English fishermen settled the coast of Maine before the Pilgrims landed near Plymouth Rock. And long before Maine separated from Massachusetts in 1820, town clerks in what became Maine were keeping records of town meetings, births, marriages, deaths, and land transactions. Like other New England states, Maine’s most useful genealogical records are usually found at the town level. Maine has three Indian reservations, about 425 unincorporated territories on slightly over half her land area, 34 plantations, 431 towns, and 23 cities.
Townships. Maine’s unorganized territories are mostly unincorporated townships, but such units may also be called a gore, grant, island, patent, purchase, strip, surplus, territory, or tract. They are sparsely settled. Many of these are identified more by a number than by a place-name. Many have both a number and a name. But no town meetings are held, and no town meeting minutes are available to help genealogy researchers in these unorganized areas. The county will keep land records for settlers in townships.
Plantations. Between the township and town level, Maine has a unique transition form of government called a plantation. Plantations have a partial town government but lack a representative in the legislature. If their population increases enough plantations are expected to become a town. Some of the coastal islands are organized as plantations, but most plantations are within rural inland forests. Find plantation records as you would town records.
Towns and cities. Availability of town vital records varies by town before 1892. A few go back as far as 1670. Eighty of Maine’s towns submitted copies of their pre-1892 records (“delayed returns”). Microfilm copies of these town records are available at several repositories and are now indexed in FamilySearch Historical Records. A few towns have since published their town records, and recently Picton Press has published dozens of individual Maine town records. Records from 1892-1955 are also available on microfilm.
Extinct towns. Some former towns in Maine have declined in population, been discontinued, and turned into unincorporated townships. Others have been annexed by other towns, or renamed. Look for the town records of such places in the towns that annexed them, or in nearby towns if they were unincorporated.
Guidebook. For further details and a town-by-town guide to the availability of Maine town records see Michael J. Leclerc, Genealogist’s Handbook for New England Research (Boston, Mass.: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2012), 79-154.
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