritten note (by whom, I don’t know) there was a mention that Washington was buried in tomb 28.

On our recent trip to Boston, one of my goals was to dig into this and find out if it was true and if there was perhaps more information to be found.

So, we made our way to the Old North Church…

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This view is from the back of the church; the entrance is around the other side.

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Looking from the front entrance.

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Looking back to the entrance.

We took a tour of the bell tower and crypt, hoping to get a glimpse of tomb 28. While we waited for the tour, we asked the docents if they could tell us where we might find information about tomb occupants. They put in a call to the educational director. The upshot is that the church no longer holds any of the historical records. They are all with the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Well, phoo…

But, once in the crypt, it was pretty east to find #28. The earlier tombs weren’t numbered, but rather had names and dates. The later tombs had numbers, beginning with about #26  and going around a rectangle in the middle of the building to get to #30. Tomb #28 didn’t have a plaque, but it was pretty easy to figure out which one it was.

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And, there it was, in all its nondescript glory.

So, I got no answers on my trip, but I did have some direction as to where to go from there.

And, that will be for another day…

I Bet the Whole Town was Talking

As I mentioned a while back, my great-grandfather, George Augustus Keene, married Lydia Thompson soon after the death of his first wife, Ellen Piper Keene.

Ellen had passed away at age 40, not too long after the marriage of her and George’s daughter, Ellen Augusta. Daughter Ellen had married William Edwin Thompson in 1874; mother Ellen passed away in 1875.

William Thompson had a younger sister, Lydia.

Yes, that Lydia.

A year and half after the death of Ellen, George married the younger sister of his son-in-law. George was 42; Lydia was 25.

keene-georgo augustus.jpg


keene-lydia ann kent.jpg

So, George’s wife was his son-in-law’s sister, but also his son-in-law’s mother-in-law.

Daughter Ellen’s step-mother was also her sister-in-law.

Ellen and William’s children’s grandmother would also be their aunt.

I think…

It reminds me of the old song, “I’m My Own Grandpa.” It’s worth a Google.


Pine Grove Cemetery, Lynn MA

As I told you about in my last post, The Hubs and I recently visited Lynn, MA, where so many of my family members came from. And, I mean many…

We visited quite a few of them at the Pine Grove Cemetery in Lynn. We spent a lot of time lost, trying to find the Keene plot. And, along the way, on headstones and memorials on nearly every lane, were names from my family tree: Breed, Keene, Ingalls, Hood, Bassett, and Thompson….

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It really was rather strange. This place is FULL of “my people,” as my Nanna would have said. It was a visual representation of just how deep my New England roots are.

Our first stop that morning in Lynn, after McDonald’s for breakfast, was at the city works department, where the cemetery records are kept. The clerk helpfully printed out several pages, each with a family name, grave numbers, plot sites, and dates of internment.

We decided to focus on the Keene plot as our first priority. I was so glad we did, as it took most of the morning to find it!

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Below is the list of graves we were given for the Keene plot:

keene-pine grove cemetery plot diagram

At the bottom of the list, you can see the diagram we made while there, based on the remaining headstones. As you can see, there are quite a few more graves than there are headstones.

We also learned that the first Lydia A. Keene (1809-1895), wife of Washington Keene (1810-1844), was the first owner/buyer of the plot. The dates of burials range from 1866-1961, nearly 100 years.

What is especially touching are the number of children here:

  • George Arthur Thompson, 10 months, 18 days
  • Minot Tirrill Keene, 1 year, 5 months, 22 days
  • Edith B. Keene, 2 years, 4 months
  • Carrie Browne, 2 months, 19 days
  • Arthur S. Keene, 5 months
  • W. Frank, days
  • Child Keene, days
  • George A. Keene, 11 months

Eight babies. Fully a third of the family members here.

When we got home to California, as I was searching for another file, I came across this:

keene-pine grove cemetery plot

WOW! I wished I had realized I had this before we went to Massachusetts!

(PSA: Stay ahead of your files, paper or digital! Things easily and quickly begin to pile up as your own research yields results and family members generously give you their records, too. You’re welcome.)

In the diagram above, see the *D? That’s Thelma, my grandfather’s first wife.

See #13? That’s Ellen, my great-grandfather’s first wife.

Numbers 15 and 17? Those are my great-grandparents, George A.  and Lydia Keene, his second wife.

Lydia was buried here in 1944, although she passed away in 1938 in California. According to my Uncle George, the family didn’t have the money to ship her to Massachusetts in 1938, so they waited six years.

I am so glad that we stopped here; the backstory of my life is in this plot.




My Grandfather’s Father’s First Wife

I come from a long line of second wives. On both sides of my family, there have been several generations where a first wife has passed away, the man marries a second wife, and we descend from that marriage.

I’ve written about Berthelma, the first wife of my dad’s dad.

In my Gard family line, we descend from William Gard‘s second wife, the sister of his first wife.

And, in my father’s family, my great-great-grandfather, George Augustus Keene, we descend from his second wife, Lydia Ann Thompson.

George Augustus’ first wife was Ellen Piper. They married in 1853, when George was 20 and Ellen was 18. They had three children, Ellen, Florence, and Alice, before Ellen passed away at the age of 40 in 1875. (There might be a an infant son who didn’t survive, but it’s not a sure thing.)

A little more than a year later, in 1876, George married again. His new wife Lydia was only 25; he was 42. Oh, the scandal!

George and Lydia went on to have Annie Louise, George Ashton, George Augustus, Minot Terrill, Charles Lawrence (my grandfather), and Edith Blake. Annie and Charles seem to be the only children of this marriage who survived to adulthood.

Ellen’s grave is in the Keene family plot in the Pine Grove Cemetery in Lynn. Hers is one of the few remaining headstones. I’m glad that she’s not invisible…

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