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. Formerly a newsletter and book editor in New York City and Salem, Oregon, she currently coordinates the college and career program at her local high school, and holds a B.A. from the University of Oregon.

An interesting dinner party

Lieut. Colonel Richard Cary by Charles Willson Peale, 1776, wearing the green sash denoting his service as aide de camp to George Washington.

A previous post about former President John Quincy Adams and his son visiting Nantucket listed their dining partners at a meal in the tiny village of Siasconset, on the eastern edge of the island. Most were family members of the inn’s proprietress, Betsey Cary, and all but one could conclusively be identified as island residents or relatives. The only nebulous person (and he would really love that term!) was R. T. Paine. After going down various rabbit holes trying to determine who he was, I gave up … but editor Scott Steward came up with a likely candidate: Robert Treat Paine (1803–1885).

In his own right, this gentleman was an attorney of some prominence, with a passion for astronomy and meteorology; at his death he left an “astronomical” endowment to Harvard for that purpose. His own accomplishments, however, were overshadowed by those of his father, a brilliant poet[1] … and most especially by the grandfather for whom he was named. Continue reading An interesting dinner party

“Mother Cary”

“Mother Cary” (Betsey Swain Cary) as drawn in 1860 by David Hunter Strother under his nom de plume “Porte Crayon.”

A while back, I wrote about the hotel in Marshalltown, Iowa run by my great-great-great-grandparents, which I like to fantasize might have been called “Hotel California.” The Shaws were not the only branch of my family to provide public accommodations.

After her husband[1] died in China in 1812, Betsey (Swain) Cary[2] operated a hotel called Washington House on Nantucket’s Main Street; her lodging book is in the collections of the Nantucket Historical Association, and lists guests from 1816 through 1829. On 22 August 1831, she sold Washington House to her brother-in-law, my great-great-great-great-grandfather,[3] who turned day-to-day operations over to the town sheriff, Elisha Starbuck.[4] Continue reading “Mother Cary”

Bone of my bones

My aunt, grandfather, and father at the grave of Simon Athearn.

We’ve just been through Halloween, All Souls Day, and Dia de los Muertos, when society in general gives thought to skeletons, graveyards, and spirits of the departed. But whereas most folks have now packed away their plastic tombstones and ghost lights, we genealogists continue to haunt cemeteries in search of historic graves, and track down strangers whose living flesh matches that of our dead ancestors.

Long before the secrets of DNA were unlocked, humans have sensed the power in otherwise lifeless bones. Traditional Polynesian culture speaks of mana – spiritual energy – residing in bones, and relics have been treasured for centuries as a way of coming close to the holiness of Christian saints. Even elephants are known to caress the tusks and bones of their dead, somehow able to recognize the remains of elephants they’ve known in life. Continue reading Bone of my bones

Hotel California

The extended Hawley family.

Early in my genealogical research, I noticed that one of my great-great-grandfathers, Cicero Hawley,[1] was enumerated in 1870 on the same page as the family of his future wife. That piqued my curiosity. Checking out the census form more carefully, I saw that he and his brother James were staying at a Marshalltown, Iowa, hotel run by Ephraim[2] and Emeline Shaw.[3] The Shaws had a 23-year-old daughter[4] (the same age as Cicero) who was an artist, but it was their 17-year-old daughter Belle[5] (a school teacher) who captured his heart. Continue reading Hotel California

Of books and alligator lizards

In my capacity as college and career coordinator at my local high school, I recently attended a breakfast hosted by CalTech, Pomona, Yale, and MIT. I got lots of great information for my students, but I especially enjoyed it because I have connections (however slight) to each of these institutions.

Not long after I arrived in England following my own college graduation, a handsome young man and I exchanged glances on a train between Bath and London. We weren’t able to actually speak until we disembarked from the train, when I discovered that Hugh (the only name I learned) was going to begin doctoral studies at CalTech in two weeks. Who knows? If not for his imminent departure, he might have become my husband and the father of my children. Continue reading Of books and alligator lizards

War stories

Jerry and Merry Athearn and their friends on board the S.S. President Grant.

A previous Vita Brevis post featured the story of how my grandfather[1] went to sea after college and eventually became a station master for Pan Am’s flying boat operations in the South Pacific. It concluded with my family dropped off in Gladstone, Australia, after being evacuated from Noumea, New Caledonia, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. At least a couple of folks wondered what happened to them after that, so here’s the rest of the story, plus a contemporary epilogue. Continue reading War stories

An ancestral secret

Nancy Dickerson Welch

A recent quiz in The Weekly Genealogist asked readers to share the nature of any secrets they’d uncovered about their ancestors. More than one third of respondents indicated that they had not uncovered any secrets – to which I say, “Hah! You just haven’t discovered them!” Of those who had uncovered ancestral secrets, the greatest number had to do with hidden marriages.

I suspect that most hidden marriages have been contracted by relatives who might be characterized as “the usual suspects”: those folks in every family who provide a long list of colorful anecdotes. Continue reading An ancestral secret

Stranger than fiction

The Whitaker family in 1930.

Is truth really stranger than fiction? I’ll let you be the judge. Out of the blue, I received a lengthy message this summer from a woman in Phoenix, through ancestry.com. Here’s an abridged version:

“Hello. Based on your family tree, I have a photo album that might be of interest to you. It was rescued from a dumpster, and I’ve had it in excess of 25 years without doing anything with it. Continue reading Stranger than fiction

Pacific Clipper

Pan American Airlines routes in December 1941. Courtesy of the Pan Am Historical Foundation (panam.org)

As my grandfather[1] prepared to graduate from college, he was ready to cast off academics and explore the world instead of following his father into a law career. Generations of his sea-faring family had literally charted the way, and the possibilities beckoned to him every time he gazed out the windows of his home towards San Francisco’s (then bridgeless) Golden Gate.

He signed on as an ordinary seaman aboard the Hollywood, a World War I-era freighter in McCormick Steamship Company’s Pacific-Argentine-Brazil Line, and his salary was $45 a month plus room and board … such as it was. Continue reading Pacific Clipper