May 24, 2018
Family Ties Latest News | Poll Questions | Sharon Carrillo | Elver Season | Goat Airbnb

UMaine librarian Wihbey was a treasure to genealogists

By Roxanne Moore Saucier, BDN Columnist

“Is it there yet?”

That was me in the spring of 2002, calling Frank Wihbey to find out if the 1930 U.S. Census microfilm for Maine had arrived at the University of Maine’s Fogler Library in Orono.

Eager I was to check it out, especially because it would be my dad’s “first time” on the U.S. Census as a little boy of not quite 6 years.

Countless researchers, both genealogical and otherwise, have referred to Frank, the longtime head of Government Documents and Microforms at Fogler, as “my guy” at the library.

Both sides of his family came from Lebanon, so I don’t think he had ancestors on the Mayflower. But he sure looked out for the interests of those with Maine roots.

I write today about Wihbey — one of my favorite librarians, who retired after three decades at the University of Maine —because I recently learned the sad news that he had died in a hiking accident in California.

Those census records I had called him about in April 2002? Turns out he had already ordered them in January.

Fogler has all of the U.S. Census records for Maine, 1790-1930, except for 1890, the year that most of the records were burned.

From 1790 through 1840, only the head of each household is listed by name, with other people enumerated by gender and by age.

In 1850, 1860 and 1870, everyone is listed by name, but that can be misleading.

Say the head of the Smith household is a male, age 40, and the next person is a Smith female, age 20. Is that his wife, his daughter, his sister or none of those?

Beginning in 1880, the census taker asks each person what his or her relationship to the head of household is. That can be very helpful, especially when the last person listed is an in-law, thus giving us a possible maiden name for the head of household’s wife.

Another topic I remember discussing with Frank is the great news that Fogler was one of the libraries to receive Maine’s 1892-1955 vital records on microfilm — births, marriages and deaths.

The microfilm is actually in drawers out in the far corner of Government Documents on the first floor of Fogler Library.

How often I have happily grabbed a microfilm reel, sorted by year and by surname, and taken it to the microfilm reading room, where the newspaper microfilm is located.

The records vary in quality, because they are a copy of the microfilm at the Maine State Archives in Augusta, but many are readable — and printable.

Fogler is open seven days a week when school is in session; check hours at 581-1664. Evenings and weekends are a good time to go because parking is less of an issue.

Another tremendous resource in Government Documents and Microforms came to Fogler from the National Archives, “Manifest Records of Alien Arrivals (Maine),” call number M314.

The collection covers alphabetical manifest cards of alien arrivals at:

• Calais, Maine, ca. 1906-1952. Reels M2042, Nos. 1-5.

• Jackman, Maine, ca. 1909-1953. Reels M2046, Nos. 1-3.

• Fort Fairfield, Maine, ca. 1909-1953. Reel M2064.

• Van Buren, Maine, ca. 1906-1952. Reel M2065.

• Vanceboro, Maine, ca. 1906-Dec. 24, 1952. Reels M2072, Nos. 1-13.

Though I didn’t find my Harry and Thressa Steeves, who came to Maine in 1911 from Saint John, New Brunswick, these cards on microfilm are fascinating.

Take Mary Gallant, 47, who came through Vanceboro on Oct. 13, 1916. She was born in St. Alexis, Quebec, listed herself as French, and was a resident of Mattapedia. Her destination was Ipswich, Mass., where husband Laurent J. Gallant already resided. Mary brought with her $180. She was 4 feet 11 inches tall, with fair complexion, brown hair and brown eyes.

Some of the cards even have a little picture on them. Marvelous.

Three years ago, the Government Printing Office in Washington, D.C., recognized Fogler Library for its commitment to 100 years of service as a “depository library” for the federal government, the big reason that the library has so many wonderful resources you don’t find at many libraries.

“The University of Maine library had actually been serving as a depository library prior to 1907, receiving a small selection from GPO and members of Congress in the late 1800s,” Frank Wihbey said in 2007 as head of the Department of Government Publications, Maps, GIS & Microforms. “The act of 1907 significantly boosted our acquisitions, at no cost. So 1907 remains a historic milestone for our library and the federal program.”

Fogler Library is certainly a treasure, and so was Frank Wihbey. His work over three decades is a legacy that will serve genealogists into the future.

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

Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

You may also like