Maine’s iconic rocky coast—and its abundant food—has been a major attraction for centuries, as was the forested interior that could be harvested for houses and ships (particularly for the British navy). That carries through today, with tourists ﬂocking to Maine’s gorgeous summer beach days, glorious fall colors, and consistent winter snow.
But Maine’s natural beauty is compounded by its deep history—and a forest full of genealogical documents. Here’s how to research your ancestors from the state.
English merchants and religious dissidents ﬁrst traveled to Maine in the early 1600s, as did French missionaries and explorers. Early European settlements sparked conflict with the indigenous populations who already lived there: the Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, and Penobscot, among others.
Though part of the United States since its inception, Maine was not nominally one of the original 13 colonies. The “Province of Maine” was ﬁrst granted to Englishmen Sir Ferdinando Gorges and Captain John Mason in 1622, then split with a new Province of New Hampshire
in 1629. Maine was absorbed by the neighboring Massachusetts Bay Company in the 1650s; the area remained part of Massachusetts until 1820.
Maine’s placement at the intersection of New England and New France (specifically, Acadia) made it a battle-ground in several conﬂicts between the English, French and their various indigenous allies throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Local tribes successfully pushed back English settlers as part of King Philip’s War (1675–1678), and soon after formed the Wabanaki Confederacy for collec-tive defense. The Confederacy again succeeded against the English in King William’s War (1688–1697), but ultimately was unable to thwart permanent settlement.
Massachusetts encouraged settlement in “the Maine district” throughout the 1700s by offering settlers land. However, the region’s settler population remained low until after the Revolutionary War, when military bound land grants encouraged migration to New England’s northern frontier.
Maine became its own state in 1820 as part of the Mis-souri Compromise. A free state, Maine was admitted at the same time as a slave state (Missouri) to maintain a bal-ance of power. The state capital was initially Portland, but moved to Augusta in 1827.
Increased settlement led to conﬂict with UK-held Canada. The “Aroostook War” in 1838 over disputed territory was devoid of armed fighting, but technically not bloodless; two British soldiers were injured by bears. The incident resulted in the 1842 Webster-Ashburton Treaty, which established the modern Maine-Canada border.
Samuel de Champlain explores the Maine coastline; a short-lived French settlement is established on Saint Croix Island 1622
England grants land for the “Province of Maine,” then divides the area between Maine and New Hampshire seven years later
After years of de
facto ownership, the Massachusetts Bay Colony formally absorbs the Province of Maine 1691
William III and Mary II charter the Province
of Massachusetts Bay; Maine is administered as York County 1780
The District of Maine is incorporated into the nascent Commonwealth of Massachusetts, one of the original 13 states
1820 Maine separates from Massachusetts and becomes the 23rd state in the Union as part of the Missouri Compromise 1842
The United States and United Kingdom agree to the modern Maine-Canada border after the “Aroostook War” incident 1860
Knox County is created from Lincoln and Waldo Counties, the last major change to Maine’s county boundaries
The USS Maine sinks in Havana Harbor, sparking US enthusiasm for war against Spain 1947
Forest fires destroy more than 17,000 acres in Maine, including 10,000 acres of Acadia National Park
Maine first required statewide vital registration in 1892. County courthouses created the original records, then sent copies to the state. FamilySearch holds microfilmed vital records from the years 1892 to 1921, plus some earlier records. Records are arranged by era, then surname and type of record. Note that minor name variants may be combined.
The Maine State Library has records from 1922 to 1955. More-recent records must be ordered from the state department of vital records, which has custody of all post-1892 records. Only direct descendants and other authorized individual scan order birth records less than 75 years old, marriage records less than 50, and death records less than 25.
Some towns kept vital records before 1892, but coverage is sporadic. Some marriage records, for example, date to the 1600s but include only the name of the bride and groom. Copies of pre-1892 records were supposed to be forwarded to the state in the 1920s, but only about 20% of towns did so. The Maine Genealogical Society has a guide to which town records are online and which have been published in hard copy. And the state archives have an index of known pre-1892 town vital records.
Maine has appeared in every federal census, but early returns for a few places are missing. Though Maine was part of Massachusetts until 1820, the National Archives and several websites categorize Maine returns under their own heading even before that time. Find federal censuses from 1790 to 1880 and 1900 to 1950 at major genealogy websites. (The 1890 has largely been lost.)
The Maine Genealogical Society has created a multi-volume set of Maine households as they were listed in the 1790 census. As of this writing, the set is 12 volumes and includes a free downloadable index.
Maine took just one state census, but returns for all but Portland, Bangor, and unincorporated towns were destroyed. Find surviving (albeit, unindexed) record images at Digital Maine and FamilySearch.
The state also conducted an 1864 voter list that serves as a kind of census, created to allow Civil War Soldiers to cast absentee ballots. Images are at FamilySearch.
Maine newspapers can be an excellent source of genealogical data, especially given the relative lack of vital records before 1892. The Maine Newspaper Project catalogs digitized publications, and Digital Maine hosts an older (1999) but fairly comprehensive newspaper list. Additional titles are available at MyHeritage and Newspapers.com.
The 18-volume York Deeds (available several places online) transcribes deeds for Maine from before 1737. (York was the only county in Maine until 1760.) Maine has a centralized portal for deeds. Other land records, including deeds granted by both Massachusetts and Maine and Revolutionary War bounty-land warrants from the 1830s, are available from the Maine State Archives.
At the start of World War II, Maine required all non-citizen adults living in the state to register. These records have been digitized and are available online. The registrations are especially helpful for Canadians living in Maine in the 1940s who hadn’t yet naturalized (or never did) or who entered the United States at a border-crossing that kept minimal records.
For court proceedings up to 1929, the Maine State Archives holds the original records of all courts that have operated in Maine (except for Lincoln County, for which microfilm copies are available). Most of these have been digitized and are available at FamilySearch.
Probate records are kept at the county level in Maine. Many are available at FamilySearch, with more-modern records at Maine Probate.
Records for those from the District of Maine who served in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 are generally held at the Massachusetts State Archives. But it’s the Maine State Archives that holds considerable military personnel records for later conflicts, including the Civil War and World War I. Some of Maine’s Civil War records (including portraits of many soldiers) have been digitized.
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