The words that were their names.

May 8th, 2015

mothers and daughters

“Make in your mouths the words that were our names.”

Archibald MacLeish, Epistle to Be Left in the Earth

The words we are called by in life are scratched in dust, delible as our bones. Write them in ink, in stone, in blood. In time, time fades them all. 

Women’s names fade fastest, pencilled in so lightly at birth, expected to trade that word for another. Who gives this woman her name? Her father, his father, his father before him.  Loaned, not given. Not hers to keep.

I wanted them back. Their names. As many as I could recover, linking daughter to mother, beginning with my mom. I always knew her mother and she always knew her mother’s mother. But my great-grandmother Ruby was orphaned, and that was as far as I ever hoped to get, until I read her mother’s name on a baptism certificate, and saw it spelled out again in the helix runes of my DNA.  Then months later, another name. Followed by another and another. Like secret notes written to me in lemon juice, turning visible in the incandescence of my longing to know.

I stopped at fourteen, on the other side of an ocean. Fourteen generations of women, mother to daughter; sixteen when you count my sister and her daughter, my namesake.

They’re only names and dates. Beyond my great-grandmother, I don’t know anything about the kind of women they were. What kind of mothers they were. What they hoped for, where they were wounded, what they achieved–save for one thing: they each brought a daughter into the world. And for that, I owe them everything. 

Now I can thank them by name. 

Sarah Moore

Born 1588 in Ipswich, Suffolk, England

Died 18 Jan 1663 in Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts


Judith Greenleaf

Born 2 Sep 1625 in Ipswich, Suffolk, England

Died 15 Dec 1705 in Newbury, Massachusetts


Sarah Somerby

Born 10 Feb 1644 in Newbury, Massachusetts

Died 19 Jun 1672 in Newbury, Massachusetts


Judith Hale

Born 05 Jul 1670 in Newbury, Massachusetts

Died 12 Aug 1757 in Newbury, Massachusetts


Judith Moody

Born 6 Aug 1699 in Newbury, Massachusetts

Died 12 Jan 1741 in Newbury, Massachusetts


Ann Follensbee

Born 6 Nov 1722 in Newburyport, Massachusetts

Died 1780 in Newburyport, Massachusetts


Sarah (Sally) Noyes

Born 31 Oct 1760 in Haverhill, Massachusetts

Died 9 Nov 1822 in Haverhill, Massachusetts


Susannah Ladd

Born 13 Sep 1779 in Bridgewater, Massachusetts

Died after 1850 in Penobscot, Maine


Susannah (Susan) Lyons

Born 17 Mar 1810 in Readfield, Maine

Died 21 Feb 1844 in Cooper, Maine


Climena Vance

Born Mar 1841 in Cooper, Maine

Died 21 Apr 1905 in Mattawamkeag, Maine


Ida Lyons

Born 1859 in Woodville, Penobscot, Maine

Died before 1893 in Mattawamkeag, Maine


Ruby Nancy Coombs Boynton

Born 29 June 1887 in Maine

Died 1954 in Milltown, New Brunswick


Ferne Alberta Neilson

Born 1 Jan 1909 in East Millinocket, Maine

Died 4 Nov 2001 in St. Andrews, New Brunswick



my mom


Thank you.


5 Responses to “The words that were their names.”

  1. marilee pittman says:

    Thank you! We are all so very proud of you.

  2. Joanne McCray says:

    Very proud indeed !

  3. Lindsay says:

    You go girls! How on earth did you do this? So cool and I love seeing the maiden names.

    • Kyran says:

      Lindsay, it was some kind of miracle. I set out a couple of months ago to see how far I could get on that line, and one ancestor after another revealed herself to me. The big break was finding Ruby’s biological parentage, and then Climena’s mother. The Lyons are an OLD New England family, and well documented, so it was relatively easy from there.

  4. Learn More says:

    My grandmother is really into genealogy and has traced our ancestors as far back as the year 600. I’m always curious as to what type of people my ancestors were. In 400 years, is anyone going to remember me or know who I was, what I like/dislike, how I live my life, etc. It really makes you think doesn’t it?

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