Using Historical Documents to Find Individuals from the Past

A question recently arose concerning the 1858 Dilworth map and what kind of information it can tell us. An individual commented on our last post, inquiring about what kinds of people are labeled on the map and what types of landmarks it shows. This is quite an interesting question, so this post is dedicated to addressing it.

Our blog follower first inquired if his or her family, who did not own anything during the time period in which the map was made, would be labeled on the map. The answer is no; this map primarily displays property boundaries and property owners in 1858. If a family did not own property, their name would not show up on the map.

However, the map also shows several structures situated in clusters, such as in the towns of Trappe, Easton, and St. Michael’s. There are also certain structures that appear on large properties, but that are not specifically labeled. It could be that families rented and lived in these unlabeled structures. So even if a family did not own property, they could have been living in these towns, or on someone else’s property. Nevertheless, this map would not specify which people lived there because it is mainly concerned with property owners.

This brings us to the importance of using several different historical documents to create a holistic picture of the past. Though the 1858 Dilworth map holds a lot of information, it does not tell us everything about all the people living in Talbot County. Thus, we can think of this project as the first step in a larger plan to understanding what society was really like during that time.

Once the map is digitized and given an accurate scale, our next goal will be finding the exact people who lived in the area and marking their homes. We can use census data from 1860, shown above, to determine who lived where, even if they did not own property. This particular survey includes the person’s name, gender, race, occupation, how much money he or she has, and how much land he or she owns.

It is also important to keep in mind that during this time in Talbot County, the property owners were primarily white and male, with the exception of a few people. Thus, many African Americans living during this time did not own property, and thus their names would not show up on this map. Using other sources, such as census data, we can add all the people who were living in Talbot County during these years to our map.

Although the landowners are mostly white, there are some important exceptions. In the census data shown, there is an African American named A. Moore who is recorded to have had money and land. Even though his numbers are not nearly as high as some of the white landowners living around him, it is still an important observation. We have associated this census information with a structure on the map labeled A. Moore, which indeed appears to be this man’s house and property during this time.

I hope that this answers the question; we always welcome others’ input, as it helps us accomplish thorough research and encourages us to delve into topics we would not have otherwise considered.

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