Maine Genealogy

Maine Genealogy Resources, Part I

Editor’s Note: The following article, “Maine Genealogy Resources,” is by Denise R. Larson. Ms. Larson is the acclaimed author of Companions of Champlain, which provides a concise historical overview of the founding of Quebec and French-Canadian culture. She has also authored other posts on this blog including the informative “Genealogy Isn’t Just Finding Dead People” about how to find “lost” relatives in your family history.

In this article, Ms. Larson discusses some of the treasures found in Maine genealogy collections, as well as early migration into the state. Part II of this piece will include the resources and repositories most beneficial for Maine genealogy and genealogical research, and will be available on the blog next week. 

Maine Genealogy Resources

Just as the Smithsonian is said to be the nation’s attic, Maine is New England’s attic. Among Maine’s many treasures and whatnots are several early nineteenth-century embroidery samplers that are more than elaborate fruits and flowers surrounding a carefully stitched alphabet. The fine silk threads sewn into the linen of these special samplers sketch family genealogies. In the collection of the Maine State Library in Augusta include pedigree samplers for the Cooper, Twombly, Pool, and Swan families.

Watercolorists also took up the subject of family lines. An 1830 watercolor depicts the Libby lineage, and one done in 1831 with pen and ink as well as watercolor was done for William and Rhoda Thompson.

Both the samplers and the watercolors can be viewed online at the Maine Memory Network, a project of the Maine Historical Society that brings together the collections of more than two hundred organizations in the state.

Of those two hundred contributors to the Maine Memory Network, many are libraries that have a history & genealogy room or special genealogical collections about local families. History holds an honored place in the hearts of Mainers.

Many Maine families had roots in Massachusetts. Spurned by the Puritans of Massachusetts as nonconformists, the people of the Province of Maine logged the vast forests, farmed the stony soil, and fished in mighty rivers and the rough Atlantic. There was a steady migration, both native born and immigrant, from the Boston area to the wilds and opportunities of Maine, which became an independent state in 1820. Many government records pertaining to Maine prior to 1820 are held at the Massachusetts Archives in Boston (220 Morrissey Blvd.; 617-727-2816). The Maine materials are indexed by county and include court records, the Eastern Lands papers, and records concerning eighteenth-century forts. The archives has an extensive genealogical collection.

Major Migrations to Maine

Maine was considered the northern wilderness by the more urban New England states. France and England were still arguing and fighting into the mid to late eighteenth century about which river constituted their territorial boundary. The French in the north claimed it was the Kennebec in central Maine. The English in the south said it was the Penobscot, farther to the east. The constant threat of attack by opposing forces and their Native American allies dissuaded all but the bravest to settle to the north of the Piscataquis River, the southern boundary of the Province of Maine.

Even Henry David Thoreau, who loved the woods more than town, said during his visit to Bangor in the 1850s, “the country (north of Bangor) is virtually unmapped and unexplored, and there still waves the virgin forest of the New World.” Fast and heavy development of southern Maine began in the 1840s with the influx of large numbers of Irish immigrants. They came to escape the famine in Ireland and to seize the work and earning opportunities in the quickly industrializing New England states. They built roads, railroads, canals, bridges, and mills to process lumber from the North Woods and cotton offloaded from Maine-made ships that brought the raw material from southern ports.

The second large influx of an ethnic group to Maine happened in the 1860s. Farms in southern Canada were failing, so many French-Canadians followed the Canada Road from Quebec to the coast of Maine to work in ship yards and lumber and textile mills that lined the shores and harnessed the power of the mighty Maine rivers.

The “2009 American Community Survey” by the U.S. Census Bureau shows the other ancestral groups in Maine (with five percent or more of respondents) to be of German (8.4%), Italian (6.2%), and Scottish (5.5%). French/French-Canadian was 24.9%; English, 23.5%; Irish, 18.2%.

Image Credit: 1863 Middle Street, Portland, Maine. By William Willis. The history of Portland, from 1632 to 1864, 2nd ed. Portland: Bailey & Noyes, 1865 via Wikimedia Commons.

 

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