People have asked me how I had the courage to start a ten year project of this magnitude. The answer is: I didnt. Fate insiduously strung a chain of events & circumstances that slyly led me along the path of starting this up-date, with my little knowing or realizing what it would entail, until I had gone too far to turn back. The first of these occurrences happened a long time ago in the summer of 1940. My family decided to go down to Maine for a vacation. My paternal grandfather had been born in Maine but when he was about 20 years old, he fell asleep on a train and missed his stop. When he awoke, the or train was just pulling into Meriden, Connecticut. He got off in a hurry figuring on taking the next train back north. While waiting he strolled around the town, decided he liked it, found himself a job and a place to stay and thus set his familys roots in Connecticut soil. We were still living in Meriden the summer we took our first family trip to Maine. While there we went to visit my fathers cousin, Esley (Bicknell) Read. I remember entering a parlor to meet Esleys mother, an elderly woman sitting in a rocking chair. She was introduced to me as Mrs. Charles Bicknell, my grandaunt Aldana. My eleven year old mind, which had always believed an that everyone had their own special individual name, refused to accept this. My mother was Mrs. Charles Bicknell! I now had my first lessen in genealogy as my father patiently explained how it could be that two different people could have the same name. I was fascinated. I have two other vivid memories of that visit one of the cookie jar in the pantry (remember I was only eleven then!). The other occurred after a phone call to Esleys sister Alfreda (Bicknell) Smith. Alfreda said that she would love to see us but that we must come immediately as she had plans to go out for dinner. My sisters and I piled hurriedly into Esleys car while my parents followed in theirs. On the way we came upon a place with a lovely lake to the right and on the left a tall escarpment with a stark white cross on the top. Esley told us a story about a young girl who had fallen to her death from that spot. That scene became etched in my memory and for years I had only to close my eyes to see it clearly. Little did I know then what Fate had in mind for me. She waited over thirty years before she strung the next event on my chain of circumstances.
It was now the summer of 1971 and my husband Dave was taking his Boy Scout Troop to Acadia National Park in Maine for their summer trip. As this was the year before I also started taking my Girl Scouts on summer expeditions, I was free to visit sailing friends in Camden, Maine. One day my friend had business in Rockland. As we drove there we suddenly came upon the very scene I remembered so well from my childhood! The lake, the steep cliff, the cross---all still there. I became quite excited by such a momentous discovery and decided that my fathers cousin Alfreda had been in Rockland. I would find her again! The fact that over thirty years had passed, that Alfreda would be over ninety years old if still alive and that I could not remember more than the name Smith, did not daunt me. A check of the phone book showed pages of Smiths, no help there. I thought a bit, then turned to the Bs. Ah there was a David Bicknell, a Putnam Bicknell and a Bicknell Manufacturing Co. listed. Reasoning that some one named Bicknell might very well have met and remembered a Smith who had once been a Bicknell, I decided to phone the David Bicknell number (chosen because my husbands name is David). That phone call led to David Bicknells wife taking me to visit her husbands parents, Putnam & Lorita, who had a copy of the 1913 Bicknell Genealogy. We had a marvelous time figuring out our relationship (fourth cousins twice removed). Then Lorita said, "Putt, dear, isnt Mrs. Smith around the corner named Alfreda? I seem to have heard that she was a Bicknell." If you think that it was a mighty long arm of coincidence involved here, wait until you hear the answer I received when I phoned Alfreda - remember it is thirty years later and she is now over ninety. She would love to see me but I would have to come immediately because she was about to go out to dinner: Dinner was delayed that day as we had so much to talk about. She also had a copy of the 1913 book and as our families had lost touch years ago, there was much news to impart.
The next occurrence was in October of that same year, 1971. Massachusetts General Hospital had a big reunion to celebrate their 160th anniversary. As both my sisters are nurses (no, I am not one also. I was a chemist) who trained at MGH, they attended this gala event and there met a nurse from Maine named Julia Bicknell. Telling her about my summer experiences & interest in the Bicknells, my sisters gave Julia my address. When she wrote, she enclosed a copy of a 1939 newspaper article about the Bicknell Homestead in Weymouth, asking me if I knew of it, whether it still stood? Deciding that any old New England town must have an historical society, I addressed a letter to the Weymouth Historical Society inquiring about John Bicknells house built in 1650 (see "Bicknell Homestead" article included in this book). A few weeks later I received a reply from the Societys treasurer, Eleanor Cornack. The treasurer answered, not because of the office she held, but because she too was born a Bicknell. Now this surely was a most unusual year: I, who had only once in my entire life ever met a Bicknell not related to my father (that was an organist, Nixon Bicknell who I know now belongs to the Southern branch of the family) had in one year, not only re-established contact with my great-grandfathers family but had also found not one but three different branches of Zacharys descendants. I felt I really should do something with this windfall of genealogical information. I decided to write each one requesting they gather all the data on their branch of the family tree. I would do a bit more active searching for a few more Bicknell branches, then compile it all into a small pamphlet which I would run off at the local printers, a small update of the few surviving branches of the Bicknell clan. There were so few Bicknells that it really should not take too long. (Ha!)
I alerted all my friends & relatives to be on the alert for any Bicknells. I read books on how to do genealogies, enrolled in courses taught by professional genealogists, and started seriously hunting through old archives & records for possible additions or corrections to the 1913 book. The family branches of both Julia & Eleanor were quite extensive and it took each of them over a year to compile the data I requested. Now I was committed---I could hardly have asked someone to do that much work and then decide not to use it. For the first few years the work progressed slowly but steadily. Then came May 1976 and my husbands thirtieth reunion at the Choate School in Wallingford, Connecticut. We drove up from our home in Pennsylvania and checked into a motel to freshen up a bit. Dave decided to take the car for a quick carwash before going over to the school. He left before I discovered that I had left my book in the car. There I was waiting in a motel room with nothing to read, not even the usual Bible, only a phone book! So I started to read that (lots of characters but not much plot!). I discovered two Bicknells listed. Eureka! I suddenly realized that I had been ignoring a great genealogical tool. I spent the weekend checking every phone book I could find, On our trip back to Pennsylvania I had Dave stop at every rest stop while I copied Bicknells out of the phone books---I came home with forty three names & addresses That was when I had the letter & forms printed that probably most of you have seen---I now had too many names to write longhand letters to each. I took several trips into the Philadelphia library which has phone books from across the country, copying names & addresses and sending out my forms. Not all answered, of course, but many did and each answer would lead to more and more Bicknells. The project began to snowball. It grew to mammoth proportions. One of our bedrooms was converted into my "Genealogy Room and our stamp bill cheers the U. S. Postal Service annually. Wherever did I get that idea that the Bicknell clan was dying out? There are hundreds and hundreds of you out there I finally realized what Fate had sneakily led me into, but by now so many people had spent their time answering my repeated letters that there was no way that I could back down without disappointing a lot of nice people who were awaiting the results of my project. I also realized that a genealogy is never finished---there is always more to discover, more to add. So I brashly announced that it would be a ten-year project, that I would publish the results in 1981. It was not even the end of January 1981 before I received my first letter inquiring about when the book would be ready. I was committed. Although there was much more I would like to do, I knew the time had come to start preparing what I had for publication. That in itself is a major job, and much more complicated than it would seem. Once I had chosen a publisher, happily one of the most outstanding firms for this type of work, the biggest problem was the physical act of typing the thousands of worksheets & pages of history. I am not only not a typist but I loathe typing. Fortunately a former secretary, now a mother of youngsters who uses the childrens library where I work, offered to do the typing for a very nominal fee. We all owe our thanks to Ginny Leisz without whose typing skills this volume might never have reached the press.
There is a real fascination to genealogy. It is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle (of which I am an avid fan, especially collecting & doing the depression era wooden puzzles, many of which had intricate little figures cut into them) but first one must find the pieces. A clue here, a hint there, a date, a name and suddenly a pattern begins to appear. But the main attraction of doing a current genealogy is that it is people. One of the most enjoyable dividends of this gigantic project has been the opportunity of meeting many of you. I have had the pleasure of entertaining Bicknell visitors from Maine to Oregon as they have passed through Pennsylvania, and even more often I have been delightfully entertained in many of your homes as I have passed your way. Thomas W. Bicknell devoted a whole chapter in the 1913 Genealogy to listing all the Victorian attributes of good character of the Bicknell. But he missed three which I have found in Bicknells from New England to California---warmth, friendliness and above all, a sense of humor.