Old Searsmont Town Record Book returned

By Isabel Morse Maresh | Oct 14, 2012

On Tuesday, Aug. 28, I met with the Searsmont Selectmen Bruce Brierley, Donald Corcoran and Christopher Staples; Town Clerk Kathy Hoey, Historical Society Curator Norman Withee and Alice Pearse to present the town of Searsmont with the oldest known hand-written Town Record Book. The book has been missing for more than a century.

In the 1976 History of Searsmont by Dorothy Albin, she had the records transcribed for the last nine pages of the History. She borrowed the records from Harold Wing for the day, and had to return it each evening. Due to the fact that she and the transcriber were not familiar with the early settlers’ names, there are errors in the records. They were also taken from the original format and put in alphabetical order.

“The old record published here was found by Hiram Wing in an old trunk when the Grist Mill was torn down," stated Albin in her book. "The first two pages were missing, the others were yellowed and faded. Many hours have been copying and arranging alphabetically the information in the record. The work is far from complete, but its authenticity cannot be challenged.”

In the 1880 census, Hiram Wing was aged 75 years. He died in July, 1883, aged about 80 years. His wife died in Dec., 1883. Hiram was Town Clerk of Searsmont from 1853-1858, and from 1869-1883. This Hiram was the great-grandfather of Harold Wing. A second Hiram Wing was born about 1855, grandson of the first Hiram, and an uncle to Harold Wing.

I heard of the record book while reading the 1976 History of Searsmont. I inquired of the book from the Wing family after Harold’s death, but no one seemed to know what I was inquiring about. Sometime after Harold’s death, a family member mentioned that a book existed. One day the book was brought to my house. I transcribed the records, comparing to other records, and attempted to make the records as accurate as possible.

The little Book No. 1 has pages 1 and 2 missing. It contains Family records of early settlers, of births, deaths as well as marriages, listing the husband, wife, and each child with their birth and death dates. Among the earliest birth dates are [spelling as written]: Nathaniel Evans, born April 16, 1743; his son Nathaniel Evans, Jr., born Jany 16, 1791; Thomas Frohock, born July 26, 1785; Richard Hamilton, born Octo 15, 1760; Humphrey Hook, born May 28, 1765; Ansel Lothrop, born Sept. 2, 1780; Samuel Phillips born Aug. 18, 1764, Widow Hepsibeth Wyman, born Aug. 22, 1761, with many others born around the Revolutionary War era. These settlers were probably born elsewhere before settling in the Town of Searsmont.

Near the end of the book are “Marks of identification of animals of residents“, in alphabetical order, such as: “Tyler Marriner’s mark of sheep &c December 17th 1861 [no mark given], and “Elijah Luce Sheep mark as he says is Slit in the right Ear and a crop off the left Ear, Recorded Dec. 17th 1861.”

In an undated newspaper article, probably about 1900, titled Searsmont’s Start in Life, Her Early History and Her First Families by Historian Allen Marden Goodwin [1851-1917], he wrote, “My grandfather, Deacon John Marden, in one of his historical manuscripts of many years ago says of the county road: 'When I first came to the District of Maine, the road from Montville to Belfast village was through a wilderness of swamps without any bridges. The horses had to all go in one track through the swamps with nothing but stepping places for a foot person to walk without wading through the mud and water. Now from here [Searsmont] to Belfast is one of the best stage roads passing through wealthy farms and Belfast village is now likely to become one of the pleasantest cities in the State. The first settlement within the limits of this beautiful and flourishing town of Searsmont was in 1798 by Humphrey Hook of Candia, N.H., and Jonathan Bagley of Chester, N.H.'”

The Book No. 1 Marriage records start in 1818 to about 1852. This would be the marrying age of the first settlers’ children. On one page is written, "Ward Maxcy born 16 May 1799, married to Mary Robbins."

In 1984, I was allowed to photocopy Searsmont Book No. 2 of hand-written Intentions of Marriage and Marriages from 1854 to 1892. Dispersed in Book No. 2 are a few family and death records. In the front of Book No. 2 is hand-written, “October 23rd 1953. A Microfilm was taken of the records in this book by Mr. Hughes by authority of Mr. Stinson, State Bureau of Statistics.”

This microfilm is available to view at the Maine State Archives, which also have the films of the vital records after 1892, of each town of the State of Maine, the year that the State mandated that the vital records, Births, Deaths, and Marriages be recorded by the town, with copies sent to the State of Maine. Currently copies of the original State Vital Records up to and including 1922 are available on the paid site, Ancestry.com. Some of the microfilms are hard to read.

I gathered other Searsmont records to put together a book to publish. In 1984, a woman from Massachusetts, who had found hand-written records in a trunk, brought several pages of the private marriage records of Noah Prescott, Jr., from 1818 to 1838, with a single marriage in 1852, allowing me to photocopy them.

I went through the vital records hand-copied by the late Priscilla Jones from the Belfast newspapers up until 1890. These were mostly from The Republican Journal, the oldest nearly continuous newspaper in Maine, starting in 1829. Marriages starting in 1831, from Waldo County Marriages, were added.

It is not known if any of the early Searsmont family records would have been Greene Plantation records. Searsmont and Belmont are sister-towns, having been part of Greene Plantation, Hancock County, until they were divided as separate towns, approved by the Governor on Feb. 5, 1814. They were part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The first Town meeting was held Monday, March 21, 1814. Morrill was separated from Belmont in 1855. The published Belfast Vital Records quoted sources of marriages from Greene Plantation from 1802 up to 1813. It seems that no one is aware of Greene Plantation vital records. Belmont’s records were burned in 1855, the same year that Morrill was set off, when the Town Clerk, John Crawford’s store burned at Belmont Corner.

The 1800 Census of the Plantation called Quantabacook west of Belfast, Hancock County had twenty families, making 118 souls. The 1810 Census was of Greene Plantation, Hancock County. The 1815 Direct Tax Roll of Searsmont, Hancock County, copied by Alan S. Taylor in 1984 from the Maine Historical Society, Portland, Maine listed 78 Tax payers. The towns grew. In the 1840 Census of Searsmont, enumerated by David Leeman, Assistant Marshall numbered 2265.

The 1850 Census was the first to list all household members, their age and occupations of those who labored. Searsmont Census also listed the town of birth for each resident in 1850, which gives a clue as to where each family came from. That year the ‘paupers’ were listed, “18 in whole, 5 board out of town. There were 857 white males and 840 white females, examined Nov. 16 by Wm. B. Cook.” It was 1880 when the relationship of each member in the household was given to the “Head” of household.

If only the little Searsmont Book No. 1 could talk, the tales that we might hear. After the transcribing was finished in 2004, I returned the book to the Wing descendant. The book, Vital Records of Searsmont, Maine was published by Picton Press in 2005. I received a paperback copy of the book as payment for doing several years’ work. The book is now punched in a notebook, because the binding fell apart. The Searsmont Historical Society also received a copy, which had the same binding problems.

Sometime after the Vital Records of Searsmont, Maine was published the original record book was back in my possession. I believed, according to Law, that it belonged back in the possession of the Town of Searsmont. The book was put into a box and forgotten until this August.

This could well be the tale of many small local towns and their records. For many, many years the Town Clerks did their official duties from their homes, susceptible to fires, rodents, silverfish, and unknown catastrophes. Some clerks held their positions for many years, feeling that the records belonged to them. In a few cases this allowed the records to be preserved.

Town Records horror stories are that of Liberty, and Palermo, Maine. In 1986 the Town Clerk of Liberty allowed me to photocopy the old town records, making two copies. On the cold night of Jan. 23, 1999, the building housing the Town Office burned, taking with it the old Town records. When I heard of the fire, I started transcribing the poor-quality published records, comparing them to records of other local towns. This transcription, with additional records, was published in 2000. Palermo’s records have also burned, with local historians working to reconstruct the records in whatever way possible. With today’s technology, there are several ways to copy records. Most of these records were microfilmed by the State of Maine in the 1950s, and are stored at the Maine State Archives.

A debt of gratitude is due to the early historians and record keepers who saw value in the hand-written records, and to those who kept them. Book No. 1 has been placed in the vault in the Searsmont Town office. It will soon be treated by those who are experts in preserving old records.

Genealogical and Historical researchers sincerely appreciate those Town officials who honor their history, and of those who have gone on before, and have held the same official duties. For those who have no concern for those who have paved the way in our towns, several including George Santayana and Winston Churchill are quoted as saying, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

It felt good to have the old records return home, and for the honor and recognition of their merit. The records cannot be legally sold, as they are property of their town of origin. The early records are essential to Historical and Genealogical researchers, and sometimes for legal research. Perhaps like Searsmont Vital Record Book No. 1, other records will make their way back home.

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