Notes from the Archives: Hiram Kelley Morrell’s Family Genealogical Records

By Tessa Surette, MHS library volunteer

In 1892, Hiram Kelley Morrell (1827-1911), of Gardiner, undertook the daunting task of tracing the descendants of both John Morrell of Kittery and Abraham Morrill of Salisbury, Massachusetts. This project spanned nearly 20 years and resulted in a remarkably detailed manuscript.

Coll. 2731 manuscript sample page (front)

While the manuscript is impressive for both its detail and organization, the process was laborious, and, at times, frustrating. Morrell’s primary means of collecting information was to mail blank genealogy questionnaires (approximately 1500 in all) to complete strangers. He hoped they would fill them out and mail them back to him.


Unfortunately, most people did not take the time to respond. This lack of enthusiasm was not well received by Morrell, who saw great value in a detailed family genealogy. On the last group of questionnaires he sent out he included the following excerpt:


“I am feeling that it is a hopeless, never ending thankless labor. Everyone who has had a pedigree blank which they have not filled and returned, (and there are about 9 out of 10) ought to be ashamed of themselves, and the time will come, when they or their posterity will be saddened that they have allowed themselves to die unknown, unhonored and unsung…”


For those who did participate, their genealogical information resides in Collection 2731 in the MHS Brown Library, along with Morrell’s correspondence relating to the project, completed genealogy questionnaires, photographs, newspaper clippings, and various notes and documents.


MHS Essay Contest: Civil War Family Legends

Grenville Sparrow and friends, ca. 1864
Grenville Sparrow and friends, ca. 1864

We at MHS want to hear your family’s stories about your ancestors involved in the Civil War, from ancestors who fought (or served in other capacities) to activities on the homefront. To that end we are requesting submissions to our first-ever Newsletter Essay Contest!

Submissions should be 300 – 500 words. Please include a title, your name as you would like it to appear in print, and your city/state. If there is an image you would like to include please also send it our way.

A committee of MHS staff members will judge the essay submissions and the winner will be published in our fall 2013 newsletter. Essays will be judged on their relevance to Maine, clarity of writing, and the overall nature of the story. The winning essay, as well as the first and second runner-up essays, will also be published here, on the MHS Blog.

To submit an essay to the contest, please email a word document to Laura Webb at by July 5.  Winners will be chosen by July 19 and announced in the fall newsletter, scheduled for publication at the beginning of September.

Questions about the contest should be directed to Laura Webb at (207) 774-1822 x201 or by email.

MHS Featured in NBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?”

The MHS Research Library played a starring role in the episode of NBC’s hit genealogy program Who Do You Think You Are? that aired last Friday. Actress Helen Hunt visited Portland to research the history of her great great grandmother Augusta Hunt, who was president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and a leader in the suffrage movement.

Actress Helen Hunt in the MHS Library Reading Room.

One of the most poignant moments in the episode came at the end–in the MHS Library–when Hunt learned her great great grandmother was the first woman to cast a ballot in Portland once women were finally given the vote in 1920.

Click here to read a recap of the episode; click here to view the episode. The show also featured an interview with local historian and MHS friend Herb Adams, and a visit to the Neal Dow House.

New Year: New Discoveries About Your Past

Genealogy of William and Rhoda Thompson, of Scarborough and Portland, 1831

Here’s a great New Year’s resolution that doesn’t require dieting, exercising, or otherwise denying yourself: Get going on that genealogy project.

If you’ve always been curious about the roots and branches of your family tree, why not started digging in sooner rather than later?

Now happens to be an especially convenient time to get started. As of January 1, all Maine libraries were slated to offer access to‘s 7,000+ databases free of charge. All you have to do is go to your public library and use their computers. (Brown Library at MHS has provided access to Ancestry Library edition for some time.) Read more about this great opportunity via the Maine State Library. Some public libraries will even be offering workshops on how to get started so check in with your local librarian!

In addition, for Maine Historical Society members, there’s a substantial new resource in the members-only section of the website: a digitized version of The Portland Record of Naturalization Papers, 1850-1910 Index.

The information in this database comes from Book 27 in Manuscript Collection 4 of the Portland Voter Registry Collection in the MHS archives. It is a listing of naturalized citizens during that time period. This book was most likely created by staff in the Portland Voter Registry office to prove that someone was a naturalized citizen before he was allowed to register to vote.

The entries in the volume are arranged chronologically within each letter of the alphabet. You can search the index by name and your results will include name, date of approval, date of papers, court where the naturalization happened, and the ward or street where the citizen resided. This index can lead you to the actual record that is in the collections of the Maine Historical Society and to additional records such as naturalization papers and passenger lists.

To access this index you need to be a member of the Maine Historical Society and create on online account on our website.

Finally, if you don’t know about the MHS Genealogy Forum, you should–because it’s accessible to anyone with an email address, regardless of membership. It’s a great place to post queries, or reach out to relatives you don’t know you have. If you’ve never posted comments or questions on a genealogy forum before, spend some time getting the lay of the land and looking at the other posts before you fire away.

Revelations about your family history may be just an online search or a query away. What are you waiting for? Resolve to start searching today.

MHS Genealogy Forum

If you have been researching family history, you may be familiar with the major online genealogy message boards, including GenForum and at Did you know that MHS has its own genealogy forum?

The MHS Genealogy Forum has been online and contains queries and postings from the past eight years. Topics are organized alphabetically by surname and location (Maine, Non-Maine, and US), and the forum also provides a place for software and general inquiries.

The MHS Genealogy Forum is a great place to post messages and connect with others searching for Maine ancestors. You may discover a researcher working on the same line as you, share your research with others, or even ask a genealogist to do a lookup for you.

Our genealogy forum is free to use but does require users to create a username and password in order to post messages. When posting messages, be clear, concise, and choose a subject line that reflects the information you are seeking. You may not receive a reply right away, but we all know that genealogy research takes time and patience. You never know when that missing link will be found.

The MHS Genealogy Forum has been a successful avenue for many researchers and has even brought together families who had been lost to each other. (Read the May blog post about the Dorr sisters who found each via the forum).