We're working on a display for the Maine Bicentennial this year and one of the items on loan to us from the Greene Historical Society is a very striking red dress that we believe dates to approximately 1880. We'll have the dress on display at the library soon, but in the mean time, we've also been doing some research on the owner of the dress and their connection with Greene. We thought this might be a good time to bring some attention to the public library version of Ancestry.com and MyHeritage that can be used here in the library via Digital Maine Library. These are just two resources from a long list that are available for free on this website. The Ancestry service is only available inside the library on our wi-fi connection as it is attached to our IP address, but the other services can be used from home as long as you are within Maine.
The information provided with the donation stated that the dress belonged to Ellen Ricker who was the sister of Parthenia Ricker who married F. M. Jordan. The first attempts to find an 'Ellen Ricker' on Ancestry did not give back any promising results, but a search for 'Parthenia Jordan' returned a number of census records from 1860, 1870, 1880 and 1890. We can confirm in the 1860 record that she was married to F M Jordan and was living in Auburn, Me.
She and her husband also had several children, including a daughter named Ellen. This was our first hint that our initial information might be slightly off and that the owner of our dress might be Parthenia's daughter, not her sister.
A look on MyHeritage for Parthenia Jordan turned up a family record that listed Parthenia's siblings as well as her children and we were able to confirm that Parthenia did not have a sister named Ellen. A death record for one of Parthenia's other children found on Ancestry also confirmed that Parthenia's maiden name was Ricker and that she was born in Green
This all tells us that we have the right family and gives us more information about Ellen, the owner of our dress. She was born in Auburn in 1853 and lived there most of her life. Her younger sister Harriet married and left Maine. A 1900 census record shows Ellen living in Seattle with Harriet's family and a death record for Ellen in 1924 shows that she is buried in Winslow, Kitsap, Washington.
The style of the dress was popular in the 1880s, which suggests that Ellen wore it when she was in her late twenties or early thirties. It is machine made and well preserved, which suggests it wasn't worn often, likely for special occasions or even just one special occasion such as a family wedding. Ellen herself never married, but she had several brothers and sisters who did and plenty of local extended family. The dress was likely made locally. An 1860 business directory for Lewiston/Auburn shows 5 listings for dressmakers and by 1907 this had grown to 191. While we don't know who exactly made the dress, it is interesting to speculate about the process.
If you're curious about your own family history, please drop in and we'll get you started. The amount of information that you can uncover online today is unbelieveable!