Maine Historical Society



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:

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 revise 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, and students may research at no charge. If you are not a member, you may use the library for a fee of $10/day. See this library holdings list to get an overview of the genealogical resources we have.

Online Catalog
The online library catalog, Minerva, contains records for our published works and archival material. Search by family surname, locations and subjects to find print and manuscript material pertaining to your family history. Maine records are typically organized by town, so be sure to search by town as well as a county. Our museum and photograph catalog are available at our museum database, and the Maine Memory Network includes digitized materials found here and at other Maine repositories. Museum objects require an appointment, and in some cases library collections are stored offsite. Please contact the reference staff with questions about access.

Our guide to genealogical resources will tell you about our library holdings, specific to family history research.

Online Databases
The Brown Research Library subscribes to, Heritage Quest Online, Sanborn Insurance Maps, and (NEHGS). Patrons may use these databases where researching in the reading room. Members of the Maine Historical Society can access unique digital content through the Online Resources/Members Only portal on our website. Databases included Portland Voter's Registration Index, 1891-1902; Naturalization Petitions of the United States District Court, Portland, Maine, 1912-1929; Town of Deering, Naturalization, 1873-1898. Members also have access to JSTOR via their Members Only webpage.

City Directories
City and town directories are a great way to create a timeline and 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, 1790-1940, are an important resource (like many states, the 1890 census for Maine was destroyed) Access to the Federal Census for Maine is available online at or Heritage Quest Online, both of which are accessible in the reading room. Other holdings include non-population schedules such as the Mortality schedules, 1880 Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Class schedules (mix of online and microfilm resources).

Vital Records
The Library holds hundreds of complied and published vital records (birth, marriages and deaths) for Maine, other New England States and the Canadian Maritimes. Check our catalog for VITAL RECORDS or REGISTERS OF BIRTH under the name of the town or county in which an individual lived. We also have microfilm holdings for Maine vital records collected at the state level, 1892-1955. The "Delayed Returns" (pre-1892) state-collected vital records for 80 towns in Maine are also available on microfilm (and online at These records are organized by surname, date and event.

Church Records
Maine Historical Society holds both published and manuscript Church records, with a strength in Congregational and Society of Friends (Quaker). Records are a mix of published, typescript and manuscript holdings. The Society of Friends records are also available on microfilm, as the originals are very fragile. Search the catalog for church records by town. The records are organized first by town, followed by denomination. You may also search by Church name or broader, state-wide organizations.

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. Specific questions will assist staff in better serving you.

The Library also offers Fee-based research and photocopy services. For a pre–paid, non–refundable fee, research staff will consult appropriate collections, 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.

To see if we hold collections that might help you in your research, check the MHS Holdings page.