Family history research has exploded in popularity in recent years, as people hungry for insight into what they’re all about have transformed themselves into amateur sleuths. ABC News declared genealogical research to be Americans’ second most popular hobby — after gardening — in 2014. Turn on the TV: At least three programs inspired by the wave of interest in family research have appeared.

Research-assistance company ProQuest notes a spike in activity by history hounds in libraries and other research facilities. They are digging into not only family histories, but also the hidden stories of their homes, neighborhoods and communities. The popularity of family research is especially pronounced among ethnic groups, which suggests such a wave is strong in Maine, home of a large Franco-American population.

This trend touches almost everyone. Just a few months ago, I watched as a friend laid a wreath at the grave of an ancestor from Maine who is buried at Gettysburg National Military Park. I traced one of my ancestors, who fought in the Revolutionary War, to a gravesite in Pennsylvania. Many of you have your own compelling stories.

Any research project in Kennebec County, be it about a family, property or community, should include a review of the vast resources of the Kennebec Historical Society. Founded in 1891, KHS has built a research database containing more than 45,000 indexed surnames, contained in documents including assessors’ lists, newspapers, diaries, Bibles, and church and poor-house records. Uniquely, the database allows access to family and organizational stories beyond simple birth, marriage and death statistics.

The society’s searchable database, available to the public at KHS headquarters, opens the door to a collections archive, such as business, school and church papers, scrapbooks, photo albums, maps, postcards, clothing and all sorts of publications. They include copies of the Maine Temperance Gazette and a transcription of the diary of healer-midwife Martha Ballard, which alone opens a wide window for all to see to life as it was in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

This vast catalogue of items comes into view with a few clicks of the computer mouse, giving researchers a virtual stepping stone from the present to past. Once you spot something of interest in the database and make note of the item ID, a researcher at KHS headquarters will find the item for you for inspection. The KHS website ( also shows hours the building is open.


KHS is proud of the service it provides to the history-hungry public, and it has grown with the times. In 2008 it moved into its present home at 107 Winthrop St. in Augusta. Far from a dusty repository for what was, it is powering forward with a vision for the future.

In addition to the extensive collection of manuscripts, photographs and ephemera available to researchers, KHS sponsors monthly lectures on a variety of historical topics. Recent presentations gave a close look at the important role the numerous family-owned grocery stories played in Augusta’s north-side neighborhoods. A presentation of early 20th century photos from glass-plate negatives gave a rare glimpse into Maine of that era. A talk on the prison camps that were located in Maine during World War II was so popular it had to be scheduled for a second time.

Expanding from a few dozen members in 1990 to more than 300 now, the society is pushing to build its rolls to 500. This will help to bolster a budget that is now based to a large degree on donations from a cadre of generous and public-spirited donors. The outreach activity will be much livelier than a musty old history book. For starters, one marking the 50th anniversary of the release of the Beatles’ groundbreaking album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” will be held in June. Now, there’s some history for you.

For the services it provides, a KHS membership ($20 for an individual, $30 for a family) is a true bargain. As you ponder your own family and community history, consider joining, and maybe add a gift membership for a friend or relative. It’s about the past and future, all at once.

Glenn Adams is a member of the development and membership committee of the Kennebec Historical Society.

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