Researching your Genealogy at MHS library
Tracing your ancestry takes basic research skills, some time and patience, but it is a popular and rewarding hobby. Filling in the blanks in your family tree is a lot like doing a jigsaw puzzle. It can be fun and challenging to fit the pieces together. Maine Historical Society may be just one of the places you will search for missing pieces for your Maine and New England families.
How to get started
Begin with your Immediate Family
Find out as much as you can about your family history by talking to parents, relatives and family friends. Ask about:
- Names of ancestors, their spouses, and their siblings
- Dates of birth, marriage, death, and divorce
- The places (town, county, state or province, and country) where these events occurred
Using Forms and Charts
There are many ways to record your family history. One of the standard charts is a Pedigree Chart. Enter the information you know and updating as you find things during your research. The form will display four generations of direct ancestors. Using this form, you will easily see what information you are missing and what you need to find.
A Family Group Sheet will also help you record entire family groups. Most genealogy software programs contain some version of these forms.
Using the MHS Library
The Research Library collection consists of over 100,000 printed books and pamphlets and two million manuscript pages from the 15th to the 21st centuries. MHS members can use the library as part of their membership. If you are not a member, you may use the library for a daily use fee of $2/hr or $10/day. See this library holdings list to get an overview of the genealogical resources we have.
Surname Card Catalog
With your charts in hand, your first stop in the Maine Historical Society Library should be the SURNAME Catalog on the wall near the entrance. Look through the card file for your FAMILY NAME to see what we have. We have over 6,700 compiled genealogies. If you find your family name, note the call number from the card to request the books you would like to consult.
Look through the index(es) for names you recognize. With luck, you will find a relative and the book will trace him/her back several generations.
Library Card and Online Catalogs
The library holdings are cataloged in a few areas. On the left wall in the library, you will find the manual card catalog. This contains catalog records for materials cataloged before 2001, including over 1,300 family history "how-to" books that will help guide you in your research—everything from Genealogy 101 to Writing Your Family History. For our most recent acquisitions check our Online Catalog — Minerva. Most of our catalogs have been converted to the online Minerva database but this is an ongoing process.
Our guide to genealogical resources will tell you about our library holdings, specific to family history research.
MHS offers access to several databases. MHS Members can access the Portland Voter's Registration index 1891-1902 through their internet connection. Other information is available using our in–library computers: HeritageQuest Online, Sanborn Maps of Maine, Ancestry Library, NewEnglandAncestors.org, an obituary database for Maine, and many CDs with historical and genealogical data.
City and town directories (also indexed by the town name) are a great way to place individuals in time and in a community. They can also help fill in the gap between the census years.
Federal Census Records
The U.S. Census records for Maine, 1790–1930, are an important resource. We have all available census microfilm for Maine organized by county and year. We also have some Maine non-population schedules such as the Mortality schedules and the 1880 Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes schedule. Other holding include the entire U.S. 1880 Federal Census index and text on CD, and many other published indexes. Federal Census records for the entire country are available on HeritageQuest™ Online, which members can access from within the library or remotely, (until Nov 1, 2006) and Ancestry Library, available in the library only.
The Library holds hundreds of compiled and published vital records (births, deaths, and marriages) for Maine and other New England states. Check our catalogs for VITAL RECORDS or REGISTERS OF BIRTH under the name of the town in which an individual lived. We also have the Maine vital records from 1892 to 1955 (three series on microfilm) and the so–called delayed returns from approximately 80 cities and towns, including Portland and Cape Elizabeth. These are arranged by surname, date, and event.
Remember to Document your Sources
It is very important that you document where you find your information, such as the book title or call number, and all dates and place names. You might want to use this research log sheet.
Our Staff can Assist You
The Library staff will assist you in locating specific books and in using library materials. Actual research must be done by the patron. Specific questions will assist staff in better serving you.
The Library also offers a research service. For a pre–paid, non–refundable fee, staff or volunteers will consult appropriate catalogs, directories, books or photographs. Up to five hours may be commissioned before client review and redirection. Please see our Library Research services section for more information.