JONESPORT, Maine — Volunteers with the Jonesport Historical Society are sifting through thousands of pages of genealogical documents, a gift from a former Jonesport resident, and computerizing it all for posterity.
The collection was given by Leonard Tibbetts, who was born in Jonesport, became a pharmacist, and moved to Massachusetts. He had an early and lifelong passion for genealogy, and the Jonesport collection is Tibbetts’ life’s work.
The society is handling more than 78 years of handwritten research, letters, books and pamphlets. He wrote four books on the history of the Jonesport, Jonesboro and Indian River areas and collected dozens of others. He documented thousands of Down East family histories — 728 pounds of papers, enough to fill 25 plastic tote boxes.
“There is no one in Maine, probably in all of New England, that has done the research Mr. Tibbetts has,” Bill Plaskon of the historical society said recently.
The letters, faded pages and detailed notes are like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for genealogists, Plaskon explained. Tibbetts’ collection is so unusual that the historical society has been getting inquiries from all over the country.
“In this area, people are very family oriented,” Plaskon said. “People who live here today had family members who lived here 150 years ago, many in the same homes.”
“We are having a ball,” the society’s historian Rosalie Carver said. She and volunteer Maxine Stewart are scanning Tibbetts’ collection.
“We are scanning 700 pages at a time,” Carver said. “We started scanning papers on February 22, and we’ve done more than 6,000 pages.”
But there are often breaks in the progress, Carver admitted with a smile. “If we see a name we know, we stop and read the information.”
The collection will be added to an outstanding database of information the society already has downloaded at the Jonesport Library.
Plaskon said the data in the computer constitute the community’s heritage center.
“We don’t have a museum,” he said. “All of our information is on computers so people can research it on their own.”
The database contains more than 68,000 names and much of the information had already been gleaned from Tibbetts’ books, Plaskon said.
To illustrate, Carver put her husband’s name into the computer and is able to track his family back to a Grunwald, who had only one name, going back centuries.
The database contains information on every person buried in Jonesport, Beals and the neighboring island. It has the records of 38 cemeteries — 4,288 names.
“We’ve downloaded pictures, photo albums, newspaper articles and slide shows,” Plaskon said. A special group of video clips are interviews with some of Jonesport’s older residents, many of whom have died. “We have 66 video interviews,” Plaskon said.
“We are just trying to preserve the heritage,” he said. “Jonesport, we feel, is a unique town. Some people have lived here since their great-great-great-grandparents. One family I know has lived for 10 generations on the same plot of land.”
As she scans the pages, Carver said she feels a connection with the families.
“This was once such a prosperous town,” she said. “We had five sardine factories. It was a major fishing community. No one ever had to leave town because there were so many shops and services right here. They loved it here. They truly loved it here. Here, people are surrounded by family.”
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE JONESPORT HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Leonard F. Tibbetts and his wife, Ethel, around 2000.
Leonard F. Tibbetts in 1964.