About "Good to Know: A Genealogist's Guide"

A multi-discipline approach to genealogy - A genealogist's way of working generally encompasses several different fields of study at once, thus the more well-rounded your genealogist is concerning various disciplines of study, the better that genealogist will be able to locate your ancestors, and maybe even tell you a little about what they were like.

This blog will discuss what types of things are "Good to Know" for a genealogist or for anyone researching his/her own family tree.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Part VI: Where's My Ancestor's Land?

A fair amount of people interested in their family tree want to know where their ancestor's land was, but not just where it was...where it is now.  Not that it moved or anything, but having a map of your ancestors land that was made in the 1820s doesn't necessarily mean you'll know where it is in 2011.  Understandably, descendants would like to stand on the same land their ancestors stood on, feel the soil, smell the air, see the trees their ancestors once set their eyes upon.  In a recent episode of Who Do You Think You Are? (American version), Spike Lee, when first introduced to the land where his ancestors lived, he actually gathered up some of the soil and put it in a bag to bring home to his children (FYI: you can find the full video of this episode here).  It's amazing how much a bag of dirt can mean to a person.

Unlike today, it was a regular occurrence for people to give birth at home rather than at a hospital.  Due to the lack of available health care facilities & the beliefs of the family, many people didn't leave their home to give birth.  Some people today would think it extremely unusual (not to mention risky) to give birth at home.  There's a time line of midwifery & childbirth in America that can help to get a good idea of what was practiced when.  Also, learning about what surrounded the childbirth experience in early America can help you visualize the differences between what they did then and what is practiced today.

It was common for a family member to die at home, instead of in a hospital, as well.  Prior to 1915, most people died at home...it still happens today, obviously, but deaths at the home are far more rare than they once were.  Early Americans sometimes even buried family members at the home: in a family plot in the yard.  Of course, nowadays, it's illegal in some places to bury family members on your land (check your local laws).  I believe it has something to do with public safety and health.

Figuring out where an ancestor's land is now isn't all that easy, but I recently tackled this job and wanted to share the process (FYI: If you want to skip the in-depth description of how I did this, step-by-step instructions are included at the end of this blog).  In this case, I was lucky enough to have found a map in the Orphans' Court records of New Castle County, Delaware.  This is the case of James Faris of Pencader Hundred, New Castle County, Delaware.  He was the son of William Faris who bequeathed a large plot of land to his son James.  The land in question was originally part of a huge plot of land called "The Welsh Tract", and part of that tract eventually came into possession of William Faris when he purchased the land from Jacob & Mary Clement on 16 Aug 1743 [NewCastleCoDEDeeds O:42].  Unfortunately, we will never be able to see this 1743 deed because it did not survive the test of time and no longer exists.  We know it did exist because of the reference in the 1810 deed of his son James [NewCastleCoDEDeed I3:7] when he sold a portion of the land.  When William died in 1786, he bequeathed this land to his son James.  Although James did sell some small portions of the land he received from his father, he kept the bulk of the lot until his death in 1826.  Figure A shows the land that was in James' possession at the time of his death.  This map was found in Orphans' Court records where the land was described in metes and bounds, neighbors were stated, landmarks given, land was valued (for the purposes of fair division or sale so that the proceeds can be split up among the heirs) & a portion of the land was set aside as "the widow's third" [NewCastleCountyDEOC N1:444-450].  The practice of the widow receiving a third of her deceased husband's land was referred to as "The Rule of One-Third".

I scanned the map from the microfilm (you can also use a photocopy) and opened the file in Photoshop (you can also use another photo editing software).  As I examined the map (see Figure A), I could see how the land was laid out as it was described in the metes and bounds of both the Orphans' Court records and James' deeds. 

If you don't have a map, you can use a deed platter.  You can also see if there is a map of the area that was made at the time your ancestors lived which shows the landowners.  An example of this style of map is the Atlas of the State of Delaware by D. G. Beers in 1868.

On 11 Mar 1801, James Faris & his wife, Elizabeth (Moody), sold 17 acres to James Beckum [NewCastleCoDEDeeds I3:9].  The land was described as having been the land of William Faris, now in possession of James, his son.  You can see James "Bakum" on the 1828 map as a neighbor (at bottom).

On 29 May 1810, James Faris & his wife, Elizabeth (Moody), sold 8 acres to Eleanor Thomas, Mary Thomas, Benjamin Thomas, Joseph Thomas & Aquilla Thomas, all of Cecil County, Maryland [NewCastleCoDEDeeds I3:7].  The Thomas' don't appear on the 1828 Orphans' Court map [Note: James' daughter married Aquilla Thomas].  They probably sold the land between 1810 and 1828.  This deed also referred to a 16 Aug 1743 deed where William Faris (grantee) purchased the land from the Clements (grantors). The deed I mentioned earlier that no longer exists.

On 26 Jan 1811, James Faris sold 4 acres of land to Joseph Graham [NewCastleCoDEDeeds T3:334].  This land bordered the land of Robert Moody.  If you look at the map, you can see "Widow Moody" (on the left of the map, probably widow of Robert Moody) & Graham (top left, above Moody) were neighbors in 1828.  Using this information, you can see where that land was that James sold that used to belong to his father William Faris.  If we platted the land in the three above deeds, we could expand this map even more to see what it looked like and what area it covered when James' father, William Faris, owned it.

In an 1847 deed, I found that James Faris (grandson of William Faris & son of James who died in 1826) and Jane, his wife, conveyed land to Levi Faris (James' brother & grandson of William Faris) through a Deed of Release on 4 May 1846.  In the 24 Mar 1847 deed, Levi Faris, of Philadelphia, sold the land (formerly belonging to his grandfather, William Faris) to John Hanna of Philadelphia [NewCastleCoDEDeeds U5:307].  Levi sold 130 acres of land in "Pen Caddy" [Pencader] Hundred which was described as bordering lands of Capt. William Barr, James Purnell, Andrew McIntyre, Samuel Hyatt & George Boulden.  This plot of land was further described as containing the New Castle and Frenchtown Railroad (something not mentioned in the 1828 Orphans' Court record because it didn't exist then) & the New Castle & Frenchtown Turnpike.  Levi also stated that the land was located 1 1/2 miles from the border of Maryland and Delaware. 

Now, I was tasked with finding land on the modern day map which was 1 1/2 miles from the Maryland/Delaware border and contained both the New Castle & Frenchtown Turnpike & the New Castle & Frenchtown Railroad.  Well, that wasn't going to happen since there is no such railroad on the modern day map & there is no New Castle & Frenchtown Turnpike either.  At least the Maryland/Delaware border was still there.  So, like anyone else might do in a situation like this, I turned to Google.  The Historical Marker Database website informed me of the New Castle & Frenchtown Railroad and how it ran parallel to the Turnpike, just south of it (which falls within the boundaries of the 1828 Orphans' Court map).  I also found out that the portion of the New Castle & Frenchtown Turnpike which ran from the Northeast to Southwest (the part which was featured in the Orphans' Court map) was now called "Frenchtown Road". 

Using the drawing tools in Photoshop, located all the landmarks I could and marked them on the map.  I made the New Castle & Frenchtown Turnpike (later Frenchtown Road) green, circled the house and other buildings in red and drew thick black lines over the boundary lines on the map. These markings will serve as an overlay to be used later (see Figure B).  I also checked the map & the description to make sure I knew which way was north.  Maps weren't always drawn so that north was pointing toward the top of the page.  Luckily, mine was orientated that way (see upper right corner of Figure B).

After drawing the boundary lines over the Orphans' Court map, I removed the map from the background so I was left with just the lines and markings I drew over it.  Then I saved the file in Photoshop.

Next, I needed to figure out exactly how big this plot of land is in today's measurements (e.g. feet & miles).  I used the description of the metes and bounds which used directions (North, South, East & West) as well as distances (in perches) to figure this out.  I wrote down all of the measurements and converted each one into feet (see Figure C).  I also separated the two plots for visualization purposes (see bottom of Figure C) with the help of the copy and paste features.

Because each plot was described separately, I knew some of the metes and bounds would be repeated due to overlap (e.g. the boundary between the two lots of land).  I typed these repeated measurements in blue.  [Note: the first blue measurement in Lot #1 is the last blue measurement in Lot #2...they went the opposite direction from beginning to end in the description.  There is also an error with one of them where the same boundary line was described as 16 perches in Lot #1 and 6 perches in Lot #2.  This is how it was written in the Orphans' Court record. I can't re ally call it a typo, but it looks like they just forgot the "1" in Lot #2.  It's probably supposed to be 16 perches.]

In the 5th line up from the bottom of the list of metes and bounds for Lot #2 (directly below the last blue entry), you'll see that the boundary described was exactly 20 perches long.  After converting 20 perches to feet, I found that it equaled 330 feet.  I used this information to figure out how big this lot of land was.  First, I printed out the outline and measured the length of that specific boundary which was described as equaling 20 perches (330 feet).  It was exactly 1 centimeter long (this 330 foot boundary line is at the north end of where the New Castle & Frenchtown Turnpike intersected with Lot #2).  Since 1 cm equaled 330 feet, every centimeter measured on that printout will be the same length.  Next, I drew a dotted line at the uppermost part of the outlined plot of land and another one at the bottommost part.  Then, I measured the distance between the two.  It measured exactly 16 centimeters which equals 5280 feet.  I was quite surprised that it would come out to equal that since 5280 feet = exactly one mile (see Figure D).

After figuring out that the distance from top to bottom of the land was exactly one mile, I needed a modern day map with a scale.  I grabbed an atlas of New Castle County, Delaware which provided a scale with the maps.  I photocopied that scale, scanned it into my computer (retaining it's aspect ratio), copied and pasted the overlay of the boundary lines from the Orphans' Court map and then shrunk the overlay until the two dotted lines lined up to equal one mile on the scale (see Figure E).  Now, the plot of land matched up with the scale of the modern day map.  This will enable me to overlay the plot of land on that modern day map to see where it fit.
I located approximately where the land was likely to be using information from deeds & the Orphans' Court records (e.g. landmarks).  I scanned the modern day map, opened it in Photoshop and marked the points of interest (Figure F above).  I drew a red dotted line parallel to the MD/DE border and 1 1/2 miles inside of Delaware & marked Frenchtown Road (formerly the New Castle & Frenchtown Turnpike) in green.  I knew the land would have to fit all three criteria.

Once I knew where the landmarks were on the modern day map, it was time to put the (to scale) overlay from the Orphans' Court on it (Figure E).  I copied and pasted the overlay so that the Frenchtown Road was lined up with the green line I used to mark the New Castle & Frenchtown Turnpike.  Then I moved the land up and down that road until the land lined up well with the 1 1/2 mile mark from the Maryland/Delaware border mentioned in Levi's deed (Figure G).  Since Levi was selling land in Lot #2 in that deed, I knew the 1 1/2 mile mark had to be located in that lot rather than Lot #1 which was the "Widow's Third" and was later sold by Levi's mother in 1850, Martha Ann, widow of James [NewCastleCoDEDeed F6:95].

Finally, since my client was from out of state, I got a larger map of Delaware to show exactly where the land was located within the state so my client would be able to easily locate the site where ancestors, William Faris & son James Faris, once lived (see Figure H).

Step-By-Step Instructions for Locating Land on Current Map:
1) Find a map of the land your ancestor owned or resided on If no map is present, find a document that describes the land, usually in metes and bounds.  Use a deed platter to plat the land and get the boundaries in the right places (Note: if you used the deed platter, you can skip steps 3-6).  If the land runs next to a creek or river, it may be helpful to plat the neighbors land as well.  The more landmarks you have that can stand the test of time, the better you'll be able to find the land on a modern day map.  Use landmarks in neighbor's land if necessary [Note: Depending on when your ancestors were residing on the land, you may even find a map made at the time of the region that had landowners names included on them such as the 1868 Atlas to the State of Delaware by D. G. Beers].
2) Note any landmarks described in deeds.  If no useful landmarks in your ancestor's land, check the neighbors.  Research landmarks to see if they exist today or to find out where they were/are located so you can find that location on a modern day map.  A Google search can help you find out where things used to be if they no longer exist.
3) Scan the map of your ancestor's land and open it in Photoshop or another photo editing software (see Figure A).
4) Use the drawing tools to draw the boundaries of the land around the map (see Figure B).
5) Remove the map from the background and keep the outline of the land boundaries.
6) Write down the metes and bounds of the land described in the original record & convert perches to feet (see Figure C).
7) Print out the outline of the boundaries for the land & locate where each boundary line is so that it matches up with the distance described in the record.  Often, these distances are included on the map next to the boundary lines.  You can write down the measurement in feet on each boundary line to make it easier when it comes to figuring out the scale.
8) Pick one of the boundary lines and measure it (see Figure D).  The distance + measurement will give you a scale (e.g. 1 cm = 200 feet, thus 4 cm = 800 feet).
9) Find a modern day map of the area w/ a scale providing information on what measurement = a mile.
10) Scan the scale on the modern day map into your computer.  Open in Photoshop.
11) Copy and Paste the outline of the boundary lines so they are next to the scale of the modern day map.
12) Scale the outline of the boundary lines to match the scale of the modern day map (see Figure E).
13) Search the modern day map for the landmarks mentioned in the records & scan that portion.  Use drawing tools to mark where the landmarks are located (see Figure F)
14) Copy and Paste scaled overlay of boundary lines over the modern day map so landmarks match up (see Figure G).