Thursday, June 7, 2007

Old Maps of Whitfield County and Murray County, Georgia

Today at the archives (Dalton, Georgia), a family researcher brought in a copy of a pony-homestead document (explanation below). The pony-homestead document doesn't fully describe the property, and he hoped to find out a little more about the homestead. We looked at the 1879 map of Whitfield County, Georgia, and located his great-grandfather's name on a land-lot near Prater's Mill (Varnell, Georgia). The land-lot numbers on that map are particularly hard to read, so we looked at the 1908 Whitfield County map, as well. That one is much clearer and the lot numbers are the same. Sure enough, his grandfather's name was on the same land-lot as his great-grandfather's had been.

That's the great thing about those old topographical maps. They show the names of property owners, as well as numbered land-lots, with grain mills, churches, schools, railroads, mountains, and other geographical landmarks. The researcher knew that the old homestead was east of Prater's Mill, but he was confused by some plat descriptions he had read. They seemed to describe a different piece of land than what he knew of the property. We may have cleared up the mystery. Numbering of the land-lots starts over in each section. What's more, the numbers ascend in a row, then drop down to the next row and descend back down to the sectional lines. It means that two drastically different land-lot numbers can be right next to each other. A person just reading a description on a deed might think that the deeds described several separate tracts in different areas of the county ~ while they actually described one piece of property, carved out of several adjacent land-lots.

Words of advice for anyone hoping to find an ancestor mentioned on a map: it would be difficult, if not impossible, to locate the land-lot without having some idea of the district or community wherein the landowner resided. Also, the map would only show contemporary property owners; that is, an 1879 map might be helpful for a researcher seeking an 1870-1880 property owner ~ but not for one seeking a 1920 property owner. The names were put there by the mapmaker, not by later researchers. Still, one can usually find an ancestor's militia district, town, or community in census. Often, this information (with a little patience and good eyesight) is all that is needed to locate the surname on the map, if the ancestor owned property.

Land-lots are squares of approximately 160 acres. The numbering of them can seem confusing until they are viewed on a map. A land-lot can even extend across county borders. For example: Whitfield and Murray County, Georgia, are divided by the Conasauga River, with Whitfield lying on the western side of the river. On the eastern, topmost section of Whitfield County is the 10th district, 3rd section of the county. This corresponds with the 10th district, 3rd section of Murray County ~ the western , topmost section of Murray. A land-lot lying on the county line may have its western half in Whitfield County and its eastern half in Murray County, with the river being the dividing line. One example of this is land-lot 9 in the 10th district, 3rd section of both counties. The western half of the lot lies in Whitfield County, and the eastern half lies in Murray County.

A pony-homestead document is an old application for tax exemption of the homestead value by a property owner. It lists the possessions of the homeowner, including household items, livestock, and tools. It doesn't give a full description of the property as a deed does, but it may give the acreage and general location of the land. We do not have the pony-homestead documents at the archives. Researchers sometimes bring in their own copies of such courthouse records.

The archives is Crown Garden and Archives in Dalton, Georgia. It is the headquarters for Whitfield-Murray Historical Society.

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