Blue moon rising

A blue moon rose for me two years ago, prompting me to write a post called “Once in a blue moon” about two serendipitous events. One instance concerned my research to find the full story of Kenneth Maurer’s 1951 axe murder of his family, an event which took place in my husband’s early childhood home just before his parents bought the property. The serendipity that led me to those details has again come knocking!

When my phone rang a few days ago, I hesitated to answer because I didn’t recognize the name or number. But when the caller began her message, I jumped to answer: she said she’s related to the Maurer family, had spent several weeks tracking me down, and wondered if I would share my research into the circumstances of the murder! Of course I would, and I enjoyed almost an hour of conversation with her, learning more stories about that part of the family. I’ve encouraged her to write it all down, for her family if not for anyone else. It is, after all, her story to tell, not mine.

Within thirty-six hours, the blue moon was still shining, and serendipity didn’t knock again, it came walking in the door!

For years my son and I have been trying to find the details of the fire that destroyed my grandfather Rex O. Church’s hay and livestock barns. We knew it happened sometime in the 1920s, but couldn’t find any more specific information, and anyone there at the time has passed on. Even the local fire department’s historian had no information on the fire. I put the research aside to focus on more productive things.

My father Ambrose and his brother Cony Church in front of the barns a few years before the fire.

My son, however, fortified with coffee and homemade English muffins on a recent Saturday morning, called me to look at something he’d found online: a Biddeford, Maine newspaper squib dated November 15, 1923 about that fire! With that information, off we went to the Maine State Library to check the microfilm of Augusta’s newspaper on that date, the Daily Kennebec Journal, and found exactly the report we’d been seeking for years.

It was a devastating fire for the family, one from which they never really recovered. The loss of eighteen full-blooded, registered cattle was a disaster for Rex O. Church and Sons’ dairy business. The day after the fire, November 16, the newspaper reported that the New England Milk Producers Association had announced that the price of milk “must go down” in order to remain competitive, giving Rex Church less revenue to help recovery.

A few short years later, the eldest son, Cony, would die at age 17 from complications of scarlet fever, and the Great Depression would begin, making life even harder to bear. Through their ensuing struggles, though, the family did manage to rebuild one barn (although farther away from the house!) and the herd of cattle. The business became Rex O. Church Agricultural Implements, and Beech Hill Dairy, providing milk to the local H.P. Hood dairy.

Apparently when a blue moon shines on me, it brings serendipity in pairs!

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.

13 thoughts on “Blue moon rising

  1. Ms.Doerr – My 2nd cousin 6X removed, Ebenezer Church, was b. 1742 Barrington, NH and d.1810 Gardiner, ME. Just curious, do you know if he connects to your Church family?

    1. Hi Jeanne! Yes, Ebenezer Church b 1742 is my 3rd cousin 6x removed. I don’t know anything about him, but this is a nudge I’ll have to follow.

  2. When I hear comments about “The Good Old days,” I often think they should be required to read a full year of a newspapers from when their forebearers lived. This is a good example of that feeling. Thank You for Posting this Jan Doerr

    1. I’m wondering how far you’ve traced your surname CHURCH line. My 4th great grandmother, Charity (Church) Tasker, born 1761, Barrington/Madbury, NH, died 1684 probably Cornish, NH. Her father, Jonathan Church, born 1708, Dover, NH, died 1774, Dover, NH. His father, John Church, born 1668, Salisbury, MA, killed by Indians before 5 Dec 1711, Dover, NH. His father, John Church senior, born 1637, Watertown, MA, killed and scalped by Indians 6 May 1696, Dover, NH. His father, Garrett Church, born 1611, England, died Oct 1662 Watertown, MA.

      1. Hi Jennifer! Garrett Church b 1611 in England is my 8th g-grandfather through his son David. I believe his line goes back another 10 generations to John At Church, 1335-1396, in Essex, England. My restless line moved from MA to CT to VT before rooting themselves in Maine sometime before 1782.

    2. I heartily agree! I haven’t read an entire year from Jan 1 to Dec 31, but several weeks of one decade had the same effect. My ggf, btw, founded our town’s first dairy and fire in the barns was always a threat. He never lost an entire herd, but even the few he did lose in one fire put a dent in milk production until he could replace them.

      Never knowing if a new baby wouldn’t be lost to a now-preventable disease before its first or second birthday must’ve been stressful. More often than not, an infected cut or a broken arm or leg was a death sentence.

      And imagine the hassle of having to place perishable food in a bucket, lowering it into the well in the back yard after the town’s ice house ran out of ice just as summer arrived, then having to haul the bucket up to retrieve whatever was needed for the next meal. Now our refrigerators have ice and ice water dispensers in the door to eliminate the inconvenience of having to open it.

      Relieving one’s self required a trip to the outhouse a dozen yards from the back door during the day and *maybe* at night a chamber pot, which some family member had to empty the next morning.

      Bathing required heating many pots of water on the cook stove in the kitchen fueled by wood, which had to be chopped, stacked and then brought inside an armful at a time. Regular visits to the nearest swimming hole during the summer were as much for hygiene as recreation.

      Wash day was slightly easier than bathing, as the wash tub could be placed over a fire pit near the well, shortening the distance water had to be carried. But making soap for the household probably negated the “covenience” of the location of the wash tub.

      Yes, those certainly were the “good old days”, as the time we live in now will be in 50 or 100 years.

      1. My mother always said “The only people who call them the ‘good old days’ are those who didn’t live through them.”

      2. I had decided a long time ago when I visited my Grandparents farm that I was not a good candidate for visitng an outhouse and as much as I loved the Grandparents, was always happy to get back to our comfy home with indoor facilities. t

        1. usandall, outhouses were more accepting of outhouses if a person grew up with them even after indoor plumbing became common. But there were actually older people who preferred the little shack out back because they believed an indoor bathroom was “unsanitary”! In fact, an aunt who’d waited years to get one couldn’t demolish the detested “shack” until after her husband’s mother expired because she refused to set foot in the new room. Even insisted on my aunt heating water to fill the same metal tub in the kitchen she’d always bathed in!

          1. Sorry, I meant “people were more accepting of outhouses if they’d grown up with them…”

          2. It’s true whatever a person grows up with is more familiar so I guess I had my foot in both worlds a little bit so I knew which I preferred. But have marveled at the term “Good Old Days,” many times and loved those who lived in them but knew I wouldn’t have been good at it.

  3. Jan, when my future dairyman ggf arrived in Kansas from northern England, the necessity to feed a family of five required he work for a year or two in the coal mines in Osage City, as he’d done briefly after he and my ggm married. I suspected he learned about the employment opportunities in Osage from ads in the Cumberland Gazette, but could find none in its online archives. (However, I did find ads for the discounted passage and schedules for winter sailings of the very ship that brought the family to America!)

    But after perusing several months of the Osage paper for their year of arrival on Newspapers.com, I was rewarded with a front page almost entirely devoted to the wonders of the town, which included an article about the success of ads placed in English papers inviting Brits with coal mining experience who wished to emigrate to “please” consider Osage as their new home on this side of the Pond.

    So that’s how I came to be born in Kansas and not upstate New York where several of Great-grandma’s siblings who’d emigrated earlier had settled, one of whom even established a dairy soon after arriving. Sigh…

Leave a Reply