About Me

Growing up in a small New England town with a mother who was an antiquarian it was inevitable that I would be exposed to old things. After graduating from UMass/Amherst I lived in Connecticut, taught school, married, and raised three children in suburbia. A move to Newburyport MA renewed my interest in all things old. This background has now evolved into research, writing, consulting and all the things I love to do.

Prudence Fish

Thursday, December 12, 2013



Following my trip to Maine and its fruitful encounter with an unknown third cousin we returned to Massachusetts.  I couldn't stop mulling over this extraordinary chance meeting with Roger.  I knew I had to return to Back Street to visit with Roger again.  This time I would take a couple of friends for company hoping they would be able to recall details of our conversation with Roger. Before leaving for Maine an old story told to my mother by my grandmother, Myra, and by my mother to me came back to me with a jolt.  Myra and my mother were both reliable reporters and usually got things straight so I didn’t doubt the story.  Here is the tale.

After the Revolution, my great great great grandfather, David Bryant, was given a grant of land by the government for his service in the war. (the red ranch  farm)  In addition to this, so the story goes, the wives received a string of beads. As they left for their new home in the wilderness Lucy Bryant had her bead

These are not the beads that belonged to Lucy Bryant but are antique
beads from the Internet that are represenative of old beads
Myra told my mother that the beads had been passed down from generation to generation, daughter to daughter, and that they were at the time she told the story (c.1930) in the custody of an unknown cousin in MaineMyra thought this was very important and my mother did, too.  From a young age the story of these ancient beads intrigued me.

The farm was established, the “real” house built and the family grew.  After the death of Lucy in 1840 at the age of 96 her precious beads went to her daughter, Zilpha (Bryant) Pratt..  She in turn passed them to her daughter Amanda (Pratt) Merrill..  Just maybe?  I wonder?  From Amanda did they go to her daughter, Roger’s mother, Kate (Merrill) Bearce?  Of course!  Kate was the only daughter of Amanda and Roger was Kate’s only child.

As we drove north I repeated the story of the beads to my companions and told them how eager I was to ask Roger if he could confirm this story.

Roger, his always polite and gracious self, ushered us in to his charming little house filled with family things about which I knew nothing.  So I wasted no time in bringing up the beads.  Did he have any knowledge of some very important old beads in the family?  Yes, he did!  He jumped up and ran to open a drawer.  After rummaging around for a minute he reported with regret that he had the beads but must have put them in a safe deposit box.  He knew they were important and had been passed down for several generations but didn’t know why they were important other than being very old. He was aware that his grandmother, Amanda, had them restrung in 1920 and he thought she got them from Zilpha.

I then filled him in on their real source and original owner, Zilpha's mother, Lucy Bryant (1744-1840). He was as excited as I was and commented that he would have to change something in his will.

It was bitter sweet. The old story was confirmed.  The beads had survived.  I now knew they were real.  I now knew where they were... but I couldn’t see them!

A few years went by.  Roger entered  a rest home in Norway, ME.  I visited him and he was as handsome and gracious as ever but he didn’t remember me.  He didn’t remember another cousin.  But when I spoke of Myra he brightened and even remembered my father.  It was useless to question him.  I did know that another very elderly cousin, Sumner, was his conservator. I never saw Roger again.

His house was emptied.  The contents sold at auction.  If only I had known this was happening!

 The portraits of Desire and Zebulon went to an historical society where they are safe and sound.  I will probably never know what happened to the beads.  I hope there is one more miracle in this saga and that Roger labeled them or told someone of their significance and that they are somewhere safe.  I did write a letter to the elderly cousin who handled Roger's affairs but the letter was returned.  He has also since passed on. 

Maybe this is the end of the story but who knows?  Maybe there will be more coincidences to follow.  It would make me so sad to have the beads slip away after finding them and knowing they survived  for almost two hundred and fifty years. There’s always hope.

I have been back to Hebron, Oxford and South Paris many times and can’t help but feel a connection.  These country places never lost  importance in the hearts of those that were born and lived there.  I guess I was imbued with sentiment for these hills by osmosis as my grandmother who made sure  her memories were kept alive.  In that she succeeded.  And who knows when I might someday step over a threshold into the home of another relative that I have never met or even heard of.

Old house hunting and genealogy can lead to adventures and in the years I have chased houses and ancestors this is not my only experience involving  unimaginable coincidences and just dumb luck.

So just get out there and snoop around.  Who knows what miracle; what bit of history, architecture or genealogy is there waiting for you to discover.  You’ll never know if you don’t hit the road and explore.

I would head to Maine in a heartbeat right now.  How about you?

These distant relatives, even my father and grandmother, products of small town, rural Maine, were dignified and educated.  They were proud of their pioneer ancestors who helped to  settled the "District of Maine". They lived in the country, in the foothills of the White Mountains, but the quality of these people and the way they conducted their orderly lives belies their humble roots and the hardships they endured in the early years after leaving the homes of their Pilgrim ancestors and relatives behind in Massachusetts.  

Thanks for letting me share these stories with you.



  1. Oh, what a great story! I do hope someone in your line reads your post and the beads are still in the family. I often look at things in museums pondering over who first owned them and how they lived... Then I remember how lucky we are that someone saved them for us to see.

  2. I have to wonder if the beads are not still in that safety deposit box. So many things are overlooked when estates are settled. I wonder if it would do any good to check some of the local banks near to where Roger lived when you saw him last?