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…

MA vacation (3 of 7)

MA vacation (4 of 7)

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

MA vacation (1 of 7)

Looking from the front entrance.

MA vacation (2 of 7)

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.

MA vacation (7 of 7)

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…


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