29 December 2014

Christmas day ride

The above average temps this past Christmas made for a great day for a ride. My girls left a bit after noon so I got my camera ready and headed towards Frederick.

My first stop was Resthaven Memorial Gardens to drop some flowers off at my grandfather's grave. Resthaven is a fairly large cemetery and I occasionally have a bit of a problem finding the right spot. Luckily I had no problem finding the right place this time.

The next stop on my list was the Devilbiss family cemetery. I had an idea of where it was at, but had never stopped. Both Names in Stone and Find a Grave had good directions and the stones are visible from the road.

The owner of the house and land was quite friendly and talked a bit about the house and the few stones in the yard. He was also quite enthusiastic about my taking photos and such to document the old cemeteries of the county.

Devilbiss family cemetery

After cataloging the graves I rode through the Woodsboro area. After crossing the Legore bridge and at an intersection I saw a fox crossing the road. He was unable to figure out which way he wanted to go and seemed a bit scared of me. He finally made  his way across the field where I was able to get a nice shot of him.

While the rest of the ride of was not as exciting as spotting a fox, it was a beautiful day for a drive.

19 December 2014

More on the online Titus atlas

If you've seen the online atlas you've most likely noticed that each point is only given with a last name. The reason for that is because of the way I've set up the database.

This is what the columns of the database look like. The first three are for the GIS, the fourth is what is generally the first initial of the property owner. Sometimes it will say "Heir to" and occasionally even give the full first name. Then is a column for the surname, and finally one I've labeled "Source", which I'm thinking about changing to "District", which lets me know which map it came off of making it easier to find.

The reason I separated the first name and surname was to make it easier to search, and at a later date I hope to change all the known abbreviations to full names. However, this causes problems that I never would have thought of when trying to convert the file to something Google Maps can use. For whatever reason, even though when the file is converted to a .KML file all the columns remain, going to Google Maps the columns are not kept unless you specify one column. I have been looking for a way to combine the two, but so far have not had much luck.

If you look at number 1661, it says "Null" for the first name and is blank for the last name. What this is is a place holder. At times the maps will place a square but not have a name or leader attached to it making it hard or impossible to know who owns it. I've tried not to guess at who owns the property, but I wanted as many of the properties listed as possible; on Google Maps they're listed as "Untitled."

Below I'll point out some of the difficulties in reading the maps and how I've dealt with those difficulties.

Mechanicstown, District 15, page 37. Southern part.

Looking at 1 you'll notice there are a couple of "{" type leaders, this shows that person, in this case Dr. W. S. Pherson. However, the left symbol also connects it to one lower and closer to the road, but the "{" points to the Iron Ore as well. At first I thought that maybe Dr. Pherson owned three properties, two of which were Iron Ore deposits. However, the Iron Ore symbol is just above the I & O.

Another problem in this area is the "Aburn Farm", something I have no idea what it really means. Obviously there is a farm there, but the exact location is not given. In this case I have placed it on a different layer that has not been added to the Google Map yet.

Near 2 you'll notice the Catoctin Furnace, a grist mill and a saw mill. I used the symbol below the C for the location of the furnace. For the two mills however I didn't know which symbol was being referred to so I used the next closest ones. In the same general area there are a number of unlabeled symbols, all of which are labeled as "Null".

The 3 on the right side shows another problem in the area. Notice how the B.S + Rectory has a leader showing which building they are in? Directly below that it says "Epis. Ch." but there is no leader. Which building is it? Is it in the same as the B.S. and Rectory or one just to the south? What I've done is placed the church on its own layer in the same area. Zooming in on the area in Google Maps shows that Harriet Chapel is right there and has been in existence since 1833 and is most likely the church on the map. 

You might also notice in the same area the name J. B. Kunkel, he seems to own a lot of property in that general area.

Luckily these problems do not come up often, generally it's pretty easy to see who owns what property. The other times an educated guess is all I have to go on.

18 December 2014

Online version of 1873 Titus Atlas of Frederick County

For those that don't know I am a cartographer by training and trade. Currently I make aeronautical charts for the FAA. I've always had an interest in maps and have recently begun collecting maps of Frederick county and Maryland.

For those that know the maps of Frederick county the Isaac Bond map is probably the most well known. Another is the 1873 Titus atlas of Frederick county.

Outline of Frederick county and election districts from Titus Atlas

Both of these maps gives the location of many of the land owners in the county making it a valuable resource for genealogists. There are problems though, especially if one doesn't know about where their ancestor owned land, or if they were even listed on the map at all. The link above for the Bond map does allow for searching for names, but even with that I've had a hard time.

About a year ago I created an index to the Titus atlas to help locate land owners. Even with an index it can be difficult to locate exactly where the property is located. After finding the location of the property it can be difficult to then know where the property would be today.

In order to help I have begun creating a digital version of the Titus atlas. To do this I have been using a Geographic Information System, (GIS), to plot the approximate locations of properties in the atlas. There are of course problems that arise with such a project, some of which have workarounds, while others cause headaches.

First a bit of background about these maps. Generally these maps and atlases were not surveyed by actual surveyors or cartographers, they were done by men trying to make money. What happened was something like this: a company would decide to make a map of an area, they would then hire people to canvas the area with a machine that looked a bit like a wheelbarrow that calculated distance. Along the way they would tell people they were making a map and would include the property owner on the map, for a price. Basically it was sort of a scam, you got to be on the map, but you paid for the privilege, sort of like the "Who's Who" books. [see footnote]

Because the maps were not surveyed by professionals, the maps are more distorted then they otherwise would be. This makes the task of overlaying an older map on a modern map difficult. However, using a GIS can help by warping the map to get a best fit model. Depending on how well the map was made the warps can come out to be quite good, or really bad. Because many roads have not changed much over the years I used intersections as points of reference. After using 4-5 points the map is warped, adding more points can help warp the map further, though it can make the distortion worse.

Below are some examples from the Titus atlas of warped pages. The red lines are modern roads, blue streams, the black lines are roads on the map.

As you can see, here in Wolfsville, the warp came out quite well, many of the roads are not far off. One can also see where roads used to be and where newer roads have been added.

This warp didn't come out as well. In the upper left corner the roads match well, but down the middle the roads are starting to drift further away. While on the right side the roads are well off. When this happens I simply shift the map a bit.

When I have gotten a warp as close as I feel I can I stop adding points. Giving too many points can create strange warps that are unusable. What I do is shift the map so the roads line up as best as possible and place my locations that way. When I go to a new area I shift the map as needed. What I try to do is keep the property locations on the proper side of the road and near any intersections. Because the creeks and such were not done very well I have tended to ignore placements based upon them.

While this is not going to give one an exact location of where the original property was, it should give a good starting point. After putting the map in to Google Earth I have found that the original placement of the Washington Monument is about 300 feet off from where it should be.

Difference in placement of Washington Monument

 Currently I have only been able to upload the points by last name, I am looking in to being able to label the locations by first and last name. I have also uploaded layers for businesses, mills and schools.  I have completed the Mechanicstown, Hauvers, Catoctin, Jackson, Middletown, Petersville and Jefferson districts.

The online map can be found on Google Maps. 

[I've been informed that one does not pay to be in the Who's Who books. One didn't actually pay to be in the atlas either, one just paid for the atlas and when you paid your name was placed in to the atlas.]

12 December 2014

First Brick Wall part 2

In my last post I talked about getting past my first brick wall, which for a budding genealogist was probably the best brick wall for me to start with. The information I needed was there and while it took some time it helped me understand the resources available to me.

In this post I will show you all the possible pitfalls of trusting one source for information. Anna's date of birth has been given as different dates and years in various documents. This is why one should note all known differences and cite your sources for all the information you collect, one so you know where you've obtained it, and two how credible that source is.

After finding Anna's death certificate I tried locating her grave. This proved to be somewhat difficult as Western Cemetery would not give out information on the phone, nor did they answer my letters I had sent, which included a SASE. So, off to Baltimore I went, taking with me a distant cousin that was interested in Anna's history as well. Western Cemetery is quite big, Find a Grave lists almost 9000 interments. Luckily, my cousin's husband was along and he found the grave quickly. What was written on the stone was quite surprising though.

Anna's DOB is listed as April 9, 1909, not only the wrong day, but also the wrong year. I know this DOB can't be true as her first daughter, my great aunt, was born it 1922, which would make Anna 13 at the time. This would be one of my first major lessons in sources, they can be really wrong.

About a year later I was able to find and contact one of my great half uncles, one of Anna's children from her second marriage. He had some paperwork that shed some light on what had most likely happened with the tombstone.
This is the receipt for her tombstone, while not a great scan, one can make out where it mos likely says April 4, 1904, but the way the 4s are written make it look more like a 9. Plus the fact that the tombstone has been redone/edited twice shows how easy it is for errors to perpetuate.

The other way I got an approximate DOB was through the census records. After finding her maiden name I was able to find her in the 1910 and 1920 censuses living with her parents.

 The top image is from the 1910 census, enumerated in late April, the bottom image is from the 1920 census and enumerated in early March. Assuming that the person who gave the information was correct, that puts Anna's birthday in March or April of 1904.

In 1930 we can find Anna living by herself in Baltimore.

 This census was enumerated on the 5th of April, but notice how she's listed as being 25, which if correct that puts her birthday after the 5th of April. There is the possibility that she didn't really think about how old she was, or the enumerator put the wrong date down. There are two more important clues in this census, she still lists herself as being married, and her age at first marriage is 16. This will help later when looking for her marriage license.

 In the 1940 census, the most current one and the last she will be counted in, we find her living with her second husband and children. The 'X' by her name says she supplied the information. Notice now how she's lost a couple of years of her age by stating she's only 34. Since the census was enumerated in late April she would have been 36, one has to wonder if she did so to not look too much older then her husband.

Without a known birth certificate, while Maryland did require them in the late 1890s not everyone applied for them, we're left with only a couple of more records to find her DOB. The first would be some sort of baptismal record and another would be her marriage record. I have not been able to determine which, if any, church Anna's family attended so I have no records of her birth.

This is Anna and Earl's marriage license, from July 1920, her listed age, 18. This puts her at being born in 1902, though no other records bear this out.

With as much of the normal information I have gathered there is a wide range of dates for Anna, ranging from 1902-1909. The dates of 1902 and 1909 are wrong, if she was the one giving the information to obtain her marriage license she probably couldn't say she was 16 without parental consent, while the 1909 is wrong due to bad penmanship. With the exception of one census record, all dates point to her year of birth as 1904 and birth month as April. The best date that I have come across is April 4, 1904, which is the date I've gone with in my database.

10 December 2014

My first brick wall

Any genealogist knows brick walls can be frustrating, but in some ways, they are the most fun to try and figure out. My first brick wall came with enough of a crack in it to help bring it down.

My family knew little about my grandmother's mother. Not only did she leave her family in the late 1920s/early 1930s, she also died young. When I started looking at my family history my grandmother had already died and both of her sisters would say little about their mother. All I had to go on was a name, Anna Laura.

The stories that I had heard about was that my great grandmother had  left one day and moved to Baltimore. I was also told that her children had no contact with her after she left and no one knew what had happened to her. The family did know she had gotten remarried and had a second. The only other piece of information I knew was that one of her children had died while in the military. Other than that, nothing:  no birth date, no date or place of death, just a blank.

Since this was back in 2008 a lot of things were not online yet. Add that to the fact I didn't know exactly what I was looking for or where to start and it was hard to know how to approach my brick wall. In hindsight I should have gone to the most obvious place, the Frederick courthouse, to find her marriage certificate.  However, at the time I didn't know they kept such records.

My first break came when I asked my aunt if she might know anything. She didn't, but she did give me my grandmother's bible which provided  me with my first clue: I was able to obtain Anna's date of death.


And there it was, my first break, not only a date of death, but her last name of Florey. This was at least a starting point, now I could go look up an obituary. The only problem was that she had died in Baltimore, and the closest and easiest place for me to see the microfilm was the University of Maryland. I was at least able to get this:

There is however, one problem with this short death notice, she's been given the maiden name of Castle, which is wrong. But, at least I've gotten an approximate age, 43, meaning she was born around 1904. I also have a place of interment, Western Cemetery.

My next step was to head to the Maryland State Archives to find a death certificate. Such a confusing place, especially for someone who's never been there before. After finally getting through all the strange hoops they seem to have, I was able to get a printed copy of her death certificate from the microfilm. Finally the wall begins to fall.
Finally, I get a date of birth, maiden name and parents names, if all the information given is correct. Notice the nee from the death notice is Castle, which is her mother's Maiden name.

So now, I have a good amount of information, date of birth, given as April 4, 1904, date of death, November 22, 1947, maiden name of Kessler, and parent's names, William Kessler and Alberta Castle.

In my next post I will cover finding other information about her, and why her date of birth may not be correct and why it was so difficult to figure out what the truth might be.