Maine’s move to digitize deeds – oh yeah!

Hancock Co, ME deed, 22:422: Thomas Wasgatt, Jr. deeds 1/4 share of mills to son Thomas Wasgatt, 3rd

Researching deeds has always felt cumbersome to me.   Unless you live in the area where your ancestors resided (not me), or visit the courthouse in the county where they lived (not feasible to do routinely, if, like me, you live on the opposite coast from your forebears), the easiest way to research deeds is to first order the microfilmed index from the Family History Center, determine the book and page where your ancestor’s deeds are recorded (if any), and then order the corresponding films.

Hancock County Maine Registry of Deeds

Official Website of Hancock County, Maine (with portal to Registry of Deeds)

Well, the State of Maine has made the job of locating your ancestor’s probate records and deeds MUCH easier!  Most of the counties have been working on digitizing old deeds and other legal documents.  Indexes are available, and the time period from which they begin varies by county.  For example, Penobscot county has indexed 1967 and forward, with links to the corresponding images, while other counties may have older (or only newer) documents indexed/linked. In addition, there’s also a difference in how you access and/or download files from each of the courthouses.  Some of the county sites mandate that you log in, and others allow you to view by clicking a “guest” link.  Some of the sites provide a link to purchase the documents (generally a $2.00 fee per image), while others will email records to you if you would like a document that you’ve located on their site.  I’ve also been successful in using the Windows 7 “screen snip” tool  to save a copy of the image on my screen when there are no download options.  (Go to Programs>Accessories>Snipping Tool or download one of the free tools available online if you do not have Win 7 with Snipping Tool.)

While it would be totally cool to have ALL the oldest records indexed with the images to download, I have been very successful at finding my ancestor’s deeds through other means.  Of course, the obvious method to locating an index is to order the microfilm from FamilySearch for viewing at your local Family History Center.   As an alternative, you can check online.  Good starting places to check for indexes are GenWeb and Cyndi’s List to see if they have linked to others who have published indexes for the area in which you are searching.  Also, don’t forget checking with local historical societies, who may also have the information available.  (The New England Historic and Genealogical Society has indexes for many New England states/counties available.  While there last summer, I was able to look up the book and page number for many of my Stanwood, White and Scott ancestors who resided in Penobscot County, Maine.  I ran out of time to look at the corresponding deeds on microfilm, but didn’t worry, as I was able to download copies of the deeds from the county web site.  Click here for my NEHGS trip – and fun (NOT!) trying to get there during Boston’s Bruins parade last June!)

For those researching Mount Desert Island, Thomas F. Vining has blessed us with a wealth of information on his web site, Mount Desert Island Cultural History Project.  Scroll down to deeds, and then you’ll find the Peters Plan and Salem Towne maps, which also includes a key to locate the corresponding deeds with book and page numbers.

Mount Desert Island "Peter's Plan"

Mount Desert Island “Peter’s Plan”: yellow box shows my Stanwood and Wasgatt ancestors’ property holdings overlooking Frenchman’s Bay

Using the Hancock county Registry of Deeds site in combination with the MDI Cultural History Project, I’ve uncovered a wealth of info on my Stanwood and Wasgatt ancestors.  Most cool was yesterday’s discovery – my 5th Great Grandfather, Thomas Wasgatt, Jr., sold to his son, Thomas 3rd, 1/4 interest in two saw mills on Duck Brook, and 7/8 interest of the Cromwell’s Harbor saw mill.  I knew the Wasgatts were involved in the lumber and milling industry, but this is the proof I’ve needed.  Further, simply scrolling through the older deed (non-indexed), I was delighted to find another deed in which Thomas Jr. sold to Thomas 3rd half a lot (see E22 on map above) which he owned in common with Benjamin Stanwood, also a 5th Great Grandfather.  This deed confirms an article by Rev. O.H. Fernald, DD (Wasgatt descendant) appearing in the Bar Harbor Record which stated the Stanwoods and Wasgatts were business partners.

Hancock County, Maine Probate Index

Hancock County, Maine Probate Index

It appears Maine’s online digitizing project will soon include probate documents.  The site allows for probate searches, and gives the docket number.  Unfortunately there are no linked probate documents.  For Hancock County, here is a separate search tool available at which gives the volume, page and docket number, and is searchable by surname.  Armed with this information, you can then go to FamilySearch to order the appropriate microfilms to view the original probate record.  Happily for me, Thomas Wasgatt has an 1820 probate record, and I will be thrilled to find what secrets await me there!

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