Although I knew that Maine had become a state in 1820, the fact that 2020 is Maine’s bicentennial year flew right over my head. This, in spite of the fact that I have deep Maine roots in the family tree.
Maine’s official date of statehood is 4 March 1820, so this post is only 9 months late. As my mother used to say – better late than never, so here are a few resources to learn more about Maine’s history – remember it was part of Massachusetts before statehood – and its genealogical resources.
Before I delve into the resources, I want to share the Maine200 Bicentennial website. It is so disappointing to plan events, only to have to postpone or cancel them because of the pandemic. State officials are expecting 2021 to bring Covid19 relief and have moved forward many of the 2020 activities into the coming year. Hopefully, coronavirus will be conquered and life will return to somewhat normal times in 2021. If so, you can mark your calendars and take part in some of the fun activities.
For those who have Maine roots, I will tell you right up front that there are many great records available, but with the caveat that not all are as easily accessible as, say, Massachusetts records.
For the most part, you also need to know the town/s of origin for your family, as most early (pre-20th century) Maine records were kept at the town level.
The time period in which you are researching also impacts the types of records available and the formats in which you’ll find them. For example, to research my ancestors who ventured into what is now southern Maine in the mid-to-late 1600s, I can pull books off library shelves and read the transcribed court records. However, if I am looking for birth records in the 19th century, I might have to read page by page through digitized, but partially or unindexed, town records on FamilySearch.
This post will focus and libraries/archives and websites, rather than titles of individual published books with one exception – A Gazetteer of the State of Maine by George Varney, 1836-1901 – in case your family lived in a small village which has been absorbed into a town and you can’t find it on a map.
To begin Maine research, I recommend two websites – AmericanAncestors, which is by subscription or accessible at some libraries, and FamilySearch, which is free. These are not mutually exclusive resources – they are, instead, complementary and, between them, have the most extensive collection of Maine records.
AmericanAncestors, the website of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, has a variety of Maine records in its holdings, ranging from vital records to land deeds, ministers’ records and probates. It’s well worth the $95 per year subscription if you have extensive New England roots.
The first stop at FamilySearch should be the Maine research wiki to get an overview of the types of records that are out there.
Maine State Resources:
MOCA (Maine Old Cemetery Association) – Yes, we have Find-A-Grave and BillionGraves, but MOCA had feet on the ground and was busy collecting tombstone transcriptions half a century ago. Your ancestor’s gravestone might have been readable back then, but is now lost to the elements!
Also, be sure to check your town or county organizations for local library and historical society collections. Don’t forget to ask the reference librarian about vertical files or manuscripts/local histories.
USGenWeb – Maine GenWeb
Maine Genealogical Society – Check out the map for local chapters! There may be one where your ancestors lived.
Congratulations, Maine, on Your Bicentennial Anniversary!