Maine Photographer

Tracing Family History through Montana

For 163 years, my family had a presence in Montana’s Madison Valley. In the 1860s, my ancestors, William H. Ennis and Myron D. Jeffers and their families settled on either side of the Madison Valley, establishing the towns of Ennis and Jeffers, which still bear their names. Since the ‘80s, my grandmother was the last to live in Ennis, in little home on Main Street between the bank and the library. When we could, my family would join her there for Thanksgivings and 4th of Julys. This year, we returned for the fourth and we did the usual things: went to the pancake breakfast fundraiser at the firehouse and the rodeo, watched the parade from the same spot we always had. But this time, the little house on Main Street was gone, now just an empty square of dirt. My grandmother wasn’t with us — she passed last October — and we celebrated her life at the little church in Jeffers she attended for decades. After the memorial,  I stayed in Montana with my family, and learned more about my family’s history than I’d ever known: about my ancestors who made home in this valley, those they relied on, those they displaced, and the ways people can be connected to a place and to each other. 

All images © Greta Rybus

The Swedish Tradition of Midsommar in Northern Maine, Photographed for Yankee Magazine

Midsommar is a festival of lightness, flowers, warmth, and food. It’s also a celebration of the natural movement of people. People take a lot of pride in the stories of how their greatgrandfathers and great-great-grandmothers wound up living in northern Maine, but there’s also a sense of latent worry. Aroostook County is a place that’s dwindling in population, and it has been for years. For these Mainers, immigration isn’t a problem to be solved. It’s a necessity. 

“We have a saying up here,” he tells me. “If you are not Swedish by genealogy, you can be Swedish by association. Swedishness is a feeling. It’s a feeling of community and comfort and understanding and appreciation.” Really, he says, “it’s just about being welcoming.” It’s a big-hearted sentiment, as sweet as lingonberry jam… but, I’m inclined to believe it. Midsommar is a relic from the past, but perhaps it’s also a symbol of our shared future. 

Text by writer, friend, and collaborator Katy Kelleher. Photographed for Yankee Magazine

© Greta Rybus