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.

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

The diary in question

The Rev. Thomas Cary posed for this portrait by John Singleton Copley around 1770, shortly after he came into his inheritance. He is wearing a blue silk banyan, an “at home” garment popular with eighteenth-century gentlemen. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

When I attended a workshop in Seattle put on by NEHGS, Lindsay Fulton told attendees that one can often find useful genealogical tidbits in old diaries, especially those written by public figures in a community. She recommended searching for diaries of anyone who lived in locations your ancestors did, even if they’re apparently unrelated to your family. You might get lucky and read about births, weddings, and deaths – and perhaps even some juicy gossip – that can flesh out your family history.

If diaries belonging to total strangers can be useful, imagine the thrill I felt when I read in the “Weekly Genealogist” of 28 March that the diary of my (half) first cousin six times removed is now available online – digitally and in transcription – through AmericanAncestors.org![1] Of course I had to dive right in, even though I had taxes to do and a belated birthday present to sew for my husband.

The diary in question is actually many volumes stretching from 1762 to 1806, excepting the year 1777. Continue reading The diary in question

A rose for Susan

A photo of my great-grandfather labeled “Fred Athearn, brother of Mary Goodrich.” Shared by Eric Anderson of Houston

Next week’s fifth anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing is sure to bring back strong emotions for many NEHGS members and staff. While I was removed from the drama by an entire continent, I remember feeling a certain newfound closeness due to genealogical work I’d just begun. I had previously never heard of Watertown, and all of a sudden I was reading about a shootout in that town where ancestors had settled in the 1630s. The strongest connection I felt, though, was when law enforcement announced that “persons of interest” had been identified through photographs … because I also had identified a “person of interest” that week in the same manner.

Like many orphans, my great-grandfather longed to know about the family he’d lost at an early age. Fred Goodrich Athearn had little trouble tracing his father’s family back to seventeenth-century Massachusetts, but all he knew about his mother was that she was named Susan or Susanna Goodrich; that she had been a friend of the Polish actress Helena Modjeska in Anaheim, California; and that she was probably an actress herself. Continue reading A rose for Susan

Funny photos

There was no Vita Brevis post on April Fools’ Day this year since April 1st fell on Sunday, so I’m sharing some funny family pictures today.

The first photograph didn’t start off funny; in fact it’s a little sad due to its deteriorated condition. However, after some … shall we say “inexpert”? … photo restoration by a family member (who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty), it has become hilarious!

I’m afraid that I don’t have a copy of the entire picture in its original state, but the first stage of editing gives a good idea of the unaltered condition. It depicts my husband’s great-grandparents, Joseph and Genevieve (Perone) Sciolaro, and their two oldest children, taken circa 1900 in Kansas City. Continue reading Funny photos

Skipped out

“Icon” of Fred Rogers at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Nantucket.

This is a big year for honoring Fred McFeely Rogers, who – if not a family member – was a virtual neighbor to millions of us. The United States Postal Service is issuing a stamp in his memory this week, and I was touched to discover that an “icon” honors him near the pew he habitually occupied in a church my great-great-great-great-grandparents inadvertently helped found in 1838.

However, this story is about a very different Mr. Rogers, the first husband of the second wife of my great-grandmother’s sister’s first husband. Got that? I’ll rewind and explain: my great-grandmother’s sister, Kate Bottomes, married a man named William H. Rardon in 1891. By the 1900 census, Kate was divorced from Mr. Rardon; he married Lillian Vestalina (Roberts) Rogers in 1908. In August 1912, Lillian Rardon got some very interesting news: her first husband, James Wood Rogers, had been killed by government soldiers in Belgian Congo, on 8 October 1911. Continue reading Skipped out