It was the 1980s in Camden. I was a newly single mom. Often on the weekends my boys would go to their dad’s house. It was hard to get used to their being gone, a desolate feeling. Having their dad in their lives was of huge importance, but I was not from Maine, and I longed for family. Three of my sisters were scattered across the Midwest, and my youngest sister was in Arizona. 

Fortunately, I was able to make great friends who could be counted on for a potluck supper invitation or a get-together at a local support group I joined to stave off loneliness and sadness. But the sense of displacement and rootlessness remained.

The details are fuzzy, but one day during this turbulent time my sister in Chicago called to tell me that our cousin, while doing family-tree work on our dad’s family, had located our great-grandparents’ birthplaces in Maine. What a shock.

David Mitchell, born in Troy in 1829, and Belinda Anderson, born in Montville in 1833, were married in Freedom, Maine, in March 1851. Both of them were born less than 50 miles from where I was then living. The comfort this knowledge gave me is hard to explain. I wasn’t so adrift after all. One day I went to the state archives in Augusta and was thrilled to find the original copy of my great-grandparents’ betrothal, written in the hand of the town clerk of Montville in 1851.

After their marriage, David and Belinda settled for a time in Bradley, where he worked as a sawyer on the Penobscot River. Then, with the promise of land free for the clearing in the big woods to the west, they set off by oxcart in 1854 with their oldest daughter, Viola, age 2, and Belinda pregnant with their second child. 

There were to be five more children, the youngest a set of twins, Oscar and Ora, born in 1870. The family stayed in the wilds of Minnesota, one of the founding families of Forest City. And I – the fourth daughter of David’s grandson George Mitchell and great-granddaughter of David’s youngest son, Oscar – although born in Minnesota, had my roots in Maine after all. 

It turns out there are relatives from the 1700s all over Maine: Belinda’s people were Runnels from Winslow. The original Mitchell, Noah,  hailed from North Yarmouth prior to moving up to Waldo County in the early 1800s.

Here’s what the Irish do. It’s called “Irish by descent.” If one of your grandparents, and sometimes your great grandparents, was born in Ireland but your parents weren’t, you qualify to become an Irish citizen. I qualify through my mother’s Irish parents, Nellie Murphy from Kilkenny and Patrick Murphy from Kerry, both born in 1872.

Maybe Mainers could adopt this idea. Maybe they could bestow the status of “real Mainer” for a “from away” resident whose great-grandparents were born in Maine – making them, and me, a true Mainer.

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