The Star-Herald

Maine State Archives

I recently attended a webinar given by the new Maine State Archivist Katherine McBrien.  It was terrific, highly informative of what’s happening at the archives and what’s being planned.  

For those of you who don’t know, the Archives is a branch of the Secretary of State’s office. Also, forget the Cultural Building location until 2023, when the vast replacement of the building’s heating and cooling system is scheduled to be completed — or at least it’s hoped so. The Archives is now temporarily housed at 17 Elkin Lane in Augusta on the other side of the river.  Their vast collections are safely stored in multiple warehouses, so if you’re anxious to research be sure you call them at 207-287-5790 to let them know what you want to access and make an appointment.  They aren’t doing walk-in visits, so you need to plan ahead. 

Aside from the change in location, the Archives is committing a great deal of time to digitizing many of their holdings for online researchers.  This is a wonderful move and one longed for by many researchers for years.  Their philosophy is the records belong to the people and should be accessible and genealogists couldn’t agree more.

So what does the Archives have other than official legislative and department records?  The list seems endless.  Here are just a few: early vital records prior to 1892, Civil War enlistment cards and correspondence, photo collections, and judicial records.  Also discharges from World War I, pardons, map collections including fire tower maps, records from the Department of Indian Affairs along with treaties, architectural drawings, and court cases prior to 1820.  Also they house Augusta Mental Health Institute records and Pineland Clinical records, and so much else.  

Keep in mind there are some limits on these medical records, but many are now being released.

The Archives has over 60,000 boxes of records, which is hard to picture. They’ve all been inventoried but the contents of individual files haven’t.  The Archives is also seeking volunteers familiar with old handwriting to help with transcriptions.  All genealogists know that old handwriting can be difficult to decipher, but if you’re good at this and want to help contact the Archives.

In conjunction with the Maine State Library, the Archives is working on creating a new site, digitalmaine.com.  Here you can find digitized records, indexes, and other items.  The site is still in its infancy and new material is going to be added so keep checking to see what’s out there.

The Maine State Archives is a treasure for researchers of all stripes.  We’ll all be glad when they’re back at their “home” in the Cultural Building, along with the State Library and the Museum, who had to move out as well.  But until then the staff is working hard to help researchers.  Do your homework on their website before contacting them and have all your known facts ready when you ask your question.  You can call at the number above or e-mail them at maine.archives@maine.gov.

Columnist Nancy Battick of Dover-Foxcroft has researched genealogy for over 30 years. She is past president of the Maine Genealogical Society, author of several genealogical articles and co-transcribed the Vital Records of Dover-Foxcroft.  Nancy holds an MA in History from UM and lives in DF with her husband, Jack, another avid genealogist. Reader emails are welcome at nbattick@roadrunner.com.

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