Happy 100!


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My lovely mother-in-law, Natalie (Munson) Brengle, would have been 100 years old today. Here she is as an 18 or 19 year old in a fashion show in Bar Harbor, Maine in 1937 or 1938. She only became more poised and elegant as the years passed. We miss her and raise a glass in her memory today!

Back to School


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I don’t know any details about this adorable picture, but my dad, (Billy in those days) is the little guy with the polka dot tie. Too cute! Seems appropriate on the first day of school. Probably taken in Kansas about 1937.


  • William Edward Stephenson Hare (1933-1961) – my dad

Mother’s Day


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Just a few images in the spirit of the day. Love these mothers, one and all!

Mum and me heading home from a family visit to Kansas. Always on an adventure! Tulsa Airport, 1963.
Grandma, Esther Jane (Miller) Stephenson (later Hare), with my dad, Bill. He was her only child. Kansas, 1934.
My Granny, proud mum, Elsie (Mills) Oliver with my mum, Celia, at her Goucher College graduation, Towson, Maryland, 1954.
Great grandmother Alice (Sheely) Stephenson at her home with my toddler-sized Dad, Bill. My grandfather looked so much like her! Augusta, Kansas, about 1935.
One of my all-time favorite pictures–Stella Lee (Owen) Miller was the mother of my Grandma, Esther Jane. This image was taken before Grandma was born in 1914 with her sisters (left to right) Marjorie, Nell, and Thelma. Coffeyville, Kansas, ca. 1908.
Emily (Wright) Oliver, my Mum’s paternal grandmother, with a little twinkle in her eye, possibly because of the two dogs sitting next to her. Daniel and Emily Oliver Orphanage. Ras el M’etn, Lebanon, 1931.
My great grandmother, Mary (Hill) Mills, known to her family as Dear, standing behind (left to right) Elsie (my Granny), Audrey, Nicholas Snowden Hill (her father), Mary Carroll, and Jimmy. Baltimore, ca. 1909.
And my one and only mother more recently. Salem, Massachusetts, 2018.

Armistice Day Family Remembrance


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Oliver, Kenneth Friends Ambulance

Kenneth Stuart Oliver’s Friends’ Ambulance Unit personnel card (Image from the Library of the Religious Society of Friends, London)

One hundred years ago, when the Armistice agreement was signed on November 11th ending World War I, Kenneth Oliver, my grandfather, was serving as a volunteer ambulance driver for the Friends’ Ambulance Unit, headquartered in Dunkirk. He had arrived in France the previous year, a baby-faced eighteen year old, and had undoubtedly experienced enough of war to last him a lifetime.

When World War I broke out in 1914, Ken and his brothers, Doug and Hugh, were students at the Westtown School, a Quaker boarding school near Philadelphia. They were sons of British Quaker missionaries in Lebanon, raised and educated in a pacifist tradition. Joining the military would not have been an option for them, yet like many young men and women raised in the Society of Friends, they must have felt a strong need to be of service during the terrible war.

In response, the Friends’ Ambulance Unit (FAU) was created by British volunteers in 1914 as a way for Quakers and others to provide medical aid and other assistance to civilians and members of the military during the war without compromising their commitment to non-violence. Over 1000 volunteers served in France, Belgium, and England between 1914 and 1919, driving ambulances, assisting in hospitals and providing aid for civilians evacuating the war zones.

SS Aurania Cunard

RMS Aurania (Image from http://www.wrecksite.eu)

Following his sophomore year at Haverford College, Ken left to join the FAU. He departed New York on the RMS Aurania, arriving in Liverpool on September 2, 1917. (Incidentally, a few months later the ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat off the coast of Northern Ireland on February 3, 1918, heading from Liverpool to New York). It was customary for new volunteers to spend a month at an FAU training camp in Birminghamshire before being assigned to a unit.


Oliver, Kenneth Friends Ambulance personnel card p. 2

Ken’s Friends’ Ambulance Unit personnel card (Image from the Library of the Religious Society of Friends, London)

FAU convoy Cadbury Research Library

FAU ambulance convoy (Image from Cadbury Research Library)

Ken arrived at FAU headquarters in Dunkirk on October 10th. His personnel card lists a variety of assignments and job titles—chief orderly, chief clerk, stores buyer, and primarily driver. He served as a driver in an ambulance convoy like the one pictured here, and he was listed as being based in Dunkirk in August 2018, when the FAU headquarters were bombed. Family lore has it that one of my grandfather’s assignments was to inspect the sanitary conditions of French military brothels, but of course this doesn’t appear on his personnel card…




FAU Headquarters Dunkirk after bombing Aug 1918 Cadbury Research Library

FAU headquarters, Dunkirk, after bombing, August 1918 (Image from Cadbury Research Library)

Oliver, Douglas Friends Ambulance personnel card 1

Alan Douglas Oliver’s FAU personnel card (Image from the Library of the Religious Society of Friends, London)

Uncle Doug, Ken’s elder brother, left Haverford and joined the FAU in May 1918, nearly a year after Ken’s arrival. He sailed to Liverpool on the RMS Carpathia, renowned for having taken on passengers from the sinking Titanic in 1912. Like the Aurania, the Carpathia was torpedoed by a German U-boat, and sunk off the southern coast of Ireland just two months after Doug’s arrival.

Both young men remained in France for several months after the armistice, with Doug departing in January 1919 and Ken following in February. They rejoined their classmates at Haverford for that spring semester and both graduated the following year.


Haverford College Yearbook, 1920

I never heard my grandfather speak of the war, but surely it had to have changed the course of his life. I have to believe it played a role in his choice to become a doctor. He went on to medical school at Johns Hopkins University and then a career practicing and teaching medicine in Lebanon and the U.S.

Evocative Treasures


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I like my family history tangible. I want to see the places where my ancestors lived, learned, worked, and worshiped. I need to know what their faces looked like, read their very own handwriting, surround myself with their art, and if possible, I want to touch their stuff. Or better yet, wear it!

This month I joined in an Instagram “genealogy photo a day” challenge, and today’s theme was “my favorite heirloom.” Well! I picked one, but it was hard, and left me wanting to share more, so I think I’ll revisit this topic again soon.

Ken and Elsie Oliver c. 1925 engagement photo

This image of my maternal grandparents, Elsie Mills (1899-1993) and Kenneth Oliver (1898-1975), was taken before they were married in Baltimore in 1925, and has always been one of my favorites. He was 26 and a young doctor, and she was 25, a talented painter, and daughter of one of his medical school professors. I remember her regal bearing and sometimes haughty expression, but I don’t ever remember seeing him with such a dreamy expression.

This engagement portrait hangs in my house and Granny’s spectacular jacket hangs now in my closet. The cloth beneath the metallic mesh (which is very heavy!) is gray blue with a black lining.  Very 1920s, very Art Deco, and very Granny. My favorite heirloom. At least for today…


Forever 28


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img_0263Today would have been my Dad’s 85th birthday. I wish I could write about our long years together, the joys we shared, his interests and accomplishments, but at 28 he died in an accident. I was four and a half. That’s not a lot of time to build memories of a parent, and I want to remember more than I do, but here are some random thoughts:

  • He had a goofy sense of humor and he and my mum laughed a lot together.
  • He was brilliant.
  • He’d always wanted a Great Dane, so my 4th birthday present was…a Great Dane.
  • He was a nomad like the rest of my family–born in Kansas, living in several states before going to high school and college in Maryland, on to Alaska and Germany.
  • His college best friend loved him so much that he dedicated a murder mystery to him 50 years after he died.
  • He liked The Weavers (me too).
  • I have his smile.

Happy birthday, Daddy. Love you.

image   image



A Brilliant Wedding–May 31, 1898


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When I visited Baltimore in April, exploring the places where my mother’s family lived, worshiped, studied, and worked, I hadn’t yet discovered the wedding announcement that appeared in the Baltimore Sun on June 1, 1898. What a gem! So today I remember my great grandparents, Mary Carroll Hill and Dr. James J. Mills, married 120 years ago today and return to two of the places I visited last month.

Mills, Mary Carroll

Mary Carroll (Hill) Mills in 1915 at age 40. This picture reminds me so much of her daughter Elsie, my grandmother.

The wedding in the grand Baltimore Cathedral is described in exquisite detail in the article below, so I’ll stick to a few highlights.

Major Nicholas Snowden Hill, father of the bride (my 2nd great grandfather) walked Mary down the aisle. Oddly, there is no mention anywhere of the mother of the bride, Mary (Cocke) (Johnson) Hill.

The large cast of clergy was led by the eminent Cardinal James Gibbons, a close friend of Major Hill. With four priests officiating in red and white vestments embroidered in gold, it must have been quite a spectacle.

I’m loving the detail in this article, with vivid fashion descriptions, down to the orange blossoms fastening the bride’s veil and her bouquet of white sweet peas, a description of the church decorations, and an account of all the music.

Seeing the names of the bridesmaids, ushers, and a long list of guests invited to the wedding breakfast at the bride’s parents’ house got me curious, and I’ve been down the rabbit hole looking up bridesmaids, ushers, and wedding guests. No big surprises, but I found a few entertaining tidbits and a photo of bridesmaid Nanine Brent. Caton Mactavish, the ribbon boy, grew up to become a Baltimore newspaper journalist and close friend of Ogden Nash and H.L. Mencken.

Hill, N.S. Jr.

Nicholas S. Hill, Jr. (1869-1936), my 2nd great uncle, was Mary (Hill) Mills’ older brother, and was an usher in the wedding. Uncle Nick was also the father of my favorite extra grandmother, Isabelle (Hill) Guthrie (1896-1995).

Brent, Nanine, Mary Mills bridesmaid, photo other wedding

Nanine Brent, a distant cousin of Mary’s, was a bridesmaid. This photo was taken at another wedding where Nanine was a bridesmaid.

My visit to the Cathedral in April was a thrill. The building, described as America’s first cathedral, is glorious and was beautifully restored not long ago.

Baltimore Cathedral c. 1902

Baltimore Cathedral, c. 1902. Designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe and completed in 1821


Baltimore Cathedral interior, April 2018


Cardinal James Gibbons c. 1903

Cardinal James Gibbons, c. 1903.

Following the wedding ceremony, guests joined the family at Nicholas and Mary Hill’s home just a few blocks away at 813 North Charles Street for a breakfast. I had the thrill of being able to visit this house. The first floor now houses a vintage clothing shop (The Zone), so I popped in and got a look at the parlor, which still retains a bit of original detail.

The newlyweds, James and Mary, returned from their wedding trip and lived here with her parents for the first year of their marriage, which meant that my Granny, Elsie Mills, was probably born in this house.

813 N. Charles St

813 North Charles Street, home of the Hill family and location of the wedding breakfast.

813 N. Charles St Int

813 North Charles Street, parlor

And the article from the Baltimore Sun, June 1, 1898:

The_Baltimore_Sun_Wed__Jun_1__1898_Pt1The_Baltimore_Sun_Wed__Jun_1__1898_ Pt2

The_Baltimore_Sun_Wed__Jun_1__1898_ Pt3

Historic view of the Cathedral and photo of Cardinal Gibbons are from the Library of Congress collections.


Major Nicholas Snowden Hill (1839-1912) and Mary Watkins Cocke (1834-1903) – 2nd great grandparents

Dr. James J. Mills, Jr. and Mary Hill (1875-1937) – great grandparents

Elsie (Mills) Oliver (1899-1993) grandmother

My mum


Another Yearbook Find


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I just found this fabulous yearbook picture of my great uncle Damon Willbern (1900-1985) at age 16 at Llano High School in West Texas. He looks just like the successful Kansas banker I remember in his last decades. He was married to my Aunt Margie (Marjorie Miller), sister of my grandmother, and I adored them both.

One of my favorite memories of Uncle Damon was seeing him sitting in his Cordoba red leather reclining chair in their house in Coffeyville, Kansas, with his favorite Spanish peanuts, holding a fussy baby granddaughter in his lap. In his gravelly voice, he’d tell this tiny baby, “Give ’em hell, honey!”

From the yearbook I learned that Uncle Damon was born in a place called Baby Head, Texas, now a ghost town. For real!

Off to Baltimore–A Geographical Genealogy Adventure


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After an eighteen-month hiatus from blogging due to the chaos of work and family life, I retired last week. So…I’m taking a deep breath and jumping back into blog life and family exploration.

Post-retirement getaway number one will include a quick family history stop in Baltimore next week. No research, but a 24-hour pilgrimage to visit five generations of houses, work, school, and worship places, and a cemetery. I lived in Baltimore until I was five, and with no family there after we left, have never really explored the family sites.


Nicholas Snowden Hill about 1909 with his daughter, Mary (Hill) Mills, and grandchildren. L to R: Elsie (my grandmother), Audrey, Mary Carroll, and Jimmy.

A big part of my love of genealogy (and of history in general) is about putting people in the context of their places–geographical genealogy. I want to be able to visualize where they lived and what they did there. Placing Granny in her childhood home–an urban row house on Park Avenue, Baltimore, full of children; picturing the 1912 funeral of her beloved grandfather, conducted by his lifelong friend, Cardinal Gibbons, at the Baltimore Basilica; walking the Johns Hopkins University campus where my dad studied and my parents strolled with me as a toddler, all keeps their memories alive and vibrant in a way that mere names and dates never can.

And then there’s my inner architectural historian at work. To see these buildings that are so evocative of their time and place–the Italianate row houses in the Mount Vernon and Bolton Hill neighborhoods, the 1920s apartment building near Hopkins, the spectacular, high Victorian Johns Hopkins University Hospital. These places would speak to me even if they weren’t tied to my family, but those connections make them especially dear.

Step one in my geographical genealogy research is to figure out where my people lived, most often through census records and city directories. According to these records and the deeds for the property, my great grandparents, James and Mary (Hill) Mills moved to their home on Park Avenue in 1900 with my grandmother, Elsie, age 1. They had been married two years, and rented the house for five years before Mary bought it in 1905. They remained on Park Avenue for the rest of their married life. James, a physician and medical professor at Hopkins, ran his practice from home, and he and Mary raised their four children here. By the time James died in 1925, the children were grown, and Mary sold the house and moved in 1927.

James Mills 1900 census

After identifying the locations of family places, then comes the fun part–seeing what they looked like. Through the wonders of Google maps street view I’ve figured out which of these homes and related places are still standing (happily, most of them), and found current images of the ones that survive.

853 Park Ave Mills House

James and Mary (Hill) Mills’ home on Park Avenue in Baltimore (left of the white building).

My pilgrimage will include a few sites from my own early childhood, including a peek at one of my earliest homes.

The Bradford

The Bradford Apartments on St Paul Street, where I lived with my parents in the late ’50s.

And for extra thrills, real estate websites have even provided interior views of the Park Avenue house (now apartments, but a few original details survive), and some beautiful 19th century interior features of the Eutaw Place house where my grandfather was a tenant while he attended medical school at Johns Hopkins. Seeing the very rooms where my family lived a century ago takes my breath away.

853 Park Ave interior

A 2nd floor bedroom (Granny’s?) in the Park Avenue Mills House, courtesy of an online rental listing.

1324 Eutaw Pl. Baltimore interior

Perhaps my grandfather, Ken Oliver, had a chair in this first floor window, or in a similar upper story window when he rented here on Eutaw Place in 1926.

Of course, public buildings are easy to find, and I’m headed to see a few of those as well. James Mills, my great grandfather, taught at the Hopkins medical school, where my grandfather, Kenneth Oliver was his student in the 1920s. One thing led to another, and Ken married Dr. Mills’ daughter Elsie in 1925.


An early view of the Johns Hopkins University Hospital, completed in 1889.

Elsie was a student at the beautiful, Renaissance Revival style Maryland Institute College of Art, and I’ll be headed there too.


Maryland Institute College of Art, where Elsie Mills, my grandmother, studied in the early 1920s.

I’ve also found images of buildings that haven’t survived.  The two below were both victims of the Great Baltimore Fire in 1904.

B&O RR Central Office 1880

Design for the 1880 B&O Railroad Central Office, where Nicholas Snowden Hill was purchasing agent until 1888. Destroyed in the Great Baltimore Fire.


Carrollton Hotel

The Carrollton Hotel, managed by my great grandfather, Nicholas Snowden Hill, was also destroyed in the Great Baltimore Fire.

Much to see and much to enjoy during next week’s adventure!