As the co-ordinator for three county GenWeb pages, I often receive questions from people interested in genealogy in general and about the specific areas my pages cover. While I don't mind answering these questions, I find that sometimes I can't respond quite as quickly I would like. So I am listing here the most popular types of question I get, along with the sort of response I typically give, so that readers can get on with their research without having to wait for my response. If your question is not covered here, please don't hesitate to send it to me and I'll answer as soon as possible.
How do I start tracing my family tree?
Okay, I've got some first-hand knowledge. Now what?
Does inter-library loan work across the border (that is, can an American library borrow a Canadian record, or vice versa)?
Is there any data available besides census records?
Why isn't there any actual genealogy data on the pages?
I've found two sources of information for the same person, but the information is in conflict between them.
I have learned that my ancestors were from this area (Aroostook, Madawaska, or Victoria counties), but the trail seems to just end; I can't find any more information. What should I do next?
I have exhausted all courses of action I can think of. Any other suggestions?
How reliable is the information on the web?
How do I share information that I've found/collected?
How can I help?
The general rule is always start with what you know. Talk with older members of the family and write down the names and places they remember. Get all the information you can -- names, places, dates, etc. (The LDS has a useful Pedigree Chart that may help organize your data.) In addition, go through old family photograph albums: if the photos are labelled with names and/or dates, great. If not, perhaps someone will know who it is. You might be fortunate enough to find someone who can not only identify the person, but who can also regale you with stories about the person in the picture. I find it particularly fruitful to have a cassette recorder running while we go through the album. The stories are great. For additional suggestions, see the LDS help page.
Once you have first-hand information from people that were there or knew the people in question, look in the census records, not only to expand on the data you've gathered, but also to verify it (recollections are not always perfect). The federal census was first taken in the US in 1790, and then every ten years after that. The first Candian census was taken in 1871, and then every ten years afterwards. But these are just the federal censuses; there were also special censuses taken. Quebec conducted several throughout the 1600s. Maine conducted a special census in 1837. The first New Brunswick census was taken in 1850. The respective National Archives (in Washington and Ottawa) has the results (to varying degrees) of the federal censuses, as well as information on these special censuses. If Washington is not convenient, there are other sites of the American National Archives that might be closer; and many of the records of the National Archives of Canada are also available at the Provincial Archives in the provincial capital cities, if Ottawa is too far out of the way. And don't forget that your local library should be able to get these records from the Archives through inter-library loan.
I have recently heard that it is possible to borrow across the border; at least, it was possible for an American library to get Canadian records via inter-library loan. I still haven't heard if the other way round is possible, but I'll keep you posted if I find out. If anyone has tried, please let me know whether it is possible.
The churches tend to have only birth, marriage, and death records. Governments, on the other hand, LOVE to collect data. Fortunately, as long as it's at least 75 years old or so, it should be publicly available; newer records are protected for privacy reasons. (I guess they figure the average lifespan). Other data to look for would be border entry records, pension records, civil service records, school records, property records, wills, tax records, and armed service records. (Click on the BMD tab at the top of this page to go to the page on Births, Marriages, and Deaths.)
There are also organizations that require documented lineages for admission. These may be based on a common ancestor (such as the Monticello Society), on a war in which one's ancestors fought (Daughters of the American Revolution, the United Empire Loyalists' Association, and the Daughters of the Confederacy), or something about the ancestors (Mayflower Descendants).
Some people seem to visit the pages with the expectation that they will find family trees posted, with all the data they were looking for right there at their fingertips. There are several reasons that the pages consist mostly of pointers to where one might find the data, rather than the data itself. One is that it would be terribly unwieldy to try to collect all the data about all the people who ever lived in what is now Victoria, Madawaska and Aroostook counties. Instead, I have created the pages with the goal of giving visitors directions to where the information lies. Besides, replicating information introduces the possibility of making errors in copying the data. Also, some data collections are protected by copyright and I really don't want to get embroiled in legal battles.
Nevertheless, there is some data that does appear in these pages: data that wouldn't be otherwise available. For example, diaries, entries from family bibles, and other non-public information would probably not be available if the owners of these diaries and bibles didn't send me the information they found. And so I gladly accept and post this kind of information (and my thanks to those kind folks who have sent them).
One possibility is that somewhere, someone misstated or miscopied something. And this isn't limited to someone copying the record; it might be the person CREATING the record. I have found birth certificates, where the doctor recorded the date of birth as the date he was sent for, yet the baby was born soon after midnight. A "birth date" might really be the date of baptism, or a "death date" might really be the date of burial. Gravestones were carved with information supplied by the bereaved, who were likely not thinking as clearly as they otherwise might. Immigration officials may not have clearly understood what the newcomers were saying, or the immigrants might not have understood what they were being asked. (My favorite such story was the unfortunate German immigrant who was so terrified by the immigration official that he forgot his own name when asked, and so blurted out something like "schoen forgessen" ("I've forgotten") -- whereupon he became Shawn Ferguson!).
The other possibility is that the information isn't really about the same person. In an area that is predominantly French-Catholic like Madawaska, Aroostook, and Vicotria counties, many names (Marie and François) are very popular, and so there is quite a likelihood that two prople would end up with the same name.
The vast majority of the population in the upper St John River Valley made its livelihood along the river, and so the population is concentrated there. Consequently, there has been a lot of interaction among the people. This fact was unchanged when the river was established as the US/Canada border. As a result, records may have been created across the river from where they occurred. So if you suspect a birth occurred in Van Buren (for example) but cannot find a record of it, look in the records of St Basile.
It should also be pointed out that information was usually recorded at the closest church or town, yet this might have been quite a distance away. As time went on and the populations grew, there would be newer towns and churches springing up, so the closest church or town would be closer than it once was. As a consequence, where to look for specific records would depend upon the timeframe of the records in question. (I have found this chart of where to look for records to be useful.)
Another possibility is the converse of the they-are-really-different-people problem described above: what looks like the case of two different people might really be the same person. To avoid confusion (at least among their contemporaries), many people were known by their middle names: the sisters named Marie Louise, Marie Claude, and Marie Elisabeth might appear in records as simply Louise, Claude, and Elisabeth.
And, if that isn't confusing enough, the LAST names often changed! This often resulted from such things as hyphenations being added and then later deleted. The most popular such changes in names are listed here to be useful.
There are some pages whereby you can post queries. These will be available to other visitors of these pages. With any luck, someone will have just what you're looking for. I used to post thesequeries manually, but Tom Raynor's automatic posting tool works wonderfully: not only has it saved me work, but the queries get posted almost instantaneously. There is a Query page for Victoria county, a Query page for Aroostook county, and a Query page for Madawaska county.
I am not going to say "don't trust anything on the web" or "the web is completely accurate". And I'm sure you'd be suspicious of anyone who did say something as extreme as either of those statements. I have found a lot of useful information on the web, but I tend to view such information merely as clues -- clues that must be validated. But when you get to the point of not knowing where to go next, even rumors are welcome starting points.
One of the most important things to do is to note the sources of all the information that you find.
I'll be glad to accept any information you have, and make it available on the GenWeb site; just send it to me. The only exceptions are copyrighted material (unless you hold the copyright) and GEDCOM data (that's the standard that genealogy programs all use so they can intercommunicate). We don't accept GEDCOM data because it's so voluminous; the folks at Rootsweb, who graciously provide the server space for these pages, have asked that we not fill up these resources with GEDCOM files.
Data is posted to the web in either HTML (so it can be viewed as a webpage), or in PDF (the de facto downloading standard). I can convert ascii text, MS Word, WordPerfect, or FrameMaker files into a format that can be posted to the web.
The GenWeb project has fostered some auxiliary efforts to assemble public data and make it available on the web. Two of the most popular are the Cemetery Project, whose goal is to transcribe tombstones, and the Census Project, who goal is to transcribe the census records. Transcribing these records will make them available electonically, so that they can be searched automatically.
The census records have been microfilmed and are therefore available through your local library; you need not be local to the area to help provide data. Tombstones, for the most part, require your presence.
If you're interested in assisting with Maine records, please see the pages for the Maine Tombstone Transcription Project and for the Maine USGenWeb Census Project. Links to the repositories of New Brunswick information can be found at the New Brunswick Genealogy Links Page.