The first time I visited the Searsport, Maine Penobscot Marine Museum to do some sightseeing and some genealogical research in their small but amazing library all my research was done on site, by copier, and with guidance from the staff. Today it is a significant web resource that can be accessed from our homes or libraries by maritime history buffs and genealogy nuts, like me.
The Penobscot Marine Museum is dedicated to keeping the old ways of boat and shipbuilding alive and features many paintings of Searsport sea captains and their clipper ships and their records. The grounds themselves are a 19th century mini campus, complete with an active church, home of a sea captain, barn filled with boats, exhibit galleries, plus the research library, and more. You learn about surviving, and not surviving, the multi-year ocean voyages throughout the world.
Although I have not researched my Dow ancestry, I saw a family tree for the Dows painted on a wall. The search for my China Trade Sea Captains, primarily for my Pendleton line consumed much of my time there. Now I do this from home. This technological transition has been fairly easy for me, but I have learned some tips along the way that might help you regarding accessing the wealth of information at the Penobscot Marine Museum and online.
PRIMARY SEARCH WEBPAGE: I like to start on this page with the town, the ship, or the surname I am researching. I key in a surname, in this case, Colcord, and a myriad of web pages is found. I can find the Colcord family history, the photography of daughter Joanna Colcord who was born at sea. Joanna wrote “Letters from the Sea” and on another voyage she took her camera to record what they witnessed and how they lived, which is very exciting for any family search about 19th Century shipbuilding and sailing the world.
SEARSPORT SEA CAPTAINS DATABASE: The official Penobscot Marine Museum site includes a search feature for their collections that has a photo and mini-bio of each of the Searsport Sea Captains, which was originally a definitive book on this subject by Frederick Frasier Black. In this case, my ancestor that I wanted to research was Capt. Phineas Pendleton, so I keyed in Phineas Pendleton and received two full pages of findings including photographs, genealogy and ship data regarding this name. Outstanding!
FACEBOOK: Seemingly everything gravitates to Facebook; and so did the Penobscot Marine Museum which has its own worthy Facebook page. Well worth seeing.
THE BAY CHRONICLE: I keyed in The Bay Chronicle as I used to receive this fact-and-event-filled newsletter by snail mail, but can now access copies online in .pdf format. The Spring 2009 edition is filled with photographs here and abroad of maritime history; this was the first Bay Chronicle to include so much photography. Quickly you will see that there is an Eastern Illustration and Publishing Collection, a Colcord collection (Joanna!), the Carroll Thayer Berry Collection and many more. Early photography is abundant! Take the time to scan through the Bay Chronicle newsletters; you might find your own genealogical or historical treasure within the pages.
THE STEPHEN PHILLIPS MEMORIAL LIBRARY: This is the museum library and it contains the document archives. Their collection is particularly designed for the serious researcher of ships, local history, and genealogy. This is where I spent a lot of time when I visited the museum.
THOUGHTS ON MY GENEALOGICAL SEARCHES: Since my ancestors were extremely involved in the China Trade, as well as trades around the world, they lived hard, but profitable lives. We have always joked about how we wonder “where the money went”; perhaps we will find some clues on the Penobscot Marine Museum website. Not every voyage was successful and there were fortunes won and fortunes lost. It is the history and genealogy we are truly seeking.
When I was growing up in New England we would often visit my grandmother’s Searsport farm. I recall the specially designed high chair/wheelchair that one of my young ancestors used while on board a ship or on land. Somehow my grandmother had it at her farm and we used it as kids ourselves as well as played with our dolls in it too. I would love to find the history of this piece and who might today own it. Perhaps the museum does or will have leads for me on its multitude of web pages.
I had often seen pictures of the Searsport cyclone of 1921, but until I was searching the Penobscot Marine Museum site I did not realize that one of the homes destroyed had at one time been owned by Phineas Pendleton Jr., an ancestor. The story on his house which was owned by the Webbers in 1921 can be found in the photo collection.
So, whether you are a maritime buff, a genealogy researcher or even a devoted landlubber, the Penobscot Marine Museum has something, many things, that should interest you.