52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks 2020 | Week 5: So Far Away

January 29- February 4

I have long wanted to both know and to write more about my French-Canadian ancestors. However, it seemed just too daunting with the sheer immensity of information available and the perceived language barrier. ( I do not speak French, having dropped out of my high school French class after only one week.)

I mean, where to even begin??? It felt as overwhelming as eating an elephant. Which apparently can be done.

One bite at a time.

And, so we begin.

In a land, so far, far away…

My ninth great-grandparents, through my father’s French-Canadian family, were Pierre Gagnon and his wife, Renee Roger. They farmed in a little village between the towns of Tourouvres and Ventrouze in the former province of Perche in France. Pierre’s father, Barnabe’ Gagnon, and his wife, Françoise Creste, my 10x great-grandparents, had purchased the property in 1565 from Gervais and Marion Roger.

perche france-By Milenioscuro - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0 httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindexphpcurid=84445326
Perch, France, Attributed to Milenioscuro, Wikipedia

Perche was just south of Normandy, a hilly and forested area in the 1600s.


Barnabe’ and Françoise had at least two sons, Olivier and Pierre.

About 1597, Pierre married Renee Roger, the daughter of the former owners of the family farm. Pierre and Renee had at least seven children.

Pierre was a plowman, in addition to owning an inn on his father’s property, the White Horse Inn. The inn was a well-known stopping place to sign contracts and make final arrangements before leaving for New France.


Sometime before 1635, Pierre passed away, leaving Renee a widow. That is the year that three Gagnon brothers, son Pierre, 23, Jean, 25, and Mathurin, 29, immigrated to the New World, . In addition to these three sons, a daughter, Marguerite, and her husband also left France for the New World sometime before 1640. It is also thought that their mother, Renee, immigrated at this time as well.

So, we have three generations at this point in the narrative:

  • 10x great-grandparents, Barnabe’ Gagnon and Françoise Crest (parents of Pierre)
  • 10x great-grandparents, Gervais Roger and Marion Roger (parents of Renee)
  • 9x great-grandparents,  Pierre Gagnon and Renee Roger
  • 8x great-grandparents???

So, if you’ve followed the story so far, which one of the children of Pierre and Renee who came to the New World are my 8x great-grandparents? Marguerite, Jean, Mathurin, or Pierre?

Well, there isn’t just one, dear reader. Nor two. I descend from three of their children: Marguerite, Jean, and Mathurin. And, to make things even more confusing, I descend from not one but two of Marguerite’s children!

Welcome to the tangled shrub that is a French-Canadian family tree!

But, I digress…

In summary, nearly an entire family uprooted themselves from where they had lived and farmed for generations. They ventured across a very wide ocean in rickety little wooden ship, using only the stars to navigate, trusting their very lives to their Creator and the captain’s wisdom and experience. I don’t know if I have that kind of courage.

In 1635, New France was a very desolate, empty, and cold place. Only a few French families had established themselves by this time, including the families of  Abraham Martin and Louis Hébert, also ancestors.

Once in Québec, the Gagnon brothers built a house in the Lower Town, on land granted them from the governor. By 1651, they had established a store in partnership with their sister Marguerite’s husband, Eloi Tavernier,  in the Rue Saint-Pierre, also in the Lower Town. They sold this business in 1668.

2019-10-01 15.49.45
The site of the Gagnon brothers’ store in the Lower Town of Quebec City, with a memorial plaque.

The brothers were not only successful businessmen, they were also farmers in the New World as they had been in the Old. They had bought land on the north bank of the St. Lawrence known as the Beaupré Shore. This area later became known as Château-Richer.

Cadastral_map_of_Quebec_city_region GAGNON,_1709
A map dated 1709, showing land owners. The red arrows indicate where the lands were located that were granted to the Gagnon brothers. There are other plots that were deeded from father to son.
2019-10-02 17.27.09
The beautiful Beaupré area of Québec, 2019

In Nouvelle-France, all the brothers eventually married. First, Jean married Marguerite Cochon in 1640. Then, Pierre married Marguerite Desvarieux September 14, 1642. And lastly, Mathurin married Françoise Boudeau in 1647. He was forty-one, and she was a young girl of thirteen, which I find rather disquieting, even though I understand it wasn’t that unusual for the time. Nevertheless…

Mathurin was perhaps the best known of the brothers. In addition to the store and his farm, he was also one of the first elected church wardens of the parish of Château-Richer. He and Françoise also had a full household, with an estimated fifteen children born to them, the last when he was seventy-one. In contrast, his brother, Pierre, had ten, while Jean lagged behind with only eight. Sadly of course, not all the children survived to adulthood, but the vast majority did, leaving a vast legacy of Gagnons in a new land, far, far away.

“Til next time.




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 1: Fresh Start

January 1-7

Well, hello there!

I bet you thought I’d forgotten all about this little blog. Be reassured, my few but faithful readers, I haven’t left it behind and moved on to other things.

Sadly though, other things squeezed it out of place there for a good while in 2019. And, quite frankly, I needed a little break from the schedule.

But, today is January 1, 2020, the start of a brand new year, and it’s all bright and shiny with new possibilities and adventures to discover.

And, once again, I’ve decided to participate in Amy Johnson Crow’s 53 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.  I successfully wrote 52 blog posts in 2018, mainly due to my compulsion to finish whatever I begin.

And, that was a very good thing, as I discovered all sorts of things about my family and even knocked down what appeared to be a pretty solid block wall.

I wasn’t idle in 2019, to be sure.  The Hubs and I bought and remodeled a rental house in the town where our daughter and her family live.  We took a few short trips. We remain close by my mother-in-law, who’s in a Memory Care Facility and had several serious falls. I continue to work and decided to transfer my base, which triggered the desire to relearn the all the German I have forgotten.

And, in between all those things, I have continued to collect more family memorabilia and unearth new information. So, I have quite the list things to write about.

While the structure of the 52 Ancestors project and blog prompts might seem rather confining, I found in 2018 that it forced me to think about family outside those ancestors with whom I was already familiar and comfortable. And, to make it even easier on myself, I have already made all 52 drafts with the blog prompts and their target dates.

So, here’s to 2020:  New trails to follow, more family to connect with, and stories to write.




Frohes Neujahr!

The Bureau of Contention

So, I’ve been sorting and scanning and filing, yada yada yada…

Are you tired of hearing about this yet???

However, in my defense, I keep coming across things that I didn’t know I had, which is the whole point of this exercise, right?

I was scanning a box of photos from my husband’s family this week, when I came across this photo:


It’s a small, 3×2″, black and white, lightly scratched photo.

And, it made me think, why a photo of chest of drawers?

Then I remembered the story.

I first have to give you a run-down of the characters in this saga.

Mary Morgan Garrett was my husband’s great-grandmother, daughter of James Morgan and Sally Hadley and wife of Edward Garrett.

Mary and Edward had four children:

  • Lewis Edward, my husband’s grandfather
  • (Lydia) Violet
  • George Gilbert (Chief)
  • Ferne

You only need to note two of the above names, Violet and Chief, brother and sister.

Are you still with me? Because I have to add another character to this story, Veda, wife of Chief and therefore sister-in-law to Violet.

Family lore is that Violet and Veda never really got along, and the bureau only exacerbated an already rocky relationship.

The history of the bureau is recorded in this letter below.

GARRETT-mary morgan-letter and history re chest of drawers (1)

GARRETT-mary morgan-letter and history re chest of drawers (2).jpg

GARRETT-mary morgan-letter and history re chest of drawers (3).jpg

It all seems so cut and dried and legal-looking, doesn’t it? So, what happened?

My husband remembers being told that after Chief died in 1980, his wife Veda became close with another family in town, eventually giving the bureau away to them.

And, like that, after more than 130 years, the bureau was no longer in the possession of the Garrett family. Violet apparently took such offense at this that she and Veda didn’t speak for years.

And, that, dear readers, is why I have a small, black and white photo of a cherry wood chest of drawers.

Til next time.

“A Girl’s Guide to Missiles”: A Review and Reflections

I recently read a Girl’s Guide to Missiles: Growing up in America’s Secret Desert, by Karen Piper, an autobiography of the author’s (mostly) pre- and teen years living in China Lake and Ridgecrest.

Photo Credit: Amazon

I was looking forward to hearing another perspective about growing up in this strange, isolated place. And, I did find it interesting to read about a places the author and I both knew, like John’s Pizza, Emmanuel Baptist Church, or the base swimming pool.

However, the story quickly veered off into more of a memoir of her college and young adult years and the conflict she felt over her parents’ and her own involvement in the military build-up during the Reagan years. Meh…

The book did, however, get me thinking about the unique experiences of my childhood growing up in the same place:

  • The constant sound of sonic booms in the air.
  • Seeing the poofs of dark gray smoke rising from the desert floor, not knowing if it was yet another Navy jet crash or just another explosion.
  • Pens, mechanical pencils, and blankets in our house were pretty much all stamped, “Property of the US Government.”
  • My brothers and I would sometimes, as Pooh and Christopher Robin would say, “go on an explore.”  If we went east, past the railroad tracks, we might easily wonder into restricted military space, as there were no fences out there. Unexploded ordinance could be stumbled upon. A low-flying jet could drop a bomb at any time. Yikes.

How did we end up here anyway?

In 1946, my dad was fresh out of the Army and needed a job to provide for his growing family. A friend had already found employment at China Lake, and he encouraged my dad to apply. Dad got a job as a pipe fitter, as a civil servant, which is what non-military government employees were called.

Back in 1942, he had been employed at a shipping company as a steam fitter, a work experience which he carried over to China Lake, also known as NOTS (Naval Ordinance Testing Station). His work was making the water cooling systems for rocket launchers. Or that was what we were told…

1949-efficiency rating-KEENE-charles jr- NOTS CA
Dad’s work evaluation from 1949, stating his position, Pipefitter, and department, Rockets & Explosives.

My parents packed up their belongings and their children and drove three hours north of Los Angeles to a very rudimentary community in the middle of pretty much nowhere.

Robert and Jeanne, 1946, trailer house at China Lake Ct., Inyokern
My parents’ first home on the desert.

They eventually moved into a “real” house, a duplex on the base.

bula and charles' home in NOTS bse inyokern, 8-47
My parents’ duplex at NOTS.

They soon outgrew the duplex and bought an acre across the valley, out by Inyokern. They built a house, raised animals and vegetables, and expanded their family to six children.

roof on
Our Inyokern house in the first stages.

As you can see, there wasn’t much out there. Accordingly, that meant that a lot of our life’s activities remained either on the base or in Ridgecrest, the town that grew up just outside the military border.

I remember:

  • Community ice cream socials on the cool, grassy grounds of the base chapel, where my sister married a navy sailor.
  • Having junior high PE swimming lessons in the huge, indoor, Olympic-sized base pool.
  • My mom shopping in the base commissary.
  • Working one summer in the base library, surrounded by books and the sweet, sweet comfort of air conditioning. Best job ever…

My high school, Sherman E. Burroughs, edged right up to the base border. Between the base and the school was a tall chain-link fence. And, right across from the tennis courts and the football field was a gate, with an armed guard. The kids who lived on the base had passes that allowed them access to the school without having to go all the way around through the main gate.

It was at this gate where I would meet my dad after track practice. He would be waiting in the parking area in his green Datsun pickup on the base side of the fence. I didn’t have a pass, but Dad did, and the guard knew who he was. I always envied the base kids a bit, as they could just walk to school. I had a ten-mile bus ride. Without air conditioning…

1950-LARK missile-KEENE-charles jr-CA (1).jpg

Dad retired very soon after I married in 1978. He and Mom moved up to Nevada, as the valley was getting “too crowded.”

In retrospect, growing up in America’s Secret Desert seems, even to me, to be quirky and interesting. It was, in actuality, hot, dusty, boring, and lonely.

But, then again, I didn’t work in Rockets & Explosives…

‘Til next time.




Pedigree Collapse, or Why My Brain Hurts: Pt. 2

Once again, my desk is awash in sticky notes.

I’m working on the BREED sub-folder today, one I had put off, as I knew it was likely to be a brain-buster. And, it is.

I found this little tidbit on a scanned document from a family history given to me by my Aunt Gwen.

There are quite a few typos in this note, but I think you can get the gist of it.

breed family history 3-1

If you remember from my last post, I mentioned that Sarah (Hood) Bassett was my 6x great-grandmother.

What I didn’t realize until reading this note is that her younger sister, Anna (Hood) Breed is my 5x great-grandmother!

And, it’s even more convoluted than that… Hang on; it’s gonna get bumpy.

Sarah and Anna Hood were the daughters of Richard Hood and Mary Newhall Hood. Sarah married into the Bassett family, while her sister Anna married into the Breeds.

Easy so far, right?


Now, Sarah and William, and Anna and Samuel, begin to have children, as married folks in New England did.


And, Ruth Bassett and Benjamin Breed grew up and got married, too, as people do…


Oh, dear; what have we here? Both Ruth and Benjamin married into the Allen family.

And, not different branches of that family. Oh, no; that would be too simple.


Ruth Allen, wife of Benjamin Breed, was the daughter of Ruth and Abraham Allen, Benjamin’s first cousin and her husband. So, it turns out, Ruth Allen and Benjamin Breed are first cousins, once removed.

Benjamin’s grandparents and Ruth great-grandparents are the same people: Richard Hood and Mary Newhall.

And, that’s why the Hood sisters aren’t both either 6x or 5x great-grandmothers, but one generation different from each other in relationship to me.

Now, let’s see where we go from here, shall we?


Ruth and Benjamin get to work and begin having children, including a son, Abraham. Abraham grows up and marries Sarah Bassett.

Bassett. There’s that name again. And, yes, it’s our Bassetts.


Sarah Hood and William Bassett had a son named also William, sister to Ruth Bassett. William married Rebecca Berry. They had a son named Joseph, who married Eunice Hacker.

Joseph and Eunice had a daughter named Sarah Bassett.

Yes, the same Sarah Bassett who married Abraham Breed. Sarah and Abraham were second cousins, having the same great-grandparents, Sarah and William Bassett.


Well, now. That’s a nice, tidy family tree, isn’t it???

Endogomy for the win!

I’m sure that there are more tangled branches on this tree, but I will tackle them another day.

‘Til next time.


It Must Have Been All Too Much for Him

I have been a ‘man with a plan these past few weeks. I’ve cleared off my computer desktop and emptied my download folder, except for photos. I’m planning on tackling the photos in a separate tear through my digital world.

Today, I’m working in my Genealogy folder. I’ve reorganized it to make it much easier to navigate, based on what I learned in a webinar that I watched last week featuring Cyndi Ingle, of Cyndi’s List.

I’ve made folders for each married couple, using numbers for generations in the folder name, so they are automatically sorted into chronological order. It makes it SO much easier to find the right place to move a file to.

Here’s a quick little example before your eyes roll too far to the back of your head:


Now, doesn’t that look like I have my stuff together?

Don’t be fooled; it’s a work in progress.

But, in that progress today, I came across a document that made me gasp.

It was a death certificate. And, I have a lot of those. And, to be honest, I’m becoming a bit hardened to yet another child in a family who died. So, death certificates or notices don’t usually bring about that reaction from me.

But, this one did.

1922-death certificate-garrett-arthur-unionville-putnam co-mo

Do you see it, too?

Cause of death: Gun shot wound inflicted by own hand with … intent.

Arthur Garrett was a great-great uncle of my husband, brother to Edward Garrett, great-grandfather of my husband.

Arthur was born January 17, 1860, in Lockport, Illinois, son of William John Garrett and Isabella Kissack, immigrants from Isle of Man. He was the fourth son of the couple, but only the second to survive infancy. Their first two boys, William and George, both passed away as toddlers.

Arthur was working in a fence factory by the time of the 1880 census, when he was about 20. He was still living with his parents and siblings in Joliet, Illinois.

He married Josephine Coop in 1896, and their son, Gilbert Charles was born in December the same year.

In 1900, Arthur was living in the household of his brother, Edward, my husband’s great-great grandfather in Liberty Township, Missouri. He gave his occupation as farmer, claimed he was married, and that he had been so for four years.

But, Josephine wasn’t living in the same household.

I found her living with her parents, John and Susanah Coop, and her little boy Gilbert Charles in Unionville, Missouri.

By 1910, Arthur and Josephine were living together with Gilbert Charles on their own, mortgage-free farm in Wilson Township, Missouri.

In 1920, Arthur and Josephine were living in Union Township, Missouri, owning their own farm once again. Gilbert Charles has apparently grown up and left the nest.

Sadness came when Josephine passed away May 19, 1921. She was 64.

Now, did you note the death date for Arthur? May 26, 1922.

I’ve seen it over and over again; one spouse passes away and, all too often, the other doesn’t live very much longer. But, Arthur’s circumstances are very, very different.

He died by his own hand almost a year to the day of Josephine’s passing.

I don’t think that’s a coincidence… 

It’s a guess, and only a guess, but I imagine that his sadness was just too much for him to bear. I’d love to know the whole story.

’til next time.





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 49: Winter

As I’ve mentioned here before, I grew up on the California desert.

The desert stereotype is that it is hot, always. But, that’s not entirely the whole story.

Yes, summer is beastly; fall and spring can actually be nice. Occasionally.

And, then there’s winter. Which can be lovely on the desert as well; I have lots of photos from Christmas Day where we are wearing shorts and short-sleeved shirts and the doors are open.

1969, christmas
Christmas Day, 1969

But, the winter nights can be icy cold. There’s no steel and asphalt to hold in the heat as in the cities, so the temperature can drop quickly.

Occasionally, just occasionally, we would get snow. The snowstorms came more often and were heavier when I was younger; I don’t remember many in my teen years.

inyokern, with dog, i remember this dog!
Winter, 1959


inyokern snow 1961 (3)
Winter, 1961


1974 snow
Winter, 1974


looking north
Winter, 1976


I don’t have strong memories of winter as I do summer. Summer is literally burned into by brain. I think I’d appreciate the beauty of winter much more now…

‘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!