SNGF: Land of Jacob Staats, Appoquinimink Hundred, New Castle, DE

This week’s Saturday Night Genealogy Fun instructions:

1) Find one of your ancestral homes on Google Maps (http://maps.google.com/).Select Map and/or Satellite view.

2) Find out if this location is shown in Street View.

3) Show us the pictures!!

4) Did you learn anything from this mission about your ancestral home? Is it still there? Has it been improved or modified?

As usual, I have taken Randy’s Saturday Night Genealogy Fun theme and gone a slightly different way with it. The area I will be looking at was formerly Appoquinimink Hundred, New Castle, DE. No longer known by that name, it is near Blackbird, DE.

After playing around with a couple of different locations, I started back into what has been the most challenging case in my research to date: the estate of Jacob Staats (d. 1783). The key to cracking this case, as well as decoding surrounding Staats families is going to be in the clues from land they owned. Records are scarce in this area in Colonial and pre-Colonial Delaware, and so are the names these Staats families used. They didn’t have much creativity when it came to baby names, I’m afraid. I won’t bore you with the details of the estate, but I will show you a few pictures of the property.

Jacob Staats purchased 150 acres of land in Appoquinimink Hundred, New Castle, DE in 1735. What is really amazing is how little the plat has changed over that time. It’s shape and description in deeds, as it compared to other Staats properties in the area, is key to sorting out who does and who doesn’t belong to this family.

The first drawing I have found of this property is from 1756. I need to get back to the DE Archives soon and verify the date, but I’m pretty sure that is correct. This drawing is not oriented with north pointing up – it was just drawn to fit the page.

Land of Jacob Staats, circa 1756.

When Jacob died in 1783, his estate was split into eighths. One of the heirs appears to have died, and that eighth split between the seven remaining shares. The land transactions are key to determining who the heirs to this estate are, as they are never named in any documents found to date. The only way to sort them out is to collect all related land transactions and match the land descriptions within them to this property.

One of Jacob’s sons, Jacob Jr. purchased most of the interest in his father’s land from the other heirs. When Jacob Jr. died in 1796, a drawing of the property appeared years later in the Orphans Court property appraisal performed in 1812. Note that the property is rotated 90 degrees clockwise in this picture. Also note that the widow’s portion is laid off, a part appears to be missing from one side, and a strange hook appears on one end. More about the hook in a minute:

Orphans Court drawing showing the property in 1812

I’m sure you’re asking, “This is neat and all, but when does Google Maps come in?” In order to try and find the property today, I needed a little more direction as to exactly where it is. Fortunately, it happens to have a side bordered by the Northwest branch of Duck Creek, which narrows it down some. Even more fortunately, in 1810, a survey was made in order to assess property owners a ditch tax who owned cripple property along Duck Creek. This map gives enough detail to know where to look. Note that the hook also appears in this drawing as a short branch of the creek and a cripple area.

1810 Ditch Survey showing Jacob Staats property, rotated to approximate correct orientation

The key piece of information that this map shows is the property’s orientation to the creek, and more importantly it gives a bridge name and the property’s location in relation to it. Now we have enough to look for it on a current map. A search for it on Google maps showed that, to my astonishment, the plat is almost identical today as it was in the 1700 and 1800s! I switched to New Castle County’s website, as it more clearly shows the plat lines than does Google. Most counties have a site you can access which shows current plats and allows you to see basic information about them. New Castle’s site apparently allows you to download images of more recent deeds via subscription, but I’ll have to check that out in more detail. Take special notice of the hook formed by the cripple, which you can clearly see in this aerial view (even though it is part of another property now).

Current plat of the former Jacob Staats property. Water features from the drawings are clearly visible here even today.

How cool is that?! It astounds me that the shapes have hardly changed from the 1756 rough drawing. You can even see the odd right-angle piece that appears in the adjoining property. You can see how you might be able to use a similar approach to locate your own ancestors property as it exists today. One of the things this exercise now allows me to do now is work backwards from the current owner to attempt to account for the deeds I have not been able to find. Who knows? Maybe this will even crack the case!

A little less exciting is the street view. Google didn’t have street view available for the street running in front of the property, but I could “look” towards the property from the intersection before it. This photo is looking towards the small area in the upper right corner of the previous photo that is not included in the red outline

Intersection of Townsend Rd and Sawmill Branch Rd. The Staats property is probably marked by the trees beyond the trailer in the foreground

Here is another photo from the same general area. This photo is looking from the bridge on Rt. 9 over Duck Creek. The Northwest Branch is not far around the bend in this photo. Turning the opposite way on Duck Creek would take you to the Delaware Bay, about 25-30 miles from the Atlantic.

Looking west from the bridge on DE Route 9 over Duck Creek.

Thanks to Randy for a really cool evening that may have created some new research ideas to solve an old problem!

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One Response to SNGF: Land of Jacob Staats, Appoquinimink Hundred, New Castle, DE

  1. avatar Jean Hoffman says:

    What a super result from Randy’s SNGF! It is amazing to see the land so close to your original.