Category: Online Research

Delia Speaks

The Pejepscot Genealogical Society (PGS) will hold its next meeting in the Morrell Mtg Rm of the Curtis Memorial Library, Brunswick, ME on Sun, March 8, 2020 at 2 pm.   PGS member Delia Wilson Lunsford will present ” One Name Genealogy Projects“.  This will include how to research all folks in a geographical area with the same surname as a way to find your family’s earliest roots.  Using online resources and others, she will recommend how to keep track of individuals/names, how to distinguish different families, and how to place name “orphans” into a family tree.  Delia has been researching her own Maine family, the Wilsons and the Alexanders, in recent years.  

Our new monthly theme for March is “Irish” so feel free to share a quick family “Irish” story at our gathering after the presentation!  Also, you are welcome to bring with you an Irish food item to share!  Our monthly refreshment volunteer will bring drinks and paper products to share. 

This link to the presentation PDF will be active soon.

Is It Legal?

Recently I dug into what is in the public domain and what is not. Please do not use this post as evidence in your quest for such proof as I’m certainly no lawyer. I will borrow heavily from the Stanford University Libraries section on this topic.

But here are the facts as I can determine:

Public domain is mostly about date of publication.

  1. the copyright has expired
  2. the copyright owner failed to follow copyright renewal rules
  3. the copyright owner deliberately places it in the public domain,
  4. copyright law does not protect this type of work.

1. So first, anything written and copyrighted before 1924 is now in the public domain (every year this advances one more year until 1977. Any works published after that have different rules.)

2. Unless, during the years leading up to 1964, the copyright holder applied for renewal. So just because it was published before 1924 does not automatically make the work public domain but in all likelihood it is.

3. Deliberately stating in the book that it is dedicated to the public domain.

4. It can’t be copyrighted. In general, copyright is reserved for whole works, art, books, music but not titles etc.

That’s pretty straightforward but once you start applying those rules as I had to do recently, it gets muddy.

It’s all about the websites, well, mostly. First, most of the vital records I collected were published by the Maine Historical Society in conjunction with the state. Those were published under a law passed in 1921. The copyright reads “under the authority” of MHS, not “copyrighted by” in reality. I have asked MHS for clarification and so far no one has weighed in on this. I’m not sure how long these books were published but at least until 1933. So I’m assuming that all of these books are public domain.

But websites do have their policies and states ” You may not post content from this site on another website or on a computer network without our permission.” I have queried them on that because they have digitized versions of public domain materials and they then do not own the copyright. I got several responses referring me to pages and other contact forms and in the end, have no response from them.

The problem concerns digitized versions of public domain materials. Can someone like Family Search or a university library or even Google digitized such works and then claim some sort of ownership or control? There’s an extensive conversation about this very topic here:

Also very pertinent to the discussion is Bridgeman vs Corel (1999) where the ruling was “exact photographic copies of public domain images could not be protected by copyright in the United States because the copies lack originality.” So no, someone cannot claim copyright ownership just because they digitized something. That court case is about images, not books but I suspect it applies to digitized books.

But digitizing books can take the material into a different realm and I don’t know this has been tested in court. I received a book digitized from the original and it also had bookmarks added so contained an accurate table of contents. A well done job but does that take that source out of originality? I don’t know for sure but I cannot imagine a court allowing something like to be newly copyrighted.

Of course, website can state what their site policies are. The question is can they control what actually happens. That’s a no, just in case you were wondering. All they can do is block someone from using their site but even that can usually be overcome. As a web designer, I know this stuff! I just wonder what and how expects to enforce compliance of their site policies as they sound a bit draconian to me. Also, a digital file may appear nearly identical to another so who knows how that digital file was created or where it came from.

As a web designer, writer and author of copyrighted books and websites, I’m fully aware I have no real solution to someone stealing my “stuff”. I simply don’t have the resources to try to go after someone and I can tell you from experience that many local judges just don’t have the knowledge to allow them to fairly oversee a proceeding with these type of issues. Technology is great but when you are the only one in the courtroom with actual knowledge and understanding of that technology, well, the outcome can be very dicey.

And genealogy itself comes with other issues – too many people think their family tree is private when vital records are never copyrighted and their tree is just a compilation of those vital records.

For most genealogy buffs, these issues never come up but when they do, it is a complicated world to navigate. I hope I’ve cleared up some questions and I then leave it up to you to determine whether you can do what you want with whatever you have. Good Luck! (and if anyone has any new information pertinent to this discussion, please let me know!)

Public Domain Resources

With the advent of, a non-profit permanent storage website, I saw the opportunity to do something that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. I have collected nearly 150 digital files over the years, vital records of Maine, state and local histories, and genealogies. Now I can share them with you on a permanent basis.

This link, is a redirect link to the storage space. Since the base link will continue to change due to the addition of new files and future changes to urls on the website itself, I set up this redirect to be sure you can find all the files I’ve uploaded. (So remember if you bookmark the actual link, you may be missing new files.)

What is collected there is volumes in the public domain like vital records (23), city histories (40) – most done for the bicentennial, genealogies (34) either in the public domain or never copyrighted and others (3).

The files come from all over, google books and mainly and I’m presently trying to get clarification on other files that are in the public domain but uploaded to other sites that are not clear on the availability and use of materials that they do not hold the copyright to (another 37 books).

I have started a spreadsheet to document these volumes and need assistance in getting all the pertinent data entered. Volunteers please contact me!


Recently I was asked to write up something in honor of a cousin who I’ve gotten to know in the last few years. I finally got around to writing it up this morning, a bit ahead of the deadline (meaning I can’t post this until after August 23!) Here’s the core of the piece I wrote but expanded into a look at today’s society.

Today on Facebook my cousin, Dan, posted a bit about finding out that Tennessee Williams is a 5th cousin. He may be closer related to Dan than I am!

It’s all about connections. In this crazy mixed up world we live in now, it’s the connections that make it all worthwhile.

Back some years ago I found a DNA match to a guy named Dana Ward who was not a southerner. As a half southerner / half yankee, I figured he was related to me through my Maine family so I believe I contacted him first. We couldn’t see the exact relationship then but realized that he was a southern cousin instead. My Elam family was massive – making me related to possibly all Elams in the US now. Elams intermarried with Wards, a good bit closer to my family branch than other Elams. We are both descendants of Thomas Jefferson’s family (directly for me his uncle, not TJ). I was living in Charlottesville, Virginia, at the time so we pretty much said we have to visit each other. Dan never made it back to Virginia while we there but I certainly made it to Maine.

Since then I have been graciously hosted by Dan in Maine twice. We have a lot in common – but mostly the insane idea of chasing our far flung families to see what we can dig up. Now that we live in Maine, we’ve already seen Dan and Julia once and plan on getting together for more fun, food and “family” in Unity.

We still aren’t completely sure how we are related but it really doesn’t matter. It’s those connections that save me. It’s finding my Maine cousins and moving north that has saved me. It’s knowing that no matter where I go, there is a cousin lurking in there somewhere.

In Dan’s case, that cousinship helped me to further my research and find friendship out in the countryside of Maine. His constant genealogy work continues to prod me to continue, to remind me how important these connections are.  

Expanding on that theme from my birthday essay above, I can link these connections with a few truisms of our life today.

When I was growing up, it was all about family. There were 10 first cousins with my sister as the oldest and me as the next to oldest. Sis watched us all coming into the world as she is seven years older than I. I remember the other cousins starting more with one 8 years younger. I baby sat some for the youngest ones.

There were a few family reunions I attended and still can’t remember who any of those more distant relatives were. It was a little surreal to have old folks saying hello ’cause they knew who I was and remembered my birth! But I had family.

My son, an only child, with only 2 first cousins at all and none from my side of the family, was raised as a military dependent. Which really means he was raised to be independent. There was no family and no one besides me for him to rely on during his pre-teen years. I didn’t realize how much this made his life so different from mine. When he was about 4, we were living on base in a housing area of mostly 3 and 4 bedroom homes. Which means we were in a 2 bedroom due to less children in the household. He had only one friend who also didn’t have a sibling. One day he was visibly upset. Being a very non-verbal child, I had to dig into the problem. He finally asked me why everyone else had a brother or sister. He was very sad, unusual for him.

He didn’t have the family I had and have grown away from. In that particular circumstance it also made him different from our neighbors. Today it’s actually getting common to not have all those cousins around with society becoming more transient and families moving to get jobs.

One thing I loved so much about the military was holidays. We were usually not near family so we had to do new things to compensate. I had a wonderful time inviting young people to come to my table, to join with us as we made new connections overseas.

I started my genealogy work some years ago kinda by accident. I wasn’t looking for connections at the time. I was indulging my desire to get away from an untenable living situation that I could not walk away from. It was my escape at first.

Then I went ahead and got a DNA test and started getting matches. Mostly Yankee matches. 2nd and 3rd cousins – and even reconnected with one of my Yankee first cousins I hadn’t talked to in decades. I found many cousins from Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts; one came south on his way to his North Carolina home to meet in person. Most I met just through the tree on and not in person.

Once I decided to write a book on the Wilsons of Maine, I started a new path and many new connections. I found, in the end, that I’m related to half of southern Maine and found how much of my identity was rooted in New England food and customs, handed down from my Bostonian great-grandfather. I traveled to Maine and fell in love – no, that’s not really correct – I felt like I had come home.

I established new connections, found new friends and family, and moved to Maine last summer. I am home now because I went looking for those new connections as many of my ‘new’ cousins have also done, thus leading to their journey on

If we are going to talk about what’s wrong with today’s society, this needs to be part of the discussion. We need connections and they are continually being destroyed in this century. So my question to you is, have you found new connections? Have you made an effort to find what floats your boat in a non-selfish way? Who do you call family? Who and what sustains you?

(originally posted

Never Ending Genealogical Research

I finished the book, right? I have started new major trees in preparation for the next book. So I can stop with the Wilson stuff? Not on your life.

One of the most fun things nowadays in genealogy is that information keeps being digitized and being made available online. That means that new clues keep cropping up and I have to keep track as best as I can.

I use for my base research – mostly due to the hint system. I don’t have to go looking for new bits, they can just pop up at any time. There’s a catch though. If you don’t go back to that section of the tree, those hints may not pop up at all. So with a tree of over 21,000? Well, I think you can imagine how time intensive that can be.

Add in the fact that I really have not done extensive work on the Alexander line and I’m now just starting to go back to look at the accuracy of what I have. That means I got hints popping up every time I click. Yippee!  Oh, dear!

I’m not here to promote ancestry as your primary source so I won’t go into details about the best way to use it for your research. After they tried to pull the plug on their long standing Family Tree Maker software, I absolutely do not trust them to do the best thing for their subscribers. So if you do use ancestry, buy software that allows you to easily back up your work there.

So ongoing research? Well, I’m presently tracing the Alexanders of Maine who are not descendants of William Alexander. There was another Alexander that came over in that flotilla of Temple ships – one named William who I suspect was a brother to the known William’s father, David. Most of those descendents lived in Topsham whereas the William who married a Wilson went to Harpswell. Having the two different families makes this research a bit dicey but doing all the Alexanders means I can tease out the threads of which family an Alexander belongs to. That’s the good news.

The problem still lies in tying those Topsham descendants to the proper sons of that original William (I am making that assumption with no proof). One part of my next research in Maine at the end of this month will be to look again at the Pejebscot Records to find all references to the Alexanders.  And the Mustards.

Don’t laugh. Col. Mustard was not just a character in the board game, Clue. Mustard is an old Northern England and Scottish name dating back to 1414.  Ancestry’s Mustard family page says it is a “metonymic occupational name for a dealer in spices, or a nickname for someone with a hot temper or a vicious tongue”.

There are several Mustards in early Topsham so I’m delving into this small family in an effort to figure out who was who and where they came from. Most likely it was one or two ancestors and they may have first come into York, not Topsham. I love a mystery and hopefully I can shed some light on James, John and William Mustard of Topsham. Both a William and a John are listed as dead in the resident list of 1746 with the deeds given to James. William seems to be the father of Martha who married an Alexander.  I think there’s a James may be the father of both the James who got the deeds and of the John and William who is listed as dead. I also think those deaths were due to Indians and that info is probably in those records somewhere.

I’ve also found references to a Margaret (Owen), Sarah (Brown?), a Catherine (Potter) and an Abigail (McFadden) who may have been the daughters of that original Mustard as well. So that’s another family whose name is going to figure highly in my next look at the old Pejebscot records.

One of the reasons for concentrating on a specific geographical area is that researching one family turns up information – frequently the names of the daughters as they marry – on other families. So no matter what, the research never ends.

Mystery abounds and clues pop up. Ah, yes, all in the course of a day. How could historical research be more exciting?

When it’s all over…

The book is done. The Uncommonly Common is as finished as it’s going to get. Except for some expected edits, I have no more research and writing to do. After 18 months, I get to relax. Or not.

I’ve been living this world for so long now, it’s become my alternate reality and my escape. I am left bereft, not elated to have finished.

It’s really time to recap the experience and look at what I have ended up with.

The Journey

I started this whole process by simply signing up on This is an addictive thing in case you have not tried it.  I took it to extremes by trying to document all descendants of each original ancestor. One family line was just too massive to even think it. One family line had too little to keep me busy. Another needed some work but didn’t appear interesting. And then the Wilson line. Different, mystifying and totally new as I did not know my Dad’s family was from Maine initially.

I got finished running through what I could find out thru ancestry but was left with so many questions. By that time I was hooked on genealogy and wanted more. I researched the profession, signed up with the National Genealogy Society that was meeting that May only an hour away from me in Richmond, and looked into professional certification. I starting learning how to do it correctly.

Then I decided to write a book for several reasons. One, I am first and foremost a writer who turned to web design to make a living. Two, I had a lot of information I wanted to do something with. And three, I wanted to know more, seriously, and do some on the ground research.

I made two trips to Maine and got my hands on nearly every scrap of information I could find on those first three or four generations of the Wilsons.

The Results

I have written a book that is ready to print. I’m a writer, a graphic designer and a genealogist so I have a 350 page book ready to go in Indesign. (6 x 9)

This is NOT a normal genealogy. It is a story of a Topsham, Maine, family from 1719 to today. I tracked all the descendants of James Wilson who came to Maine in the Robert Temple ships. Though he died in 1743, his children were at the right age to populate and usher Topsham into incorporation and the founding of Maine as a state. So they were the inn keepers, the saw mill owners, and the dam owners…oh, yes, and major land owners.

Though James Wilson is one of my ancestors, I am a Georgia girl who, until 18 months ago, didn’t even know about this part of my heritage. The book is a journey of discovery, a comparison of north and south and is written with one over riding purpose: to be a readable and maybe even enjoyable book. I cover all descendants that I could find up ’til about 1900 for most lines and then take one line (yeah, my own) all the way to present day.

There are also two chapters about two different individuals. One is a descendant who became a sheriff in the 1850s near Gainesville, Florida, and one who deserted during the Civil War and ended up settling in the Virginia mountains near me. Both are interesting tales!

This was written to genealogical stand of proof. I have documented the facts, occasionally described the process and provide the reasons for my conclusions when the proof is not substantial  or is an interesting tale.

The finalized Table of Contents is here. Though the writing is finished, I will be continuing to edit up until publication as information is still drifting in. I have proofed the footnotes (I haven’t done a count but there are over 500) and done several read through and editing sessions but I will be doing more of that in the coming weeks and months.

I’m now looking for a publisher. Of course, I will self-publish if I have to but prefer to work with a publisher in order to get the marketing effort that I cannot manage by myself. Publishing just to get it into print is not the goal. Publishing in order to get it into the hands of readers is.

My Conclusions

Not only was this the right thing for me to, spending hundreds of hours, precious money and a lot of thinking, but it was also the best thing to do. I am in my element doing what my education prepared me for and what I was designed for.

Finding my “roots” made me whole. I am no longer an outcast in a southern society but a hybrid who fits into both the north and south equally. I feel like Maine is my real home (just for six months out of the year – not  a snow girl!) and look forward to spending more time up there in the future.

As my web design business normally is not full-time (as intended), I have the time to spend to get my genealogy business into a profitable condition. Starting a new business has its own benefits and my entrepreneurial spirit is rejoicing. Adventure!!

When It’s All Over

There is a beginning. A new phase of life for me. A new business.  And a book, The Uncommonly Common.



Using DNA Matches in Your Family Search

I recently took time on to sift through my DNA matches. Ancestry keeps improving their DNA technology and reporting but I hadn’t delved into my matches so deeply before.  I really didn’t think it helped my genealogical work but I have found one value and investigating these matches can actually provide help in tracing one’s family.

First of all, my DNS results did find me second and third cousins that I didn’t know existed. I have added to and refined bits of my Wilson Family Project based on information from those and even more distantly related cousins. That’s one advantage to Ancestry’s DNA matching.

Since I have one family line that is based in Maine and New England and all the rest are southern, I am able to classify my matches based on that most of the time. That’s still not very satisfying though.

After my husband’s DNA test, I realized something that I had not put into play in my own tree. Most of his family lines have been thoroughly documented by many ancestry members and I did trace most of those families back to Europe easily (not verifiably, just an exercise, not a documented tree). He had considerably more matches with hints than I did. In other words, he has more matching trees in his DNA results.

That did not sit well with me. After all, I’ve put hundreds of hours into this Wilson Family Project. One thing I hadn’t done, though, was track back other lines and many maternal lines on the Wilson side.  This was one of the reasons why my husband had more hint matches than I. So I went back and spent a weekend tracking more lines back to Europe. That expanded my matches.

Then as I worked more with the matches, I found matches by searching for names. One of my lines is the Elam family. Elam is not a common name and by george they are all distantly related to me! The Elams only have one American entry – Virginia, 1936. All Elams in the US (and there are a lot of them!) tend to be descendants of that family.  So that gave me the ability to discern who was an Elam match even if we don’t have matching trees.

Trying that out on smaller branches wasn’t as successful. Vance is also not a common name but my branch of Vances is small. I did find one probably Vance match out of the 2500 or so matches. (oh, and hubby has 7200 plus!). And of course, trying that with the common Wilson name was just not doable.

I hadn’t played with the distant cousin matches because of the declining confidence rating. Why bother when it might be a false match, I thought. Oh, I was so wrong.

By adding more tracking back in my tree I ended up being able to identify a match back to our 10th great-grandparents, Thomas Prence and Patience Brewster. I’m waiting for the next further back match now that I see how far back the DNA matches can take you in a tree.

The best part of this particular match? DNA proof that my Wilson line is descended from William  Brewster and his daughter Patience of the Mayflower! As this writing we have not been able to provide the Mayflower Society of documented lineage proof for membership. But we now have DNA validation of our line.

A most satisfying stepping stone provided from just sifting through the DNA matching on



© 2024 The Maine Genealogist

a division of Wiztech, Inc. - Up ↑