BANGOR, Maine — For a father and son from Massachusetts and their distant cousin from Washington state, genealogical research is part scavenger hunt, part jigsaw puzzle and part history novel.
Their family history took on a Revolutionary War theme as a 1,500-pound, 7-foot cannon that spent almost 100 years at the bottom of the Penobscot River helped facilitate a face-to-face meeting among the three cousins, two of whom are avidly tracing their families’ genealogy.
The most addictive and frustrating aspects of genealogy are one and the same for Tom Allen III of Walpole, Mass., and Michael Barclay of Federal Way, Wash., fourth cousins once removed who “found” each other two years ago.
Tom Allen III and his father, Thomas Allen II from Hanover, Mass., drove up to Bangor together last week to pore over historical records, visit pertinent buildings and landmarks, and visit with their long-lost cousin from the opposite coast.
“It never stops,” said Barclay, whose trip to Bangor was his fourth overall. “I can work on it as many as six or seven hours a day. My family tree has over 6,000 names in it with over 8,000 records, so I’ve probably been working on it a total of six years.”
On the one hand, Barclay said, it’s great because family genealogical research is an unlimited treasure trove of information.
“And it can be frustrating too because you never really finish,” he added. “It seems like I don’t get enough sleep because of it. It’s amazing what you find the further you go back, and I love the history.”
And the stories.
“I like discovering what the family was like, what were their personalities, where’d they come from,” added Barclay, a 53-year-old electromagnetic engineer for Boeing Co. in Seattle. “My ancestors on the French-Canadian side were among the first settlers of Quebec City. Between that and the cannon story, it’s fascinating to me.”
Ah, the “cannon story.”
It came to light recently that a cannon that has been on display at Norumbega (Mall) Parkway between Central Street and Franklin Street in Bangor for more than a century was found on the bottom of the Penobscot River in 1876 and salvaged by Tom Allen III’s great-great-grandfather.
“I heard about the cannon from Tom and went over to check it out last year for the first time,” said Barclay. “It‘s a neat story.”
The cannon, according to its plaque and historical accounts, was mounted on one of Commodore Saltonstall’s sloops-of-war, which was scuttled as part of the ill-fated Penobscot Expedition in 1779. It is one of two cannons salvaged, but the whereabouts of the other is unknown. Allen II thinks it wound up in Massachusetts.
“The cannon was found in 1876 when my ancestor was dredging. Apparently the president of the Bangor Historical Society bought the cannon from my great-great-grandfather, who was working as a submarine diver,” said Allen III, a retired Air Force master sergeant who used to be stationed at Limestone Air Force Base.
“Maine is a common tie,” said Allen III. “That cannon got there for a reason. It was dragged up from the river after almost 100 years, dedicated to the city of Bangor, and it’s a family memento. That’s how I look at it.”
It’s also a reward of sorts for all the dogged research and investigation Allen III has put in over the years.
“I’ve spent 30 years of my life dedicated to this. It’s a hobby and a vocation. It’s fascinating because it’s a part of you. It is you,” said Allen II. “For me it’s just a big story with so much out there. My biggest fear is that this will all somehow be lost, so I have it in my will that this is to be published.”
Through Allen III, Barclay discovered he’s related to Bernard “Doc” Mann, a well-known and respected Bangor teacher and chess enthusiast who died at age 101 earlier this year.
“He’s my grandfather’s cousin. One of the reasons I came out this year was to see him again, but it wasn’t to be. I didn’t realize he was almost 102,” Barclay said.
Barclay and the Allens trace their common ancestry back to the early 1800s to the family of William Allen, Mary Madigan and seven children in County Cork, Ireland. The eldest of those siblings, Thomas Allen, born in 1825, is Allen III’s great-great-great-grandfather and the youngest, Elizabeth Allen, born in 1939, is Barclay’s great-great-grandmother.
“There’s a street called Allen Court in Bangor that was named because that whole plot belonged to our family,” said Allen III. “It was a business from the 1870s to the 1940s.
“The last one standing after everyone moved away was 68 and the property went into foreclosure.”
Thomas’ son Thomas, the third of 11 children to grow up in Bangor, was born in 1853 and died in 1928. Before becoming a diver, he was a Bangor police officer from 1878 to 1889.
“To me I think it’s a personal self-satisfaction thing to realize where you came from and what has happened historically through your family’s history,” said Thomas Allen II, a retired Drake’s Cakes salesman. “It’s fascinating, and some of the stuff you learn is something you’re never going to find in a history book.”