Finding What is Hiding in Plain Sight

by Deborah Nowers

This is a story that starts and ends with PMM… well, it never ends, because it is a genealogy story.

It began with a request to look at the history of the Fowler-True-Ross House at the museum. I described that project in the first issue of this newsletter last spring. An early owner of the property where the Fowler house now stands–and where the Phillips Library was built—was Robert Lord Sargent. He was a land speculator and sold the property after a year. My research might have ended here if internet sources hadn’t listed his wife as Mary Dodge, who—as only a family researcher would know—was my husband Henry’s first cousin 5 times removed. I had been researching the descendants in that family.

This Mary Dodge appeared again as I prepared a sketch of her father Simon Dodge, Jr. for the Maine Genealogical Society’s project to document all individuals enumerated in Maine for the first U. S. Census in 1790. The sketch would outline the head of household and identify his or her spouse and children. The History of Islesborough, where the Dodges lived, indicated that Simon’s daughter Mary married “_____ Sargent.” Someone had written “Robert L.” in the copy at the Belfast Library. Now there was a challenge no genealogist could ignore. Could I prove it was Robert Lord Sargent? That search involved looking at every vital record I could find on the family in Prospect (now Searsport), Belfast and Monroe. Deeds documented his purchase and sale of land and often included his wife Mary. U. S. Census records for 1800 in Prospect, 1810 and 1820 in Belfast, and 1830 and 1840 in Monroe showed the family’s movement, but only the head of household listed by name.

Naming patterns often give hints to unknown family connections. Robert and Mary named children for themselves—Robert and Polly and for his father—Winthrop. More helpful was two daughters named Experience—the name of Mary Dodge’s oldest sister—and Noah D., her oldest brother.

I tried looking at Robert’s life for some hint. From the deeds, it was clear he was buying and selling land. He was referred to as “Deacon” in 1814 when his eldest daughter died in Belfast. An internet search turned up a transcript of a letter Robert had written to his son Winthrop and family in 1831 from Mobile, Alabama. He is clearly in financial trouble and was not expecting to see them again. “When we Shall meet togher again none knows but the LORD. If you wish to see me your father Remember you must Ask leave of GOD But let us be contened we shall Se and know one another in a nother State of Existence where my hopes and wishes will be fully satisfied forever.” He went on to say that he had gifts for Moses, Noah and Johnson, but “I have not have Cash Enough to come home as i whant to.” He also refers to his debts in Maine. “Pray for me and be kind to your mother. I send my Love to hir and you all tell Mr. Alline and all I owe that I have hopes to come home able to pay them of before I Die.”

It is not common to see a long letter from 1831 that shows the personality of the research subject and I was delighted. I tried to reach the person who had posted the transcript. I received no reply and filed the information away. Unfortunately, I was no closer to identifying Robert’s wife Mary.

I did wonder if Robert had returned. He was enumerated in Monroe with Mary in the 1840 census, but I know from other families, that he may not have been living there. Mary is enumerated in 1850 with her daughter Experience Knight, so he had likely died by then. Mary died in 1851. The Republican Journal published a death notice on 7 March 1851 and her gravestone stands in Mt. Rest Cemetery in Monroe.

This daughter Experience was the key to Identifying Mary’s family. It gave me my only piece of documentation. Twice married Experience (Sargent) (Knight) Curtis died in Monroe 11 February 1901. Her death certificate lists the names of her parents—Robert Sargent and Mary Dodge. Although it is not a primary document, I finally had some actual documentation from the family. I was satisfied.

This project also demonstrates my weakness as a researcher; my failure to seek out every possible source. I had used the vital records in the Phillips Library, the Jones Collection of records, published histories, and the information on the Fowler House. I had searched the Hancock and Waldo County Deeds and the U.S. Census. But I hadn’t looked really close at hand, at the Phillips Library “Family Boxes.” There in the “S” box was a folder for Thomas W. Sargent. In the folder, carefully sleeved in plastic was Robert’s letter to his family from 1831. It wouldn’t have helped in my search for Mary’s maiden name, but I could make corrections to the transcript. It also shows the material that is available to enrich our understanding of the early local families. I won’t neglect those boxes in the future!