Genealogy Web link proves fruitful

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OXFORD – A search 10 years ago by a Massachusetts man for information on his great-great-great-grandparents had long-reaching effects on the lives of dozens of ancestral researchers across the country.

Jeff Swenson, a resident of Belmont, Mass., transcribed the Oxford genealogical records stored at the New England Historical and Genealogical Society in Boston and created a Web site linked to Oxford’s Web page to share the information with anyone researching their Oxford ancestors.

The Web site took its first hit about seven years ago from a woman in Texas who wanted to find out what happened to Harriet Blake of Oxford, who was last found on paper purchasing property in 1885 in Oxford.

“What happened to Harriet?” wrote the Texan to readers in cyberspace in hopes of finding the information she was unable to find in Swenson’s transcribed genealogical records. “Did she die? When? Where?”

Swenson said the transcription project was sparked by an old document he found in his parent’s family Bible. It was titled, “Chronicles read at the 50th anniversary of Mr. and Mrs. Moses McGray Hanscom in Oxford, Maine on August 8, 1889.”

“I was really interested about who these people were, and my Dad didn’t know much about the document. So I started researching census records at the New England Historical and Genealogical Society here in Boston,” he explained.

Swenson’s effort paid off. He was able to locate vital records, maps, wills and military records that helped him trace his ancestry back to Moses McGray Hanscom, his great-great-great-grandfather, who was born in 1819 and died in 1899.

“Moses is buried in the Congregational Church cemetery on King Street, and I have found many records about him including an old atlas that shows his house on Lake Street at the end of Thompson Pond,” he said.

Swenson said he decided he would transcribe all the records related to Oxford and create a Web page linked to the town’s home page for others who wanted to research ancestors from Oxford.

The page, found at www.rootsweb.com/~mecoxfor/index.htm also includes links to the Maine Historical Society, the Maine Genealogical Society and the Maine State Archives and other resources.

It became an instant hit for scores of researchers across the country looking for information on their Oxford and Oxford County ancestors.

“I hit the jackpot,” said Sharon Oliver Knape, who was born in Boothbay Harbor in 1944 and lived in Georgetown and Five Islands, Maine, as a child. Oliver, who now lives in Omaha, Neb., submitted a query to Swenson’s site two years ago looking for old photographs of her great-grandparents William Horace Pratt, a Portland minister, and his wife, Sarah Beal, of Hebron.

About two months ago, Knape said an unknown cousin contacted her with a very old album filled with family pictures including a picture of her mother’s father.

“My mother died without knowing who her father was,” said Knape in an e-mail. “By sleuthing and never giving up, I found out who my mother’s father was. In the album I was able to see my great-grandfather and my great-great-grandfather … What a thrill that was!”

Not everyone has had success in their search, yet.

“I only received negative responses,” said Kathy Braidich, a Maine resident, who is trying to track down a half-sister her 87-year-old mother gave up for adoption in the mid-1930s. The girl was apparently adopted by a Mr. and Mrs. Downs of Paris. He was a professor and she a school teacher. Her search has been time-consuming and at times daunting.

“I would love to find out something positive so my mom would know how her daughter’s life was after the adoption,” she said.

Braidich says she is resolved to continue her search for her half-sister.

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