Maps and Genealogical Research
by Beverly Tetterton

A few years ago, as I flew out of the New Hanover County Airport and over eastern North Carolina, I couldn't help but think about the lay of the land and the people who settled it. I reflected on who got the high ground, the larger streams and the stands of long leaf pines, and who received the low ground, swamp lands and barren, ancient sand dunes. After twenty years of helping genealogists, I am still amazed that folks will drive across the country looking for their ancestors, spend days in the library and never take the time to visit the location of their forbears. There is nothing like surveying the actual area where they settled. I always recommend breathing in the air, checking out the flora and fauna, and noticing the lay of the land. If they were city dwellers find out where their house or business was located. How far was it from the river, the church, the business district?

Maps can be invaluable in helping . "put the flesh on the bones" of your ancestors. Maps can lead you to family land by helping you pinpoint the streams and other landmarks mentioned in early deeds. Topographical maps indicate the contours of the land and elevations of the property. Some maps indicate waterways and roads informing you of how your ancestors traveled to town, to church, to school or to visit neighbors. Soil maps provide information on what kinds of crops fair well in the area. Insurance maps show the footprint of houses and whether they were constructed of wood, brick or stucco.

Charts reveal land along the estuaries, bays and sounds. They may show landings, hog pens or oyster rights, revealing an earlier way of life.

Maps drawn during the period can be supplemented with atlases and other secondary sources. For example, historians often use maps to illustrate the location of Indian lands, plantations or battle fields. Atlases can be of particular value. The Official Atlas of the Civil War or the Atlas of Early American History, The Revolutionary Era, 1760-1790 are great sources for following the footsteps of your soldier ancestors.

Aerial photographic maps, popular in this century, present unique views of actual areas frozen in time. I cannot count the times I have heard the tale, "my family used to own all that land over near the.....". Aerial photographs from the 1920s or 1940s might show you what the land was like before it passed out of your family. Buildings which are now gone will also show up on aerial maps.

Now that your imagination is conjuring up all kinds of maps that might be helpful, your are probably wondering, where to begin? I would suggest that you check out a copy of The Map Catalog, Every Kind of Map and Chart on Earth and Even Some Above.[Makower, Joel, 1992, 3rd ed., Vintage Books, NY, 364 pp. Available from Amazon.com.]. It will tell you about a profusion of [currently in print] road maps, aerial maps, geological maps, historical maps, weather maps, nautical maps, military maps, census maps, and even astronomical maps. It will tell you how to find them and wet your appetite about the myriad of maps out there.

The map on the cover of this journal,"Plantations of the Lower Cape Fear, 1725 to 1760" was drawn for Alfred Moore Waddell's History of New Hanover County. A discussion of it and other local maps will appear in the next Courier. In the meantime, have a little fun by placing yourself in the landscape of your ancestor.


Maps and Genealogical Research
by Beverly Tetterton

In the last Courier I wrote in general about the variety of maps which can be useful when doing genealogical research. I am going to follow up by sharing with you some of the maps that I have found helpful when documenting the locality of local families.

Unfortunately, detailed early maps of specific counties are hard to find, especially in southeastern North Carolina. However, there are several state-wide maps which are helpful when locating geographical features (creeks and streams) and places. A few even list the names of the landowners.

It is important to keep in mind that the earlier maps of North Carolina are in general more accurate for the eastern part of the state, simply because it was settled earlier and was more well known. This fact is very apparent on the Mosley map of 1733. Along the major eastern estuaries are the names of the early landowners. Included in our area are the Cape Fear, Northeast Cape Fear and Waccamaw Rivers. The map also depicts the colonial roads which ran from county seat to county seat. East Carolina University has recently transcribed the names of every landowner and geographical location listed on the map. The map and transcription can be purchased for a donation of $15 or more plus $5.00 S&H to Friends of Joyner Library, ECU, Greenville, NC 27858-4353.

My favorite early map is the Collet map of 1770. It provides a wonderful snapshot of our area just before the Revolution, including plantations, landowners, roads, ferries and geographic features.

The 1775 Mouzon map of North and South Carolina shows, many of the same features.

The Price-Strother map of 1808 gives good definition to the county boundaries when New Hanover County included Pender and before Columbus County was formed.

There are few maps of the area during the sleeping "Rip VanWinkle" era in state history. Most of the maps are similar to earlier ones because the state lost population to the growing states (Georgia, Alabama, Florida) south of here.

The 1860 Johnson's map, the 1861 Colton map and the 1865 U.S. Coastal Survey map show the railroad lines in southeastern NC and all the little towns they connected.

In 1869, a Map of the Northern Portion of New Hanover County Known as Pender County was drawn. It is a wonderful map showing the short lived township names such as Holden, Lincoln and Grant. When Pender County was formed in 1875 the names were changed back to Long Creek, Rocky Point and Topsail.

There are many U.S. Coast Survey maps. An 1875 map From Cape Henry to the Cape Fear River shows details from 1845 to 1875 and includes names of towns, creeks, rivers, points, landmarks and property owners.

Map of New Hanover County, 1886, shows townships, roads, railroads, landowners, landmarks and waterways.

US Department of Agriculture soil maps of individual counties are invaluable. The series that were published in the early part of the 20th century (the New Hanover map was published in 1906) will help you determine the lay of the land on the property of your ancestors- clay, sandhill, swamp, or loam.

Eric Norden, a Swedish engineer, surveyor and map maker who moved to Wilmington, made many interesting maps during the teens and twenties. Often he would research earlier property transfers and they are apparent on his maps. For example, a 1912 Map of Federal Point Township includes the 18th century property owners: Ashe, MacLaine, Mosely, Sellers, Newton, Drewry, Maxwell, Henry, Dry, Guerard and their original land holdings.

Each county has drainage districts which have been mapped. The Pender County Drainage District No.5 map shows in detail the creeks and streams along the Sampson/Duplin line west of Wallace and Willard, NC.

Looking for detailed maps of geographical features is a must when doing genealogical research. The Stout Historical Research Map Company published, in the 1980s, historical maps of every NC county. Drawn by Garland P. Stout, they are very helpful in determining state roads, cemeteries, churches, creeks and branches, towns and crossroads. Mr. Stout has passed away, but they can still be purchased from Carolina Maps by Mail, (704) 365-9857.

The State Highway System of North Carolina maps show hard surface, graded and unimproved roads. Some counties, such as Brunswick, did not have much road access to the ocean until fairly late in this century. The 1924 map suggests that if your ancestor lived in Southport and wanted to travel, by highway, to Supply, Bolivia or Wilmington, the only way to get there was on a topsoil sand-clay and gravel roadway. The state highway maps are also great sources for finding little communities.

U.S. Geological Survey maps are essential for doing any land research. For example the 1943 Shallotte Quadrangle of Brunswick County identifies rivers, bays, creeks, inlets, sounds, island beaches, ponds, dams, roads, swamps, churches, and former railroad lines. What a wonderful way to examine the lay of the land of your ancestors before the enormous current population growth. A current Geological Survey Topographic map will help you get around in present day if you are looking for a cemetery, church or other landmark.

If the land of your ancestors was taken by the military there are US. Army maps of the area. The 1952 Project Map Military Ocean Terminal - Sunny Point map is a good example of Anny work. It lists all of the previous landowners, the acreage and the location of the land.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been mapping the Cape Fear River since 1826 (the district office opened in Wilmington in 1884). Some of the best maps of the area have been prepared by the Corps. The 1889 Cape Fear River, NC, From Wilmington to Fayetteville map records the many landings along the river. If your ancestor was involved in agriculture and industry along the river, this map will give you an excellent idea of the geographical complications involved in river trade.

The above mentioned maps are part of the New Hanover Public Library's map collection. Other collections that are worth seeking out are the collections of the North Carolina State Archives, East Carolina University Special Collection, and the North Carolina Collection at the University of NC at Chapel Hill. Also, try your local depositories as well. Policies regarding copying vary according to age, condition and access.

CLARENDON COURIER - Summer 2001 - page 42

Maps and Genealogical Research
by Beverly Tetterton

This is the last in a series of three articles concerning how maps can help you research for your ancestors. This article will be devoted to city maps and all those city dwelling ancestors.

If you have spent boring hours looking at censuses where every occupation was "farmer" try looking at a town census. The occupations are varied and give insight into who lived in the neighborhood. Later censuses give addresses, or you can find them in city directories. Once you have the addresses of your ancestors the next step is to find a map.

Until you can visit an archive and search for an old map, go ahead and procure a current one (they are easily available on the Internet). You can instantly get an overview of the city and how your family's home related to the town. Is it near a railroad track, a river, or the central business district? If the family changed addresses, where did they move and how does their new location relate to the different parts of the city. Can you tell if their fortunes were waxing or waning?

When you go to a library or archive ask for maps that correspond to the years your family lived or worked in various neighborhoods. If you are lucky you will find maps that indicate where houses were located.

Wilmington's earliest map that shows buildings is the 1769 C. J. Sauthier map. It shows the little village in it's infancy and the major streets and buildings. It is also topographical and shows the streams which were eventually paved over; the marsh along the river; and the early roads into the town. Only a few houses survive from that period, the Mitchell-Anderson House at 102 Orange St. and the Brown-Lord House at 300 S. Front Street.

The Gray's Map of 1881 is the next Wilmington map to show buildings. It was published in Gray's Atlas along with maps of most large towns throughout the United States. There are two maps. One shows the central business and residential district, and the other shows the area surrounding it out to the city limits. With remarkable clarity it shows buildings, their size and how they relate to the street. Some buildings and lots have the landowners names attached. There are references to churches and public buildings. It reveals the importance of the railroad showing the many lines entering and leaving the city. The waterfront is lined with maritime interests. It is a great place to find out how close your ancestor lived to work, church, and play.

Probably the most useful maps are the Sanborn Insurance Maps. The Sanborn Insurance Company (still in business today) made detailed maps of cities for insurance purposes. They provide the location of the house and it's actual footprint showing porches, bay windows, etc., and what the house was made from (wood, brick, stucco). You can also see how the house changed over time, ie., if the owners added on or modified it. Years that can be found in the NHCPL are 1884, 1889, 1893, 1898, 1904, 1910, 1915, 1948 and 1955. If you find the house you are looking for don't forget to go there immediately and see if it is still standing!

See Also the Maps Section of this website


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