Road Trip!

If you want, you can accomplish a tremendous amount of genealogical research without ever leaving your desk, but there’s still a great benefit to getting out of the house and visiting the places where your ancestors lived.

For the past twenty years or so, my family and I have vacationed with friends and acquaintances at Fenwick Island  in Sussex County Delaware every summer.  Most of the time, this vacation is a few weeks of sun and sand, conversations on the beach all day and happy hour at the tiki bar in the evening.  But for the last couple of years, I’ve spent many of my vacation mornings traveling to western Sussex County to  see some of my ancestral stomping grounds.

Road Trip Area 2013I explored several areas this year, but spent most of my time in the triangle of land roughly bounded by the Nanticoke River, Broad Creek, and the line running between Laurel and Concord. This area was (and still is) a major farming area.  During the mid 1800’s, Lewisville (now Bethel, Delaware), Laurel, Seaford and Sharptown, Maryland were part of a major shipbuilding region, constructing the Chesapeake sailing rams designed to move freight on the Chesapeake Bay.  I’ve found several relatives who were involved in the shipbuilding or shipping industry.

I have records of ancestors surnamed Clifton, Callaway and Morgan living in this area back to the mid 1700s, as well as Waller and Lloyd ancestors in more recent years.  You can see several of these family names on the Pomeroy and Beers Atlas map from 1868.

So what was I able to do that couldn’t be done on the Internet?

  • Meet with local genealogists and researchers with an in-depth knowledge of the area.
  • Visit local libraries, historical societies and town halls that have records not available online or in the official archives.
  • Explore local cemeteries and find grave markers not listed on findagrave and see family plots in the context of others buried nearby.
  • Gain an appreciation for the local geography and architecture of area homes and churches.

I was originally draw to this area based on the will of Obediah Smith (~1728 – 1796) who left property to his daughter Margaret (~1750 – ?) and her husband Benjamin Clifton (~1750 – 1820) described as “all of the land called ‘Pine Grove’ on the south side of the Nanticoke River”.  I followed the river roads from the town of Concord to Woodland Ferry (shown as Cannon’s Ferry on the Pomeroy and Beers map), to Phillips Landing to see what the area looked like today.  The picture below was taken at Phillips Landing at the confluence of Broad Creek and Nanticoke River.

Nanticoke Phillips Landing

Subdivision 11

Unlike Area 51 or District 9, Subdivision 11 in Sussex County, Delaware, has no known association with aliens or UFOs.  It does, however, contain a large number of my relatives in the 1850 US census.

In the 1840 census in Sussex County, enumeration was by hundred.  In the 1860 census, enumeration was by hundred.  But in the 1850 census, enumeration was by hundred and by a geographic area referred to as the 11th Subdivision.  What was this exactly and why was it created for this one census? Google search and a review of 1850 census turned up nothing useful.  There is plenty of speculation about Subdivision 11 in the genealogy forums, but nothing concrete.  Being someone who likes to trace the movement of my ancestors over time, I find Subdivision 11  a bit irritating.

Comparing the 1850 census geography to a list of the hundreds in Sussex County and their year of establishment does provided a partial answer to this mystery.  The table below shows this comparison.

1850 Hundreds

The ‘1850 Census’ column identifies those hundreds enumerated in the census and we see that six of the hundreds are unaccounted for.  However, three of these were not established until after 1850. We can infer that the remaining three – Broad Creek, Little Creek and Northwest Fork – made up the 11th Subdivision in 1850. This makes sense to me.  My 3rd Great Grandfather appears in Broad Creek in 1840 and 1860 so it stands to reason that he would have lived in the Broad Creek portion of the 11th Subdivision in 1850.

That answers the ‘what’ but not the ‘why’ of this subdivision.  As part of my day job, I’ve worked with census data quite a bit over the years, and I know that census boundaries are adjusted from time to time in an attempt to even out the population included within the areas.  Areas with a lot of population growth are sometimes split and areas with low growth sometimes combined.  Looking at the map of the hundreds in Sussex County*, we see that these three hundreds were in the western and least populated portion of the county.  That’s my best guess as to why the 11th Subdivision was created – to make the enumeration workload more comparable to that of the more heavily populated eastern hundreds in the county.

Sussex Hundreds

If anyone reading this has more information or a better theory, I’d love to hear from you.

*This map fragment is courtesy of the David Rumsey Map Collection that I wrote about in an earlier article.

Genealogy Loves a Good Map!

I would stare at maps of Delaware for hours.

– Ken Jennings

A good map can bring those spiritless census, tax and land records to life by placing an ancestor at a particular location at a point in time. Maps can let you know where to look for records, provide hints about family relationships or track family migration through the generations.  If you’re a genealogist or a salesman in “The Music Man”, “ya gotta know the territory”.

The Hundreds of Delaware

When you work with records in Delaware before about 1910, you quickly notice that most significant administrative records are organized by “hundred”. According to George S. Messersmith’s The Government of Delaware (1907), “Up to the formation of the constitution of 1897 each county in Delaware was divided, for the purpose of local administration and government, and for the assessing and collecting of taxes, into districts known as “hundreds”” (page 18).

The Delaware Hundred came from German and British forms of government as “a local division of land, the people living in which are supposed to be able to send one hundred men to war in case of need. Each hundred had its officers, was the unit in raising taxes, and had its own courts” (page 19).

This subdivision of a county in Delaware was eventually replaced by the Representative District, but the names of hundreds appear in historical records long after the 1897 constitution and the hundred continues in common usage today. Personally, I live in “Brandywine Hundred” in the northeastern part of the state.

Pomeroy and Beers 1868 Atlas of Delaware

Nanticoke Hundred
Nanticoke Hundred

So if maps are an indispensable tool for genealogy and the Delaware hundreds are the most important land division for genealogical research in Delaware, where do you find the best maps of the Delaware Hundreds? Look no further than the Atlas of the State of Delaware produced by the Philadelphia company of Pomeroy and Beers in 1868. Click on the Nanticoke Hundred map at left for a good example.

These are truly luxurious maps, hand colored lithographs, that are incredibly detailed, showing places, landowners, roads, railroads, businesses, and districts within hundreds. The maps were published by Pomeroy and Beers based on surveys completed by D.G Beers in 1868 and engraved by Worley and Bracher of Philadelphia. I’ve never seen the original atlas, but I believe there are 37 maps in all with numerous insets for major towns and cities.

The David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

You can find black-and-white versions of the maps, free to download, from several sites, such as the Delaware Geological Society.  You can also buy quality color reproductions of the maps from the Delaware Historical Society  or buy high quality images from Historic Map Works.

The best deals on the Internet, however, are found in the David Rumsey Map Collection of Cartography Associates where you can download, reproduced and transmit images for non-commerical use at no cost! Usage of the maps is governed by a Creative Commons License. In addition to making their work publicly available, they also make use of the latest scanning, image processing and viewing technology to produce and deliver maps in a variety of sizes. You do need to register on the site in order to download the largest images, which I have done for most of the hundreds maps I work with regularly. Spend some time exploring this site.  You never know what you might find and many of the maps are true works of art.

Finding Uncle Rion

As I mentioned, the maps of the Pomeroy and Beers Atlas identify place names and landowners. I often encounter place names in family records that don’t exist on maps of today but it’s not unusual to find that long forgotten place on an Atlas map.

My fourth great-grandfather was William B Rion (1794-1865). He is found in the 1860 census for Nanticoke Hundred, Sussex County, Delaware in an area served by the St. Johnstown post office. St. Johnstown (or sometimes just ‘Johnstown’) is one of those places lost in history. Wikipedia provides the following:

“a stop on the now defunct Queen Anne’s Railroad line between Ellendale and Greenwood. After the railroad closed down and the tracks were removed, all property owned by the railroad was returned to its previous landowners and several small towns built around the stops disappeared.”

The map earlier in this article is the Pomeroy and Beers Atlas map for Nanticoke Hundred.  Studying this map, I find St. Johnstown in the northwest portion of the hundred, in “District 76”.

William B Rion died in 1867 and his will was probated in 1868. His eldest son was John S. Rion. If you look closely at the map of Nanticoke Hundred in the uppermost portion at Staytonville, you see a landowner named J.S. Rion. I’m betting this is my fourth great-uncle, living on a property he owned near his father or on a property inherited from him. Pretty cool, huh?

By the way, the Ken Jennings quote comes from the Time Magazine article “Ten Questions for Ken Jennings“.