September 23, 2020

Archives key in finding ancestors

How time flies when you’re having fun. And there was plenty of fun at the 30th anniversary conference of the Maine Genealogical Society on Oct. 14 in Portland. President Nancy Battick, conference chairman Dale Mower and their many helpers did a splendid job, and I’m sure each one of the hundreds of people who went had a great time. I certainly did.

Two MGS members were honored with Awards of Achievement during the conference.

Lois Ware Thurston of Gardiner has served on the MGS board of directors, co-authored the “Vital Records of Kittery” and contributed numerous families to the “Maine Families in 1790” books. She was recognized for advancing research in the state of Maine.

Doris Woodward of Spokane, Wash., has contributed to Maine publications for 20 years, including 10 families to volume I and 10 families to volume IX of “Maine Families in 1790.” She also has written major articles for MGS and for the National Genealogical Society.

Keynote speaker John Philip Colletta has taught classes for the National Archives and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington for decades, and it’s easy to see why. He is personable, knowledgeable and persistent enough to keep after his forbears and their doings.

He kept us spellbound with stories of his ancestors, from Buffalo, where “the war” meant World War II, to the South, where “the wo-ah” was something fought between the Confederates and the Union.

Archives, he explained, retain records “exactly in the order they were created,” and are a place where one researches an agency rather than an individual.

“Wherever that ancestor’s life intersected with a federal government agency, paperwork was created,” Colletta pointed out, urging listeners to think in terms of record groups and of finding aids that can help with various collections in a facility.

The question to ask, he said, is “What was the relationship between my ancestor and the federal government?” Did it come under civilian, military or judiciary, and who is the custodian of the records today?

One very helpful point he made was that researchers shouldn’t speed through the beginning of a microfilm of material that comes from the National Archives, because all of that agency’s film that begins with an “M” has a DP at the beginning. That stands for Descriptive Pamphlet, and it includes a listing of what’s on the roll.

Colletta also recommended doing background reading on the time period of interest, such as he did on how “entrepreneurs from the North,” also known as carpetbaggers, were used to supplant governmental officers in the South.

Records he found in the National Archives included a letter of application by one of his ancestors to become a sheriff where he was living in Mississippi. And, in one of the regional branches of the archives, he found a court case of a relative who sued a riverboat for loss of jewelry.

Colletta suggests checking out finding aids for the National Archives at

He is the author of “They Came in Ships: A Guide to Finding Your Immigrant Ancestor’s Arrival Record.”

Next week: some of what I learned from Joseph C. Anderson II.

A lineage research workshop will be sponsored by Frances Dighton Williams Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, in the Lecture Hall, third floor, at Bangor Public Library, 145 Harlow St.

DAR chapters throughout the country offer workshops to encourage prospective members, though all are welcome.

The event will begin with a talk on genealogical resources used to “prove” one’s line back to a Revolutionary War ancestor. Bring a bag lunch for noontime.

Talks after lunch will focus on what the DAR does, and there will be representatives on hand to help those interested in working on applications.

Elizabeth Hotchkiss, state corresponding secretary, will present an overview and “Membership, a 3-step Process.”

The Belfast Historical Society will present “Some Family History of Judge Nathan Read,” a slide talk by Malcolm Young, at 7 p.m. today in the Abbott Room at Belfast Free Library, 106 High St., Belfast.

3381. COOMBS-BITHER. Searching for any information on Elmira Mohoney Coombs, born Nov. 6, 1827, Blakesburg Plantation, and on George Coombs and wife Lavina Bither, possibly Elmira’s parents. Judy Sutton, 385 Lake Laurie Circle, Quincy, FL 32352;

Send genealogy queries to Family Ties, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor, ME 04402; or

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