Monday, April 22, 2013

Mappy Monday -- American Waterways

On this Earth Day, 2013, what better topic to consider than our waterways. The news is full of tremendous flooding in the American midwest, tsunami debris washing up on the Pacific coast, shrinking of the polar ice caps and, of course, pollution of the world's waters.

Our ancestors also thought a lot about water. Whether digging a well, traveling by boat or crossing the desert, they had to consider the role of water in their lives. But there was one dependency on water that we rarely think about in the modern world -- the identification of physical property.

In the original 13 colonies and other states settled under the metes and bounds system, the identification of a waterway was important to determine the location of the land. You've seen these land descriptions. They are very convoluted and confusing. The trees, the rocks and the neighbors define the boundaries, along with distance and compass direction.

For a long time I thought the waterway included in the definition meant that the land actually fronted on that body of water. But I learned in a class that the property might not be close to the named waterway. Rather, the land is within the watershed of the named waterway.

Finding such a property on a map may be a bit difficult. A program such as Deed Mapper can draw the outline of the property. It's also possible to draw the dimensions by hand, though it's not my idea of fun. With a rough sketch of the property, it may then be possible to find it on a modern map. The historical dimensions may still be visible in fields and roads that exist today.

Let me take you down a recent research path of mine to see how modern maps can be used with historical deeds.

I learned that my ancestor owned a farm in the Turner Creek watershed of Yadkin County, North Carolina. Fortunately, one of the clerks in the Register of Deeds office in Surry County knew the location of the creek. This is a case where field work was very helpful to the research process.

First search Google Maps for "Yadkin County, NC" to get the county outline.

Zooming in to the lower right corner of the county shows where the creek feeds into the Yadkin River. It's the top little creek.

Zoom in a bit more and the county lines disappear, but the creek changes from a short line to a much longer one, with the name shown.

Keep zooming and the modern property lines appear in a darker gray.

If I had the property diagramed, I could now attempt to match it up to the properties near Turner Creek. I would need to look along the length of the creek and between Turner Creek and other waterways, such as Roby Creek in this example.

I hope this brain dump gives you some useful tidbits about waterways, old deeds and modern maps.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Tuesday Tip -- County Government Records

Did you know that April is National County Government Month? And why would you care, anyway?

As both a family history researcher and a county government employee, I have a perspective from both inside and outside the courthouse.

We interact with and depend on our county government each day -- and so did our ancestors. The interactions we have today can help us think about records that our ancestors may have left behind in the counties where they lived.

Here are some ideas of how we may use contemporary county government in a way that generates records:
  • Pay taxes or protest tax bills
  • Serve on a jury
  • Register to vote
  • Report a crime or fire
  • Call for a paramedic or EMS
  • Get a library card
  • Apply for a marriage license
  • Probate an estate
  • Be born or die -- trigger a birth certificate or death certificate
  • File for divorce
  • File a civil suit
  • Get arrested
  • Go to court as a plaintiff, defendant or witness
  • Register a property deed
  • License a dog
  • Apply for a zoning change or protest one
  • Pay for services such as water or waste disposal
  • Obtain a building permit

Our ancestors did some of those same things. Some of them surveyed and built roads. Some hunted wolves for bounty payments. Each county and each time period will have different records.

Those records may be kept in areas other than the courthouse. Some records will be in archives, historical societies or libraries. Some will be in courthouse annexes or administrative buildings. Some will be computerized and others will not. Each county is different.

To effectively research county records, it's important to know the county boundaries, creation dates, customs and record sets, as well as the contemporary locations, policies and hours.

Thank your local county employees the next time you talk to them. They keep us and our records safe for posterity.