Telling Stories with Maps – Where was Thomas Paine Born?

Today, the 4th of July, Americans celebrate Independence Day, the anniversary of the adoption of the United States Declaration of Independence.  To mark the day and join friends across the Atlantic in thier celebration, I present a story about Thomas Paine, the author of the influential political pamphlet, Common Sense, that stirred up the cause.

Click on the image to start the interactive map in a new tab.

Ready to place bets on the spot where Thomas Paine was born?  How close is the Thomas Paine Hotel?

Presentation of tangled ideas and webs of information is one of the challenges of genealogy.  A clear story is more likely to be understood and remembered by future generations.  The map above uses a sequence of images to organise bits of information into a sort of timeline.  Compare the same information presented without the ordering, using the ubiquitous Google maps.

Sumarising complex or large quantities of information involves compromise.  You just can’t put all the detail in and still have a clear story.  The maps above omit parts of the research that would benefit from visual presentation.  The parish boundaries of the 3 Thetford parishes wiggle through the town.  The northern end of White Hart Street lies in St Cuthbert’s and the rest of the street lies in St Peter’s.  The parish boundaries are marked on the Tithe maps, which can be viewed at the Norfolk Map Explorer, which date from around the 1840s.  This presentation overlays maps and aerial photographs.  Go and play with the layers and transparency sliders. Notice the changes in street layout.

An example of a fun presentation of map layers from different times is this map of 1836 New York. Can you spot a genealogical landmark (hint Castle Garden)?

New York 1836

Click on the image to start the interactive map in a new tab.

© Sue Adams 2014

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Thoughts on Mastering Genealogical Proof: Chapter 2

This chapter discusses the fundamental concepts behind drawing good conclusions in genealogical research.  In a nutshell, research is about answering questions using the available evidence. A source is a container of information, typically a document, but it could also be a photograph, artefact, oral recounting or something else.  Information is what the source says, such as the name a person used, or their residential address.  Evidence is what that information means in relation to the research question.

The classification of sources, information and evidence is not an end in itself.  It makes you assess the provenance and reliability of the sources and information contained in them and to critically examine the evidence.  It is much more important to understand WHY you arrived at your conclusion than what box you put things into.  The Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) is a tool that is meant to help you reach defendable conclusions.

USA based panellist, Laurie Desmarais, shared how she checked the validity of an inherited family narrative that lacked any source citations.  The work of previous generations often only survives as conclusions without supporting documentation, which we can improve by filling in the missing parts.  Even a family history that comes with documentation needs checking, including the work of respected authors.

The homework for this chapter focuses on identifying the research questions, and categorising sources, information and evidence using the two case studies in the book.  This is an invitation to start the process of critically examining Thomas Jones’ example studies.

Fellow panellist from the UK, Hilary Gadsby,  noted she was having difficulty classifying the Virginian tax records cited in case study A because she was not familiar with those records.  Both studies were originally published in the American journal, the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.  My impression on first readings is that the audience is assumed to have intermediate knowledge of American records.  Whilst this may be true of the original NGS Quarterly readership, it is not so for an international audience.  So, the UK gals have a bit more homework to do.

The ‘Authored works’ source category was included in the GPS in 2013.  Previously I placed maps in the derivative category because they usually incorporate information from a variety of other sources.  However, I now think that most maps are authored works.  Understanding how a map was compiled is necessary if you want to evaluate the reliability of the information it contains.  The survey measures the positions of features.  Place names and other information are added.  Surveys are often only partially updated.

Tony Proctor’s blog post “Where is Bendigo’s Ring” is a good example of using GPS principles to answer the question of where his boxing ancestor’s fights occurred.  Appropriately, he makes extensive use of maps, including Ordnance Survey maps and a sophisticated Geographical Information System (GIS) produced by the county council.  Which is more reliable?  Umm, that will take quite a lot of work to answer.

Reference: Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof  (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2013)

© Sue Adams 2014


Claverley Property Document Analysis, Part 3: Places

In the previous two parts of this series, I transcribed a manorial court record of a property transaction, and extracted information from it.  So far, I have only been concerned with information contained within the court session and cases.  The next steps are to check names, dates, places and legal language; and to identify people, locations and interpret events.  This process draws on information from other sources.

I’ll start with checking place names and locate them on a map.  The court records contained 11 names of places that referred to 7 specific locations, but stated the type of feature or jurisdiction (e.g. county, parish, dwelling house) in 5 instances.

A gazetteer (a geographic index, dictionary or encyclopaedia) is an ideal reference for validating place names.  A Vision of Britain is a key resource that includes historical gazetteers, boundary maps of many (but not all) jurisdictions, and tracks the history of jurisdictions.  It draws on two gazetteers, John Bartholomew’s Gazetteer of the British Isles (1887) and John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870-72).  The gazetteers include entries for 8 of the 11 place names, and the boundary maps include the parishes, district, and county.

Place name Type Gazetteer classification Location relative to Bridgnorth
Kings Arms dwelling house
Mill Hill property
Heathton township hamlet/ township 6.5 miles E
Hopstone unspecified hamlet/ township 4 or 4.5 miles E
Aston unspecified township 6 or 6.5 miles E
Catstree unspecified place/ township 3 miles NE
Draycott unspecified
Claverley manor
Claverley unspecified township and parish 5.25 miles E
Worfield parish village, parish and sub-district 3.5 miles NE
Bridgnorth unspecified municipal borough, town and district
Salop county ancient county

In only one case, the Kings Arms, the place name refers to a specific point, a building.  Hamlets and townships were small settlements, and villages and towns were larger settlements, all with no defined boundary. Jurisdictions such as parish, manor, borough, district and county were defined, and with the exception of manors are mapped by A Vision of Britain.  Examples are the boundary maps for the county of Salop, also known as Shropshire and the parish of Claverley.  Where the court document specifies a jurisdiction, we can be sure of the geographic area covered.

I did not find Draycott in the historical gazetteers.  The Vision of Britain boundary maps allows viewing of 4 map layers from different times.  Draycott is marked on the modern map layers (OpenStreetMap and Great Britain 20th Century) between Aston and Heathton.  The same hamlet is named Draycote on the Great Britain 19th Century layer.

Claverley – manor, parish, village

The court document referred to the manor of Claverley and Claverley as an unspecified entity.  The manor and parish were separate jurisdictions and usually did not cover the same geographical area.  There could be several manors within a parish and a manor could span the boundary of adjoining parishes.

Unlike parishes, manors have never been systematically mapped.  In the case of Claverley, I know of 3 documents that describe the manorial boundaries.  The earliest, dated 1509, is a metes and bounds survey written in Latin, which awaits transcription and translation (Shropshire Archives ref 5586/13/1).  The Manorial Documents Register includes two later boundary descriptions that I have not seen, dated 1615 and 1700-1900 (both at Shropshire Archives refs 1190/1/434 and 1190/1/433).

The court document references to the unspecified Claverley could be either the village or the parish.  Although the village doesn’t have clear boundaries, I think it does all lie within the parish from my interpretation of the maps.

The Kings Arms

Is there anyone who did not think ‘pub’ when you saw this name?  If not, I would guess you are not very familiar with Britain.

However, the court document explicitly refers to the venue as a dwelling house, a private residence, not a public house, a drinking establishment.  There is a pub called the Kings Arms in Claverley, but is this the same building?  A virtual wander in Google maps shows an historic looking building almost opposite the church.  The satellite view shows the pub is a large establishment comprised of several buildings joined together.

First we need to establish that the current building really is old enough to have been standing in 1844.  Fortunately, the Kings Arms is included in the English Heritage’s National Heritage List.  The listing describes the part a the building complex that includes the main entrance, and dates it to the 18th century.  So, yes it is old enough.

The Kings Arms name could have been applied to a different building in the past.  The tithe apportionments for Claverley, dated 1839, lists land owners and occupiers who were liable to pay tithes (a church tax) associated with property (Shropshire Archives ref 5586/5/19/1-3). Land parcel number 158 described as ‘Kings Arms Inn, Buildings & Yards’, was owned by William Smith and occupied by John Crowther senior.  I haven’t yet examined the tithe map to see where no. 158 is exactly.  I would not be at all surprised to find it is the location of the current pub.  When I have checked fourth source, the tithe map, as well as Google maps, listed buildings and tithe apportionments, I will be as sure as possible of the location of the Kings Arms, the building where the court baron was held.  That is not the same thing as my first thought of ‘pub’.

Mill Hill

The court record is all about the transfer of a piece of land called Mill Hill and associated house and out buildings, totalling 3 acres, 1 rod and 16 perches, but so far we do not know where that was.  The tithe apportionments give the following information:

Landowners Occupiers Nos. Refering to the Plan Name and Description of Lands and Premises State of Cultivation Acres Rods Perches
Felton’s Trustees, viz. John Wilson and Samuel Nicholls jun. William Ferrington 566 Waste and Land, before the House Pasture 0 1 15
588 House, Buildings and Garden 1 0 4
589 Mill Hill Meadow 1 3 37

The area of these three land parcels adds up to 3 acres, 1 rod and 16 perches (40 perches to the rod, 4 rods to the acre). The area, description, owners and occupiers all match the property described in the court record, so I am sure land parcels 566, 588 and 589 on the tithe map will show me exactly where the property was.  Umm, my excuse for not consulting the tithe map on my last visit to Shropshire Archives is looking feeble.  I could swear archive time is accelerated, honest!

In the meantime, I’ll pull together what I can.  Mill Hill was in Heathton township, which is somewhere near Heathton House, a listed building.  The manor of Claverley extended to parts of Heathton township.  The tithe apportionments confirm John Wilson’s ownership and occupation of Aston Hall, but possibly not the current building which dates from mid-late 19th century.

I have marked the places as points on the map below, but this fails to convey that most place names refer to a larger, undefined area (e.g. township) or a jurisdiction.  It is useful to see the spatial relationships between places.  The approximate directions and distances of places found in the gazetteers are confirmed on the map.

Did you think looking at a modern map was all you needed to confirm where your ancestors lived and did things like attending a court?

Next time I will examine the people involved in the court proceedings.

© Sue Adams 2013