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Real card catalogs still a treasure to family historians

Posted Sept. 26, 2013, at 10:44 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 28, 2013, at 1:44 p.m.

Those of us over 35 or so know in our hearts one of the most important truths about the universe — not everything is on the Internet.

Laura Prescott, keynote speaker for the Maine Genealogical Society’s annual conference on Sept. 21, offered a version dedicated to both genealogists and young people everywhere: “Not all card catalogs are online.”

Amen to that. Whenever I enter the Bangor Room, which houses many of the New England resources at Bangor Public Library, I am so grateful for the local card catalogs in the back of the room which offer drawers full of the Families and Individuals Index, also known as the Bangor Daily News Index.

For much of the 20th century, the F&I Index has cards for people from Greater Bangor, recording the dates of articles such as weddings, obituaries and notable news items on a variety of people, and not just the most prominent ones. You can take the drawer right out and set it on a table while you sit and make notes on article dates you find. The index tells us not only the date, but the newspaper such as the Bangor Daily News or the Bangor Commercial, and even the page of the article.

You also can look up businesses, associations and topics such as sports.

Sometimes a search won’t yield much, but many times it will. I have used this index for years and years, and I send a hug to every person who ever worked on it.

Prescott also emphasized the importance of looking at original documents, both because they are more accurate than transcriptions, and because it is useful “to see information in its own environment.”

I am glad that images of census records are available on the Internet, but using a computer lends itself to reducing our research process to one that simply moves from one goal to the next.

Sitting in front of a microfilm machine — at Bangor Public Library, at the University of Maine’s Fogler Library in Orono, at the LDS Family History Center in Bangor, or at the Maine State Archives in Augusta — whether the machine has a hand crank or is motorized, lends itself to real “browsing.”

I think computer users, myself included, should come up with new words instead of browsers and browsing when it comes to the Internet.

Sometimes the first hint we get about when an ancestor died comes from searching for the family in the U.S. Census and finding either the husband or wife listed as “Wid.”

Pam Stone Eagleson, who operates the genealogical research service Gen-nections, gave a wonderful talk on “Divorce Records in Genealogical Research” at the MGS meeting.

Census records sometimes say widowed when the person is really divorced, particularly a woman, Eagleson explained. I never would have thought of that. We often use Census information to help us extrapolate a picture of the family situation, and that bit of misinformation could certainly send us down the wrong path of research.

So even if the female head of household tells the census taker she is widowed, we should allow for the fact that maybe the former husband is still alive, and the search for a death certificate should continue if it doesn’t turn up in the expected time period..

A few months ago, I urged communities, states and tourist groups to remember that genealogical researchers add a lot to the cultural economy. On Sept. 21, the attendance at the state MGS conference was about 125 for at least the third year in a row in the Bangor area.

Just among the family historians I spoke with, there were researchers who came to Brewer from New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington state, as well as all parts of Maine. And they spent money in the Bangor area.

Toward the end of the day, I took a break to attend Donn Fendler’s program and book signing at Cole Land Transportation Museum in Bangor. I have met and interviewed Donn several times, and on this occasion wanted to get him to sign my mother’s 1939 copy of “Lost on a Mountain in Maine.”

Seventy-four years after he spent nine days lost on Mount Katahdin at the age of 12, Donn is still sharing his story in order to encourage youngsters to follow safe practices when they are hiking in the Maine woods. He also gives a good amount of time during his annual trip to Maine to speaking to Maine school children, part of his desire to give back to the state and the people who looked for him and prayed for him all those years ago. What a treat it is to watch him meet children, parents and grandparents who continue to be fascinated with the miracle of his survival.

Donn will sign “Lost on a Mountain in Maine” and the graphic novel he wrote more recently with Lynn Plourde, “Lost: Nine Days in the Maine Wilderness,” at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5, in the Lecture Hall at Bangor Public Library, 145 Harlow St. The signing is part of the annual Bangor Book Fest.

Interested in “How to Do Genealogical Research?” Attend the next meeting of the Holden Historical Society at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 1, in the conference room at the Holden Police Department.

The speaker will be Phil Getchell, longtime genealogy volunteer at Bangor Public Library and one of the people who helped start and lead the Penobscot County Genealogical Society in Bangor. All are welcome, and refreshments will be served.

For information on researching family history in Maine, see Genealogy Resources under Family Ties at bangordailynews.com/browse/family-ties. Send genealogy queries to Family Ties, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402, or email familyti@bangordailynews.com.

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