'If only you wouldn't explain'

"I might understand if only you wouldn’t explain."[1]

The contours of this year’s two hundredth anniversary of Maine’s statehood have been undeniably unexpected. Most anniversary celebrations here were cancelled or postponed, leaving most Mainers “celebrating” from the comfort of their homes. I began to think about the convergence of ancestral factors in my family history, Spanish Flu and Covid-19 aside.

My cousin Asa Williams, the builder of Our Old House, came to Maine about the same time and from a nearby Massachusetts town as my great-great-great-great-grandfather George Read, with their wives (who were third cousins and stepsisters), settling at the Fort Western Settlement, the area’s trading post, bank, and social venue, the center of the tiny community’s daily life. Both were active in the community, Asa as a meeting house founder, tythingman, and the town’s sealer of leather, and George in local politics and education. Now I am on the Old Fort Western Boards of Trustees and Directors. The more I try to leave, the more I’m bound to stay. The farther away I travelled, the closer I got to home. Tell me my ancestors don’t influence my life!

These two ancestors provided the foundation for generations of family to prosper here. Even the building of Our Old House is part of the convergence. Asa built initially a half-cape-style structure, but about 1820, the year of statehood, or shortly thereafter his son, Asa, added the front Federal-Style section, expanding the house by four rooms (with closets!) and a wide front hall. Asa Sr. died in July that year, living just long enough to see statehood. I’ve always thought that his son added the front rooms to provide for his mother and unmarried sisters pursuant to his father’s will.

This year’s four hundredth anniversary of the Mayflower also came to mind. I discovered that apparently I descend from Mayflower passenger John Howland on both paternal and maternal sides, from Desire Howland, his daughter, to his great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter, Harriet Sturgis Lee, my paternal great-great-grandmother, and then from his daughter Ruth Howland to his great-great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter Frances Hall McLeod, my maternal great-grandmother. I think it is interesting that my ancestors on both sides, descendants of Pilgrim John Howland, came to Maine from the same Boston areas, not necessarily knowing each other, but converging in ... me.

Now that I understand that my family history has come full circle, I’m left with one unanswerable question:

Was any of it random?


[1] “Mummy, I think I might understand if only you wouldn't explain.” ― Dorothy L. Sayers, The Wimsey Papers.

Jan Doerr

About Jan Doerr

Jan Doerr received a B.A. degree in Sociology/Secondary Education from the University of New Hampshire, and spent a long career in the legal profession while researching her family history. She has recently written and published articles for WBUR.org’s Cognoscenti blog: “Labor of Love: Preserving a 226-Year-Old Family Home and Preparing to Let It Go” and “The Value of Family Heirlooms in a Digital Age.” Jan currently lives with her attorney husband in Augusta, Maine, where she serves two Siamese cats and spends all her retirement money propping up a really old house.View all posts by Jan Doerr