Adoptees can search for medical history

Posted Jan. 25, 2009, at 7:31 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 10:43 a.m.

Dozens of people showed up at the Bureau of Vital Records on Friday, Jan. 2, the day the law took effect allowing people who were adopted as children in Maine to obtain copies of their original birth certificates.

For many people, it can be helpful to learn about one’s medical history, especially causes of death which have a genetic component, such as breast cancer.

Others may be interested mostly in their roots, where their parents and other ancestors came from and lived.

Maine law allows the birth parents of an adopted child to state that they do not want to be contacted, and there are other ways to answer the medical and background questions.

There’s no guarantee that both birth parents will be named on the birth certificate you get, but let’s say you find both names. The father is Monday Smithy, for example, and the mother is Tuesday Jonesy, both born in 1940 in Maine.

Did either of them get married? It’s an easy matter to look at the Maine Marriage Index, 1892-1966 and 1977-1996, online at www.maine.gov/sos/arc.

If they got married during either of those eras, you can look up either the bride or the groom and find the date of marriage, and usually the town of residence for both parties. Maybe the wedding was written up in a newspaper.

You also would want to check to make sure that neither of them had died. The Maine death index for 1960-1996 is at www.maine.gov/sos/arc. It will give you the date of death and place of death, good info if you want to pursue an obituary in a newspaper. You also can try the Social Security Death Index, which covers the country, at http://ssdi.rootsweb.com.

For obituaries, Bangor Public Library has the Bangor Daily News and Bangor Commercial on microfilm. Fogler Library at the University of Maine in Orono, has many newspapers on film.

Is there any easy way to obtain, or at least see, your birth parents’ own birth certificates and other vital records?

Yes indeed, for a birth, marriage or death occurring between 1892 and 1955 in Maine.

There are several facilities where you can view microfilm for vital records, 1892-1955:

- Augusta, Maine State Archives, the clearest microfilm.

- Augusta, Maine State Library.

- Orono, University of Maine Fogler Library. For hours, call 581-1664.

- Portland, Maine Historical Society.

- Portland, Portland Public Library.

- Presque Isle, University of Maine at Presque Isle Library.

- Searsport, Penobscot Marine Museum Library.

- Springvale, Springvale Public Library.

The microfilm reels are sorted into categories: 1892-1907, 1908-1922, 1923-1936 and 1937-1955. Once you pick the year range you want, you’ll find the vital records organized by surname.

For instance, if you were looking for the birth record for Monday Smithy, born 1940, you’d take the 1937-1955 reel for that part of the alphabet including Smithy.

You’d go through surnames that come before Smithy alphabetically. When you got to the surname Smithy, you’d find Smithy births for 1937, Smithy marriages for 1937, Smithy deaths for 1937, then Smithy births for 1938, Smithy marriages for 1938, Smithy deaths for 1938, and so on until you got to the 1940 records. Be sure to look at records for a couple of years before and after the year you have in mind.

You could do the same to find Tuesday Jonesy in one of the “J” reels.

If you found parents for either of these people, then you could try to find their birth, marriage and death records, too.

It’s the death certificates that give you the best information on your family’s health history. Death certificates in recent years often give a cause of death, plus up to three conditions that may have contributed to the cause of death.

A person who died of cardiac arrest may have info on the death certificate mentioning chronic heart failure, atherosclerosis, hypertension, diabetes and other ailments. These are, obviously, important items to mention to your own health care provider.

Similarly, if you find that some of your ancestors — and even their siblings, had what we used to call senile dementia, which may refer to Alzheimer’s or to multi-infarct dementia (small strokes), that is equally important.

Next week: more on pursuing your family history.

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Those who visit Bangor Public Library may have seen the library’s Book of Honor, a large volume dedicated to those who lived or worked in Bangor and were killed in the service during World War II.

The library has been working on plans to place a second book of honor in the building’s lobby, one that remembers Bangor veterans who lost their lives in military service to their country, 1947 to the present.

If you know of a family member or friend who fits that description, help the library include him or her in the library’s Book of Honor Part Two. Pick up an application at the library.

Those honored must have been born in Bangor, grown up in Bangor, lived in Bangor, went to school in Bangor or worked in Bangor. Details of their life and service, including serial number, branch of service, date and place of birth, and date and place of death are needed to complete the application. If these are not readily available, the library can obtain records with the family’s signed permission.

Library staff hope that a photograph of each veteran in the book will be included, much the same as in the library’s Book of Honor Part One.

The library has received a gift from the Cole Family Foundation for production of the Book of Honor Part Two, and is seeking additional donations to complete the project.

If you would like to contribute to the project, send donations to Bangor Public Library, Book of Honor Volume Two, 145 Harlow St., Bangor 04401.

For more information, call Bill Cook at 947-8336, ext. 103.

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

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