From census records and city directories to passenger lists and military records, Ancestry.com contains an abundance of information. Sometimes, though, that abundance can be overwhelming. The Ancestry.com Learning Center can help. Five-minute YouTube video tutorials offer help on topics such as using agricultural schedules to better understand ancestors who were farmers and finding clues in cemetery inscriptions. Free Research Guides provide guidance on conducting African American family research and offer tips on how to make sense of all the information contained in census records. There are dozens of these videos and guides available for you to peruse – one of them just might have the answer to a question that has been hounding you!
City directories provide a wealth of information that can help you with your family history research. Published annually, they consist of alphabetical listings of residents, with their home address and, often, their occupation. Beginning in 1882 in Portland, Maine, they also include an alphabetical listing of streets along with the residents (heads of household) at each address. The directories also list businesses, organizations, associations, the names and addresses of teachers, fire department officials, and various state, county, and city officials and administrators.
Here is a sample listing from 1920 and how to decode it:
Amburg Angus (Annice) stevedore h 152 Newbury
Angus Amburg and his wife Annice lived at 152 Newbury Street. Angus worked as a stevedore. They might have had children, but there is no other Amburg listed with the same address, so it is unlikely there were any adult male children living with them at the time. (Here is where you would have to consult other sources, such as the 1920 Census, for example, to flesh out the picture.)
A few notes of caution:
*Women were not listed in early directories, unless the woman was widowed or owned her own business.
*They may contain spelling or transcription errors. For example, the 1920 directory shows that Fabbio Ciconi lived at 8 Newbury Street. The address listing for 8 Newbury, however, lists a Tabbio Cicome. Same man? Probably, but as with any research, you will want to keep your critical senses sharp.
*Many streets in Portland were renumbered in the 1870s.
*And, finally, listen to the tone of exasperation in the introduction to the 1895 edition, written by the publishers: “Our canvassers meet with many obstacles. Addresses that are right to-day are wrong to-morrow, and persons fail to report changes when made after they have been visited. Persons whose judgment should teach them the folly of such a course are careless about giving information…”
That said, there is still an abundance of information to be had from the Directories. Be prepared to spend some time, though – they can be strangely addictive!
The Portland Room has Portland City Directories from 1823 to the present (with some missing years), as well as a few Directories for the islands and surrounding towns.
In March, Portlanders, Mainers, and New Englanders by the score celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day. Throughout the year, however, there is consistent and creative interest in the Irish history of this region. Here in the Portland Room, where we preserve and provide access to the Library’s Special Collections, we welcome researchers of social history and genealogy- from all cultures, with great interest in the city’s Irish presence. Here are a few gems to commemorate the feast day of Saint Patrick:
The Book of Maine Irish is a handmade, hand-calligraphed book that lists many of the prominent names of Maine Irish families. Notice the Celtic knotting around the periphery of the leather-tooled book cover.
These spritely Portland students were photographed in 1960.
A portion of the historically Irish West End, with Saint Dominic’s Parish, at the lower left foreground. Right of the image area of the photo is the Gorham’s Corner area, where world-famous cinema director John Ford grew up. His father owned Feeney’s Grocery Store, on Center Street. There is a statue of John Ford at the western point of Gorham’s Corner.
Accompanying the above photo, showing Saint Dominic’s Parish, in the West End, here is the link to the Maine Irish Heritage Center, which is housed in the church building now.
Gorham’s Corner in 1945, when it was dubbed George W. Sullivan Square to commemorate a World War II casualty. The Honor Roll in the neighborhood included many Irish names, and it was displayed nearby.
Baking bread, under the watchful eyes of Saint Patrick, in 1954. Note the shamrocks and the Aer Lingus emblem above the statue!
Whether it’s 1961 or 2011, singing Too-Ra-Loo-Ra is never out of style.
Here are two locally-written books in the Library on the topic of Irish History.
And, finally, on this Saint Patrick’s Day… keep your eyes open- you never know who might be sitting next to you reading the Portland Press Herald !!