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.

By any other name

Sometimes I wonder why my husband and I even maintain a landline telephone. It seems to be used almost exclusively by telemarketers … including the scammer from “Technical Support” who called me twice at 11:00 p.m. this past week! Every once in a while it proves its value, though, such as the time last November when I received a call from an unknown woman in Berkeley, California, asking whether I had a grandmother or great-grandmother named Purle. Continue reading By any other name

More Moses Marcus

An ornament symbolizing the Biblical Moses.

Last weekend I had an extremely fruitful session of something my husband and I call “Moses Marcussing.” While the Rev. Moses Marcus is not an ancestor or even a cousin of mine, he appears in my family tree as the father-in-law of my first cousin five times removed, and despite his infinitesimal kinship to me, I consider him one of the jewels in my genealogical crown.

Vita Brevis readers may remember a few details of his life contained in a tribute to his daughter Lelia, who was lost during a hurricane in 1875. Three years ago I was contacted by someone requesting details about her father, after they’d found information I’d provided for her memorial on Find A Grave. You can imagine the thrill of getting such a request, since I fancy myself the world’s foremost expert on the Rev. Moses Marcus. Continue reading More Moses Marcus

A special relationship

Do you have a special attachment to one ancestor? I do, and she was a source of curiosity and amusement even before I started investigating my family history in earnest.

During a move ten years ago, I uncovered a (mostly correct) pedigree chart for my father’s side of the family. It sat for a while on my dresser, and in flipping through it with my husband one evening, the name “Hephzibah” caught our eyes. This Hephzibah[1] (also spelled Hepsibah or even Hepsibeth in her later years) was a granddaughter of two other Hephzibahs, each born in Massachusetts by 1700. Continue reading A special relationship

‘To have his family around him’

George H. Folger joins the holiday mix.

As a genealogist, I have so much to give thanks for. Soon after I started my genealogical quest, I discovered that the Nantucket Historical Association had correspondence from my great-great-great-grandfather[1] in their collections. Of course I was anxious to read it and asked for copies … not knowing that there were more than eighty letters, many of them comprising multiple pages!

It took a while to accustom myself to my ancestor’s writing, since he adopted a sort of modified scripto continua, with virtually no punctuation or capital letters at the start of sentences. Much of the correspondence was dry, relating to business transactions, but there were also many droll comments and insights into the character and activities of the extended family. Continue reading ‘To have his family around him’

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