All posts by Pamela Athearn Filbert

Pamela Athearn Filbert

About Pamela Athearn Filbert

Pamela Athearn Filbert was born in Berkeley, California, but considers herself a “native Oregonian born in exile,” since her maternal great-great-grandparents arrived via the Oregon Trail, and she herself moved to Oregon well before her second birthday. She met her husband (an actual native Oregonian whose parents lived two blocks from hers in Berkeley) in London, England. She holds a B.A. from the University of Oregon, and has worked as a newsletter and book editor in New York City and Salem, Oregon; she was most recently the college and career program coordinator at her local high school.

The fabric is all

It has been a while since I’ve written an installment about the Rev. Thomas Cary’s diary. Indeed, it has been a while since I’ve written a post about anything, since I’ve been on a five-week trip with my husband along the East Coast as part of his sabbatical. Now I’m back and have loads of great new stuff to share!

The first is my pilgrimage to the Chelsea, Massachusetts, house that Thomas wrote of staying in regularly sometime after his mother’s death. Continue reading The fabric is all

More fires

Stone sculptures purchased on vacation in British Columbia were the only items in my father’s house to (mostly) survive the October 1991 Oakland Fire.

Just after 5:30 a.m., last October 9, I got a text from my half-sister letting me know that she and her children were safe at her mother’s house, but that her own home just outside Santa Rosa, California, had very likely burned. She’d awakened after midnight to the smell of smoke, and upon investigation discovered that wildfire was below her hill. Throwing on clothes, she and her kids evacuated down their winding, country road, as she blasted her car horn all the way down to alert neighbors of the danger. It appeared that Jennifer had become the one in our generation to be tapped by the finger of our family curse. Continue reading More fires

Great fires

James Athearn’s Washington House hotel on fire. Photo courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association, image 1896.0128.001.

In my last Vita Brevis post, I mentioned that an enormous wild fire had swept through the area where my maternal grandmother’s family has farmed for more than a century. A distant cousin told me, “The fire is total devastation for many: the total loss of this year’s crop, homes, combines, and equipment. For us it could have been much worse. We lost no equipment or buildings, only about 500 acres of wheat.” A tragic loss of the best crop folks could remember in many, many years. Continue reading Great fires

Contributing citizens

Several years ago my mother gave me a family picture that is unlike most family pictures; in fact, without the identifying information on the back, it doesn’t seem to be a family picture at all. Thank goodness for the label, which gives a ton of information, not only about the location, date, and people, but also about farming practices at the time. Continue reading Contributing citizens

Finding peace

Empty copper tubes mark spots where ceramic containers of ashes have been removed to be reunited with families. The original Oregon State Insane Asylum building is visible in the background.

If you do family history long and broadly enough (searching out great-great-aunts and fifth cousins, as well as your direct ancestors), you’re sure to find them: family members whose census or burial records indicate that they were living in a state hospital or similar institution. Continue reading Finding peace

An extended part of the family

Manuel Garfias. Courtesy of the University of Southern California Libraries and the California Historical Society

Are godparents part of one’s family? The church I grew up in doesn’t “do” godparents, so I don’t have any first-hand experience, but I know that my mother-in-law always enjoyed spending time with her godfather and considered him an extended part of the family. I’ve also known a couple of women who were raised by their godparents following the death of their parents.

Not too long after I discovered the true identity of my great-great-grandmother, Susana Elizalde (aka Susan Goodrich), I was looking at her family’s church records via the Huntington Library’s Early California Population Project. This resource is a little tricky to use. 1) It transcribes names exactly as they appear in the records, and Spanish spelling was very non-standard during this period. 2) The records make use of many boxes (“ego’s surname,” “ego’s Spanish name,” “ego’s native name,” “officiant’s name,” etc.) to standardize freeform records, and this doesn’t always work very well. Continue reading An extended part of the family

I left my ship in San Francisco

My lovely step-mother, Joanne Athearn, checking out the diorama of the Niantic in her beached state.

In my last post for Vita Brevis, I shared a picture of “Cleaveland House” on Martha’s Vineyard, which is currently owned and inhabited by a direct descendant of James Athearn, the man who built it. One reader asked, “How did ‘Cleaveland House’ get its name? Is there any association with the descendants of Massachusetts Colonist Moses1 Cleveland?”

The house is named for Athearn’s great-great-grandson, Capt. James Cleaveland, who bought the house about a century after its construction and substantially renovated it. Its next major renovation came about a century after that, when it finally acquired modern amenities such as indoor plumbing! Continue reading I left my ship in San Francisco

A desirable residence

“Cleaveland House,” built for James Athearn and inhabited by George and Hepsibah (Hussey) Athearn.

Don’t you love how certain themes seem to pop up and swirl around all at one time? The very definition of serendipity! A couple of days ago, while reading an article online about a completely different topic, my eye spied an article titled “Slave trader’s home, slum, des res: the stories of one house raise restless ghosts.”[1]

I’ll bet that most family historians would be interested in this article – as well as the television mini-series it describes, which is sadly not generally available to American viewers. For me personally, the title immediately put me in mind of my ancestor George Athearn, although in this particular case the “slave trader” turned out to have been a Victorian trader of cotton produced by slaves. Continue reading A desirable residence

Kilauea days

A luridly-tinted photograph taken by Oscar McBride in October 1918 – almost exactly a century ago.

A couple of weeks ago, as I was talking with a young woman at the school where I work, she mentioned that she had lived on the Big Island of Hawaii until last year. In fact, her home was in Leilani Estates, where Kilauea volcano is now pumping out fountains of molten lava! I have relatives who currently live on the island (many miles to the north), but the family member I most connect with Kilauea is my great-great-uncle, Oscar McBride: my mother’s father’s mother’s brother.

During the First World War, Uncle Oscar traveled to the Hawaiian Islands. I knew that somewhere I had a postcard toasted by him at Kilauea – toasting postcards over volcanoes evidently being a popular pastime in those days. Continue reading Kilauea days

Tea with Granny

The Rev. Thomas Cary by John Singleton Copley. He is wearing a blue silk banyan, an “at home” garment popular with eighteenth-century gentlemen. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Well, I have not yet finished the blue banyan that I promised my husband back in February, but the death and funeral of former First Lady Barbara Bush have caused me to lay aside that work to write about some important deaths recorded in the diary of the Rev. Thomas Cary – my (half) first cousin six times removed. In my previous post, I finished with Thomas traveling home to Charlestown, Massachusetts, just in time for his seventeenth birthday on 7 October 1762, but a celebration was not the purpose of his trip.

In fact, the only thing written on that date was “Thanksgiving Day.” The reason for his trip was that his mother was gravely ill; the date following his birthday he recorded these few words: “My mother died.” Five days later (which was an exceedingly long delay for the period), he wrote simply, “My mother was buried.” Continue reading Tea with Granny