52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks 2020 | Week 4: Close to Home

January 22-28

Most of my ancestors weren’t very adventurous folks. I can find branch after branch in my family tree where for generations, everyone pretty much stayed put. Except for those brave souls who ventured out and across an ocean or a continent. But, those are stories for next week.

Starting way back, from the early 1600s until 1910 or so, my father’s Keene family stayed along the coast in Massachusetts: Plymouth, Marblehead, Lynn, Salem, and Boston.

Until 1882, my father’s mother’s French-Canadian family had been in Quebec, Canada from the time it was Nouvelle-France, well over 200 years prior.

On my mother’s side of the family, her Norwegian grandmother immigrated when only 11 years old in 1878. Until then, her family had been in the Vest-Adger province in western Norway for generations, farming the same land.

My mother’s father’s Wells family was perhaps the most mobile, moving from Vermont to Wisconsin, then South Dakota, and Montana.

Currently, I live in California, where I was born. I am the third woman of four generations to have been born here: my mother’s mother, my mother, me, and my daughter.

And considering that we are neither Native American, Mexican, or Spanish (who were all here long before my family was), that’s a long time, about 130 years in a state that has only existed as a state since 1850.

My great-grandmother, Eva Kesterson Gard, moved to California from Indiana sometime between 1890 and 1896. She had been born in Indiana, as had both her father and mother.

w. d. and eva m., vida gard, 2927 e. 1st los angeles, ca
My great-grandmother, Eva, my grandmother, Vida, and my great-grandfather, Willis. Los Angeles, circa 1898

She had my grandmother, Vida, in 1896, in Los Angeles.

vida gard, 2 yrd, 1927 e. 1st. st.
My grandmother, Vida, born in 1896, in Los Angeles.

My mother was born in 1921, also in Los Angeles.

vida wells and newborn bula
Vida and newborn Bula, Los Angeles, August 1921

I was born in 1958, but not in Los Angeles. Rather, I was born out on the California desert in Trona, a very small mining community.

With my Nampie Wells, 1958

When my daughter was born in 1979, my husband and I were back in the Los Angeles area.

vida, rachel, barbara, 9-30-79
Nana Wells, my daughter, and me, 1979, in Pico Rivera, California

And, there you have it: four generations of women in my family born in California. I’m sorry to say the run ended there. My daughter had her girls in Virginia. But, when they visited as little ones, they believed they were California girls, too.

‘Til next time.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks 2020 | Week 3: Long Line

January 15-21

On both sides of my family, through both my mom and my dad, I have long lines of documented genealogy going back to the 1500s. (And, really we ALL have long lines, don’t we?) Now, lest you think all this was accomplished through my own genealogy skills, I assure you, it was not. But, more about that as we come to it.

Wells, Bula 1922
My mother, Bula, circa 1922

On my mother’s mother’s side of the family, the Gards, I have already written about my DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) Revolutionary War Patriot, Jeremiah Gard. Jeremiah came from a rather well-documented family with roots back to Roger Garde (LeGard) and Phillippa Gist, who married July 4, 1610, in Devonshire, England. Both were born circa 1585.

I inherited quite a bit of genealogical material about this side of the family from my Nana Wells, born a Gard, who while never being very systematic about it all, thankfully kept the records.

Gard, William Perry and Phoebe
The earliest photo I have of my Gard ancestors. These are my great-great grandparents, William Perry and Phoebe Stewart Gard, 1861

Through my mother’s father’s family, the Wells family, I just learned a while ago that we go back to the Mayflower, and because of that, beyond. My ancestors who came over on that rickety little ship were John Alden and Priscilla Mullins. Their daughter, Rebecca (or Mary), married Thomas Delano, whose father Philippe Delano (DeLannoy) came to North America in 1623 from the Netherlands.

This line is a rabbit hole that I could easily fall down and not be heard from for days as a result. Because the Mayflower passengers, their ancestors, and descendants have been so thoroughly documented, there is a wealth of information.

I am confident of our descent because of the research of my third cousin, Judy, who shares great-great grandparents, Matthias Wells and Alberta Pettingill, with me. Just this past year, she proved her descent from John and Priscilla Mullins through Matthias and Alberta and was able to join the Mayflower Society. This year, 2020, is the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s arrival, and one of my genealogical goals for 2020 is to join the Society like Judy.

WELLS-matthias-alberta pettingill
Matthias and Alberta Pettingill Wells

On my father’s side of the family, I also have long lines through both his parents. His father was from Massachusetts, and his mother was French-Canadian Catholic. Both New Englanders and Catholics are wonderful record-keepers.

My dad, Charles and his big sister, Elizabeth (Betsy), circa 1920

On my father’s mother’s, the Bergeron, French-Canadian side of the family, I have multiple ancestors documented well into the 1500s. Again, not through my own research, but rather that of my wonderful cousin, Peter, and the copious records kept by French-Canadian Catholics.

French-Canadians, through the history and records kept of early ancestors, especially the 700 or so Filles du Roi, are blessed with abundant information. Because of that, I have documented 41 Filles du Roi ancestors (women who arrived in New France 1663-1673), 28 Filles a Marier (women who arrived prior to 1663), and 11 Carignan Regiment (military men who served New France beginning in 1659).

Again, because these all were members of the Catholic church, the records are detailed and abundant, some going back to the late 1400s. A second genealogical goal for 2020 is to join La Société des Filles du roi et soldats du Carignan.

My great grandparents, Osias Joseph and Marie-Amelia Gaumond Bergeron

Through my father’s father’s New England Keene side of the family, I have broken down a long-standing brick wall and now have evidence that we descend from John Keen, born about 1578, in England. There’s a blog post coming, so hang tight, Keene family!

KEENE-george a-THOMPSON-lydia
My great grandparents, George Augustus and Lydia Kent Keene

That’s it for today, dear readers. Thanks for hanging in there with me!

“Til later!

George Augustus Keene: Inventor

First, a quick progress report: I have cleaned off my computer desktop! Yay! I can now see Norway clearly! I might even go fetch a new set of photos for my background.

And now I’ve moved on to my downloads files. Yikes… I really need to put a system in place for when I download files.

While cleaning off the computer desktop, I found several more patents of my great-grandfather, George Augustus Keene.

I might have mentioned a while back that my he had held quite a few patents for his inventions. He had even listed his occupation several times as “inventor.” Alas, neither he nor our family ever profited long-term from his ideas. According to my Uncle George, George A. drank away several fortunes and died in poverty.

But, let’s set the stage, shall we?

George Augustus Keene was born in about 1833, the first son of Washington E. Keen and Lydia Ann Kent.

When George was about 11 years old, his father, Washington E., died of tuberculosis at the young age of 34. Washington’s wife, Lydia, remained an unmarried widow until her death 1895, at the age of approximately 86. I think the family must have had a hard time making ends meet, based on the recollections of George later in life.

In an interview with a Lynn, Massachusetts, newspaper in 1916, George recalled:

“At the age at which I would just be eligible for the Boy Scouts if I was living it over today, I was thrown upon my own resources. I became a mill hand in the cotton mills of Massachusetts. In those days the only excitement about child labor and the only thought given the matter was in favor of it. From pulpit and rostrum the importance of teaching the young industry and diligence was lauded as a virtue. There were no eight hour laws for children in those days, no workmen’s compensation, few labor saving devices, no industrial welfare departments, and dust and dirt of the mills and shops was actually believed to be strengthening and beneficial.”

After working in the mills for a few years, he related that he had worked as a cooper, making barrels. Eventually, he made his way to work as a ship’s navigator, which might have been the genesis of the invention of which he most proud.

KEENE-george augustus

Through the years, George had a variety of professions.

  • 1850: In the US Census, he was just 17, living with his mother and siblings, and working as a carpenter.
  • 1853: In his marriage record for his first marriage with Ellen Piper, he lists his profession again as carpenter.
  • 1858: In a Newburyport, MA city directory, he is a lounge manufacturer.
  • 1860: In the US census, his profession is upholsterer.
  • 1863: In the Newburyport, MA, city directory, he is listed again as a carpenter.
  • 1865: In the Newburyport, MA city directory, he is once again an upholsterer.
  • 1865: In the Massachusetts census, he is a machinist.
  • 1876: In the marriage record for George and Lydia Thompson, he gave his occupation as rubber manufacturer.
  • 1880: In the US census, he gives his profession as an inventor.
  • 1889: In the Newburyport, MA city directory, he is also an inventor.
  • 1900: In the US census, he is listed again as an inventor.
  • 1909: In the Lynn, MA city directory, he is an inventor.
  • 1910: He has no profession claimed, only “own income.”

Hummmm… I find in interesting that in all those years, on all those various forms, he never gave his occupation as a mill worker, a cooper, a navigator, nor a fireman, all professions he claimed to have had when he gave the interview with the Lynn newspaper.

keene-georgo augustus

George begins to apply for and be granted patents about 1860. His earliest patent that I could find was a bed for invalids. This piece was convertible, making it easier for an ill person to move.

This bed converts into a chair that converts into a commode:

1860-bed patent-KEENE- george augustus- augustus-MA.JPG

From the patent document:

Be it known that I, George A. Keene, of Lynn, in the county of Essex and Commonwealth of Massachusetts, have invented a new and useful Reclining Chair and Extension Bed Combined…

In 1881, he designed a different piece of furniture, an improvement on a reclining chair:

1881-reclining chair patent-KEENE-george a-MA.JPG

In 1892, he designed an improvement to a bath tub seat, making it collapsible and easily stored when not in use:

1892-bathtub seat patent-KEENE-george a-MA.JPG

He began to design new and improved funnels in the 1860s, eventually being granted patents for three different versions.

In 1862:

1862-improvement in funnel measures patent-KEENE-george a-MA.JPG

In 1880:

1880-funnel patent-KEENE-george-MA.JPG

And, in 1898:

1898-improvement in  measuring funnel-KEENE-george a-MA.JPG

In 1864, he was granted a patent for an improved cattle stanchion:

1864-cattle stacnhion patent-KEENE-george augustus-lynn-MA.JPG

And, another product for animals, he received a patent in 1876 for an improvement on harness rosettes for horses:

1876-hraness rosettes patent-KEENE-george a-MA.JPG

In 1867, he invented a paper neck tie :

1867-neck tie patent-KEENE-george a-MA.JPG

Who knew that paper neck ties were even a thing? But, apparently, they were. The neck ties were to be made “of paper, either of uniform color, plainly embossed, or embossed or printed in patterns of any desirable color or character…”

He had several patents for improvements of household objects, in addition to the measuring funnels.

In 1871, he designed a laundry dryer:

1871-laundry dryer patent-KEENE-george a-MA.JPG

In 1882, a window washer:

1882-windowwasher patent-KEENE-goerge augustus-lynn-MA (1).JPG

In 1885, a floor mop:

1885-floor mop patent-KEENE-george a-MA.JPG

In 1906, a sink cleaner:

1906-sink cleaner patent-KEENE-george a-MA.JPG

He held two patents for improvements in carriage steps, including the addition of rubber tread to prevent slips, which were quite common and could be devastating.

In 1874:

1874-carriage step tread patent-KEENE-george augustus-MA.JPG

In 1877:

1877-improvement in carriage steps-KEENE-george a-MA.JPG

His most promising invention was a feathering paddle wheel. Steam-driven paddle wheels were the primary means of river boat power in the mid-1800s. But, they were rather inefficient, as the paddles would by design need to push up against the water for the wheel to complete a turn. George’s designs involved feathering the paddles, making them turn as a rower turns an oar when bringing it up through the water.

He first designed his version of the feathering paddle wheel in 1865:

1865-patent feathering paddle wheel-KEENE-george a-MA.JPG

In 1911, he had improved it:

1911-paddle wheel patent-keene-george-MA (4).jpg

George formed a company in New Hampshire and offered 1,000 shares of stock for sale at $10 each to the public to raise funds. From the Lynn newspaper: ” … all matters considered, a more separable investment for capitalists it would be difficult to find. The company propose to furnish wheels, or to permit parties to build them themselves at cost on paying a royalty.”


Unfortunately for George, the days of the paddle wheel river boat were ending, as newer and more efficient means of power were found. His invention came to naught.

Only a few years after being granted this patent, my great-grandparents, George and Lydia, were depending on money sent home by their son, my grandfather, Charles.

George A. died in Illinois in March 1919, as he, Lydia, and my grandparents, Charles and Perpetue, were traveling across the country to California.


52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks | Week 50: Naughty

We are coming to the end of this year at a rapid pace. Christmas was this past week, and the New Year is only a few days away. And, if I concentrate, I just might get all 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks actually completed in the allotted time!

This is one of those prompts that I have had to ponder. There just aren’t that many rouges, scoundrels, or miscreants in my family. I haven’t uncovered any hushed-up scandals. Brushed under the rug disgrace. Hidden crimes.

For sure we have the usual assortment humanity’s faults: failed marriages, alcohol abuse, and broken relationships. But, we have been proven, for the most part, to be just an average, normal, run-of-the-mill family.

So, I have decided on the more light-hearted interpretation of naughty. The more playful, impish definition.

My dad personified that definition.

Perhaps it is the season and holiday-induced nostalgia. Perhaps it was my recent trip to Pearl Harbor with my Uncle George and wishing my dad could have shared that. Perhaps it is just my own looming mortality and the general fragility of life, upon hearing of another old friend’s passing.

Whatever the reason, I have been missing my dad lately. I miss his sense of humor. His quirky expressions. His eyebrow twitches and ear wiggles. The fake stern looks, with a wrinkled brow, that he couldn’t hold for very long without breaking out in laughter. The way he loved teasing my mom.

I can see that playful naughtiness in photos so very clearly.

bearded daddy.jpg
Dad and my older siblings, circa 1950s
china lake039.jpg
Dad with my brother, Don, circa 1955
china lake017.jpg
Mom and Dad, circa mid-50s
salt lake.jpg
The Great Salt Lake; my dad chasing me through the water. 
thanksgiving 1963, bula, charles
Dad and Mom, circa 1963
1972, charles, in fez
Dad, in his fez, circa 1972
mom's birthday, 1972, charles, bula
Mom’s birthday, 1972
jan 1975, charles
Dad, circa 1975, with the mustache he was so proud of.
oct 79, on our way to oregon, barbara, doug, rachel, charles
Me, Doug, our first-born, and Dad, circa 1979

He passed away in 1996, at the relatively young age of 77. He went to the doctor complaining of stomach pain, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and was gone just six short weeks later.

I miss you, Dad.

‘Til next time.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks | Week 47: Thankful

Some of my very favorite memories of my childhood are the big Thanksgiving dinners at my Nana Keene’s house.

It wasn’t unusual to have every seat at the dining room table filled and one or more card tables set up in the living room as well.

My dad had five siblings, and several of those siblings had multiple children, and then the grandchildren started coming fast and furious.  There could be a lot of us, depending on who showed up that year.

thanksgiving 1969, nana keene's
Thanksgiving 1969 at Nana Keene’s home.

It was noisy, boisterous, and wonderful.

Aunt Betsy, Uncle Jake, Don, Bula, holiday at Nana Keene's
A typical Thanksgiving dinner scene at Nana’s house. Through the archway is the dining room, with a card table set up in the living room.

And, then there was the special kids’ table in the kitchen. It was legendary among the cousins. We all wanted to sit there. It came out of the wall and unfolded. 

I’m telling you, it was magic.

No one minded sitting at the kids’ table at Nana’s.

Not only was the Magic Kids’ Table just too cool for school, but we were sequestered in the kitchen, where any and all shenanigans were out of sight of the adults.

And, then my kids got to sit at this magnificent table, too.

Rachel, Nathan, Brenden, June 1985, Nana Keene's kitchen, the kids' table and ironing board
Circa 1985, in Nana’s kitchen.

Occasionally, we kids let the adults use the Magic Kids’ Table:

charles, carving the turkey in nana keene's kitchen.jpg
My dad carving the Thanksgiving turkey.

Nana Keene was a good cook. Grandpie was the professional chef of the family, but Nana was the one at home, feeding all those hungry kids. I remember her fabulous range, across the kitchen from the Magic Kids’ Table.

nana keene, ducky
Nana Keene at her range, making something delicious, I’m sure.

We also had Thanksgiving dinners at my Nanna Wells’ home, but as my mom was an only child, they were never as loud and busy as those at Nana Keene’s.

thanksgiving at nana wells'
Nanna Wells’ Thanksgiving table.

I have so much to be thankful for these days, including my own children and grandchildren at our Thanksgiving table.

I hope you are so blessed.

‘Til next time.


52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks | Week 46: Random Fact

This past week, I spent a few days in Honolulu with my Uncle George and his family for the 77th remembrance service of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This was the second time that I’ve been; the first was two years ago for the 75th.


While this not as large a commemoration, it was still incredibly moving. There were only about 12 military survivors attending, as their group dwindles rapidly.

2018-12-07 09.19.38
Uncle George meeting the Governor of Hawaii, David Ige, a very gracious man.

There were civilian survivors there as well. I sat a seat away from a lovely woman, 94 years young, who was a 17 year old girl on Ford Island in the harbor when the attack occurred. I think we sometimes forget about the civilians who perished, were injured, or who suffered the aftereffects of that day.


As I sat there, surrounded by military personnel from every branch of our services, it dawned on me that I wasn’t alarmed by their presence. We in the United States are fortunate that, for the most part, our armed forces are nothing to be feared. There are too many countries around the world where that is just not so.

In addition, every one of the men and women in uniform, mostly very young, were faultlessly patient, humble, and gracious to the visitors, and especially so to the veterans. I believe the defense of our country is in good hands, if this is the caliber of young people in our armed forces.

I’m certain it was this way as well in 1941, when 2,335 of them perished that December morning 77 years ago.

But what, you say, does all this have to do with the prompt for this post?

I might be stretching it a bit, and it won’t be the first time I’ve done it, but I find it interesting that my family has several little ties to Hawaii while it was still a territory, in addition to my Uncle George’s service.

Random Fact #1: My Grandpie Keene worked on the Matson Line, regularly sailing between the west coast of California and Hawaii.

1936-black sand beach pum a hawaii-wild strawberries with lunch-KEENE-charles sr
Grandpie Keene on the Big Island on a black sand beach, circa 1936.

Random Fact #2: My Nana Keene accompanied him at least once on the voyage.

KEENE-perpetue-1939-329 w ave 38 ready to leave on ship for hawaii
Nana Keene, dressed to the nines and ready to leave on the ship to Hawaii, circa 1939.

Random Fact #3: My dad enlisted in the Army in the Territory of Hawaii in 1938, when he was 19.  The family lore is that he was too short (5’3″) to enlist in the States, but the height requirement wasn’t as strict in the Territory. He was stationed on Oahu at Schofield Barracks, in the 19th Infantry band.

Dad's Army Scrapbook (24)
From Dad’s Army scrapbook, circa 1938-39

Random Fact#4: Apparently, as I just learned this past week, my Uncle Jake’s sister married into the royal family of Hawaii and is buried in their family plot in Honolulu.

Aunt Betsy and Uncle Jake arriving in Hawaii from a United Airlines flight.

Random Fact #5: Grandpie Keene would meet up with both of his sons from time to time when in the Territory.

Dad's Army Scrapbook (4)
Grandpie Keene visited Dad January 1, 1939.

I wouldn’t have minded too much if Dad had decided to stay…

‘Til next time.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks | Week 44: Frightening

I believe that this prompt, “Frightening,” was scheduled for sometime around Halloween, but, here it is at the end of November. I soldier on…

Next week, December 7, 2018, is the 77th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the event that catapulted the US into WW2 and changed the course of my family and of world history.


My dad’s brother, my Uncle George, is a survivor. No one is exactly sure of the numbers of survivors still living, but their numbers are rapidly decreasing. Uncle George is 95 now, and thankfully he is in good enough health to make the journey to Hawaii next week.

We went to Oahu two years ago for the 75th anniversary. It was an incredibly moving experience. And, we plan on accompanying George, Gwen, and my two cousins next week, too. My dad, also a veteran of WW2, passed away in 1996. George was his only brother, and I am honoring both of them and their service by attending.

Several years ago, I wrote a book about George’s experience at Pearl Harbor. I wanted to interview him before it was too late. With every generation, the events of 1941 grow further distant, and the survivors more few, as I imagine 9/11 will in the years to come. Yet these events shaped both our nation and our families in ways that still ripple through the years.

I wrote the book for my grandchildren and my cousins’ grandchildren, so they would know in a more personal way one of the events that might be, to them, a very impersonal, distant historical fact.


So, in keeping with this blog post’s theme of “Frightening,” I’d like to share George’s story of that frightening event here. I sat down with him one afternoon, turned on my iPhone voice memo app, and this is what he remembers:

I wanted to join the Calvary because Charlie (my dad, his brother) had been in the Calvary. Dad (my Grandpie Keene) and I went down to the the recruiting office and told them I wanted to be in the Calvary. And they told me they had no more horses.

Dad said, “Let’s go down and see what the Navy has to offer.”

That was my fatal mistake. I signed up; I was only 17. I could sign up for three years, and of course, by the time the war was going on nobody paid any attention to that. Once you were in you were in. I went in March 14, 1941. I wasn’t 18 until April 21st, but that made no difference. Because, of course. after the war started, once they had you, they had you. But, that was OK, ’cause I wouldn’t have gotten out anyway.

KEENE-george-navy uniform

I went to boot camp in San Diego, and when I got out of boots, I was assigned to the USS Idaho, a battleship that happened to be in Pearl at the time. But by the time I got from boot camp to Pearl Harbor, the Idaho had gone to Bremerton, Washington. So they put me in a pool there; finally I was assigned to the USS Hopkins, which was a 4-stack destroyer. It was built in 1921 and converted to a high-speed mine sweeper. It was out in Pearl at the time. Mine Squadron 2 was out there in Pearl, so I was assigned to that about summer of ’41.

The ships were all in a very dark black-gray paint at that time, and of course, they had their numbers painted on their bow. I remember how I felt when I first saw that old destroyer: black-grey paint with a big number 13 painted on the bow. And that’s been my lucky number ever since. I was on there for a couple of years. The Hopkins went all through the war and only lost one man. It was in everything from the Solomons on up to Tokyo. 

George’s lucky number 13: The Hopkins

December 7, 1941:
I was in the squadron commander’s gig, which is a fancy motor boat, and we always stayed in the harbor. The mine force stayed in the north side of the harbor; we were tied up at the landing there for the Pearl City taxi cabs. They’d come down to the landing and pick up the guys and take them down to Honolulu from that landing. So we just stayed there when the ship was out to sea with the squadron commander; we stayed in the harbor. It was good duty.


So that morning, the ship was out; they went down to Johnson Island doing some sort of nonsense. And we were across the channel from Ford Island. Where the aircraft carriers used to moor, on that side of Ford Island. The old battleship, the Utah, had been used as a target ship, so they had all these big timbers on the deck, and they’d drop fake bombs on it. That was right across the channel from where where we were, and that was the most impressive thing that I saw that morning ’cause when all the noise started, we got up, looked across the channel, the Utah wasn’t there any more. It’d been torpedoed, capsized. All these big timbers were floating. 


Some officer came down and requisitioned us to take ’em out to their ships in the harbor, because their ships were on their way by then. And, that’s the only time in the Navy that I wore a life jacket, because as the Utah capsized all these big timbers were floating in the water. They were so heavy; they were submerged, but still floating, and I was afraid we were going to run into them, but we didn’t.

We never did catch the ships; they were going too fast. One of the midget subs had gotten in by then and was down the channel from us.  The destroyer, the Monaghan, came steaming down the harbor wide open; he had the ready duty and spotted this sub and dropped a couple of depth charges and backed down, ’cause they didn’t want to run over their own depth charges. And then took off again; blew the sub up out of the water a little a bit.

At the mouth of the harbor there was a ship’s repair place, what they called a marine railway. They’d take a ship and put it on this carriage and pull it up on dry land. The Shaw was there; took a hit to the forward magazine. Quite a display.


And, then we didn’t have anything to do. The squadron commander was down at Johnson Island, so we were just standing around in a big, open parking lot. There was a squad of planes; they turned north and came over us to head back to where they came from. So we were all standing around in the parking lot, watching ’em, watching the planes come by, and they started to shoot at us. 

So one side of the parking lot was a grove of trees.  We decided it wasn’t too good an idea, standing out there, so I ran over in the trees and lay down flat, and little branches were dropping off the trees. Something hit me on the back of the leg, and I reached down and got my little piece of shrapnel and brought it home. A piece of an anti-aircraft shell. 

KEENE-george-piece of schrapnel from pearl harbor
The piece of shrapnel that hit George.

We had gotten pretty well acquainted with a Hawaiian taxi driver. He’d been down there that Saturday night, the night before the Sunday morning, and made arrangements with us to take us on a tour of the island. Of course, he didn’t make it, and we never saw him again.

The Arizona was a mess; the Oklahoma had capsized; the California was sitting down, the decks were awash. I think the West Virginia was inboard of another ship, so it was still there. There was oil all over the harbor. There was a little raft with an engine on it in a little deck house; I don’t know how it floated, it was down even with the water. It’d go around and suck up the oil. Everybody called it Juicy Lucy. It’d putt around and suck up the oil.


I stayed on that gig until March ’42. Of course, still connected with the ship. And, I knew the people on the ship; they were going to come back to the States to be refitted, and I wanted to come back to the States, so I transferred back to the ship.

“We were the first ship into the invasion of Guadalcanal. We escorted the Marines in there, over to the Tulagi Harbor in August ’42. Then the invasion of the Northern Solomons, Kolombangara. We took a bunch of soldiers up for the invasion of Kolombangara, and we got there at night. It was dark, black jungle where the soldiers were going to invade; they didn’t want to all get off the ship. In fact we brought three of ’em back. I don’t know where they hid out… But as we were lying off shore unloading them, the signalman on the bridge (they could look down on the water), they saw a torpedo go right under us. So about that time, they rang up the engine room: Flag speed ahead! Get out of there! That was the last time I was in kind of a scrape.

When I came back, I was transferred from the Hopkins. I came to San Pedro, and I wanted to be placed on a troop ship, because I knew they had to feed you well. 

I assigned to the USS Rotanin, a troopship. (An officer on the Rotanin wrote “Mr. Roberts”, about life on that ship.) I was on that, oh I don’t know, six months or so. We went down to Espírito Santo. I was transferred off, to base police. I was there for two or three months, then came back to the States.

I went back to the east coast, to fuel oil school. I was a water tender 2nd class at that time. I went Philadelphia, went through school there, and then went down to Norfolk, Virginia. There, I put in for a new destroyer. I went up to Staten Island, New York, where the ship was being built. I was on the beach there for a couple of months until the ship was completed. It was a beautiful, brand new destroyer. We put it in commission and went down to Guantanamo Bay on the shake-down cruise, then came back to New York to straighten up a few things.

And I got a case of hepatitis. I’d always wanted to go through the Panama Canal; that’s why I’d picked a ship on the east coast. Well, they threw me in the hospital for 10 weeks. And the ship took off to the Pacific without me, and I never got to go through the Canal.

I stayed in the receiving station for a few weeks, and then they assigned me to a cruiser. The war was winding down, and I was on there when we went back down to Annapolis and picked up the midshipmen who were going on their summer cruise; we took ’em down to Cuba and came back. Then I was transferred off and sent back to San Pedro and paid off after the war. I got out in September or October of ’45.

But it was quite an experience.”

“I’m sure, one you don’t want to repeat?”

“Well… I wouldn’t mind. I came out all right!”

“Looking back at your whole experience in the Navy, what was your best memory?”

“I guess when I came home!”

And, I’m so glad you did, Uncle George!



52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks | Week 37: Closest to Your Birthday

I became an aunt at the ripe old age of five. To be more exact, I was aged five years and 364 days.

My niece, Marie, daughter of my oldest sister, Jeanne, was born the day before my birthday. I was told that she was my sixth birthday present. And, that was OK with me.

And, just now, at 60, I’m realizing that I’ve been saying all life that I became an aunt when I was six! I know, I know… it’s only one day, but do you say you are 60 when you are still only 59??? I didn’t think so!

My parents had six children, but in two sets of three. My oldest three siblings were born in the 1940s. Then there is a gap of 9 years, until the younger three came along. I’m the fifth-born, but the middle child of the younger set.

Keene kids 1964
The Keene Kids, Circa 1964

By the early half of 1964, both of my oldest siblings were married.

And, then, one day before my sixth birthday, along came Marie.

Me and Marie, 1964
barbara donald marie richard 1964.jpg
The Aunt and Uncles with our Niece, Marie

For quite a few years, Marie and I would have our birthday celebrations together.

1966 barbara 8th birthday
1966: Eight and Two

More little nieces and nephews came along in rapid succession. They would become my playmates, as this new generation was closer in age to me and my young brother than we were to our older brother and sisters.

christmas 67, barbara, connie, marie, richard, brian

I always thought that it was a special thing, though, to be an aunt at six.

‘Til next time.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks | Week 36: Work

Like just about most people, my family members have had a wide variety of occupations through the years. We’ve made or worked on or with everything from shoes to ships. We been watchmen and watch repairmen. We been teachers of reading and writing. And more…

However varied the various occupations have been, there are certain family lines where a particular trade dominated.

The Mariners

Many of my ancestors on my father’s side of the family came from the coast of Massachusetts, mainly the towns of Marblehead, Salem, Lynn, and Boston. For those who lived in Marblehead, especially, shipping and fishing were the primary sources of income.

My 7x great-grandfather, John Doliber, (b. 1695, d. 1751) was a Marblehead mariner, fisherman, and landowner.

He owned the schooners, Mary and Friendship, and he was a partial owner of several more. One of his ships, the 80-ton schooner Mary, was captured by the cruel, barbarous pirate Ned Low. Low renamed the ship The Fancy, and it became his flagship.

I think that qualifies as a bad day at the office.

(Ned Low also captured a distant relative, Philip Ashton, who thankfully managed to escape after months of imprisonment and torture.)

My 5x and 4x great-grandfathers, Samuel Ashton, Sr. (b. 1750, d. ~1825), and Samuel Ashton, Jr. (1785, d. 1821), were both Marblehead mariners, as well. The were part owners of several ships, and from records at the Marblehead Museum, it seems that at least one of them were privateers, sharing in the booty of captured ships.

ashton-samuel-list of shareholders of the ship marblehead-1778.png
Samuel Ashton (probably Sr., based on the date) on the list of shareholders of the ship Marblehead, 1778

Samuel Sr.’s grandfather, Ephriam (b. 1700, d. 1792), was both a fisherman (1744-1748) and a school master (1772-1792), combining two our our family’s dominate professions.

And, yes, it seems that he did live to 92, working until he passed away. 

Most of my Diamond ancestors in Marblehead were also mariners, shoremen, and fishermen, including  my 7x great-grandfather, Edward, my 6x great-grandfather Aholiah, and my 5x great-grandfather Joseph, father, son, and grandson.

Typically, there’s not much mention of the women in Marblehead, except to note that one or two sold a lease of a cow. I believe that most of them were doing what needed to be done while the men of the family were at sea: caring for the home, children, garden, orchards, animals, etc.

It couldn’t have been easy.

My father’s father, Charles Keene, Sr., as I mentioned before, served in the Merchant Marine during WW2. For years before that, he was a chef aboard the Matson Line.

My grandfather, Charles Sr., and my dad, Charles, Jr., in their WW2 uniforms, 1944.

Lastly, my Uncle George, Dad’s brother, served in the Navy in WW2.

My Uncle George, Dad’s brother, sailor, 1944

The Cobblers, Cutters, and Cordwainers

When my 4x great-grandfather, William Diamond Thompson, Sr., moved from Marblehead to Lynn, the family’s occupation changed with its location. Lynn, as I’ve mentioned before, was a major manufacturing center for shoes and boots.

thompson-william d sr
William Diamond Thompson, Sr.

In the 1850 census, William Sr., gave his occupation as a cordwainer, but by 1860, both he and his namesake son, my 3x great-grandfather, William, Jr., were listed as shoe cutters.

thompson-william d-1850-census-lynn excerpt ma.jpg
Line 31: William D. Thompson, Sr., Cordwainer, 1850 Census

William D. Thompson, Jr. married Anna Jane Ashton in 1844. The marriage record lists their occupations as a clicker and a shoe binder, respectively. I believe this is the first time a woman’s occupation is found in my family records.

thompson-ashton-1844-marriage excerpt.jpg
1844 Marriage Record for William D. Thompson, Jr, and Anna Jane Ashton

In the 1870 census, William, Jr.’s daughter, my great-great-grandmother, Lydia Ann Thompson, age 19, gave her occupation as a shoe trimmer.

thompson-lydia a-1870-census-excerpt.jpg
Line 29: Lydia A. Thompson, Shoe Trimmer, 1870 Census

The Jack of All Trades

Meanwhile, Lydia’s future husband, George A. Keene, was apparently trying to find what he wanted to do in life. In the 1850 census, age 17, he gave his occupation as carpenter, but by 1860 he had become an upholsterer. In 1870, he was a farmer.

KEENE-george augustus.jpg
George Augustus Keene

When he and Lydia married in 1876, after the death of his first wife, Ellen, he had become a rubber manufacturer.

1876-marriage register-KEENE-george-THOMPSON-lydia-lynn MA excerpt.jpg
1876 Marriage Record for George A. Keene and Lydia A. Thompson

In the 1880, census, he gave his occupation as inventor. Which he was.

1880-census-KEENE-george sr-george jr-lydia-florence-alice-annie-MA excerpt.jpg
Line 5: George A. Keene, Inventor, 1880 Census



Below are a few of his many patented inventions: a bed for invalids, an improved carriage step, a feathering paddle wheel, a rosette for harnesses, and a window washing device. I will have to do an entire post on the story of him and his inventions one day.

The Farmers

While my dad’s side of the family had predominately mariners and shoe makers, on Mom’s side of the family, farmers and educators were more common occupations. This side of the family settled more in the Midwest, in states like Wisconsin, Kansas, and Indiana. Classic American farm country.

My Gard ancestors began as millers and iron workers in New Jersey, but soon moved west to Pennsylvania and Ohio, then further on to Indiana and Kansas.

The land grant below was awarded to my great-great grandfather, William Perry Gard, for volunteer militia service. It granted him 160 acres in Tipton, County, Indiana.

Land Grant to William Perry Gard, 1851

In the 1870 and 1880 censuses, he was still working as farmer; he also served as a postmaster in Groomsville, at least in 1861. Farming didn’t always pay the bills. 

He, too, might have tinkered with inventions. Below is a 1882 patent under the name of W. P. Gard of Parson, Kansas, for a seed planter.

1882-GARD-WP-seed planter patent.JPG
1882 Patent by W. P. Gard

By the time of his death in 1900, he was considered to be a successful farmer, but he no longer lived on the same 160 acres in Tipton Co.

gard-william perry-1900-obit front
Obituary of William Perry Gard, 1900, Miami Co., Kansas

William Perry’s son, Willis D. Gard worked as a grocer and married Eva Kesterson in 1887. Eva’s father, George, and grandfather, Thomas, were also farmers. Thomas was given a land grant for 140 acres in 1856 in Tippacanoe, Co., Indiana.

1856-land grand-KESTERSON-thomas-tippacanoe co IN.jpg
Thomas Kesterson Land Grant, 1856

The Wells line of my mom’s family moved from Wisconsin, to South Dakota, to Montana, most working in either dairy farming or production. There’s a blog post coming soon, so more about this later.

The Educators

And, just like my dad’s family, a geographic move caused a change of occupation for the Gards. By 1896, Willis and Eva had moved to Los Angeles, which despite the legendary orange groves, isn’t a big farming center. Willis worked as a lumberman in 1900 and a foreman in 1910.

Their daughters, Vida, my Nanna Wells, and her sister, my Aunt Dola, both received their teaching credentials. They were strong, smart women, ahead of their time in their independence and level of education.

dola strong, vida wells
Dola Gard Strong and Vida Gard Wells

Nanna married Lawrence Wells, Nampie, whose mother was a teacher and father a dairyman. Nampie had a variety of jobs, at times a chauffeur, a guard at a power plant, and an auto mechanic.

armed men, guns, lawrence, security guards at power plant.jpg
Lawrence E. Wells, Power Station Gaurd

Nampie eventually settled on watch and jewelry repair. He had a little shop right next to his and Nanna’s house on West Beverly Blvd.

wells-lawrence elsworth-business card-watchmaker.jpg
Lawrence E. Wells’ Business Card

And now, I think I’ve made this post quite long enough! If you’ve soldiered through until now, thank you. Sadly, I have left so much untold. I have more stories to tell than time to tell them! 

‘Til next time.


52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks | Week 35: Back to School

I went to a tiny little grade school in my tiny little desert town.

inyokern school (2)
Inyokern Elementary School, circa 1960s

Four of my five siblings went there, too; the staff knew all about the Keene kids. I think I got a fair shake regardless.

Here are a few random, scattered, in-no-particular-order memories:

My oldest sister, Jeanne, graduated eighth grade as the only girl in her class of seven students.

jeanne, 8th grade graduation, inyokern elementary school, 1958.jpg
Jeanne and the boys, 1958

I am left-handed. I believe I was in second grade when my teacher tried to make me learn to write with my right hand. My mom told her to let me be. Thanks, Mom!

Barbara, 1963

I grew up in the age of the Cold War. Because we lived so close to a weapons testing center, we were told that if the United States were to be bombed, we’d be one of the first to get hit. So, we did practice bomb drills for years, hiding under our desks at the teacher’s direction. I’m sure that would have saved us.

Mom worked at the school as an office assistant and a play ground monitor. It’s odd that I don’t remember this.

I chipped one of my front teeth on the teeter-totter bar. The thick bar in the middle that supports the teeter-totter boards, where they pivot. We were doing twirls around the bar, and I slipped. I wasn’t very good at twirls.

I loved to jump out of the swings at the high point in my arc. There was no rubber mat to land on in those days. Oh no, we had gravel. We were tough kids. I remember landing on my knees one day. Months later, I found a pebble still embedded in my leg and picked it out.

We loved playing jacks and Chinese jump rope when we weren’t burning the backs of our legs on the metal slides, getting smacked in the face with a tether ball, or hit in the head during a fierce game of dodge ball. Like I said, we were tough kids…

We loved to jump over the bars on to the sand below. The bars were there to keep us from jumping off the porch. They only added to the fun.

In sixth grade science class, one of the boys brought in a rattlesnake, cooked, for us all to taste. For the curious, it tastes like chicken, dark meat.

The classmate who gave me my first kiss (a sweet little peck on the cheek), Dennis Johnson, went missing in Yellowstone National Park in 1966, the summer after we finished second grade. He was never found. I had dreams about him for years, scary dreams about what might have happened. It still haunts me. We were a tight-knit little community, and this was traumatic.

mr dial inyokern school
This was our principal, Mr. Dial, who I remember only vaguely, but kindly.  The little girl in the background could be me. Maybe. 

I attended Inyokern elementary only through sixth grade. For junior high, mine was one of the first classes that had to go ten miles across the valley to Ridgecrest. After being in such a small school for so long, it was a difficult change. Most of the kids in my class had been my school mates since we were in kindergarten. The middle school, on the other hand, was filled with students I didn’t know, the bus ride there and back was even longer than it had already been, and I felt lost.

don's graduation
1969: One of the last eighth-grade classes to graduate from Inyokern Elementary. My brother, Don, is on the right.

My best friend, Sarah, and I used to hide out during lunch in the library of James Monroe Middle School. It was safe, and the books afforded a nice escape from what felt overwhelming. I eventually adjusted, but I still have a soft spot in my heart for my little school in my little town.

‘Til next time.