Curtis Home Catalog Services Readers Corner Research Kids Teens

Borrow a scanner from Curtis

August 7th, 2015

Continuing with the theme of last week’s blog (preparing for a genealogy field trip), did you know that Curtis Library has two portable scanners that you can borrow from the library just like a book? These scanners are idea for field trips because (once charged) you don’t have to plug them in to make them work. This makes them ideal for trips to courthouses, historical societies, and other locations where opportunities to plug in technology might be hard to find.

flip hand 300The first scanner is a Flip-Pal flat-bed scanner. It is perfect for scanning objects that can’t be opened up and put through a feeder such as books or antique photographs. The Flip-Pal is also very useful for large objects. You can take multiple pictures of the large object and then use the scanner’s software to “quilt” together a picture of the whole. Flip-Pal as particularly useful when you want to scan something delicate – you can place the scanner directly (and gently) on top of the object with no harm to it.

iris-iriscan-anywhere-2The second scanner is an IRIScan mobile scanner. It has a feed that allows you to put multiple items through the scanner in a relatively short period of time. I find it most useful for paper documents or photographs that are flat enough to go easily through the feed. It also allows you to scan quickly.

Why scan instead of photograph? Some institutions will not allow you to photograph an item but they will let you scan it (I don’t know why, that’s just the way it is!) Photographing paper is somewhat challenging but scanning is easy and you can set the resolution to 600 dpi if you want a very detailed copy of an object. I think it really boils down to preference but scanners are definitely another good tool to know about if you are diving into field genealogy research.

The scanners at Curtis are both in heavy demand so the library is now in the process of purchasing another version of each. If you are interested in borrowing a scanner, go to the Reference Desk on the library’s second floor and talk to the librarian at the desk. Each scanner comes with directions and they are very easy to use. Good luck and happy research!

Spending time in the cemetery (or research library!)

July 31st, 2015

Old-Cemetery-cemeteries-and-graveyards-722635_1024_769I’m planning a trip to Canada this year some of which will be spent doing genealogy research.  So, I’m collecting information about how to get organized and do “field” research.  The  following are five useful ideas I’ve discovered that you may find helpful:

1.  Know what you want – have a detailed research plan.  Identify where you have gaps in your research and what information will help you fill those gaps.  Make a list of what information you need and why for each location you will visit.  Being focused will mean that you don’t get overwhelmed by a sudden wealth of resources and that you don’t forget a key topic that you want to explore.  See Before Your Trip for more information – available at

2.  Confirm the basics.  Make sure you have directions to your location.  Call ahead to make sure it is open and to confirm hours of operation.  Confirm what equipment you can use – computers, cellphones, scanners, etc.  There is nothing worse than assuming you can visit an archives, planning your trip around that visit and then finding out it will be closed on the day you planned to visit!

3.  If you are planning cemetery visits, bring bug spray (critical!), a camera, a map of the cemetery if possible and tin foil.  Yes, tin foil.  Old stones can be very hard to read.  However, I’ve learned that tin foil can help with that problem even while not harming the tombstones (unlike some other methods).  Read the article Safe Solutions for more information.

4.  Check your technology twice.  Make sure batteries are working and cell phones are charged.  Make sure you have the files on your computer (and the paper files in your briefcase) that you think you have.  I would also suggest practicing taking pictures of documents with your camera, cellphone, or tablet.  It takes a bit of experience to take good, clear pictures of materials – make sure you aren’t practicing the day of your research.  See Documenting without Damage.

5.  Finally – don’t forget to talk to people.  Don’t get so involved in your research that you forget to talk to the people you see along the way.  It is amazing what you can learn from talking to volunteers at archives and groundskeepers at cemeteries.  Plus, it will just make your whole trip more fun.

Good luck and happy research!

Newspaper resources for genealogists

July 24th, 2015

Newspapers are an excellent source of information for genealogists. The following are a few resources that I’ve learned about from genealogy webinars and lectures and used myself. I hope you find them helpful.  Happy research!

elephind_widgetsThe elephind website provides digital access to thousands of historical newspapers from Australia, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore, and the United States, all for free. In addition to having a great name, the elephind site is useful and efficient because it has a federated search. That means that you only have to type in your search term once and the engine will go through all of the newspapers on the site versus requiring that you search each newspaper individual. This saves you a tremendous amount of time and energy. The site is most useful to genealogists searching information about Australian and American ancestors.

Paper of Record has an even larger database of historical newspapers from around the world. I was particularly happy to discover that they have a large number of early Canadian newspapers available. My major complaints about the site are that a) you have to purchase access and b) it does NOT have federated search, making the search process slow and somewhat clumsy. However, the large number and scope of newspapers available more than make up for my dislike of their search engine.

PORTHOOD WEBFinally, if you go to the Family Search wiki you will discover a detailed discussion about how to find digitized, historical newspapers from around the world. In addition to giving you links to collections, the wiki provides hints about how to search to find more options.

A new genealogy research tip

July 17th, 2015

Updates_FamilySearch1I learned a great genealogy research tip today from Lynne Holland, Curtis Library genealogy volunteer extraordinaire (available in the Curtis Genealogy Room on most Fridays).

I have been searching forever for information about my father’s Canadian relatives. In fact, I’ve been working on this for so long that I’ve run out of obvious places like to search.

Lynne showed me how to search on the LDS website for information related to the places my family lived in Canada.
• Go to
• Click on the “Search” tab at the top of the page and then click on “Catalog”.
• You can search by place, surnames, titles, author, subjects, or keywords.
• Click on “place” and start typing in the location of interest.
• The program will produce drop-down options with the correct heading – click on the one of interest (for example, I typed in “Lanark” and “Canada, Ontario, Lanark” was one of the options – I clicked on that).
• A list will come up that identifies all of the matches, by category, and how many in each category.
• You can open up each category and if you are interested, click on print list. This will save the information to a list that you can print later.

Many of the resources are still on microfilm so you can’t see them online. However, you can request the microfilm be mailed from the Salt Lake City Family History Center (there is a cost for doing so) and you can request that the films be sent to a local Family History Center where you can review them. There are Family History Centers in both Topsham and Augusta that can receive the microfilms for your research.  You’ll have to visit the center – the microfilms need to stay at that location.

I now have a long list of new research possibilities for my Canadian relatives. Who knows? I might break through that brick wall yet! Happy research and thank you, Lynne!

Genealogy Fair, Maine State Library, Saturday July 11

July 8th, 2015

genealogy_fair_250Just in case you hadn’t heard about this event, I wanted to pass on the information to local genealogists.

This Saturday (July 11) from 9-4 in the lobby of the State Library, Museum, and Archives in Augusta there will be a Genealogy Fair, held by the Maine State Library.  Attendees can visit with 16 historical and genealogical organizations, sit down with a professional genealogist to get help with the brick walls in their family history research, buy a t-shirt, see historical re-enactors and more.  Admission is free.  You can also check out the State Library and Archives and visit the State Museum for free. The Cross Café, across the parking lot, will also be open 9-2 for breakfast, snacks and lunch.

Find all the details at the Maine State Library website here.  It sounds like it will be a great event for local genealogists.  Happy research!

American Ancestors – free database for genealogists at Curtis

June 26th, 2015

American-Ancestors-SymbolIf you are new to genealogy and have started researching ancestors who lived in New England, don’t forget that Curtis Library has purchased a subscription to for its library patrons.  The following describes the database:

It provides family historians access to more than 400 million records spanning the U.S. and beyond, including one of the most extensive online collections of early American records, and the largest searchable collection of published genealogical research journals and magazines. Special strengths include English, New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont), New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia materials.

You can use this database for free at Curtis Library.  Simply log on to the library’s website ( anywhere inside the library .  Click on the “Research” tab at the top of the page, then click on the “Genealogy” box.  There is a box with a link on the right side of the Genealogy page or you can click on the link on the left side that says “New England Historic Genealogical Society”.

Happy research!


Trouble reading handwriting?

June 5th, 2015

d0f6993a5d77b0095a8030b0c7860b73If you do genealogy for any length of time it is guaranteed that at some point you will need to decipher a handwritten document that seems to have been written by a Martian.

I have thrown my hands up in despair more than once because I can’t read words or names in a document that I’m convinced has useful information for me.

I’ve learned a few simple tricks over the years that have helped a bit in all of this.
• Look for words that you recognize and see how the writer formed letters in that word. Then compare to the word that you are trying to decipher and see if there are any similarities.

• Try writing the word yourself that you are trying to understand. Sometimes the actual process of writing unlocks something in our brains, allowing us to suddenly “see” the word in question.

• Try saying a word out loud. Again, that will sometimes unlock your brain so that it can “see” the word in question. Think phonetically – spelling of both language and names was often done by sound versus by any standardized spelling process.

There are a lot of great resources available online to help decipher handwriting. FamilySearch provides tutorials for multiple languages here.

The UK National Archives has an entire section of its website focused on paleography (reading old handwriting). You can access it here.

Check out the book Reading Early American Handwriting by Kip Sperry available at Curtis Library (Literature & Writing 427.973.S781 1998).

Happy research and I hope these tips are helpful!

Give genealogy podcasts a try – you’ll be glad you did!

May 29th, 2015

Blog_PodcastsI don’t tend to listen to podcasts much. I’m not sure why other than it is not a habit I’ve ever acquired. For those of you who don’t jump on the technology bandwagon, podcasts are the equivalent of radio shows but they are available for free on the internet. They are pre-recorded so they can be listened to anytime. Anyone can easily produce a podcast so the quality of what you find can vary tremendously.

Recently I’ve discovered that there are a LOT of genealogy podcasts and many of them are very well done.   It seemed silly to not explore what might be a great source of information for my genealogy research so I jumped into doing some research about what is available.

In the spirit of sharing what I’m learning, following are two highly recommended (by expert genealogists) genealogy podcasts that you might want to check out:

The Genealogy Guys – “The longest running, regularly produced genealogy podcast in the world!” Go their website at and then click on the image by each entry that says POD and the podcast will start playing. I was particularly interested in their March 17, 2015 podcast about newspaper research.

Lisa Louise Cooke, a well-known genealogist, also has a podcast called “Genealogy Gems”. You can start listening to her podcasts by going to , reviewing the various episodes to find what interests you, and then clicking on the POD symbol.

If you are interested in exploring more options take a look at these lists of genealogy podcasts:

I think I’ve discovered something new to do while I’m walking on the treadmill getting my exercise. Happy research!

The National Archives as a Genealogy Resource

May 15th, 2015

250px-US_National_Archives_BuildingI taught a genealogy class last week at People Plus in Brunswick.  One of the participants asked me about what the National Archives provided in terms of genealogy resources.  I had no idea so I decided to do a bit of research.

Here is where I started.  On the first page of the Resources for Genealogists you can find a nice PowerPoint tutorial for beginning genealogists.  It walks you through what is available at the National Archives.  You can download the presentation here, assuming you have PowerPoint on your computer – National Archives beginning-research.

The website also has an interesting list of resources available to be searched online, most of which will be very helpful to genealogists.  You can find the list by scrolling down to the bottom of this page.  Included here are POW lists from WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War; passenger lists into the Port of New York from 1846-1851, including the “Famine Irish data files”; and Japanese-American Internee File, 1942-1946.

Finally, there is a useful page about how to care for your personal family archives.  You can see that information here.  I was particularly interested in this because I have huge quantities of old photographs that I’m trying to figure out how to preserve.

Happy research and I definitely recommend spending a bit of time researching the National Archives website!

New Irish Genealogy Resource

May 1st, 2015

diocese2Are you studying Irish genealogy as part of tracing your family history? If so, you’ll be interested in the following information.

The National Library of Ireland ( has announced that its Roman Catholic parish registers collection will go online, available for free, as of July 8, 2015.  You can read more information about this on the Irish Genealogy News website.

These records, which are considered the single most important source of information on Irish family history prior to the 1901 census, consist primarily of baptism and marriage records and date from the 1740s to the 1880s.

ie--dublinIrish genealogy research can be intimidating because the majority of relevant records were destroyed during the Irish Civil War in 1922 when the Public Record Office of Ireland, a major repository of records, was hit by a shell which exploded and destroyed almost all of the records.

However, more and more Irish genealogy resources are being digitized and going online.  So, if Irish genealogy is on your to-do list, keep an eye out for this new resource and others to come. Happy research!

Map tool for U.S. genealogy research

April 13th, 2015

If your genealogy research is in the United States, the following is a useful (free!) tool to explore:  The Atlas of Historical County Borders (found on the website of The Newberry Library of Chicago – worth a visit on its own) can help you identify how changes in county borders may have an impact on where you seek out your genealogy records.

The website provides interactive maps for all states in the US. If you click on the state of particular interest, you can then select a time-frame. The county configuration from that time will then show up on the map, overlaid on the current county structure.

Several additional map layers are provided, including modern county seats, unsuccessful county proposals, modern county boundaries, and state boundaries. Each of these layers can be toggled on or off by the user.

This allows you to plug a date into the map of a state and immediately see in what county that community was located in that time-frame. Many genealogy records are located by county and given how often counties changed during the formative years of the United States, it can be very confusing to try to identify the right county without a tool like this one.

On a different not – if you are a user of the Curtis Genealogy Room, please feel free to participate in the 10 Days 100 Great Ideas Project going on right now at Curtis Library. We are collecting community input about the library and it would be great to get feedback from our local genealogists also. If you would like to participate, feel free to do so online on the library’s website – you’ll see the link to the 10 Days project there.Each day we post a specific question but feel free to ignore that and just tell us what resources would be helpful in the Genealogy Room.

Thanks and happy research!

April 3rd, 2015

sidebar-highlight-box-curtis-genealogy-room-volunteersJust a reminder for local Brunswick/Harpswell/Topsham genealogists that on most Fridays from 10:00am to 1:00pm (and sometimes later) you can find a genealogy volunteer at the Curtis Memorial Library Genealogy Room. These are very experienced genealogists who are happy to help teach you how to research your family tree. If you call ahead and check with our volunteer coordinator Jessica Flaherty (725-5242, x237) you can make sure that one of the volunteers will be available.

I have been working on various aspects of my family tree for about five years. I hit a brick wall several years ago on my dad’s side of the family and have never been able to break through that wall with the standard genealogy resources.

I decided to chat with Lynne Holland who was today’s genealogy volunteer in the Curtis Genealogy Room to see if she might have any ideas that would help. She immediately came up with a suggestion that I never considered which was to see if there were any poor house records where my great-grandfather lived that might clarify some of the conflicting information that I’ve discovered in my family’s records. I’m excited about trying out this new path of research since I’m very tired of banging my head against my brick wall!

I wanted to share Lynne’s suggestion for two reasons. First, I want to make sure local genealogists remember that there are wonderful volunteers just waiting to help on Fridays at Curtis Library. Second, I thought this story was a great way to reinforce a smart genealogy tactic: when you aren’t getting any results in your research, question all of your assumptions and be open to looking at new resources that you might never have considered.

Happy research!

Genetic Genealogy Help

March 20th, 2015

malepa4I continue to be fascinated by the potential of “genetic genealogy”. Just yesterday one of my first cousins emailed to let me know that he had the Ancestry DNA test done. The results indicated that on his mother’s side (his mother and my mother were sisters) that there were Irish connections.  Given that neither of our mothers ever mentioned anything that would have indicated this background, we are both highly intrigued and very interested in discovering more.

My problem with genetic genealogy is that I continue to find it more than a little confusing. To help I went searching for some (free) resources that might help clarify the topic with the goal of being able to continue the genealogy conversation with my cousin. The following are two of the most helpful articles:

Family Tree Magazine is offering a free e-book on the topic. All you have to do is give them your email address. You can find the link here.   I particularly liked this article because it provides a cheat-sheet that explains the commonly used terms in genetic genealogy. It has helped a lot as I read through other articles.

I also discovered a genetic genealogy blog that is I actually understand – the Genetic Genealogist.  You can find it here.  The author (Blaine Bettinger) also provides a free e-book article about how to interpret the results of your genetic testing. Simple to understand and not too detailed – just what I wanted!

I hope you find these resources helpful.  Happy research and good luck with your genetic genealogy!

Don’t give up!

March 6th, 2015

dont_give_upMost genealogists have a lot of tenacity as a basic part of their character.  They love to sink their teeth into a good research problem and find infinite satisfaction in finally discovering answers to long-standing questions.

However, most genealogists have also encountered research questions that just can’t be answered.  But, one of the most exciting parts of doing genealogy today is the fact that the “library” of genealogy records available online expands almost on a daily basis as more and more information is digitized and made available to the public.  What was hidden ten years ago (or even a year ago!) might be just a mouse click away today.

To that end FamilySearch just announced on February 27 that they have added more than 19.2 million INDEXED records and images to their Canada, Brazil, Puerto Rico, and United States collections of digitized information, available for free at  Click here to read their press release.  I’m excited about this because it opens up new paths of opportunity to find more information about my ever elusive Canadian ancestors.

This leads to my point for the day – don’t ever give up on your research.  You may not find the information today (or even tomorrow) that you need.  However,  there is so much genealogy information being made available online that it is worth your time to review your “problem research” on a regular basis with an eye to newly available information that might provide solutions.

Happy research and here’s to never giving up!

Genealogy Blog – Turn Assumptions on Their Head

February 27th, 2015

Here is a great tip from from their February 15, 2015 posting:

If you’re stuck on a problem person, make a list of all the assumptions you have made about that person.

Don’t forget things like where you think they were born, married, and died; what types of job they had; how many times they were married; their educational level; their socioeconomic status; how many places they lived; when they moved; etc.

cross off assumption

Then cross one of those assumptions off.

How would your research change if that assumption were not true?

I love this idea.

As I mentioned before in this blog, I’ve been stuck on my great-great-grandfather for several years.

I’ve tried a lot of different ways to get through this brick wall but have had no luck so far.

This BWB (brick wall buster) appeals to me because it forces you to turn your assumptions on their heads and (as Apple Computer would say) “Think Different”.

Happy research and hopefully this idea may help you break through your research walls!

Free online recorded sessions from RootsTech 2015

February 19th, 2015

28759920c95da431e66b80800bdaf8a9 RootsTech is a global family history event, sponsored by FamilySearch, at which participants learn to discover, share and celebrate their genealogy through the lens of technology. RootsTech is held in Salt Lake City, Utah in February each year.

A trip to Utah is probably not in my immediate future so I was excited to discover that the key sessions at RootsTech each year are videotaped and provided on a free video archive online. This year’s sessions can be found here.

There is a tremendous diversity in content but all with some point that touches technology.  I’m particularly interested in “30 Pieces of Tech I Can’t Live Without” and “Getting Started in Genetic Genealogy”. I’m not sure how long these sessions are provided free online, so if you have any interest check them out soon. Happy research!

Golden Rules of Genealogy

February 6th, 2015

Today I’m cheating a bit.  I found this document on the Got Genealogy? blog and thought it was so well done that it was worth sharing here (which the Got Genealogy? folks kindly allow).  The experienced genealogist probably knows all of these “rules” but for those of us closer to the beginner end of the spectrum, they are all good things to learn/remember.

The one that resonates most with me and that I had to learn on my own is “Speling dusn’t cownt”! When I started research my family name (Doucett) the mythology among my relatives was that we had “always” spelled our name that way.  So, when I started doing genealogy I automatically discounted any Doucetts that I ran across that weren’t spelled my way.  I quickly discovered that in fact the only generation to spell the name that way was my grandfather’s!  Prior to that there was absolutely no consistency.

Given that many folks three generations back had minimal if any schooling, variations in spelling make a lot of sense…that and the fact that census takers often wrote down names as they heard them.  So, my thought for today is to learn early on in your research all of the many ways your family name “could” be spelled and be prepared to research them!

We have sunshine and no snow falling today so it is indeed a Happy Friday!  Good luck with your research!


Discovering What Photographs Have to Say

January 30th, 2015

12fdbc25b68401d7227e8f2a80e33a0e[1]My mom’s side of the family has always been good about identifying who is in a photograph.  I’m able to pick up most of the pictures in the family archives, flip them over, and discover names, locations and often even the date of the photograph.  I love scanning these photographs and uploading them to my genealogy database.  Having a face that goes with a name in my genealogy adds so much richness and interest to the information I’ve collected that it adds immeasurably to the research.

My dad’s side of the family is another matter.  There aren’t nearly as many photographs in the family and while I’ve been able to identify some of the people in the photos that I’ve discovered, often I don’t have a clue as to when or where the picture was taken.  So, I’ve started doing a bit of research about how to date photographs and uncover the “secret” information that they sometimes hold for genealogists.  I thought some of this information might be of interest to other genealogists in the same position. is a website dedicated to the “research, restoration, and preservation of 19th and early 20th century photographs”.  I found this site helpful because it has a gallery of over 1,000 images (photographs, daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, etc.) that are dated.  You can compare your photo to the images that have been dated, looking at hairstyles, clothing, and background information with the objective of finding a match for your undated photo.  There are also a series of case studies about images that Phototree helped date.  They are fascinating reading in their own right but also provide great information about what to research in a photograph.  I found the original link to this site on Cyndi’s List ( which has a page dedicated to websites that provide information about dating photographs.

Maureen Taylor writes a blog for Family Tree Magazine titled Photo Detective ( that  has a tremendous amount of information on this topic.  She also provides an opportunity for you to submit an undated photograph to her for help with dating and uncovering clues – for free!  She also provides past cases as a source of information for readers.

Finally, the website has a wealth of resources about fashion throughout history.  They have one page dedicated to dating family photographs by the costumes being worn in the photo.  It was was particularly useful.  The advertisements that show up throughout the website are annoying but there is so much information available that it is worth putting up with them.

That’s it for today – there is another snowstorm getting started and the library is closing early.  Good luck with your genealogy and your photograph dating!

Happy Genealogy Friday!

January 16th, 2015

T52-ancestors-squareoday’s genealogy thought for the week:  why not set yourself your own genealogy challenge for the year?  I’ve seen a lot of variations of this online from genealogy bloggers, along the lines of “find 52 ancestors in 52 weeks” or “104 ancestors in 104 weeks”.  I’m going to try this to get myself out of my personal genealogy rut – 52 ancestors in 52 weeks.  I’ve started a bit late but I’ll let you know how it goes!  If you would like to read more go to the “No Story Too Small” genealogy blog.

By the way, if you have not yet discovered the Legacy Family Tree webinars as a resource, you should check them out.  You can sign up for most of the live webinars for free.

The webinars are usually held on Fridays which is the calmest day of the week for me so I can take the time to sit down for an hour at my computer and learn! The teachers are very good – succinct and articulate. Topics cover a broad range from beginner research to the more advanced.  Today I’ll be taking a course on “Expanding Your Research from a Single Fact”.  I’m hopeful it may give me some new ideas for breaking through my personal genealogy brick wall.  I also enjoy their webinars about Irish genealogy research which can be very challenging.

After the webinars are aired they are kept in an archive.  The webinars are all free for 7 days after first being aired.  After that time period you have to pay to access some of the webinars and some remain free.

Good luck in your research!


Finding free map resources for genealogy research

January 9th, 2015

map_1882 Maps are an important resource for genealogists for several reasons.

1. A map from the time and place of your ancestors will help you follow their travels, identify the names of places that may no longer be on today’s maps, and in general will give you a sense of the environment in which your ancestor existed.

2. Many historical maps can be found that have plot ownership listed. So, you can frequently use a map to confirm that your ancestor did indeed live in a specific locale during a specific time period.

3. Maps reflect history. Your ancestor may have lived in an area that belonged to different countries at different periods of time. Understanding those situations will help you figure out which records in which countries you need to look at in order to find your ancestors.

Here are a few map resources that I’ve found helpful in my genealogy research. All of them are free:

The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project at was developed by McGill University. McGill’s Rare Books and Special Collections Division owns many of the original 43 atlases scanned for this project. The collection is a searchable database of property owners’ names in the 1880 Ontario counties. Township maps, portraits and properties have been scanned, with links from the property owners’ names in the database.

If your research takes you into the Midwest U.S., check out Chicago in Maps at There are direct links to over three dozen historic maps of Chicago, from 1834 to 1921. The thematic maps include Chicago railroad maps, transit maps and geological maps. If you click on the Sources and Links page you will find links to guides to house numbers and street name changes.

Another free resource for maps is The Library of Congress website at The focus of Map Collections is Americana and Cartographic Treasures of the Library of Congress. These images were created from maps and atlases and, in general, are restricted to items that are not covered by copyright protection. Of particular interest to genealogists are the Cities and Towns digitized maps. They include Sanborn Fire Insurance maps as well as panoramic maps of many communities.

Finally, check out the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library at The Map Center has cartographic holdings which extend from the 15th century to the present. An extensive portion of the holdings are available online and you can search by location which makes the maps particularly useful to genealogists.

Happy research!

Try out free genealogy database

December 29th, 2014

Did you know that if you have a library card at Curtis Memorial Library and live in Cumberland County that you can get a free library card for Portland Public Library? All you have to do is ask at the front desk at Curtis and they can get you signed up.

imagesWhy is this useful news to local genealogists? Because, if you get a library card to Portland Public Library you can access HeritageQuest Online for free!

HeritageQuest Online is a wonderful resource for genealogists. It lets you find information about your family’s history, the history of a local region, and genealogy research. It provides access to U.S. census records, books, periodicals, Revolutionary War service records, and Freedman’s Bank depositor records.

You can access HeritageQuest in the library or at home by going to the Curtis library genealogy webpage at and clicking on the HeritageQuest button on the right side of the page or by going directly to the URL:

The collection consists of six core data sets (from

  • U.S. Federal Censuses feature the original images of every extant federal census in the United States, from 1790 through 1940, with name indexes for many decades.
  • Genealogy and local history books deliver more than 7 million digitized page images from over 28,000 family histories, local histories, and other books. Titles have been digitized from Heritage Quest microform collections, as well from the American Antiquarian Society via an exclusive partnership.
  • Periodical Source Index Archive, published by the Allen County Public Library, is recognized as the most comprehensive index of genealogy and local history periodicals. It contains more than 2.3 million records covering titles published around the world since 1800.
  • Revolutionary War records contains original images of 80,000 selected Veteran Administration records pension and bounty land warrant application files from the Revolutionary War era.
  • Freedman’s Bank Records, with more than 480,000 names of bank applicants, their dependents, and heirs from 1865–1874, offers valuable data that can provide important clues to tracing African American ancestors and researching the Reconstruction Era.
  • U.S. Congressional Serial Set records the memorials, petitions, private relief actions made to the U.S. Congress back to 1789, with a total of more than 480,000 pages of information.

I particularly like using HeritageQuest to search genealogy history books for the names of people that I’m researching. When you do this you’ll get back a list of the resources that contain the names/words you are searching. You can then go to the document and find each “hit” for your search terms. I have discovered many out-of-print books that were very useful to my genealogy research in this way.

If you have any questions, ask a Curtis librarian for help with the database. I’m betting you will find this to be a great resource!

5 Ways to Demolish a Brick Wall

December 19th, 2014

E. Doucett 11-4-2014It’s Genealogy Friday and this week’s blog is being written by me, Liz Doucett, your local library director.

A quick reminder – on Fridays from 10am-noon at Curtis Library you can generally find a volunteer in the Curtis Genealogy Room.  These wonderful folks are there to help beginner genealogists start their research and to assist more advanced genealogists in answering specific questions.  They love having specific projects to sink their teeth into so please stop by.

thumbnail - 03 - bricked doorway in vintage stone wallToday’s subject – brick walls in your genealogy research.  Anyone who has done genealogy for any length of time has run into the frustrating situation of finding one ancestor that you just can’t get past in your research.

I’ve decided to make 2015 the year that I finally get past the brick wall in my family research so I’m in the process of collecting as many ways of doing that as possible.  I thought I would share the five tools that have proved most helpful to me so far – I hope they work for you.

1.  Be willing to research the “old way”.  The “old way” means turning off your computer and instead walk through a cemetery to find dates on tombstones.   It means going through dusty old records to find a will.  It’s how genealogists did most of their research before computers and if you are willing to do this, it’s amazing what you can find.  People who put information into computers make mistakes.  Sometimes, the only way you can work through those mistakes is by looking at an original historical record yourself.

2.  Try cluster genealogy research.  When you hit a brick wall with a specific family or individual, try researching the “cluster” of people around your mystery individual.  That means digging into the lives of siblings, cousins, neighbors, or other community members.  Often, what you learn about them can lead you to more information about your mystery person.

3.  Go through all of the information you do have one more time.  This idea seems pretty simple but it does work.  Pull out every single piece of information that you have collected about your mystery person and re-read it.  You’ve probably learned a lot since you started your research and it is possible that a fact that made no sense when you started suddenly enlightens you in a whole new way.  Or, you may discover a piece of information that you totally missed the first time around.

4.  Apply Occam’s Razor.  Occam’s Razor (or the principle of parsimony) is a problem-solving principle.  Basically, it says that the simplest answer is usually correct.  When you find yourself creating elaborate stories about why you can’t find an ancestor in the census where you are pretty sure he should be, apply Occam’s Razor.  Is it more likely that your ancestor moved to Tahiti during a census year and that’s why you can’t find him, or that his named just got misspelled by the census taker?

5. Ask for help.  Genealogists are a very friendly, helpful bunch.  Some of them have been doing genealogy for years and are happy to get a new problem to research.  Find websites or Facebook pages focused on your area of interest and then post questions.  A wonderful genealogist in Ontario researched one whole branch of my family for me because she had books in her personal library with the information I needed.  Just jump in and ask your questions and when you have the chance to do the same for someone else, pay it forward!

That’s it for this week.  I’ll let you know how I do this year in taking down that brick wall.  I can feel it in my bones (that’s a little genealogy joke…) that this is my year for finding my g-g-g-grandfather!  Wish me luck!


Guest Genealogy Blog by Lynne Holland

December 12th, 2014

DNA – A New Alphabet Soup for Winter Research

Letters and numbers, today we are coded and categorized everywhere we go.

DNAAlthough this seems like a recent phenomenon it has actually been happening for eons.

Our DNA is the expression of our unique genetic code.

Although this code is 99% identical from person to person it is that 1% that makes each person unique and that is what is revealed in DNA testing.

DNA is often represented as a spiraling ladder with four colors (red yellow blue and green) and four letters (CTGA).

Each part of that spiral is considered a MARKER which is a term you will see often in DNA testing for Genealogy purposes.

Markers are coded and categorized to create information that is then compared to other people DNA.

But before we open the can of genetic alphabet soup let’s consider why you are testing and what it will tell you.

There are three tests most commonly used for genealogical purposes.

dna graphicUnlike the DNA tests seen on CSI the goal is not necessarily to find an exact match but rather a match that is close enough to prove a connection.

Each of these tests only gives a certain kind of information so it is important to understand what these tests are and what they can tell you.

Autosomal DNA (atDNA) This test can be used to determine recent genealogical connections or ethnic ancestry.

It is a test for the DNA that all people share and can be analyzed two different ways.

Recent Genealogical Connections – The test looks for repeated patterns (STR markers) in the DNA sequence.

Since half of each parent’s DNA is given to a child, that sequence of DNA or marker will be represented in the child’s DNA.

A child carries the markers of all of its ancestors with the most recent ancestors in the highest frequencies.

This is haploblock matching; a process that counts the number and size of matching runs of DNA from one point to another.

It then computes the likely number of generations between two people.

If there is a match at this point in testing you will know someone is related and you might even be able to determine how many generations back but it may or may not tell you who that common ancestor is.

Ethnic Genealogical Connections – This uses SNP which are single-nucleotide polymorphisms to look at bio-geographical analysis as these SNP’s are then compared to known frequencies in certain populations.

This is a good way to find out if there really is an Indian princess or Spanish Pirate in your heritage.

dnaMitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) This test is used to look at the DNA passed from mother to child.

It – both mother and mitochondrial start with the letter “M” so that makes it a little easier to remember.

This type of DNA changes very infrequently and the results are shown as a series of numbers and letters that then are categorized into a Haplogroup.

Exact matches can point to recent shared ancestors.

Less than exact matches (due to generational distance and mutation) can give a specific reference to a geographic region.

In theory, a line can be traced back many generations to a specific woman (ie. Eve) however the lack of lineage information for women (surname changes in each generation) make specific identification difficult.

This was the type of DNA test used to identify the remains of King Richard III found under a parking lot in Leicester England.

The match was found to a known descendant alive today which proved that those were royal bones—although it brought up many questions also.

Y chromosome (Y-DNA) This is the DNA passed on from father to son on the Y chromosome and is often referred to as patrilineal or male line DNA.

Since only men have Y chromosomes this test can only be done on men.

The Y chromosome DNA changes only through mutation so two people who share the same sequence on their Y chromosome exactly share a common male ancestor.

Since this relationship passes from father to son it is the genetic equivalent of a last name or lineage. When Y-DNA is tested those results can become part of a Surname project.

Analysis of the common features of the Y-DNA can show if two lines of a family that share a surname are actually related. Minor differences in the Y-DNA can show how far back the common ancestor is likely to have lived.

Tina-Fey-and-Skip-Gates-3519-RTIn the recent PBS series “Finding your Roots” with Henry Louis Gates Jr., this test was often used to determine the most likely candidate for the father of an otherwise “fatherless” slave.

It was also handy in determining the source of the European component of many African American’s heritage.

If this cursory explanation of DNA and how it can be used for genealogical research intrigues you, I suggest you view the 10th episode of “Season 2 of Finding Your Roots.”

The principles outlined above are discussed in detail through three case studies and an interesting and informative way.

DNA tests and results are one way to enhance your genealogical search or even begin to break down a brick wall.

It is only through the combination of the genealogical research of written records and the analysis of the DNA test results that more information will be gained.

It is a research path that can take some surprising twists and turns so approach it with an open mind-your DNA may reveal a different lineage then you anticipated.

Getting Out from Under that Pile of Paper

December 5th, 2014


Genealogy Friday! My favorite day of the week…I get to search out ideas and sources of information for the local genealogy community!

One of the inquiries I frequently get asked when I teach beginning genealogy classes is, “how do I organize all of the information I am collecting?” It is a great question so I decided to research ideas to help the beginning genealogist get control of their piles of research and information.

My first discovery was on the Family Tree Magazine website. Family Tree offers a free downloadable article titled “23 Secrets to Organize Your Genealogy”. You provide Family Tree with your email and you get the article for free. Here is the link to the article: (you’ll see tinyurl for all of my links – it is a way of providing a link in a shortened format so your URLs aren’t taking up all your space).

The article is basic but I liked the tip about color-coding files, using the same color system across all of my files, digital and hard copy. I’ve always thought of these files as different so this idea was an eye-opener for me and made a lot of sense.

You can find another good article about organizing paper files at The article was written in 2007 but the systems are still relevant. The article recommends a combination of a) file folders, b) binders, and c) computer storage. This article is particularly helpful because it gives you specific details about how to color code in an organized fashion. The following summarizes that information and comes directly from the article:

Print a copy of your own 5-generation pedigree chart, starting with yourself as # 1. You are the first generation; your 16 great-great grandparents are the 5th generation.
Color-code the lines as follows:
•BLUE: Circle all families who are ancestors of your father’s father in blue.
•GREEN: Circle all families who are ancestors of your father’s mother in green.
•RED: Circle all families who are ancestors of your mother’s father in red.
•YELLOW: Circle all families who are ancestors of your mother’s mother in yellow
Files about each family will then follow the same color code.

Finally, here is a link to the blog “Genealogy Star” The author recommends digitizing everything (paper, articles, photographs, etc.) and attaching supporting documentation directly to the appropriate person in your genealogy database. This is system that I use but if you aren’t a computer lover, I would recommend a combination of color coding with file folders…simple but effective.

My most important recommendation for beginning genealogists? Figure a system (any system!) and start using it immediately. The longer you wait, the bigger your pile of paper will get! Genealogy is a research oriented hobby and with that comes paper, and photographs, and newspapers, and more paper…you get the idea! Have fun!

Friday is genealogy day at Curtis!

November 21st, 2014

genealogyDon’t forget that on Friday mornings you can usually find a volunteer in the Curtis Genealogy Room who is happy to provide help with your genealogy research.  If you are a complete beginner, stop by on Fridays and learn how to start this wonderful hobby.

In the meantime check out the following article posted in about a resource that you might find helpful in your genealogy research (click on the link below if you would like to read the entire article – just the key points are included below):



This past August, during the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference in San Antonio, I stopped by the booth of a new vendor: and discovered a wonderful new product called JPASS. I’ve known about JSTOR for some time now and have used the research service at libraries and archives.

There are over 2,000 academic journals on the JSTOR database covering many different topics, many which will interest genealogists and family historians. Currently, JSTOR is available for free in over 9,200 institutions worldwide.

Will you find genealogy records on JSTOR? No, but you will find articles and materials that provide you with background information and can assist your research. An example, using my own research: articles on the Huguenots that settled in New Paltz, New York. I wanted to know why they arrived in New Paltz and why they left France (migration push and pull causes) and other information about their daily life.

JPASS is a product from JSTOR that allows for personal access to approximately 1,500 journals in the JSTOR database. This means not having to trek down to the library to pull that article that I need. Or, if a research question pops into my head, I don’t need to write it down and wait for my next visit to the library.

JPASS is available in one-month and one-year plans and with the one-month plan (which I was given access to for this review), you get unlimited online reading access and you can download up to 10 articles a month (120 articles with the one-year plan). You also can create a MyJSTOR account so you can access JSTOR 24/7 from any device. What I like most about the MyJSTOR feature is the ability to set up alerts for specific search terms and I can save citations as well.


Add your annotation



Curtis Money icon Curtis Money CHIP icon CHIP COS icon Cornerstones of Science creative spaces icon Curtis Creative Spaces MARVEL! icon MARVEL! download icon Digital Downloads