All posts by 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.

Tree begone

As a custodian of Our Old House, I’m always conscious of how to maintain it and still make twenty-first-century changes without drastically altering or (gasp) destroying the historic integrity of the property. Making those decisions is not always easy, especially when there is clearly no choice in the matter. Cue the drafty ancient windows, the continually-aging floorboards, the old garage with the “waving roof,” and the 90-foot rotting maple trees.

We still deal with the windows and the floors (not a level inch anywhere in this house!), but the garage is gone, and so are the trees, those huge maple trees that graced the front of the property, blocking dust, noise, snow, wind, and the hot summer sun while shading the front rooms. They provided sap for maple syrup and sugar for even the earliest generations of my family, bushels of leaves for mulch, and perches for multiple varieties of birds. Continue reading Tree begone

A Christmas anachronism

Like so many people during this season, I’ve been (slowly) decorating Our Old House for Christmas. As I arranged the mini-“Dickens Village” on the kitchen hearth today, I realized that it was more than a little anachronistic. This old Maine farmhouse, built in 1788/89 by American Patriots, would never have seen such a British or Victorian display of Christmas! Continue reading A Christmas anachronism

Pastel portraits

We all have them, those ancestors who seem to fade into the long-ago background of family history. Perhaps they’re not even our relatives, just names heard frequently but without context, or in a wedding guest book, a newspaper column, or in an obituary. The figures are distinguishable, but so unfamiliar that they are blurred whether pastel in color or in sepia or gray. Continue reading Pastel portraits

Here be dragons

If Our Old House builder, Asa Williams, had recently awakened from his 201-year eternal sleep, he would have seen, with fascinated but utter panic, the thunder of dragons that crawled up my driveway. (I think the blacksmith in Asa would find any fire-breathing dragons very useful … eventually.) As a patriot and devout Christian, he might have thought that Satan disguised as  King George had unleashed his “great red dragon” on him personally. Continue reading Here be dragons

Underwear Days

Apple rights

There are Remembering Days when we remember stories about family lives for the benefit of our descendants. There are Researching Days when we hunt for clues to our ancestors’ lives and their stories. And there are Underwear Days, when Remembering and Researching get tangled up in a pile on the floor, just like those mornings when you can’t get your feet out of your underwear, lose your balance, and fall over (especially when some jokester flings open the bedroom door and yells “freeze, sucker!!”). Underwear Days. Continue reading Underwear Days

Nostalgia

I recently remarked to Son how it seemed to me that as I age my family history research becomes more like nostalgia, a walk down Memory Lane, and increasingly frequent but random reminiscences. Eschewing the expected age jokes, Son promptly provided me with several columns in the Maine Farmer newspaper written between October 1876 and May 1877 by one “D.C.” and entitled “Random Thoughts and Recollections.” D.C. wrote more than ten columns in the slightly purple style of the times about his memories of people, places, and events, a gold mine of information about places and people in the 1820s and 1830s, Augusta and Hallowell, Maine in particular. Continue reading Nostalgia

Mice tracks

While we at Our Old House maintain a certain amount of “isolation” during this pandemic, we have walked or snowshoed our property for exercise, noting as we passed the tracks the local wildlife has made. Coyotes, deer, rabbits, bobcats, foxes, and others roam our “back forty.” I began to think about the same tracks Our Old House builder Asa Williams would have encountered in the late eighteenth century, along with the occasional bear or wolf, hopefully not in the front yard. Grizzlies on the lawn? No thanks! Continue reading Mice tracks

He said. She said

Click on images to expand them.

At our dinner table recently, talk turned to a discussion of family stories, specifically the story that our great great-great-great-grandfather, George Read, refused to paint his chimneys white in the English style because he was so opposed to British oppression. Son, He of the Flypaper Mind (everything sticks to it!), challenged the origin of the tale, asking “How do you know that? Do we have any documents he wrote about it, or his diary, for instance?” At something of a loss given his significant lack of respect for The Family Story, I turned to Husband, a retired attorney, for his input and support, but got the legal definition of “hearsay” instead. Continue reading He said. She said

‘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. Continue reading ‘If only you wouldn’t explain’