The Greater Portland Chapter: The Early Years

You may have read that the Maine Genealogical Society originated in 1976 after four people met in a Franklin County living room and made plans. In print that sounds easy, and you perhaps thought that our local chapter was formed without complications soon afterwards, right? Wrong! It took a lot of energy and dedication over almost a full year before twelve MGS members were found who were willing to come to a first meeting and discuss the situation.

The die was cast when Kathy Ingham and Mary Young went to their first MGS meeting held in Portland in 1978. They signed up for membership and sat back to enjoy themselves. Chairman Dennis Stires, MGS vice president, asked in the course of the meeting, “How many of you would like to have a chapter of MGS in the Portland area?” Three women, including Kathy and Mary innocently raised their hands. “All right,” said Dennis with a grin, “you are the committee. Go out and form a chapter!”

Kathy and Mary, brand-new members and new to genealogy at that, were overwhelmed by the assignment, so overwhelmed, in fact, that they neglected to get the name of the third person who had raised a hand, so never had the benefit of her help. It was fortunate that Edna Will, an experienced amateur genealogist, was the first person Kathy called. Edna was not only enthusiastic about a local chapter, she was also willing to help with telephone calls. She even offered the use of her living room for the first meeting. Even with her help, almost a year passed before the chapter got under way.

On March 31, 1979, twelve MGS members met in Edna Will’s Cape Elizabeth apartment to form a local chapter. Under the guidance of MGS representative Joyce Giradi, they took the steps necessary to apply for a charter. Chapter #3 was awarded to the Greater Portland Area Chapter on April 21, 1979 by A. Foster Sanborn, MGS President and accepted by Mary Young, Local Chapter President. The word “Area” was soon dropped from the name.

The New Chapter in 1979

Since it was first decided not to meet in the months when MGS held its meetings, the chapter's first official meeting was not held until 12 May 1979 at the Cummings Center in Portland. After the business meeting, an adult version of the children's game called "Bring and Brag" was presented with seventeen members displaying such ancestral artifacts as old tintypes, old military items, old letters etc., which they tied in with their own genealogies.

21 July 1979 found them at a combination picnic and workshop at Two Lights State Park in Cape Elizabeth. The Park Ranger, checking picnic sites in the afternoon, was pleased to find that the rubbish had been properly disposed of and probably amused at the sight industriously filling out 3xS cards for their ancestor research project.

18 August 1979 brought twenty members to the LDS Church in Cape Elizabeth where Elinor and Clarence Oearborn instructed them in the use of the microfiche readers and the files at the Stake Library -an interesting and valuable experience for all.

12 October 1979 brought out a record twenty-four members for a guided tour of the newly opened Portland Public Library, including a special visit to the Portland Room. A business meeting followed.

8 December 1979 saw a return visit to the Cummings Center with a business meeting, a general discussion and a workshop for nineteen members

By the end of the year, the chapter membership had almost tripled. Some people came and never returned, but others either came at least a few times or came regularly to our meetings.

Inflation and the high cost of heating oil were to take their toll shortly when both the Cummings Center and the Portland Public Library announced that in 1980 they would have to charge for the use of their meeting rooms. This would drive our chapter into a still more nomadic existence in finding places which were large enough but which cost nothing. For some years the group continued to have outdoor meetings in the summertime. They began holding some meetings in the Community Room at the Thomas Memorial Library in Cape Elizabeth and later had many meetings in the meeting room at CEFD's Engine 2 Station at Pond Cove, Cape Elizabeth. The chapter tried to reciprocate the generosity of the firefighters, at least in part, by bringing a can of coffee for them each meeting and by baking cookies for the annual “Christmas for Kids” party at the station. We also donated towards a new fire truck with a collection from chapter members.

The chapter moved back to the Community Room at the Thomas Memorial Library until 2004 when the meetings were moved to the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints on Rt. 77 in Cape Elizabeth. In 2016, the chapter moved to First Congregational Church, 301 Cottage Road, South Portland.