If you have Maine family roots, you’ll want to check out DigitalMaine Repository, which is part of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), an evergrowing website with links to historical resources for every state in the U.S.
While I have been aware of DPLA for years, I’ve only used it occasionally. However, my recent 12 for ’22 project, updating the life of William Tarbox (1779-1860) of New Gloucester, Maine, made me realize there are some real treasures, already digitally available, for Maine researchers.
The home page of DigitalMaine Repository features only a few links on the left side of the page. That means it takes some exploring to find the gold hidden away.
Occasionally, I’ve read blog posts from those who seek medical records from family members who were institutionalized as far back as the early 1800s, but have either not been able to find any extant records or were barred by state law from accessing records, even though the patient died a century ago.
Maine State Archives has a collection of patient records from the Augusta Mental Health Institute, previously called the Maine Insane Hospital, covering the years from 1840-1910.
To give you an idea of just how many patients lived there – over 11,000 died at the hospital and that isn’t counting patients who completed a stay and returned home.
Not only does the Archives have the records, but they have digitized most of them and they are available on DigitalMaine Repository.
Now back to my comment about exploring to find the hidden gold – I never would have found these records without step by step directions of an archivist.
Look at the lengthy pathway at the top of the image – from Home to the records took six clicks. Part of the difficulty in finding the records is that they are housed under the Secretary of State records and under the AMHI hospital name.
Once you reach the AMHI page, navigating is easy. There are five separate collections:
1. 1881 report
2. Admission books
3. Annual Reports
4. Autopsy Files from 1912-1913
5. Patient medical records
I used the admission books to find the exact date that William Tarbox was admitted to the hospital and then delved into the Patient Medical Records to find his entry.
While these steps weren’t difficult, it was very slow going because these are PDF volumes with hundreds of pages in them. Scrolling page by page was an arduous task since William was on page 432!
These records seem to be quite complete. William’s record is short – just one page – as he was only there for 20 days. I noticed several entries that included the note that they were a continuation from previous pages. Therefore, it might take quite a lot of scrolling to find multi-page medical records pertaining to one person.
When found, those records truly are gold!
What else is to be found on Digital Maine?
There is a Digital Repositories for Maine Communities collection (not all towns are included) that has historical images. In Calais, Maine, I found the Archive Collection for the First Congregational Church of Calais, which included a booklet about the formation of the church and a list of original members in the 1820s and 1830s.
Another booklet covers all the members from 1825-1925, including when they left and how/why. In many cases, the congregant died and their date of death is noted. This is in a state where death records weren’t common until the turn of the 20th century!
My 2X great grandmother, Nellie Tarbox, joined the First Congregational Church in May 1873, before she married Calvin Adams:
It gives her death date of 23 December 1927 and even includes the place – Boston, Massachusetts. There is also “Adams” in parentheses after her name, probably added in February 1875, after she got married.
Nellie’s sister, Elizabeth, wife of Charles Vickery, also joined, but much later:
The other link in the Calais section is to books about Calais, including genealogies that have been digitized and a book about the plaster and granite industries in Calais. That is of interest to me because George Rogers Tarbox, my 3X great grandfather, owned the Red Beach granite quarry in the later 1800s.
DigitalMaine Repository is a GeneaGem for Maine ancestor hunters.
If your family wasn’t from Maine, visit DPLA to find your states of interest. You never know what rare records might be waiting for you and – don’t be afraid to spend some time digging! It’s worth your time.