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the Counties in Maine

NPS photo by Ralph Eshelman, 1998
Nearest City: ROCKLAND
County: KNOX
U.S.C.G. District: 1
Year Station Established: 1827
Year Light First Lit: 1902


Genealogical Records in Maine


Thomaston, ME Historical Society


1895 map of Knox County, Maine


GenWeb site Knox County, Maine

Lighthouse Heritage - Historical Preservation Project

Maine Historical Society Online

The following article is from Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter and is copyright 2002 by Richard W. Eastman. It is re-published here with the permission of the author.

I have to preface this article by stating that all of my ancestors in the past 150 years or so were born in the State of Maine. Therefore, when I first heard of some new additions to the Maine Historical Society's Web site, I immediately checked them out. What I found was a delight for anyone researching Maine history.

The site also could serve as an example to other historical societies of what they might do with their Web sites.  The Maine Historical Society's Web site describes the traditional resources available from the society, such as the society's research library. This collection includes 125,000 books, newspapers, and other printed items, as well as 2 million manuscripts, 3,500 maps and atlases, 70,000 photographs, and 100,000 architectural and engineering drawings. The society is also renovating the 1785 Wadsworth-Longfellow House. Built by the poet's grandfather, General Peleg Wadsworth, this was the childhood home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 19th-century America's most famous poet. The Maine Historical Society opened the house to the public in 1901, making it the first historic house museum in Maine. The house is presently closed for restoration but will reopen to the public on June 1, 2002.

The Web site also has a link to the recently-launched Maine Memory Network, a statewide database of historical source documents contributed by Maine's historical organizations, including the Maine Historical Society, the Fogler Library, the North East Historic Film, the Maine Humanities Council, the Maine State Archives, the Maine State Library, the Maine State Museum and the Osher Map Library. The Maine Memory Network is still a new resource, and new material is constantly being added. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Maine Historical Society's Web site contains a lot of background information about genealogy. Keep in mind that this is an historical society's Web site, not that of a genealogy society. Historical societies generally focus on historical events, lifestyles, and other items of note from history, while genealogy societies tend to focus on individual people. Anyone interested in true family history will be interested in both. Collecting names, dates, and places isn't half as interesting as combining that information with knowledge of people's lives and the events that shaped those lives. A true family historian is both a genealogist and a "micro historian;" one who studies the lives and lifestyles of previous family generations. It was interesting to find genealogy information on the pages of an historical society's Web pages.

Perhaps best of all, the Maine Historical Society's Web site contains an active Genealogy Discussion Forum. This discussion board is divided into separate sections, one for Maine Surname Queries and others for Maine Locality Queries, Locality Queries for locations outside of Maine, Genealogy Software as well as others.

All in all, the Maine Historical Society has a Web site that they can be proud of. If you have an interest in Maine history or genealogy, take a look at: http://www.mainehistory.org


Who really named Maine?

The recent discovery that a small village on the coast of England was once called Maine is the key to solving a 380-year mystery of the origin of the name of our state. The name Maine has long been an enigma, with the quaint distinction of being one of the oldest names of the 50 states (Massachusetts and Virginia predate Maine) and one of the few state names with such an unclear origin.

The reverence with which the name Maine is held by both its residents and “people from away” was beautifully demonstrated to me last summer when my 6-year-old niece in Texas got on the phone and exclaimed, “We’re coming to Maine, Aunt Carol!” She did not say that we’re coming to Maine to see you and Uncle Ken; instead, the word Maine had already taken shape in her young mind as being something very special indeed. Truth be told, we are downright haughty with the use of our name.

The origin of “Maine” has baffled historians since “Ye Province of Maine” had its birth in the Aug. 10, 1622 charter, during the reign of England’s King James I. A reconfirmed and enhanced 1639 charter from England’s King Charles I gave Sir Ferdinando Gorges (pronounced in two syllables gor’-jiz) increased powers over his new province and stated that it, “shall forever hereafter, be called and named the PROVINCE OR COUNTIE OF MAINE, and not by any other name or names whatsoever…”

The mystery of why Sir Ferdinando of Somersetshire, England, chose the name of Maine for his new province has been researched so often without result that interest in it seems to have been abandoned. With the help of the Somerset and Dorset Family History Society in England, and a dedicated Dorsetshire member, Delia Horsfall, new light has been shed on the English origin of our beautiful state name.

The history of the name of Maine began with James Sullivan’s 1795 “History of the District of Maine.” He made the unsubstantiated allegation that the Province of Mayne was a compliment to the queen of Charles I, Henrietta Maria, who once “owned” the Province of Maine in France. This was quoted by almost all Maine historians until the 1845 Strickland biography of Queen Henrietta Maria established that she had no connection to the Province of Maine in France. This is clear from the fact that Henrietta Maria married King Charles I in 1625, three years after the name Maine first appears on the charter. Nevertheless, this French connection seemed to stick, and to this day many people still believe that our Maine is connected with the province in France.

A second hypothesis, of nautical origin, contends that our state was named by early sailors, who often referred to our coast as the Maine or Mainland or the Meyne or the Maine Land. There are numerous early examples to confirm this hypothesis, but how does one explain that the rest of the East Coast was also referred to by these names? Why would Sir Ferdinando, who also “pledged his life, his fortune and his sacred honor” to settle this area for England, name his beloved province by the meaningless name derived from the Mainland? Sir Ferdinando was relentless in his pursuit of his Province of Maine and was passionate in his belief that his mission was not only driven by financial gain for crown and country, but rather a mission being guided by God.

This brings me to a third possibility. My newly formulated hypothesis is that Maine was named for the nearby village of Sir Ferdinando Gorges’ English ancestral home. Last October, I sent a letter to the Somerset and Dorset Family History Society in England to see if they could offer any further clues to the origin of our Maine. I wanted to see if one of Sir Ferdinando’s ancestors might be connected with the name Maine since he named Lygonia for his mother, Cecily (Lygon) Gorges.

To my surprise, Mrs. Horsfall, of the above-mentioned historical society, wrote back that in the area of an ancient ancestral estate of the Gorges family, known as Shipton Gorges in Dorset, lies a small village called Broadmayne. Sir Ferdinando Gorges is a direct descendant of Ralph de Gorges, who came from Coutances of Normandy, France, during the time of William the Conqueror, in 1066. His family’s English roots took hold near a small Anglo-Saxon village today called Broadmayne.

The following information was recently obtained from the Dorset County Archives in Dorchester, England. The village, known today as Broadmayne, just southeast of Dorchester, was listed as Maine in the year 1086 in the Domesday Book (England’s first census). In 1200 the name of the village was Meine, and then in 1201 it split into Brademaen (Broadmayne) and Parva Maen (Little Maine). From Broadmayne and Little Maine, to Maine in the Domesday Book — this is more than a curious coincidence. A powerful case of circumstantial evidence for an English-Maine origin can now be made. For a probable motive, the fact that Gorges’ ancestral English homeland appears as “Maine” in the Doomsday Book speaks for itself.

To obtain definitive proof we now need to discover a letter written by Sir Ferdinando Gorges to King James I, requesting and explaining the name of Maine for his province. In 1658 Sir Ferdinando’s grandson wrote that his grandfather chose the name Maine for his new province, but offered no explanation. With the destruction of his grandfather’s property and important documents during the turbulent role of Oliver Cromwell, his grandson evidently did not know why his grandfather named his province Maine. By 1658, not one of the key players in this saga was alive.

The discovery of yet further definitive proof may one day be forthcoming. Until that time, does it not ring true that our 17th century English knight would want to bless the future American homeland of the Gorges family with the ancient name of their first English village — Maine?

Carol B. Smith Fisher of Brewer has written on Maine history and material culture.