Augusta, Maine, Maine Genealogy

Maine Genealogy Resources, Part II

Editor’s Note: The following is the second part of Denise R. Larson’s articles on Maine genealogy resources. In Maine Genealogy Resources Part I, Ms. Larson described the historical forces and settlement patterns that form the background to Maine genealogy. Denise Larson is the author of Maine, Genealogy at a Glance: French-Canadian Genealogy Research. Her contribution to the Genealogy at a Glance series is particularly helpful when searching for French-Canadian immigrants, and offers historical background notes and pointers on where to look for census returns, vital records, and other documentation.

In the concluding installment on Maine genealogy, Ms. Larson offers excellent practical advice on the how and where to conduct Maine genealogical research, as well as additional publications that will assist you on this search. 

Great places to do Maine Genealogy

Of particular note in the search for genealogical materials is the Cultural Center on State Street in Augusta, which houses the Maine State Archives, Library, and Museum.

Maine State Archives

The Maine State Archives (207-287-5795) has online databases for general search, early court cases, maps, municipal records, photographs.

The archives’ genealogy research website offers an index to vital statistics (birth, death, marriage) 1908-1922. Copies of certificates are available from 1892-1922 at the cost of $10 per copy; certified copies are $15.

Many official records are on microfilm and can be viewed in the archives’ Search Room. These include vital records 1922-1955, U.S. Census returns 1790-1930, an index of Revolutionary War land grants and pension applications, and a good collection of photographs of officers.

Prior to 1892, the towns and cities of Maine kept the local records of births, marriages, and deaths. As of 1892, the state became responsible for vital records. Municipalities were asked to provide copies of the pre-1892 records, and they are included in the Delayed Vital Records microfilm. The records of some of the noncompliant towns were later microfilmed and added to the collection but not all were included and some town records were lost through flood, fire, or mishap.

Staff members at the Maine State Archives will search within a five-year period for a record upon request and receipt of payment. The search fee is included in the cost of the copy, which is nonrefundable if a record is not found.

Copies of vital records and divorce decrees from 1923 and later are available from Office of Data, Research and Vital Statistics, State House Station #11, 244 Water St., Augusta, ME 04333-0011; 1-888-664-9491; 207-287-5500.

Genealogical Publishing and Broderbund collaborated on Early Maine and New Hampshire Settlers, a CD that displays images of pages from fourteen publications and offers a single electronic name index that allows users to search all volumes, which include biographies, the 1790 census, gravestone inscriptions, pensioners of the American Revolution, probate records, vital records, and wills. Continue reading…

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. Continue reading…

spanish flu, how our ancestors died

How Our Ancestors Died

Editor’s Note: The following article is written by author Dr. Terrence Punch. His work includes multiple volumes on Irish immigration to Atlantic Canada, Some Early Scots in Maritime Canada, Volumes I-III, North America’s Maritime FunnelThe Ships that Brought the Irish, 1749-1852 and Montbeliard Immigration to Nova Scotia, 1749-1752. Dr. Punch has authored other articles we’ve shared on this blog including Canadian Maritime Provinces and New England: Differences in Record Keeping, Part I and Canadian Maritime Provinces and New England: Differences in Record Keeping, Part II. He can also be heard as a resident genealogist on CBC Radio. 

In this article, “What Our Ancestors Died Of,” Dr. Punch shares tips on how to identify how our ancestors died when the causes can be mislabeled or unclear. This piece contains a list of frequently seen causes of death, and what they actually mean, as well as additional resources to help you on your search. 

Some genealogists collect only ancestors, that is, people from whom they are personally descended. When traced out on a sheet of paper or a spreadsheet you often have a pattern resembling an inverted Christmas tree, wide at the top and pointed at the bottom. Others take a great deal of trouble to track down collateral relatives, the siblings of ancestors and their descendants. If they began with a couple of progenitors, the result will tend to spread more widely with the passing of the generations.

This is not always the case. One couple had eleven children, sixteen grandchildren, but just four great-grandchildren, all four of whom grew to adulthood, two of them married and none of them had children. Within three generations a large family had completely died out. Imagine the original matriarch, dying in 1883 leaving eight children and nine grandchildren, and in 2003 her last descendant died, childless.

One of the reasons why people try to compile genealogies linking collateral relatives as well as direct ancestors is to produce a health history of their wider family circle. They ask questions about age at death, causes of death, conditions that appeared to run in the family, handicaps, tendency to accidents and mishaps, even towards suicide. Continue reading…

Military Ancestry

Bogus Stories Complicate Search for Military Ancestry

Editor’s Note: The following article is an excerpt from Chapter 7 of Richard Hite’s book, Sustainable Genealogy: Separating Fact from Fiction in Family Legends, entitled “Military Service of Ancestors.” As Mr. Hite points out, bogus stories of military ancestors can confound family historians, and make tracing your military ancestry a much murkier and more difficult task. However, confounding stories of military forebears illustrates just one way genealogists can be lead down the primrose path in their research. Mr. Hite’s acclaimed book, Sustainable Genealogy is full of such cautionary tales and ways to avoid pitfalls and missteps. 

When I hear of some of the wildly exaggerated claims of the military exploits of my own ancestors and anyone else’s, I am reminded of “The Battle of Mayberry” episode of the Andy Griffith Show.  In one episode, Opie’s class was assigned to write an essay about the so-called “Battle of Mayberry” which had involved the early settlers of the town of Mayberry and the Native American population two centuries earlier.  Andy and Aunt Bea immediately told Opie about his own ancestor, Colonel Carlton Taylor who, by their account, played a leading role in the battle.  Opie then went on to talk to all of the major characters in the town  . . . [who] all told stories about ancestors who held the rank of “Colonel” at the time of the battle.  All of them described the settlers winning the battle with only fifty armed men facing 500 Native Americans.  Andy, realizing Opie’s confusion over the conflicting accounts, took him to visit a local Native American named Tom Strongbow . . .  who told of his own ancestor, Chief Strongbow, leading fifty warriors to a victory over 500 armed settlers.  . . .  Finally, Andy took Opie to Raleigh, North Carolina, the state capital, to give him an opportunity to look up contemporary accounts of the battle.  What Opie found was a newspaper account that told of a dispute that started over a cow accidentally killed by a Native American in Mayberry.  Instead of fighting a battle though, fifty settlers and fifty braves settled the dispute by sharing several jugs of liquor and killing some deer to compensate the owner of the cow.

From Private to Major

That whole story is, of course, fictitious but exaggerated accounts of ancestors’ military exploits are a dime a dozen in oral history whether “truly oral” or “written oral.”  One of the most common mistakes is an inflated rank assigned to an ancestor.  A likely source of this, particularly for Civil War soldiers, stems from the late 19th and early 20th century habit of referring to elderly veterans of that war as “Colonel” or “Major” – even for those that never rose above the rank of private.  This was most common for Confederate veterans, but Union veterans were also referred to by these honorary titles in some instances.  It is easy for overeager descendants who hear an ancestor referred to by an honorary rank to jump to the conclusion that he actually did hold such a rank while in the service.  Usually, these claims of such high rank are relatively easy to check, especially for Civil War soldiers.  Records for soldiers in earlier wars are not so voluminous but there are many, nonetheless.  Service records and pension applications give the ranks soldiers achieved and it is not at all unusual to learn that an honorary major never actually rose above the rank of private.  In the case of common names, proof (or disproof) may be a bit more of a challenge.  A descendant of a private named John Smith will undoubtedly have little trouble finding a colonel or a major with that rank in some regiment from the state their own ancestor served from.  In this kind of a case, researchers should examine the economic circumstances of the ancestors, before and after the war.  Assuming that a man named John Smith, who owned less than fifty dollars’ worth of real estate at the time of the 1860 and 1870 census enumerations held the rank of “Colonel” during the Civil War is not a leap of faith I would make. Continue reading…

Tidewater Virginia Families, Jamestown

Tidewater Virginia Families

The late Virginia Lee Hutcheson Davis was a leading authority on the earliest inhabitants of Jamestown and the entire Tidewater region of Virginia. Her most famous book on this area of research was the diminutive volume, Jamestowne Ancestors, 1607-1699, a list of approximately 1,200 persons who are known to have landed or resided there between 1607 and 1699. Mrs. Davis was a member of the Order of Descendants of Ancient Planters, Order of First Families of Virginia, The Jamestowne Society, and The James Cittie Company. Jamestowne Ancestors, meanwhile, recounts the establishment of England’s first successful colony in North America, as Mrs. Davis describes it in her Preface:

“King James I in 1606 issued a charter authorizing a group of investors to form the Virginia Company of London and settle colonists in North America. It was thus that his dream was fulfilled and James Towne was born. A council appointed by the king was to direct the enterprise from England, with management of day-to-day affairs in the colony entrusted to a second council of state. The charter provided that these English settlers would enjoy the same legal rights and privileges as those who remained at home.

“On Saturday the twentieth of December 1606 a fleet of three ships left England.   After an arduous ocean voyage, 104 English colonists aboard the ‘Susan Constant,’ ‘Godspeed,’ and ‘Discovery’ reached the Virginia coast at Cape Henry. Sailing west up the river they named for their king, these men and boys stepped ashore on May 14, 1607, at the marshy peninsula now known as Jamestown Island. In time, ‘James Towne’ survived and prospered, but at first the triangular wooden palisade fort held only a tenuous foothold on the vast continent.

Jamestowne Ancestors honors the island’s early settlers and their contributions, to Virginia and the future nation. The volume includes all inhabitants of Jamestown Island–both year-round residents and members of the House of Burgesses or other government officials–who dwelled at Jamestown between 1607 and 1699. The author identifies each individual by name, occupation (burgess, landowner, artisan, etc.), year(s) present in Jamestown, and, in the case of officials, a place of permanent residence. The author includes only those colonists whose presence at Jamestown has been fully documented. Her list can be used as a starting point for achieving membership in a number of hereditary societies that accept descent from Jamestown as a qualification. (A list of 16 such organizations is included in the book.)

Replete with facsimiles of early maps and diagrams and drawing upon recent archaeological research, Jamestowne Ancestors is one of the most comprehensive lists of our oldest Tidewater Virginia Families ever published.

Mrs. Davis authored additional publications that are invaluable resources for those searching for their roots buried within Virginia’s First Families. Covering an incredible 375 years, Tidewater Virginia Families sets forth the genealogical history of some 37 families who have their roots in Tidewater Virginia. Starting with the earliest colonial settler, the origins of the following Tidewater families are presented: Bell, Binford, Bonner, Butler, Campbell, Cheadle, Chiles, Clements, Cotton, Dejarnette(att), Dumas, Ellyson, Fishback, Fleming, Hamlin, Hampton, Harnison, Harris, Haynie, Hurt, Hutcheson, Lee, Mosby, Mundy, Nelson, Peatross, Pettyjohn, Ruffin, Short, Spencer, Tarleton, Tatum, Taylor, Terrill, Watkins, Winston, and Woodson.

Going beyond her work in Tidewater Virginia Families, Mrs. Davis meticulously researched and compiled Tidewater Virginia Families: Generations BeyondIn this supplement, the author added 11 new families to the Tidewater Virginia families treated in the original volume described above: Alsobrook, Bibb, Edwards, Favor, Gray, Hux, Ironmonger, Laker, Southern, Taylor, and Woolfolk. In addition, this supplement includes vignettes and anecdotes of family life, descriptions and locations of family homes and burial sites, extensions of sibling lines, identification of neighbors, county maps, a place-name index, and, where necessary, corrections and updates to the original volume.

If your family ties lead you to Albemarle Parish, The Albemarle Parish Vestry Book 1742-1786 is one of the priceless original public records of the Old Dominion that survived the vicissitudes of time, wars, invasions, fire, and neglect. It is widely available to researchers owing to the transcription efforts of Virginia Lee Hutcheson Davis and Andrew Wilburn Hogwood. The Vestry Book–which includes the proceedings of the vestry as well as many records of the processioners’ returns–begins on November 16, 1742 (with some earlier pages missing), some four years after the parish’s formation, and runs to 1786. Roughly 6,500 Surry/Sussex county inhabitants are identified.

Image Credit: Map of Virginia, discovered and as described by Captain John Smith, 1606; engraved by William Hole. Map created in 1606. Public Domain, Source: Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons.