I am sitting on an airplane on my way back home from Florida after spending a week getting my mother settled in her new home. With her recent move, this will be the first time in my entire life that I do not live within about 30 minutes of someone in my immediate family.
I have always lived near any combination of my father (who passed away in 2004), my mother, and my sister (who moved to Florida in August) so this is just…weird.
When my mother decided that she was going to move to Florida, my sister said to me, “why don’t you move down here too?”
My response was “I can’t, I haven’t found all our dead relatives yet.”
Most families have traditions that are passed down from generation to generation. And then there are the traditions that die out.
With Easter coming up this Sunday, I was reminded about a group of pictures of my father’s side of the family and wondered about the strange plastic egg “tricks” in the pictures. I will have to remember to ask if this was some sort of tradition, or just coincidence.
First, we have the men in the family performing the infamous plastic egg balancing act. This picture is probably from 1967.
Next, the women folk give it a try. I think the ladies had a little easier time since that hair helped hold the eggs in place. Except for me. I’m the little girl with the yellow egg falling off my bonnet.
Then we fast forward a couple years and leave it up to the kids. We apparently decided to kick it up a notch. Anyone can balance half of a plastic egg on their head, but it takes real talent to balance half of a plastic egg on their head AND half an egg on each ear! That’s me, the little girl on the left and 2 of my cousins (the same little boys in the first picture).
I kid about the family tradition but I love these pictures. I don’t remember balancing the eggs but I do remember the Easter egg hunts at my grandmother’s every Easter.
As I have mentioned before, much of my research is in Maryland. In Maryland, all land records are on-line. That makes finding specific locations for my ancestors’ homes and businesses a little easier since it can be done from home. There are a lot of tools out there, free and paid, to help plot the information found in the deeds available on-line. But for my 5th great-grandfather Joshua Whitaker, someone else did much of the work, I just reap the rewards of his hard work!
If you have an early landowner in Baltimore or Harford County, Maryland you may want to check this out as well.
Below is the final result of my search, then I will talk about how I got there:
Step One – Finding THE Land Records
My original search involved searching https://mdlandrec.net/main/ for land records for Joshua Whitaker. Joshua was born in 1761, probably in Baltimore County, Maryland since Harford County was not formed until 1774. Joshua married Ruth Howard in 1781 at about aged 20, so I assumed I should start searching for him in the Harford County land records around 1780 or so. I found several deeds for Joshua Whitaker and I attempted to plot them out. Earlier land records are harder to plot (in my opinion) because the property line references are defined very differently than today. Many times the property lines are defined as a tree line or the edge of a stream, not necessarily as bearings and distances like they are now. So my progress was S-L-O-W.
Along with the MDLANDREC site, the Maryland State Archives has also made plats available on-line. So I also headed to plats.net and searched “Whitaker” (in the Advanced Search) to see what came up. Two of the records caught my eye:
A Patented Certificate in 1819 for “Whitacres Invitation”
An Equity Record from 1825 for “Property of the late Whitaker, Joshua”
My Joshua died in 1818 so the 1819 certificate was a head scratcher. But it was possible that the Equity Record could be for him.
Time to look at the actual documents. The document contained 9 pages but I will highlight 2 of them here.
Looking at the 1st image of the Patented Certificate it was possible that this was my Joshua. It was surveyed in 1815 and passed in 1816.
And page 3 had a plot of the land:
Then I looked at the Equity Record. I know from Joshua’s will that his property was to be divided between his wife and several of his children.
Cool! The basic outline of the 2 records match. And, referring back to the will, this is my Joshua.
So now I have a plot of the land that Joshua Whitaker owned but it will take a lot of work to put Joshua’s land on a current map to see exactly where this land was.
Step Two – Locate on today’s map
For a while I tried using the land records going forward in time to plot Joshua’s land in today’s landscape. It was frustrating and I was mostly unsuccessful.
And then I stumbled upon a simple looking ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL website. One of the pieces of software I use to plot land is called DeedMapper from Direct Line Software. Besides the software, their site includes a Research Directory (so you can see others researching land records in an area) and a Deed Data Pool (customer contributed deed files). In looking at the Deed Data Pool I found a Baltimore County and a Harford County file contributed by Mike Pierce. Clicking on the Harford County file led me to a page containing the Deed Mapper file for Harford County. This was great because it allowed me to download the file and open it in the DeedMapper program with a background map.
But the really great part was when I went back to the base web address http://map-maker.org/ and saw everything Mike Pierce’s “The Happy Map-Maker’s Website”.
This site includes searching aids for Baltimore County and City, his aforementioned DeedMapper files, information on leases and land grants in Baltimore and Harford Counties and an animated progression of land grants in said counties. GREAT resources.
But the pièce de résistance is a Google Earth version of the Baltimore and Harford County leases and land grants. AAAAHHHHH! Since Google Earth is one of my most favorite tools, this is awesome!
So I opened the Harford County patents, downloaded the file and opened the KML file in Google Earth.
At first look the file is very busy and looks hard to navigate.
But by using the tools available in Google Earth I was able to isolate Joshua’s 1819 land patent.
This allowed me to export just Joshua’s land as a KMZ file and create standalone map placing Joshua’s land in today’s world.
One of the most valuable FREE tools for genealogists (in my opinion) is finally back! The Newberry Library has released a test version of the interactive county boundary maps. You can find it at http://publications.newberry.org/ahcbp/.
Although the information on county boundary changes still existed while the interactive tool was being overhauled, many have been waiting patiently for the return of the interactive map.
What makes this tool so valuable?
One of the time consuming mistakes a genealogist can make is searching in the wrong location for our ancestors. I learned this when I first started researching. I was searching for some of my Maryland ancestors in Harford County, Maryland. I couldn’t find any records for them in the 1700s even though I knew they were there. Turns out I was right, they were there except it wasn’t Harford County, it was Baltimore County. Knowing that Harford County wasn’t formed until 1774 would have saved my months of searching for records in the wrong location. Once I realized that I should have been searching Baltimore County instead of Harford County, I found many of the records I needed. If the interactive map had existed back then I would have saved much time and head scratching.
Once I discovered the interactive map it was a definite “go to” site, especially when beginning research in a new location.
Check out the new tool. Users have the ability to provide feedback on the interactive map as well via email.
I had a little bit of genealogy serendipity happen today.
Back story – Recently while doing some collateral research on a line on my maternal grandmother’s side, I found a 1st cousin 5 times removed, a man named Jacob Fussell, Jr. Jacob, a Quaker, was the first ice cream manufacturer in the United States. His business started in Seven Valleys, York County, Pennsylvania in 1851 after an older Quaker asked him to take on a business that he had acquired by way of a defaulted loan. In 1854 Jacob moved his business to Baltimore City, Maryland and eventually expanded to several cities in the U.S.
Two weeks ago I did a presentation at a local genealogy discussion group that I belong to that included some information on Jacob. On my slideshow I included a picture of Jacob Fussell’s ice cream wagon that I had found on Google. During the presentation, some discussion ensued about the ice cream cart and where was it today. After saying that I had gotten the picture from Google and hadn’t actually taken it, a few people speculated on where the cart may be. Someone said that they thought they had seen it at the Baltimore Museum of Industry.
Also, on an unrelated but related note – I belong to the Maryland Historical Society, with a joint membership to the Maryland Genealogical Society. I needed to renew my membership and while in the process of renewing on through the internet the other evening I was interrupted and never completed the process.
Now on to this morning – I work 3 days a week in downtown Baltimore, about a half mile from the Maryland Historical Society. Since this morning was so nice and I usually try to get a lunchtime walk in on nice days AND I hadn’t renewed my membership, I decided to kill 2 birds and walk to the Historical Society and renew in person.
I walked in the door and look what was parked in the lobby:
WOW, I had chills! I also lost my head because in my excitement I failed to read the placard that you see in front of the cart. I found out that the cart had in fact been at the Museum of Industry, on loan from the Historical Society.
Luckily I will have the opportunity to go back (probably tomorrow) to read it and snap a picture or two.
On a side note, in 1951 the Historical Society erected a plaque at the site of his factory at Hillen and Exeter Streets. In looking at Google Street View I couldn’t locate the plaque on any of the buildings that still stand at the intersection. So, I am trying to find out if the building is still standing and if it isn’t, what happened to the plaque?? I talked to a couple people at the society today and the consensus is that it unfortunately probably ended up in a dumpster. I hope not.
Now, if Jacob’s ice cream cart could lead me to his father-in-law’s burial location I would be eternally grateful!
Saturday I attended “MGS Day at MSA”. Maryland Genealogical Society members were invited to register for a session on accessing records at the Maryland State Archives and taking a behind the scenes tour of the library.
Although I have done research at MSA many times, I still decided to register. The fee was nominal and you never know when you can pick up some new tips. I also had a few general questions about some records and hoped for an opportunity to get those questions answered.
Michael McCormick, the Director of Reference Services for MSA (I hope I got that right) led the session. Time was short (an hour) but I managed to get my questions answered and pick up a few hints about specific record series. Yay!
Then it came time for the tour. It is hard to visualize the amount of records the Archives houses while you are searching the website, or even when you are there requesting records to be pulled. You fill out your pull slip and the staff goes back to that mysterious room in the back and comes out with a book, a box, etc. for you. Saturday I got a peek at that mysterious room. Rows and rows of shelves of materials, it was awesome! Especially when we were told that the room we were in was one of four floors of records with even more stored off-site at another facility.
I still have lots of ancestors to find in all those stacks!!
We also got a look at the areas where digitization and conservation takes place. Very interesting but sad as well to see types of destruction that has happened to some of the records.
Insect damage to a Colonial Patent book
After the tour I had some lunch and then did a little research. I had done my pre-visit research and had a list of records to take a look at. Although I didn’t get through everything I had on my list I got copies of several items on my list.