This site grew out of a fascination with Ravensworth that grew out of a fascination with maps and local history. A map first introduced me to Ravensworth, about 1980 – the wall poster-sized companion to Beth Mitchell’s book Beginning at a White Oak: Patents and Northern Neck Grants of Fairfax County, Virginia.
Learning that my new home was inside (just barely) the western edge of what had been a vast colonial plantation, I wanted to learn more. What had happened to it, how did 38 square miles dissolve to my less than one-quarter acre lot? What was where, who were the people involved, what happened to them, and how does what we see today compare to what went before?
A Look Back At Braddock
In 2005 my interest in maps and history opened the door to a unique opportunity to chair the maps and website committee of the A Look Back At Braddock project. A year working with George Mason University’s Geography Department and GIS Center produced the maps for the book Braddock’s True Gold: 20th-Century Life in the Heart of Fairfax County. Another year of support by Mason’s renown Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM) created the website A Look Back At Braddock District to share with a wider audience much of the project’s research and materials.
It’s in the spirit of CHNM’s good works to democratize history by making it widely available online that this site is presented.
A Geographic Perspective
My own contribution is inspired by Beth Mitchell’s work in mapping land parcels to trace the history of land and people. A major goal is to trace the step-by-step partition of Ravensworth into smaller and smaller parcels through the generations of changing ownership. Working with deeds and their metes and bounds (compass direction and distance of boundary lines), to map parcels and place them (georeference) in their correct geographic location. To use maps and other visual methods to show where people lived and worked and where events occurred in Ravensworth. With Google My Places maps, to enable visualizing these places in the context of today’s communities, roads and streets.
An Award and Encouragement
In November 2010 the Fairfax County History Commission recognized my early efforts with its Beth Mitchell Prize for “research that consolidates and indexes primary source material into a format that can be used to support further understanding and interpretation of Fairfax County history.” This award and the extra honor of my name being mentioned in relation to Beth Mitchell, a personal hero, were strong encouragements.
Research uncovered a wealth of information as well as generous help and guidance at the Virginia Room of the Fairfax County Public Library, the Circuit Court’s Historical Records Room – repository of land records, and the Park Authority’s Cultural Resource Management and Protection Section.
Some sources are published but many are not, especially public records like deeds and wills. Some published sources are either rare or obscure and, therefore, not available for circulation outside the repository.
On the other hand, many repositories are digitizing and placing sources to online1; more researchers are publishing their work online.
I am indebted to the contributions of the many historians and researchers who have documented and generously shared their findings about Ravensworth. Every effort is made to respect creative ownership by pointing to and not infringing on copyrighted materials. The bias is toward identifying and linking to online resources.
Manifold GIS software is my main tool to process metes and bounds data into parcel drawings and images and for maps and KML files to display in Google Maps. For more detailed image processing, drawings are reworked with Inkscape, the open source graphics editor. As I am indebted to the many researchers who have shared information about Ravensworth, I also lean heavily on the advice and problem-solving tips given generously by GIS specialists in Manifold’s GeoReference.org forum.
- Two very helpful sources that appeared online mid-way in my project: Circuit Court Historic Records Finding Aids ended the need for trips to the courthouse to use deed and will index books; and Beth Mitchell’s Land Ownership in Fairfax County in 1860, the extensive collection of maps for Fairfax County In 1860: Property Owners and a Collective Biography By Beth Mitchell and Edith Moore Sprouse – made available online by the Fairfax County History Commission. ↩