ancestryink fisherman

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Postcard from the Old Gaol : 1909

I came across this postcard in a Cape Neddick antique store today. The postmark is July 26, 1909.  102 years ago... "Joe" the sender writes this laconic note to Mr. David Weston of Reading Mass:

"I haven't been put here yet the Lord knows when.  Joe.  Arrived here at 7 p.m."

 From the York Historical Society website, a little info about the Old Gaol:
"Until 1760 the Gaol was a prison for the entire province of Maine; it then served as a county jail until 1820. For the next forty years it continued to be used for the incarceration of local wrongdoers. The Gaol then served briefly as school, a boarding house, and a warehouse, and by 1895 it stood abandoned and in peril from neglect..."

Postcards from the early 1900's were very popular and plentiful.  For the price of a 1 cent, or 2 cent stamp, they were used to convey all kinds of messages, from simple and humorous "wish you were here" kind of things, to notifications of a relative's impending death, telling the addressee he or she "had better get here soon." Sometimes postcards shared heartfelt expressions of love, or a request for money, as well - all no different than today, really. Punctuation and upper case was minimal...think of postcards as the "text messages" of yesteryear.

P.S.  It's pretty likely "Joe" did not end up in the Old Gaol, and was probably just vacationing in York, in July. However, there is a list of many of the former inmates inside the Gaol - now a very fun and fascinating museum for all ages. Follow website link above, to learn more about all York's historic landmarks.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Graveyards of Summer

Clara Elwell, d. 1862, Sea Side Cemetery
The cemeteries of the Maine coastal region are stunning.  The cooler temperatures and the exquisite care that is given to graveyards by the cemetery keepers of these small towns, creates a lush, green sanctuary in which to stroll - many situated overlooking a breathtaking, scenic harbor.  There is no holier place to tread to appreciate the spirit of those below ground, conjoined with nature, above.  Truly a peaceful experience.

After driving out of Camden and Rockport, down the long peninsula to St. George, I dropped into a local restaurant for an ice cream and some directions.  Not the normal tourist seeking lobster or a place to drop a kayak, I rather sheepishly asked the young waitress where the nearest cemetery was located. (I had done some preliminary research and knew there were both Henderson and Sweetland ancestors of interest, somewhere on St. George.)

"Two minutes up the road on the left," she enthusiastically offered.  And sure enough slightly up Route 131, a quiet winding road, was the shaded, tall wrought iron gate to the cemetery grounds which spread gracefully downhill to Tenant's Harbor, and the distant waters of low tide. 

This stone is the most ornate I have encountered in a rural graveyard in all my New England travels.  Many of the stones in this cemetery in St. George, Maine, are carved of an almost pure white stone or marble which has withstood the centuries, almost entirely unscathed.  They stand out in beautiful contrast to the vibrant moss and close cut rolling lawns.

William A. Elwell must have had a great love for his 19 year old wife Clara W., to erect such an elaborate memorial after her death 12 Feb 1862.

Monday, June 27, 2011

French and Jewish in St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery, Dover NH

While waiting for my car appointment at the Toyota dealer across the street, I finally ventured into St. Mary's Cemetery on Dover Point Road, Dover NH.  The entrance to this large, neatly attended Catholic graveyard is flanked by two huge white statues of the Virgin Mary. The Parish of the Assumption, in downtown Dover, oversees the care of the cemetery.

Within, I found that the back section of the cemetery, gravestones spanning from the mid-1800's to present day, contained a long linear section of humble stones marking burials of French, possibly French Canadian citizens.  Directly to the right of this section, were stones etched with Hebrew, apparently the Jewish section of this Catholic graveyard.  The back of this long narrow section of graves was flanked by thick woods, marking the back border of this vast cemetery.  There is a sense that these graves were set apart from the others, purposely.

French /French Canadian headstones.

Headstone in Jewish burial section of

I have found no history of this cemetery on the website of the Parish of the Assumption, therefore will call them to learn of the origins of these headstones and why they are set at the back of the cemetery, separated by a lane, from the rest of the cemetery.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Cause of Death: Dentition

Teeth??  This morning as I was examining death records in PA for the Corrigan family of mid-1800's, I came across a cause of death in a 6-month old infant as "morbid dentition."   This seemed odd.  Did it mean the child died while cutting teeth?   A little web surfing brought me to other blog posts of genealogists querying about the same issue - age of death from dentition seemed to range from infancy to as old as 20.  Perhaps infected wisdom teeth?

Cause of death in old records can yield mystifying terms.  Great fun to read - and imagine!

Finally, I came upon this post from the blog at Ptak Science Books, which I thought was worthy of sharing.  Though it does not answer the "dentition" question fully, it has an entertaining list of the top 40 (or so) causes of death in London's 1600's.  Milk leg?  Eel thing?  Headmouldshot?    Read on...

Image courtesy of Ptak Science Books LLC; Post 464

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Excessive Use of Opium

Original death records are the order of the day, today.   Here is one I enjoyed while researching the Small family of Hancock County,  Maine.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Cyndi's List

New website - easier to navigate.  Visit now.  (In the right hand menu bar: "Genealogy News Feeds"...)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Marriage, separation, divorce laws in 1800's

The laws for terminating a marriage during the 1800's was particular to each state.  Death rates among child-bearing couples were much higher, for one thing, and multiple marriages were not abnormal.  However, other than the U.S. Federal Census records reports of "years married" and at times whether these marriages were "first" or "second," it can be difficult to determine exactly when one marriage ended, and why - especially if any of these changes took place within the 10 year period between census reports.

I have been entirely unsuccessful in locating divorce documents.  For a great grandfather who married three times between 1882 and 1925, I've only found one definite indication of legal divorce. Particularly in rural areas (such as island communities off the coast of Maine) these records are even sketchier.

History tells us that divorce rates began to climb steadily, after the woman's rights movements fought for a wife's right to attach her husband's property as her own, during the dissolution of a marriage.  Whether this is wholly true or not, I am not sure. There were other accompanying factors - such as women beginning to earn their own living outside the home, which would increase the ending of unhappy marriages.

At any rate, it seems true in the 1800's that sometimes "separation" for a period of time, in some places,  constituted dissolution of a marriage - enough so that one or both parties could then remarry.  If anyone else finds this to be true, in their own research, please let me know!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Genealogists find authors of 1930's letters to mysterious donor B. Virdot

In 2008, Ted Gup's 80 year old mother handed him a suitcase full of letters that belonged to his grandfather Samuel Stone. The suitcase was entitled "Memoirs," and all the letters were dated the same week of December 1933. The Great Depression.  And they were all addressed to someone named "B. Virdot."  The letters were from individuals ranging in age from 14 and older, asking to be considered to receive a gift from the benefactor B. Virdot.

(Click on letter to read transcription of CBS story)

This was Canton, Ohio in 1933.  In 2008, Mr. Gup began his investigation to learn more about B. Virdot (who turns out to be his grandfather) and the people who received the gifts.  He uses local genealogists to aid him in his search, and along the way also finds out that his grandfather, who became a well-to-do clothing retailer,  is not from Pittsburgh, as he claimed, but from Romania, and arrived penniless to the U.S. in 1902, to escape persecution.

Here is an audio of the NPR interview with Mr. Gup.  He has written a book about his grandfather "B. Virdot" and the people who received his gifts.

It's a wonderful story.  Benefactors in Canton, Ohio have now taken up B. Virdot's cause and each year donate to the needy.  

Another case where genealogists play a vital role in connecting people, solving mysteries, and providing intimate, human details of an historical period such as the Great Depression.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

CT Vital Records to 1870 (The Barbour Collection)

NEHGS has added a new database for four towns in CT.

"This collection contains records of marriages, births, and deaths in Connecticut towns from the 1640s to about 1870. These records were collected, transcribed, and abstracted by Lucius Barnes Barbour (Connecticut Examiner of Public Records, 1911–1934) and his team of researchers between 1918 and 1928."


Search the Barbour Collection now.

More towns will be added this collection, gradually, says NEHGS.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Walsh History Room at Camden Public Library

Ask Heather Bilodeau anything.  Not only does she have knowledge of every resource in the room, she will hands on help you out.

The Camden Public Library is an absolutely gorgeous stone-faced structure facing the harbor and flanked by the library's own pastoral, outdoor amphitheater.  The above-ground part of the library houses the Walsh History Room.  The walls of the halls and rooms are printed with ceiling to floor, museum-quality historical images in sepia tones.  The entire experience is like entering a well-designed museum exhibition.

I spent two full afternoons lost in research in the History Center.  The Camden/Rockport vital records books and local information are invaluable.  The cemetery records revealed to me that most of the family I was researching was buried right in Amesbury Cemetery, a stone's throw from the Rockport Library, another wonderful facility, facing Rockport's scenic harbor, and just a couple of miles from the Camden Library.

In my last hour at the History Center, I asked Heather, the Archives Director,  if the local newspaper dating back to the 1800's might have been on microfilm.  Sure enough, the Camden Herald is stored on microfilm there, dating back to the 1870's!  I found two obituaries, 1888 and 1911, solving many ancestral mysteries, and providing further clues in new names to explore.  The microfilm was very difficult to read with the older newspapers, and Heather then informed me that the Camden Herald had also been put into a digital database.  In no time flat, she'd drawn up the same obituaries in that database (which by the way is available to anyone, not just library card holders) and we printed them out in perfect resolution.

Visit the website and see what the Walsh History Center has to offer, from a distance.  But if  you can spare the time, make a reservation at one of the great Camden B&B's and spend a few days playing in Camden, and getting lost in research in the Walsh History Center. I can't wait to go back!

Oh, and P.S. - They also have a small museum and a collection of stunning historical photographs of Camden. Ask Heather where to find them.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Unexpected results from FHL microfilm

Records found on or the site sometimes provide an abstract, or only partial information written on the original, historical document.  A mysterious death location of Leavenworth KS, taking place in the 1880's, led me to a funeral home record collection dating 1942 - 1954 - the wrong dates, but I knew it was the right person, from other corroborating evidence I had of her.

I ordered the microfilm, hoping I would find a number of clues to 'Nellie's' death (at age 23), and other family members listed on the death certificate of the funeral home.

Much to my surprise, it was a record of a "disinterment."  Nellie's brother, 59 years after her death from consumption, wrote to the funeral home in Leavenworth KS to order her remains dug up, boxed, and shipped to his local funeral home, to be re-buried in the family cemetery plot in Maine. I did find her cause of death, but no other family information.

Expect the unexpected!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Obituaries from 1800's-the present Sanford Maine

The Louis B. Goodall Memorial Library on Elm Street in Sanford Maine, like the nearby Springvale Library and Historical Society, is a surprisingly great resource for genealogical research.

Obituary Index at Goodall Library, click here.  (you can do a surname check online, before physically visiting library to view microfilm.)

The second floor holds a vertical file of index cards with the name of everyone whose obituary appeared in the Sanford Springvale Advocate or other local papers.  They date from mid -1800's - the present.  Each card lists name, date of the newspaper edition, and page number for the obit.  The accompanying microfilm file holds film of the newspapers. 

Besides the obituaries which are hugely illuminating and full of related names and important information, the accompanying local news columns are full of historical clues to the time period for York County.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sanford Maine 1890

Boothby,  Ridley, Goodwin, Coooper, Traves, Frost, Littlefield, Lew, Hamilton, Hutchins, Clark, Davis, Nutter, Hanson, Dennett, Harmon, Stiles, Bartlett, Bedwell, Johnson, Pray.....

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Luminous Churches

Takes your breath away....

Protestant churches photographed in luminous beauty by architectural photographer, Steve Rosenthal.

The Winter/Spring issue of "Historic New England" features Rosenthal's work.  You will receive a copy if you're a member, or visit their website for more images. 

Mr. Rosenthal uses BW film and shoots with medium and large format cameras. His book of old New England churches is called: 
"White on White: Churches of Rural New England."

For more of his stunning photography, visit his website:

Friday, March 25, 2011

York County Courthouse, Alfred Maine

Yesterday I spent an absorbing three hours exploring the ledger books of the York County Courthouse. Totally cool!   I was researching a specific house, and whatever documents I could accrue about the owner/family I am investigating.

Each document I found:  Will, deeds, record of property transference, etc. held new names for me to research.  The names intertwine.  Towns were small in the 1800's, and the names reoccur throughout local documents, either as Notary Public, Witness, Signee...townspeople with positions of importance.

I even found a record of a lawsuit of a wife against her husband, within my family.  She the Libelant, and he the Libelor - in 1888.  She had attached his real estate and it was a discharge of same.  This may have been a divorce.

Before you go to Alfred, do some preliminary scouting at the Maine courts website to narrow down your department of research.  Also, many files are online, dating from 1966 forward.    Click here: York County Courthouse 

I was also researching a crime in 1890 which happened in Sanford ME and went to the Grand Jury.  They have NO record of it, and told me it is possible it was lost in a fire they had around 1933.

"Here are oldest continuous court records in United States. Going back to 1636 they include patent conveying the land between Piscataqua and Kennebec Rivers from Charles I to Sir Ferdinando Gorges. Facade is copy of that of original courthouse built on this site 1807 and burned 1933. Town of Alfred."           Erected by York County Tercentenary Commission.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

It Takes a Village

I had an interesting experience during my research of a Sanford/South Berwick family yesterday. 

I emailed the contact for the local historical society ( to ask her a question about cemetery plot receipts in the late 1800's.  While waiting for her response, I called the Town Hall.  They directed me to the Cemetery Committee.  By the end of the day, I was receiving emails from at least three other people in town who were independently trying to locate my information.  I had to smile at the immediacy of electronic communication - and the "network."  And all without using my Facebook profile!

Note:  I've found that cemetery records are available differently in each town.  In Salem, MA, while researching my own family, I found there is an office on site at the actual cemetery that holds all the records for plot purchases, going back to the 1800's.  (I also found the receipt in my mother's files - helpful - thanks Mom)

South Berwick does not have records for the sale of cemetery plots, but does have records of the exact date of burial of the actual body.  

The person I"m researching died in Sanford, Maine, was quickly transported to Topsfield, MA where his original family lived and where he was born, and then was returned to South Berwick, Maine for actual burial, and is listed on a headstone at Woodlawn Cemetery.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Historic Homes of New England

One of the majestic homes in the Historic Homes list:  Hamilton House of South Berwick Maine.
In 1914, Hamilton House was still known as the Tyson House.  Sarah Orne Jewett, another So. Berwick resident, was a close friend of Emily Tyson. Today, the name has reverted to the original owner/builder of the home:  Jonathan Hamilton, a shipping merchant.  The wings have been removed, and minor renovations have taken place, but it is much the same, gracing a scenic view of the Salmon Falls River.

(This postcard's message includes the names:  "Mixer" of Providence, RI, and "Hughes" (address unknown.)

Tyson House So Berwick Me 1914


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Historical Newspapers from NEHGS

"Explore your early American ancestors and the America of yesterday! The New England Historic Genealogical Society is excited to offer to its members an invaluable resource,Early American New England CourantNewspapers, Series I 1690-1876."

 From AncestryInk:   If you have a membership to
NEHGS, you will have access to this massive database of historical newspapers.  The search engine has great
refinement capabilities and you will be able to narrow
down your searches.  View a snippet, page or the download via PDF, the entire newspaper.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Surname Search

To aid others in their individual family research, surnames currently being researched by AncestryInk will be posted in alphabetical lists from time to time. Many of these names originate from postcard or letters in our collection.  Please contact me if you would like further information about these sources.

For a quick comprehensive SEARCH, click on the "Surname Search box in right sidebar of blog.  This will give you results for AncestryInk and clicking on "Related Links" will give you results from our featured listings (Cyndi's List;; etc.)

Barker, Nellie - So. Royalton, VT
Fiske, Ina - So. Framingham, MA
Henderson, Alexander; Alan - Guysborough, Nova Scotia and Deer Isle, ME
Marchant, Elizabeth - New Haven, CT
McKenney, Lester;  Mrs. F.L. - Cornish, ME
Phillips, Mr. J.S. - NYC, NY
Thayer, Arthur - Dedham, MA
Titus, Miss M. - Dover, NH
Whittier, Ida - Searsport, ME

Thursday, February 24, 2011

History Repeats Itself (and so does the weather)

Last July 2010, a swift and devastating tornado ripped through upper York County, Maine. Two of the hardest hit towns were Gray and Limerick.  A good friend of mine who lives in Limerick had the roof ripped off his house and his property laid to waste, losing almost every tree.

Shortly after that, I came upon a postcard postmarked 1909, showing fallen trees.  The caption on the front reads:  "Ruin caused by Tornado, July 8, 1909, No. Gray, Maine."  Remarkable.  What seemed like a bizarre, out-of-the-ordinary event last July, we now know to have happened before in nearly the very same location, just over 100 years ago!

Sometimes when history repeats itself, even in the form of notable weather events,  there is a certain comfort in discovering it has happened before...and life has gone on and renewed itself.  (It is also interesting to note that a postcard was created to record this tornado in Gray.)

Here is the old postcard, followed by a photo I took of last July's tornado havoc in Limerick. (Captions added at bottom of images are my own, and not part of the postcard.)

Gray Maine, 1909 (postcard)

Limerick Maine, 2010 (photograph)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Visions and Voices, Then and Now

"Then and Now" photographs of landscapes are always intriguing.  For example, the popular "Images of America" series of soft cover books published by Arcadia Publishing has provided us with endless photographic and postcard images and descriptions of nearly every town, city, landscape, and person imaginable.  They also include a host of names and vital information needed for genealogical research.

My own family are Hendersons hailing originally from Scotland and later Loyalists living on a land grant in Guysborough, NS. After departing Nova Scotia, they settled in Deer Isle and Swan's Island, Maine. Both places are rich in history of maritime occupations (my ancestor - a sea captain), stone work in the granite quarries, and tourism.  The "Images in America" series provided me with many new clues in researching my own family and ended up launching me on my own exciting book project.

In my travels (with camera ever in hand) I've shot many a comparative photograph of locations found on the front of postcards I have acquired from local antique or used bookstores, or online sources - all usually dating around early 1900's, scrawled front and back with handwritten messages. 

Somewhere along this enjoyable visual path, and concurrent with finishing my course in genealogical research at Boston University, it occurred to me that the names penned on these postcards and the messages within, could also be of vital interest to others.

What stories they tell! Sometimes simply casual greetings, and other times important tidings of health, occupation, migration and even worldly events. One card came from a mental hospital, another from Fort McClary, a soldier in training for war, another a female worker in one of the many grand hotels flourishing in the early 1900's, most later burned to the ground and now gone forever.  These authors have inadvertently provided valuable genealogical information for us to follow today.

Voices and visions from the past...