Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Diary Project - First Stop. Biddeford, Maine

Last week I posted about The Diary Project. After finding a very detailed diary covering 6 months in Maine during 1882, I decided to embark on a research adventure. Last week, my seven year old accompanied me to Biddeford, Maine. It is one of the towns mentioned in our diary. I have been unable to pinpoint exactly where the person who wrote the diary resided. I have never been to Biddeford and he mentions it a lot. so, we decided to start there. (I will refer to the diary writer as a man unless I discover otherwise. He talks of buying a suit and an overcoat, so I am banking that it is a guy.)

We began at the public library searching for names in the diary. There are many full names listed, so city directories seemed like a good bet. I explained to my daughter what a city directory is and how it lists people by names, addresses and occupations. We had a hit on the first person, George Grant. The excitement was palpable, but our bubble of enthusiasm began to dissipate as we struck out with the next ten names on the list. "Well honey," I said, "George Grant is a very common name. I think we've got the wrong George Grant."

An Appalling Accident - B&M Railroad
January 6, 1882 in Wells, Maine
So I quickly moved her to microfilm. At first glance, microfilm is exciting to a kid accustomed to a digital world. I held the film of an 1882 local newspaper up to the light to show her the image and showed her how to use the machine. She was uncomfortable with the streaks on the page and the inability to easily read the words, but when we found the first appropriate article there was excitement. Our diary mentions a train crash and there in The Union and Journal, 4 days after the accident (quite fitting for a weekly paper), was an article titled "Appalling Accident on the Boston and Maine Railroad in Wells." My research partner ran to her notebook to write the information while I printed the article.

It took about half an hour to find the next related article, but such a long time between "finds" caused my research partner to lose interest. She very much wanted to participate, but microfilm was not her bag. I sent her to look through books  listing marriages in the town. We wanted the name of a particular minister who was mentioned as the person who married and buried a few people in our diary. When his name could not be found and the name of the people who were actually married couldn't be found, she was growing frustrated. While she searched, I continued to dig up articles related to some local deaths of people mentioned in the diary. Another exciting group of finds was articles about a court case related to a doctor being brought up on charges for a botched abortion. There were also more train crash articles.

Kennebunkport Scandal - February 17, 1882
After two hours of searching, we went for lunch. The enthusiasm did not return after some nourishment, so I took my daughter to the kids' room to find books, but my voracious reader didn't want them. "I want to help you mommy!" We tried for another half an hour to do some more research, but she was clearly done and I did not want to push it. I will see if the papers have been digitized and placed online (doubtful, but some towns are doing projects such as this). I will see if the next town in which we stop has the same paper, or I may need to return to Biddeford on my own one day to make my way through the rest of the microfilm.

I learned two things on this trip and they were things I set out to learn.
1. Our diary writer was not from Biddeford. Based on the articles and death notices, I now believe the gentleman is from Wells or Kennebunkport, Maine.
2. My daughter is not ready for exactly this type of research yet. I suspected that. Knowing her personality, I also suspect she will want to try again when I start finding directory information. She has an inbred librarian gene and will enjoy looking up names when they are easier to come by. In the meantime, I have devised a new path for her end of the project. We are going to research the B&M railroad. She is going to make a map of its route through Maine, identifying local towns and diary landmarks such as the bridge into which the train crashed. Then she will dig into her crayons to decorate it. When enthusiasm wanes, teach little kids with craft projects!

Thank you to Renee and Sharon at the McArthur Public Library in Biddeford, Maine for your help.

Next stop: Kennebunk! Woo Woo!

1 comment:

  1. I love this! Such a great project! I know that the history of the Boston & Maine railroad will yield really interesting results in terms of vacationing patterns, resorts, and places of industry. The BOL has an extensive collection on the B & M Railroad, should you need additional help researching!