52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks|Week 7:Valentine

I came across this letter in a collection of postcards and correspondence from my Aunt Gwen’s (wife of my dad’s brother, Uncle George) research. I almost blushed while reading it!

It’s a very heartfelt letter from my lovelorn Grandpy Keene to my apparently impassive  Nana Keene, before they were married. (I wrote about my grandfather here and here, searching for information about his first wife, Thelma.)

This letter was written February 20, 1912, at 1AM, just about 116 years ago this month. This was just a few short months after Thelma’s death on September 3, 1911. In the letter, he addresses Nana as “Pearl,” one of the many nicknames for my grandmother.

It reads:

13 Hampton Ave. Northampton, Mass. Feb. 20, 1 a.m.

My Dear Pearl,

Where are you to-night? Not hurt or sick I trust, but where are you, “Gee” if only I knew, if you knew how my heart bleeds to know, not because I am angry at not meeting you, but because I am so worried to where you are, to know if you are well and to know all about you, you know the feeling in my heart for you, you know the unrest, and thought I have in your safety, your comfort and your happiness so please for my sake let me know that you are safe and well just as soon as it is possible so that I too may be happy and know that everything is well with you. The train was one hour and forty minutes late in Northampton which made it as late that I couldn’t go out to the house and inquire for you and I will not be able to look for you until two o’clock in the afternoon for you see that is the reason I am writing you now, in hope it will reach you before that time. Pearl dear, this is the the first disappointment or unpleasant occasion we have had in our acquaintance so you let me right as soon as possible, won’t you? Am sending a few roses which I hope won’t be “all in,” when you get them as I had them at the station last night for you. I also have two more surprises for you and  the first time I see you, when may I, and the other Washington’s Birthday.

Now trusting everything is O.K. and that I shall receive a note, a phone, a call of some kind of communication with you to-day, believe me to be Your True Friend, 

With Love and Sincere Wishes, 


Tis good to live and love so don’t blame me it is is 2:30 a.m. now, and sleep won’t come to me, for when our mind is not at rest with what we hold dear, sleep is impossible-so don’t get me wrong and think that I am selfish or cross for I am not it is just anxiety in my mind which makes me that way tonight, and if I could pray, I would ask God to bless you and keep you, but I guess I am too much of a sinner for that now, but perhaps you can teach me some day for already you have done so much for me. 

Her lips were like the red, red rose

Her eyes like stars shine true

Her neck was like the swan’s

I loved her-wouldn’t you?

keene genealogy (264) copy

Wow… that’s a lot of emotion and run-on sentences, isn’t it? But, it must have worked its magic, as Charlie and Pearl were married June 4, 1912.

Wishing you all a Happy Valentine’s Day!


52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks| Week 6: Favorite Name

I must tell you that this prompt didn’t really inspire me, especially after coming off of last weeks’ high. So, in light of the fact that this is my blog, and I can do what I want to, I’ve decided to take a bit of a riff on the theme.

Three names repeated in my family lore are Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The names come from the Bible, in the book of Daniel. They were three Jewish captives who refused to comply with the edict of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar to bow before an idol. As a result, they were thrown into a burning furnace, and due to the intervention of God, were not consumed by the fire. When Nebuchadnezzar witnessed the miracle, he praised the God of the three faithful young men.

My family story goes that there were three Keen brothers, also named Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who immigrated to Colonial America. Two stayed in the north, while one went south. These three were supposed to have been the first of our Keen ancestors to come to North America.

I have searched, but I have found no evidence to back up this story. Now, I’m positive that I have not exhausted every avenue of research. But, with on the evidence found in Sarah Keen’s will, I believe that the story of the three brothers is just that, a story. However, in most family stories, there is a kernel of truth, as we shall see.

Based on my finding evidence that Tubal (also known as Jubal*) Keen was Washington E. Keen, Sr.’s father, I am able to search back further in that line. Here’s a visual of what I had before last week (follow the red):

Keen Line

Based on Sarah Keen’s will and her marriage record to Tubal Keen, my line now looks (something) like this:

Keen Line 2

I traced this line back to London, England, to Josiah Keen. Josiah, born in 1620, emigrated in 1638. If this tree, and my initial research is correct, he is the original Keen to come to North America, dispelling the three brothers story.

But, where are the kernels of truth in the family story?

I found Tubal’s (Jubal) baptism record in the Pembroke Massachusetts Vital Records, which listed his parents as Francis and Margaret Keen. He was baptized November 1758.

I found the marriage record for Tubal’s parents, Francis and Margaret, in the same vital records. They were married November 1, 1739.

Based on birth records for Massachusetts, Francis and Margaret had at least four children while in Pembroke:

  • Francis, born June 20, 1740
  • Tubal (Jubal), baptized November 1756
  • Meschech, baptized October 8, 1758
  • Nancy, baptized June 7, 1761

And, there’s that name, “Meschach.”

Tubal, son of Francis, and Sarah had four children:

  • Shadrach, born 1795
  • Nancy
  • Margaret
  • Washington, born circa 1810

And, there’s that name “Shadrach.”

No Abednego in sight, though!

I think that with time, the generations became conflated and the story subject to error and “telephone.” The nuggets of truth remained, in that two of the names are correct. Just in the wrong place at the wrong time!

Until next time!

*Tubal transcribed as Jubal shows up in at least one other record. I believe that in cursive, “T” and “J” can often be confused. Much like “Keene” in cursive becoming “Kune” in a census record.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Weeks 4 “In the Census”

Wow! Wow!! Wow!!!

Don’t let the boring-sounding title for this post throw you off, people!

I busted through my brick wall!!! 

And, silly me; I thought that this would be a ho-hum post.

I was scrolling through my files, looking at census pages, trying to find something interesting for this prompt when I came across a census page for Lydia Keen/e, enumerated in Lynn, MA, 1855.

This Lydia, my great-great grandmother, is the widow of the elusive Washington E. Keen, Sr. (~1810-1844). She’s one of the three Lydia A. Keen/Keenes I have in my tree: the wife of Washington, Sr., his daughter, and his daughter-in-law (my great-grandmother).

The 1855 Massachusetts state census page lists the household residents and their ages as follows:

Lydia A. Keene, 45

Washington Keene (Jr.), 14

Sarah Keene, 57

Edmund Keene, 19

Lydia A. Keene, 45

Now, I don’t know who the second Lydia A. here is…or if the first Lydia was mistakenly listed twice. But, I will tackle the Lydia problem on another day.

What caught my eye was the name Sarah Keene and her age of 57. Now, this is a name that I hadn’t come across in my Keen/e family yet.

Could she be Washington E. Keen, Sr.’s mother, Lydia A.’s mother-in-law? It wouldn’t have been unusual for a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law, two widows, to combine households.

If this Sarah was 57 in June 1855, she would have been born approximately 1798. She would have had to have been awfully young when Washington, Sr. was born, if his birth year is ~1810. Not likely, but not impossible, either.

Could she be a sister-in-law? Either a sister or the wife of a brother of Washington E., Sr.?


So, I did a little sleuthing on Ancestry, looking for a Sarah Keen. One of my hints was a probate record from Suffolk County, MA. The year of the probate was 1826, so this Sarah Keen was definitely NOT the Sarah Keene in the 1855 MA census.

However, there was a will attached, and I decided to read further.

And, my friends, there is was:

Will of Sarah Keen; 1826

It reads:

“… and bequeath all my property and estate, real personal and … to my four children and one grandchild to them and their heirs forever, vis. my four children Shadrack Keen, Nancy Morris, Margaret Stickney & Washington Keen…

There it is: Washington Keen was the son of Sarah Keen, who was the wife of Tubal Keen. 

Do you remember a while back I had a post about my search for Washington Sr.? You can read about it again here and here, if you don’t mind your eyes rolling back in your head trying to figure out all the relationships! But, to summarize, I posited that Shadrack Keen might be brother to Washington Sr., based on their sharing of Tomb 27 at Christ Church and living close to one another as listed in the Boston city directories.

And, I had found records that Shadrack’s parents were Tubal and Sarah, so if Shadrack and Washington Sr. were indeed brothers, then they were Washington Sr.’s parents, too.

And, ta-da! They are indeed brothers! Tubal and Sarah are Washington, Sr.’s parents!

And, to bring the title of this blog post full circle, I have found the 1810 US Census listing Tubal Keen, who I now know to be my great-great-great grandfather, and his household. They were living in Boston, on Clark Square.

1810 Federal Census; Tubal Keen is the fifth listed.

I never expected to write this post today! I was thinking it would be oh so boring… But, now I have a whole line to explore, and I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about that very soon!

“Til then!

PS: I still don’t know who Sarah Keene was in the 1855 Massachusetts census. Perhaps widow of Shadrack? I’ll be searching!

January 2018: The Flu

As I write this, there’s a rather serious flu outbreak in the US. As of today, January 26, at least 30 children have died. The death toll for adults isn’t as clear.

As serious as this year’s flu outbreak has become, it pales in comparison to the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918-1920. It affected approximately 50 million people, resulting in the deaths of 5 to 10 million. In the United States, estimates put the death toll at somewhere between 500,000 to 675,000, with about 28% of the population affected.

Not to take the toll from this season’s outbreak lightly, but it does pale in comparison.

This came home to me as I was researching this past week. I came across a death certificate while looking for something else and just happened to notice the date and the cause of death: 1919, influenza.

And, the light bulb over my head turned on.

The death certificate I was looking at was my great-great uncle’s, Washington E. Keene, Jr. (son of the infamously mysterious Washington E. Keen, Sr.). He passed away December 30, 1918. The death certificate listed “broncho pneumonia” as the the primary cause of death, with the contributing cause of “influenza.”

While looking at my family tree, I noticed that his wife, Eliza Bartlett, passed on January 29, 1919, just a month after her husband. Her death certificate lists her cause of death “general arterio sclerosis,” but it seems reasonable since the flu was present in their home, it could have been a contributing factor.

(The elderly are often hit very hard during flu epidemics as their immune systems are often weakened.)

This little epiphany made me wonder what other family members might have succumbed to the Spanish flu. So, I went sleuthing.

And, here’s a bit of what I found:

My great-great grandmother, Anges Mercier Gaumond passed away November 18, 1919, at the age of 79. I don’t have a death certificate for her (yet), so it’s unclear if her death was flu-related.

My great grandfather, George Augustus Keene, Sr., passed away from cardiac failure on March 7, 1919, aged 85. The death certificate mentioned a contributing factor of what looks like ‘influenza.” It’s unclear as the writing is difficult to read.

A great aunt, Annie Louise (Keene) Clarrage, passed on May 9, 1919, two days short of her 42nd birthday. The cause of death is bronchial pneumonia. Caused, I suspect, by the flu.

So, there are five people in my tree alone, found in a quick search, all who very probably passed away as a result of the Spanish flu or its complications. Quite sobering, especially when compared to the total of 30 children who (sadly) have passed away from this season’s flu. I don’t think my family was affected significantly harder than any other normal American family. When extrapolated out across the US population, the numbers and families involved in the Spanish flu epidemic are truly staggering.

My take-away: wash your hands, don’t touch your face, use the little wipes at the grocery store for your cart, and take your vitamin C. Seek medical help if you do get sick.

Most of all, love on your family while they are here for you to do so.



52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Invite to Dinner, Week 3

When I first read this prompt, my mind immediately pictured the big extended family dinners we had when I was a child. My father had 5 siblings, and most of them had several children. And, by the time my parents had their younger three (including me), some of my older first cousins had children of their own.

Holiday dinners at Nana Keene’s home usually spilled from the dining room into the living room,  with makeshift tables and folding chairs, stools, or any variety of items on which to sit.

I loved it.

Aunt Betsy, Uncle Jake, Don, Bula, holiday at Nana Keene's
This is a rather small dinner gathering at Nana Keene’s house. I’m not sure of the year, but perhaps in the late 70s.

Of course, Nana’s house wasn’t the only site for family dinners. The photo below is at my Uncle George’s home, 1992.

Original Keene Clan @ Georges 1992.jpg
From left to right: Aunt Betsy, Uncle George, Aunt Virginia, Aunt Bea, my father, Charles, and Nana Keene.

Of course, there were family dinners at my Nanna Wells’ home, too. They were usually smaller, as my mother had no siblings. My grandparents only had one sibling each, and those siblings had no children. It must have been quite a shock to the system when my parents showed up with all six of us…

christmas 59, frank, gg gard, dola, lawrence.jpg
Christmas 1959: Uncle Frank, Great-grandma Gard, Aunt Dola, and my grandfather.

And, then, of course, there were dinners at my childhood home, out on the desert. As my older siblings began to have children of their own, our gatherings grew, with extra chairs, folding tables, and a kids’ table.

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Christmas 1967: me, my niece Marie, my brother Richard, my niece Connie, and my nephew Troy. 

And, then we had children of our own at the table.

Rachel, Nathan, Brenden, June 1985, Nana Keene's kitchen, the kids' table and ironing board.jpg
My children, Rachel, Nathan, and Brenden, at the most awesome kids’ table ever, at Nanna Keene’s.

I love family dinners: the noise, the food, the chatter, the laughter. Those gatherings in the past are some of my warmest childhood memories.

The gatherings around my table today are some of my most precious times with my family: the noise, the food, the chatter, the laughter.

I wish the same for you, my friends.

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52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 3, Longevity

Longevity certainly runs in my family, so once again, I have lots of material to work with. On both sides of my family, it has not been unusual for my relatives to live into their 80s, 90s, and even over 100.

Case in point: my mom is 96 and Uncle George, my dad’s brother, is 94.

And, looking at my family tree just now, I decided that this blog post would quickly become overloaded with names and ages if I listed all those ancestors who lived beyond 80. In light of that, I’ve decided to limit my search to just those who have lived into their 90s and beyond.

So, here goes!

Nana - Great Aunt Bea and Aunt Virginia 1981.jpg
Nana Keene, Great Aunt Bea, and  Aunt Virginia

On the left is my Nana Keene, my dad’s mother. In the middle is her sister, Bea. Nana’s  daughter, my Aunt Virginia, is on the right. Nana lived to the ripe old age of 102 and a half, living all but the last couple of years in her own home. Great Aunt Bea lived to 90. Nana had another sister, Claire, who lived to 103. (And a half.) Another sister, Amelia, lived to 90. And, her brother, Eli, made it to 99.

Several of Nana’s children must have inherited that longevity gene of hers. My Aunt Betsy lived to 99. And, looked that immaculately put together all her life.

Betsy and Charlotte Keene 1996 edit.jpg
Aunt Betsy

My Uncle George is still doing well and will turn 95 in April.

Nana K 100th George and Nana Mar 1993 .jpg
Nana Keene and Uncle George, on her 100th birthday

The photo above was taken at Nana’s 100th birthday, and she’s with my Uncle George, who still looks just as dapper!

Nana’s mother, Amelia (Gaumond) Bergeron, lived to just a few months past her 90th birthday.

Great-grandparents Amelia and Osias Bergeron

Moving over to my mother’s side of the family tree, my great-aunt Mabel, my grandfather’s sister, lived to 99.

10-60, Paul and Mabel, Hamilton, MT, young Sport edited.jpg
Uncle Frank and Aunt Mabel (Wells) Kurtz at their Montana dairy farm

My mom’s father’s father, (my great-grandfather) Willis C. Wells, lived to 91.

wells-willic charles.jpg
Great-grandfather, Willis C. Wells

My great-aunt Johanna Soland, lived to 95. Her sister, Ida, was a mere six months short of 90 at her passing. Ida and Jo were sisters-in-law of Willis Wells.

aunt jo, aunt ida, 12-29-48, banning CA.jpg
Great-aunts Ida and Jo Soland

My great-uncle Maurice Gard, brother of my great-grandfather, Willis David Gard, lived to 94.

gard-maurice-at work.jpg
Uncle Maurice at his watchmaker’s bench


My mother’s mother’s mother, Eva M. (Kesterson) Gard, lived to 96. I remember her, as she was still alive when I was a child. She always looked just like this to me: a kind face, a calico dress, and her soft grey hair in a bun.

G-g Gard, Mother's Day, 1962.jpg
Great-grandma Gard, Mother’s Day, 1962

Great-grandma Gard’s mother, Phebe (Stewart) Gard, lived to 98. I never knew her, but I’ve been told that she liked her corn-cob pipe. Phebe’s father, William Stewart, my 4x great-grandfather, reportedly lived to 96.

Great-great-grandma Phebe (Stewart) Gard

I think I could go on, but I’m sure you are done with names and numbers! As, frankly, am I!

I’m hopeful for my own longevity, as according to my raw data DNA results, I have a few random genes related to long life. However, I’m still taking my vitamins, going for walks, and watching my blood sugar!

‘Til next time!




52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 2

Welcome back! Week Two’s prompt is “Favorite Photo.” Which is problematic, not because I have too few photos, but rather, because I have an abundance!

While other family historians long for just one or two photos of their ancestors, I have thousands.

Yes, thousands.

My family liked taking photos from the very earliest days of photography.

And, bless them, they also liked to write notes on the back: names, dates, and places. It’s a treasure trove.

A few years ago, I began scanning the dusty, gritty boxes and boxes that had been in my mother’s possession. Over many months and endless Netflix movies for company, I had succeeded in scanning over 6,000 individual photos. There were tintypes, daguerreotypes, carte de vistas, cabinet cards, slides, photobooth strips, and postcards. It was a mammoth project, but I’m so glad I did it.

I just visited Mom in December, and yep, I came home with several 100 more. Which I haven’t even begun to sort through…

For today, I’m going to share a photo that just makes me happy.rachel and girls vida and girls.jpg

I posted the top photo on Facebook one day a while ago; it’s of my great-grandmother Gard, Eva, and her two daughters, my grandmother, Vida, and my great aunt, Dola, all seated on their house steps.

When my daughter, Rachel, saw the picture, she was inspired to make a collage by recreating the original on her front steps with her two daughters. While Violet valiantly attempted to mimic the awesome side-eye of her great-great-great grandmother, Faith happily cuddled a stuffie like her great-great-great aunt. I love it when family history comes alive and gets new generations involved!

‘Til next time!

Happy New Year!

Whew… I am just coming down from a Christmas whirlwind, a blur of activity, a buzzing hive of family. Crazy.

It was/is The. Best.

But, now we are here on the first day of 2018. The Hubs and I just had a Starbucks coffee date that morphed into an El Pollo lunch that finished up on the back patio to discuss plans for the future. There are some big changes afoot here in my little household, and we wanted to start the year off with a compatible vision.

But, I’m sure you’re thinking, “Well, that sounds lovely, but what does this have to do with genealogy, Barbara???”

I’m going to tell you!

I follow Amy Johnson Crow, a professional genealogist. She has a new project for 2018, 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. It sounds like fun and, frankly, a bit of a challenge, too.

Sometimes, a family tree and family history can be a bit overwhelming, just like a big, blurry, messy, after-Christmas morning living room, littered with coffee cups, wrapping paper, toy packaging, and sticky candy canes. Where in the world to start???

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In my case, you have several children and grandchildren who all pitch in, and the mess is gone before you get the dishwasher loaded!

Only, that doesn’t work so well in the telling of family stories, does it? We pretty much have to do the work ourselves.

That’s where a little outside guidance and encouragement can come in quite handy. And, in my case, why I’ve decided to participate in the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

This week’s prompt is just “Start.” So, that’s what I’m doing, just starting. I am not guaranteeing that I’ll get to all 52 posts; it’s more a sort of a goal, a moving target. But, I will do what I can! I am looking forward to this!


And, from my crazy family to yours, a belated Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year!2017-12-25 13.34.32

Morristown: Revisited

I have a soft spot in my heart for Morristown, New Jersey. It’s the hometown of my DAR Patriot, Jeremiah Gard. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting this little town several times, but I distinctly remember my first time there.

I had just begun to work at the Big Airline, and one of my very first layovers was in Morristown. I loved it. I simply walked around slack-jawed, amazed at the town green surrounded by lovely stone churches with ivy-covered bell towers. I walked into a little diner, and it was just like the set of “Cheers,” where everybody knows your name. (Well, not mine.) Every time the door opened, it was “Hey, Bud! How’s the wife?” Or, “‘Morning, Joe. The usual?” It was like nothing this West Coast gal had ever seen.

I called my husband to tell him that I wanted to move to Morristown.

I just felt a kinship with the place. I had more layovers there over the years, enjoying each one, until the Big Airline closed its Newark hub, and the layovers petered out.

In 2016, I made a resolution to fulfill my Nanna’s wish and join the DAR. I remember the day when researching my Gard ancestors that I discovered that Jeremiah Gard (my DAR patriot) and his family had not only lived in Morristown, but they were some of the first settlers there. I got goosebumps, and all plans for making dinner went out the window as I dug deeper.

Those churches with the tall bell towers? The Gards worshiped in one of them.

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The cemetery behind the church? There are ancestors buried there.

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The town green? My family walked there.

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There’s a theory in genealogy called genetic memory. It’s the idea that memories become part of a person’s genome (DNA) and can be passed on just like eye color or height. It’s one explanation for savants, i.e. people who have the sudden ability to speak a foreign language or the immediate mastery of calculus or a musical instrument.

I’m not saying that I believe this theory; it’s just interesting to ponder. I do know that there are many, many stories of serendipity and amazing coincidences in genealogy. Enough that at least three books have been written about them: Psychic Roots and More Psychic Roots, by Henry Z. Jones, Jr., and In search of Our Ancestors, by Megan Smolenyak.

I’m not claiming that my immediate connection with Morristown was genetic memory, but there was a definite, deep attraction.

Last June, I finally had another layover in Morristown, the first since I made this discovery about my roots there. After a delicious gluten-free breakfast of waffles to power up, I wandered the town a bit, eventually ending up at the local public library. I was delighted to discover that there is an entire genealogy section on the bottom floor. I was in heaven.

I spoke with the librarian on duty, and she quickly disappeared, only to reappear with huge map plats of the town and an entire vertical file on the Gard family. I quickly dug into the pile.

I only had about two hours until I had to get ready to go work, and those hours flew by too fast. I quickly snapped photos of letters and notes to read more thoroughly once I got home.

I think I might have even found some proof of the identity of  Jeremiah’s father. It will need further study, but, now I know where to look.

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Until next time!


Guess Who’s Going to RootsTech 2018?


But, wait; there’s more.

Guess who won a FREE 4-day pass to RootsTech 2018?

Yup. Me!

Just how did this happen, you may be asking. Let me explain.

I follow a blog called Family Locket. It’s written by a mother-daughter team of family historians. Their site has an emphasis on making family stories relevant and fun for children, something near and dear to my heart.

Nicole, the daughter in the team, was a speaker at RootsTech 2017. You can find out about her class on getting kids involved in genealogy here. Go take a look! There’s lots of information and fun projects for kids of all ages!

Nicole and Diana (the mom of the duo) ran a give-a-way for a RootsTech pass. I entered, and I won!

I’m very excited! I’ve never been, and I’m really looking forward to going. I hope to learn some new skills and information, meet up with bloggers I follow, and make some new connections.

See you there, Nicole and Diana! And, thank you!