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I’ve just returned home from a mini-vacation that included family history research, visits to special places holding a century of family experiences, along with lots of museums, catching up with friends and relatives, and eating good food. Phew! As a result, there has been no blogging and my whirring brain is processing lots of impressions and information.

So, while the next family stories are percolating, here are a few highlights of the places we visited, in no particular order.

Memorial Hall, Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

My college thesis was on the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876 and Memorial Hall is the only surviving exhibition building from the extravagant world’s fair celebrating the United States’ 100th anniversary year.

It now houses the Please Touch Museum, and is full of life, inside and out. It’s easy to imagine the hustle and bustle of the fair, displaying the latest and best of America’s arts manufacturing, agriculture and so much more.

There was the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with assorted gems large and small:

And Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library was spectacular, in all its facets:

Not to overdo it on the museums, but…we were bowled over by the Barnes Foundation. Spectacular building and an even more spectacular collection.

Magill Library at Haverford College was a special pleasure. I did lots of family research there and inhaled the place where my grandfather went to college 100 years ago.

More when the percolating is done…


A quick happy birthday


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Happy birthday to my lovely grandmother, Elsie (Mills) Oliver.

There was a news story last week about a woman in Italy, (I think), believed to be the last living person who was born in the 19th century. How can that be? Well…Granny was born on May 23, 1899. She would have been 117 today.

I took this photograph in about 1977 as my mother and I took her to lunch at a waterfront restaurant in Gloucester, Massachusetts. She must have just had her hair done–it looks just the way she liked it–and her lipstick was freshly applied. I know just how she smelled, too. Her favorite perfume was 4711 Eau de Cologne, which had a distinctive fresh smell that I always loved, and it still makes me think of her.

Granny was a talented painter, passionate lover of dogs (I got those genes), fabulous baker, voracious reader, and at her best had an almost giddy enthusiasm about the people she loved. 

Loving the Yearbooks, Part I


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Until I discovered how many yearbooks are lurking online, I had only one photograph taken of my grandfather, Bill Stephenson, before he was an adult. I knew hardly anything about his interests, activities, or friends and I had no mental picture of the schools where he spent all those years. What an eye-opener three yearbooks have been!

At age 14, Grandpa Bill, who I knew as a gentle, loving man with a very silly sense of humor, looked like a bit of a punk, or at least a surly teenage boy.


The Orange A, Augusta, Kansas High School, 1925. William Stephenson, center

Bill, my dad’s father, was born in 1910 and raised in Augusta, Kansas–a middle child with two brothers, Paul and Clark. Paul was eight years older, while Clark was just a year younger, going all through school in the same grade. From Augusta High School, they went on to the University of Kansas together, where they were roommates and fraternity brothers. Clark was the scholar in the family, and Bill always found it challenging to be in the academic shadow of his younger brother.

What tidbits did I learn from these yearbooks?

Stephenson WE August HS 1928

Stephenson Clark Augusta HS 1928

The Orange A, Augusta, Kansas High School 1928

Grandpa Bill was musical. He played in his high school orchestra, (what instrument?) and sang in the glee club and a special boys quartet.

Stephenson WE AHS 1928 quartet

The Orange A, Augusta, Kansas High School, 1928

He was class president his sophomore year and Uncle Clark was class president their senior year.

He played basketball, (top right). He always loved sports.

Stephenson WE AHS 1928 basketball

While Bill always looked serious–sometimes even scowly–Clark occasionally had a big grin in his pictures.

He had a girlfriend! And his best friend might have been Arlice Williams (to the right in the  photo at the top of the post), who appeared next to him in many pictures throughout their high school years.

Stephenson WE AHS 1928 girlfriend

Stephenson WE AHS 1928 girlfriend 2

Augusta High School was two blocks down the street from the Stephenson house.


Augusta High School 1928


I didn’t dig as much in the University of Kansas yearbook for 1932, but…

Bill and Clark were both members of Alpha Nu of Beta Theta Pi.


Bill is 2nd row center, Clark is upper left

The fraternity house at 1425 Tennessee Street in Lawrence, Kansas is the former Usher Mansion, a striking limestone, Italianate structure which has continued to house Beta Theta Pi since 1913.

Stephenson WE KU 1932 Alpha Nu

More grandparents and yearbooks to come.

I’d love to hear what others have found through scouring yearbooks!

N. S. Hill Served Muskrat for Lunch?


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I grew up on my critter-loving grandmother’s stories about Major Nicholas Snowden Hill, her adored, indulgent grandfather, and most of those stories were about animals. Grandfather Hill took her to the circus, and soon after, he bought her Mars, the circus pony. He told her he had a surprise, and to pick a pocket in his overcoat. There was a puppy in each pocket. Granny’s stories were magical to a granddaughter who was equally animal crazed.

Nicholas Hill was a colorful figure in Baltimore. His family was among the earliest, Catholic settlers of the Maryland colony. He was raised in what is now Upper Marlboro, on one of Prince George’s County’s large tobacco farms. Sadly, his father, Charles, had many enslaved workers there. (A topic for further research). After serving in the Confederate Army in Arkansas as “Commissary of Subsistence,” he worked for many years as purchasing agent for the B & O Railroad, and later was managing director of the Carrollton Hotel and the Merchants’ Club.

I was curious about the Merchants’ Club, and a quick search led to this treasure:

Muskrat article

This 1896 article from the Baltimore Sun went viral. It was reprinted in publications ranging from The Annals of Hygiene, a medical journal; to Good Houskeeping, to the Scranton Republican, which expanded on the unappetizing muskrat, “its flesh is fat and greasy unto nastiness.”

Part of my family history search always includes looking for the places as well as the people, and up popped this wonderful image of the Merchants’ Club, site of the muskrat luncheon.


Design for Merchant’s Club Building on German St., Baltimore, MD
J. A. and W. J. Wilson, architect(s). From the American Architect and Building News, August 19, 1882

The Baltimore architectural firm of John Appleton Wilson and his cousin, William Thomas Wilson designed the Merchants’ Club. They were active from the late 19th century through 1907, and designed many private homes in and around Baltimore, many in the Queen Anne style, along with public and commercial buildings.

Baltimore’s Great Fire of 1904 destroyed both the Merchants’ Club and the Carrollton Hotel, and most certainly had a profound impact on Nicholas Hill’s life. To be continued…


The Annals of Hygiene, Volume 11, p. 383

American Architect and Building News, August 19, 1882

J. Appleton Wilson , MSA SC 3520-13819 at



Major Nicholas Snowden Hill (1839-1912) – 2nd great grandfather

Mary (Hill) Mills (1875-c.1936) – great grandmother

Elsie (Mills) Oliver (1899-1993) grandmother

My mum


Rainbow of Places–My New Favorite Thing!


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There’s been a colorful chart (#mycolorfulancestry) making its way through the genealogy social media world over the past weeks, thanks to J. Paul Hawthorne’s creativity. It’s a fun, simple way to visualize the birthplaces of five generations of ancestors by color-coding.  Seeing my own has been fun, confirming that these folks truly did come from all over the place.

Final birth chart

Yes, my nomads’ birthplace chart was indeed colorful, but I decided to try it with both birthplaces and death locations, and it changed dramatically! With births and deaths, thirty-one people covered six countries and thirteen states, and only seven of those thirty-one people ended their lives in the state or country where they were born. I was running low on colors, but it would be even more colorful if I had included all the places they lived in between. Maybe I’ll try that next…

Final birth and death chart

You’ll find the template to try your own here.

The Kid’s Got Wheels


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This is my dad, on the move early and around the same age as my mum in my previous post.

Born in Wichita, Kansas in 1933, Bill Stephenson Hare was definitely one of the nomads of the family during his brief 28 years.  He was about 4 when my grandparents, Bill Stephenson and Jane (Miller) Stephenson divorced and my grandmother remarried to Bob Hare.

And the Hares did move and move. Bob worked for natural gas companies and seemed to pick up and move on every few years, usually to small rural towns in remote places. (Why was that, anyway?)

Young Billy moved from Kansas to Missouri to Connecticut to Waldorf, Maryland (and maybe more in between?) before staying put long enough to go through high school and then college nearby at Johns Hopkins.

Graduating from college and marrying my mother all at the same time, he had also graduated from two wheels to four, and off they went! During the summer of 1955, Bill and Celia hit the road for Anchorage, Alaska, where he had been offered a job. They drove cross country, stopping along the way to visit grandparents in Kansas, see the sights, and start their adventure. More to follow…

Let’s start in Beirut


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Pretty cute, right?

This photo was taken around 1938 in Beirut.

My mum is torturing her big brother (sorry he’s missing from the photo) with my grandmother, Elsie (Mills) Oliver, looking on, and sister, Alison, on the left. A moment of silly, spontaneous kid-ness.

My mother’s British/American family lived in Lebanon for three generations. My great grandmother, Emily Wright, traveled from England to Lebanon with her Quaker missionary father, Alfred, in the early 1890s.There she met and married Daniel Oliver, a strong-willed, stubbornly independent Scotsman from the farthest reaches of the Highlands. They spent the rest of their lives in Lebanon (more in later posts!)

My grandfather, Kenneth Stuart Oliver (I always like the sound of his full name), and his two brothers were sent to Pennsylvania as children to be safe from unrest in the Middle East and be educated. While his brothers, Douglas and Hugh, stayed in the U.S., my grandfather returned to Lebanon in the 1920s after finishing medical school and marrying my Baltimore-born-and-bred grandmother. He was a physician and faculty member at the American University of Beirut.

My mum and her siblings lived in Beirut and spent summers in the mountains of Lebanon until they left for the U.S. in 1945. This photo must have been taken soon before the outbreak of World War II disrupted their lives dramatically, and eventually led them to leave the country.


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