Using Historical Documents to Find Individuals from the Past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.

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Emerging Scholars Research Project

Though field school is over, archaeological discovery continues.

I previously worked on the James Holliday house in Annapolis, the Wye House Plantation, and the Buffalo Soldier’s house in Easton. On those sites, we dug, sweated, found great artifacts, and pieced together forgotten stories from the past. Now, in the air-conditioned lab, our goal is slightly different.

My project this semester is to use ArcGIS, which is software that allows manipulation of maps on a computer, to correlate a historical map with today’s landscape. I am using William Dilworth’s 1858 map of Talbot County to do this research. The map, seen below, is made available by the Library of Congress.

This map has several features that are still present today in Talbot County, such as certain roads and houses. It also displays some features that do not exist anymore. I can match the available historical landmarks on Dilworth’s map with those that are still standing today on a current satellite view of the County. This will make the 1858 map match up with today’s exact map; all or most of the roads and coastlines will line up, and we can assign a scale to the historic image. Once Dilworth’s map has the correct scale and orientation, we can locate the places where landmarks that no longer exist would be on the current landscape.

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The Basement: “Small Find Heaven”

It is week two at the Archaeology in Annapolis field school and we are continuing to find a plethora of historic artifacts in our spider haven. My unit is in the low-ceilinged basement of the James Holliday house, a rewarding, though somewhat eerie, treasure chest of archaeological finds. The mummified spiders and “not-at-all-dangerous” asbestos pad keep us company while we unearth the history of this family’s house, which has been passed on through generations.

This basement used to function as a kitchen, and our finds are evidence to support this information. We recover items such as bone, glass, ceramic, coins, buttons, straight pins, and more. Several pieces of small bones, such as fish vertebrae, in addition to whole pieces of a duck skull and larger fragments probably from a pig or cow indicate some of the kinds of food that the family was preparing. We have also recovered extremely fragile items, including fish scales and eggshells.

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