Maine Family History Research
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This entry was originally written by Alice Eichholz, Ph.D., CG for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
History of Maine
Maine, geographically the largest New England state, for nearly half of its history was part of Massachusetts. The region, which first came to be known as the Province of Maine, was granted to Sir Ferdinando Gorges and Capt. John Mason in 1622. Wealthy merchants began the first settlements, followed by religious dissenters who moved from Massachusetts and New Hampshire to what is still referred to as “Downeast.” Attempts by the Massachusetts Bay Colony to expand its boundaries into Maine began by the 1640s. Absorption of the province by Massachusetts was completed in the following decade, although the official purchase from an heir of Gorges was not made until 1677. In the seventeenth century, Puritan settlers in the former Province of Maine were often forced to retreat back to Massachusetts Bay Colony settlements because of conflict with Native Americans, the influence of the French, the threat of war, and the different climate. In time, the previously abandoned parts of Maine were eventually resettled, with expansion by the Scots-Irish (1718), Germans at Waldoboro (1740), and, after 1752, French Huguenots, Acadians, French-Canadians, and Irish.
After the American Revolution, settlement was encouraged in hopes of generating revenue to counter the tremendous cost of the war to the new state of Massachusetts. Many people from Massachusetts and New Hampshire, including Revolutionary soldiers, settled in Maine, assumed the land was theirs for the taking, and found themselves in disputes with original proprietors. They came to make use of Maine’s natural resources to support their families, found an interior wilderness, and, as did other settlers to the rest of northern New England, a harsh environment. Until statehood was achieved in 1820, Maine was a political part of Massachusetts. Manufacturing, shipbuilding, fishing, and mining all added to considerable economic growth following statehood. By the mid-nineteenth century, a good portion of the state was settled, although some areas still remain sparsely populated today. Following the Civil War, textiles, leather, and lumber industries began to replace family farming, as a reason for migrations to the state, until the textile industry moved south by the end of the century. Emergence of hydroelectric power, agri-business, and tourism all influenced Maine’s economy and settlement in the twentieth century. Today Maine attracts new residents and vacationers for its quality of life.
Geographically, Maine is vast and mountainous. The population is concentrated along the coast, with its islands and bays; along the border with New Hampshire; and in the lower third of the state along the Kennebec and Penobscot rivers. More than half of its land mass reaches above New Hampshire’s northern latitude and remains chiefly wilderness. Political divisions in Maine are perhaps the most diverse in New England. There are 433 towns, twenty-two cities, thirty-six plantations, three “Indian” voting districts, twelve unorganized but populated townships, and approximately two hundred land divisions unpopulated and identified only by township and range. Border disputes existed with Maine’s neighbors to the east and north in Canada. The same piece of land an ancestor lived on might be identified differently because borders, counties, and names changed. Genealogical research in Maine is challenging principally because of the numerous governmental changes affecting the way records have been kept.