Seven degrees of separation...maybe

By Paul Putnam | Dec 08, 2012

Anyone whose family roots date back a couple of generations or more, as mine do, will find a lot of familiar local family names showing up in their family tree. Almost immediately I find Crockett, Bartlett, Heard, Fales, Mathews and Millay, and that is only the children or the spouses of one Rice Rowell. When I was a kid, a Rowell family reunion in South Thomaston (The Keag) was a major affair and included what seemed like everybody in town.

So, if your family has been in this area for two or three generations or more, we are probably related. Since family roots run deep, even if you are from “away,” it may be that your family ties track back to here also. In years past there was a faithful summer colony that came every summer to spend July and August in the cool summer atmosphere, and gradually many came to be permanent residents, adding another dimension to the “locals.”

When my brother, Malcolm Putnam Jackson, (don’t ask me to explain that) married Dorothy Johnson, he connected us to the entire local Finnish population, and I guess they were all at the wedding, where I learned to dance the polka, and learned that my high school teacher, Ina Anderson, was Finnish also.

Then there were the Italians. Perhaps the Arau family was the first, but later, after World War I, several Italian families came and became a solid part of the community. A number of the children were in school with me in the 30s and 40s, and are still contributing grandchildren and great-grandchildren to the community.

If I wasn’t well connected enough already, marrying Helen Claire Stevenson changed all that. Her father, A. B. Stevenson, Jr. was a prominent businessman in Camden, and her mother, Lucy Boardman Piper, was from a well-connected seafaring family in Rockport. The Pipers were a prominent family in Rockport through seafaring and merchandising. Helen’s grandmother owned the big four-story building at the head of the bridge in Rockport, and her great-grandmother Piper’s maiden name was Swan, which I believe relates to the Swan house on mountain street in Camden.

As often happens, the Putnams and the Stevensons were already somewhat connected as my dad and mother bought out Stevenson’s Candy Shop on Main Street in Camden when Helen’s grandfather died. Now, instead of me visiting in the back room when Helen tended shop for her grandfather, Helen now sat in the back while I tended store for my folks.

Times change, but families move on. When I grew up in Camden, it was a mill town. Many people grew up here, went work in the mills, lived and retire here. Everything they needed was available in the stores downtown or in the Sears and Roebuck catalog, but World War II seemed to change all that. Men and women went away to war. Those who stayed home looked out at a larger world, and when it was over they all had a new vision.

Camden changed. Knox County changed. Often people “from away” didn’t stay just two months; they just stayed. The mills began to close, and the river water was clean again. Those of us who had left, kept in touch, and still spoke of Camden as home. So did our children, although it had never been their home. There was something about the place where the mountains meet the sea that drew us back. Some like to call them the “Good old days,” and some regret the changes, but many of us who remember the foul smell of the factory waste in the river and the harbor, or the noise and clickedy-clack of machinery from the mills realize that its not better or worse; its just different, and the age of automobiles and computers makes it easier to live in Camden or Rockport and work elsewhere.

Sometimes I wonder if a local bus service such as we once had from Camden to Thomaston would be a good convenience, and perhaps keep some of the traffic off the highway. And perhaps renewing the train service from Rockland to Portland and Boston would likewise be beneficial. Another pleasant service that local folks use to enjoy was a Boston Boat trip; likewise to Portland and Boston or even to Bangor. Even in the late 1940s, after all the bridges had been built, Helen’s dad took me, along with Lucy and Helen, to Boston on a shopping trip. He and I took in a Boston Braves baseball game while the women shopped.

Yes, in those days the Braves were in Boston. Helen’s Dad was a Braves fan while his father was a Red Sox fan. I have told before of seeing Grampa Stevenson talking to a sporty old gentleman in tweed knickers who stopped in the store to chat with Grampa S about the Red Sox and the Yankees. I think folks enjoyed his Downeast twang and good humor. He often told about winning a fish once for being the homeliest man in town. He said he didn’t really come in first, but the man who did was offended and wouldn’t take it. Gramps says it was perfectly good fish and he was glad to get it.

I’ve heard that we all are only no more than seven people separated from being related to anyone in the world. That seems to be a bit of a stretch, but when you begin to study on it, it might be true.

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Comments (5)
Posted by: Ragna Weaver | Dec 10, 2012 20:06

I really enjoy your stories. Yes, I am related by marriage. My niece Kari-Jo
Barlow's husband is nephew of yours & Mac's. My cousin Carolyn Jackson
married Bill Jackson, a brother of yours & Mac's. My mother Ina Korpinen was
Finnish, & my father Bjarne Pettersen imigrated from Stavanger, Norway. I
guess you can be related by marriage also.

Ragna Weaver

Posted by: Paul Jackson | Dec 09, 2012 17:43

Really enjoyed this story, Uncle Paul.  Talking to people, I am often amazed to find that I am related through some distant cousin or relative.  I suppose that I shouldn't be, considering the size of the two immediate families (Jackson and Johnson/Harjula).  Can be a challenge at a family reunion!

Posted by: RUTH ROWLING MAXFIELD | Dec 09, 2012 14:15

Ditto.  Always enjoy your pieces!  My mother grew up at Lincolnville Beach and went to Camden for High School . . graduating in 1937.   She was a direct descendent of John Alden & Priscilla Mullins.  When one really explores the Mayflower lines . . it becomes apparent that many, many of us are from those lines.  Truly amazing!  In Maine and Massachusetts . . . prick most anyone's skin and you are apt to find a "cousin".  Another comment:  my sister-in-law is from purely Finnish descent.  One of her sons claims to be "only half-finished".  =>

Posted by: Camden Public Library \ Camden Public Library | Dec 08, 2012 14:10

Another delightful story, Paul.  Your reminiscences are such a valuable part of the ongoing story of our town, and I am proud to have them here at the Camden Public Library archives.

Posted by: William Pease | Dec 08, 2012 13:13

Beautifully written, thanks.

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