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.]


  1. This is a great project, and an immense undertaking! Thank you for sharing with us. The surnames in Frederick in my family are Gilbert and Glessner.

  2. Ditto. Very helpful information in a way we can manipulate it. Thanks for the investment in time and your expertise to do this... My 1870s families: Ramsburg, Wiles, Crone, Summer, Snyder