I’ve always known that maps are an underused but vital part of genealogy research. I think the difficulty in finding them contributes to this for most people.
Recently, maps helped me to better understand connections between my enslaved ancestors. I thought I’d share it with you in the hopes that it will inspire you to seek out more maps in your research.
My Prather family is from Montgomery County, Maryland. Montgomery County has several unique records that help to uncover enslaved ancestors.
Maryland ended slavery in 1864, and in 1867, slaveowners were hoping to be reimbursed for those slaves.
That didn’t happen, but the counties compiled a record of slaves that each slaveowner owned back in 1864.
These are *fantastic* records because they list surnames and ages of slaves, and also notes, such as which ones had “run off” to the military.
Two other records were extremely valuable. First, a series of tax records in Montgomery County that named slaves along with their ages from 1853-1864 (not every year):
Secondly, the Washington D.C. Emancipation records included many Montgomery County families who were hiring out their slaves in D.C.
In the D.C. records, the slaveowner had to state how he or she gained title to the slave and you can see all the many ways that happened. (Those records are now on Ancestry).
Many localities have what I call “unique” records, records not necessarily widely available outside the locale. You should seek out these records in your research.
Map Provides an Answer
Using these unique records, I identified slaveowners of several family members.
However, I really couldn’t understand why they were spread out between so many different people until I looked at an 1865 and an 1866 map of the area.
My ancestor Levi and his brother Wesley were owned by Dorothy Williams, the former Dorothy Belt. James Williams’ 1870 household is below:
I’ve spoken of Levi’s father Rezin Prather in another post; he was owned by Nathan Cook. Nathan inherited Rezin from his wife who was a member of the Magruder family. The Blunt family owned the wife and children of another Prather brother, Tobias.
In the 1865 map (shown heading this post) you will find that “James Williams” and “N Cook” (Cooke) live in close proximity.
Also nearby are the Belt, Griffith and Magruder families, and the Blunts are to the far left of the map. Seeing this map made all these connections make sense.
This speaks to the prevalence of slaves living in “abroad” families, i.e., forming kinship relationships with slaves living on nearby farms. A great book about this is “Joining Places: Slave Neighborhoods in the Old South” by Anthony Kay.
Brooke Grove Church: 1879 Map
After emancipation, Vachel Duffy sold land to a group of trustees to build Brooke Grove Methodist Church. Brooke Grove was the Prather family church. Those trustees included Levi and Wesley Prather, Wesley Randolph, John Ross, Rezin Prather & others.
The 1880 census shows these men living in close proximity, and the 1879 map below also shows Duffy, Resin Prather (“R. Prater”)and Wesley Randolph (“W. Randolph), along with the church (“Brooke Ch”). Vachel Duffy’s name is mistakenly rendered as “Rachel Duffy.”
I purchased two maps from the Montgomery County Historical Society and another I bought for $35 online at a historic map company because I wanted a larger size.
The Maryland State Archives map collection has several 20th century maps. I’d like to view them to see if I can find the old Prather family house.
As you can see, maps helped me to visualize the lives of my enslaved ancestors. Take the time and effort to find historical maps.
My readers, have you had any luck with maps in your research yet?
[Update: if you enjoyed this post, then you’ll enjoy Understanding the Slave Community).
I am an engineer by day, but my true passion lies in genealogy. I have been a researcher, writer, lecturer and teacher for over twenty years. This blog is where I share family history methods, resources, tips and advice, with an emphasis on slave research, slavery and its aftermath. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my family’s past. I’ve taken back– reclaimed– some of that lost memory, especially that of my enslaved ancestors. I hope you’ll sign up to receive my posts—if you do, you’ll get a free PDF with some of my favorite tips! And please do share posts that interest you.