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It matters Terrain Neuse River Trent River New Bern Other Features Pocosin Look up Features Deeds Descriptions Measurements Method

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Geography

This page introduces the geographic features of the area we loosely call "Craven" and now includes several counties. Emphasis is on those features which existed in the 18th century and can currently be identified.

Why it matters

"Location, location, location" is as important to finding your ancestors as it is to the value of today's real estate. People of the same name may be distinguished by their specific locations. Marriages tended to be among people who knew each other because they lived in relatively close proximity.

Maps & Gazetteers

Maps and gazetteers (written descriptions) are helpful to the family historian. Maps show distances and relationships between geographical features. The Craven Co. Public Library has a collection of digitized original maps from 1710 to 1904 online at http://newbern.cpclib.org/digital/nbmaps.asp.

Modern maps can be accessed via the US Geological Survey's Geographic Names unit at http://geonames.usgs.gov. Click "search"; enter the name of the feature, county & state to see a list of matching features; click on a choice to get a more detailed description. Then, select one of the map providers to see a map. {Accessed on 11 Oct 2008, the site was not fully functional.}

A functional choice is Google Maps. Enter appropriate search terms and click on "Terrain" to see features such as streams.

Terrain

This area lies on North Carolina's coastal plain and the terrain is relatively flat, with low elevations above sea level. It is crossed by many streams -- branches,  runs, creeks, & rivers. It formerly held a great number of swamps and pocosins, many of which have disappeared due to drainage and farming.

A pocosin (sometimes spelled pocoson) is a raised bog, created by the accumulation of thousands of years of decayed organic matter. It is highly acidic and contains few nutrients. The word comes from the Indian language for "a swamp on a hill".

We should note that most of the smaller streams are smaller today than they were when Europeans first settled here in the early 18th century and some have entirely disappeared. This fact has been attributed to silting-in, partly as a result of earthworm activity. The earthworm (usually considered a beneficial import) is not native to the Americas; it was transported to these shores with the plants the immigrants brought with them.

The left image above shows New Bern in the lower right corner. The big broad line is the Neuse River, with Contentnea Creek entering from upper left. Broad Creek joins the Neuse just opposite & north of New Bern.

The right image shows the area south of New Bern; the dark line branching to the left is the Trent River. Flowing into the Trent, from south to north,  is Slocum Creek.

Neuse River

The Neuse River is the dominant geographic feature of Craven, Jones, Greene, Lenoir, & Duplin counties. It flows from the north and west into Pamlico Sound southeast of New Bern and reaches far upstream; its headwaters are in northeast Durham, NC.

Before roads were constructed, the Neuse represented an important transportation highway. Thus, it was even more important in the past than it is today.

Trent River

The Trent River is second only to the Neuse in prominence. Joining the Neuse at the southern edge of New Bern, it runs south and east of the Neuse, mostly paralleling the larger river. Its headwaters are about 1 1/2 miles west of NC Hwy. 11, between Pink Hill and Deep Run, NC.

New Bern

New Bern, created in 1710, is the county seat of Craven County and was, for much of the area's history, the site of the district's primary court and the most important town commercially, having been briefly North Carolina's capital city.. It sits at the north of the confluence of the Neuse & Trent Rivers.

Its name (initially Bern on the Neuse") harkens back to the Swiss heritage of many of the founders. Originally laid out in a cross pattern, growth has obscured the original town plan.

Rookie Mistake

The most common novice mistake made with genealogy in this mostly agricultural area is to assume that one's ancestors lived in the town of New Bern because events in their lives were recorded there. Not so! Residents outside New Bern had their documents recorded there for many years after other counties were formed from Craven.

 In fact, New Bern was simply the seat of Craven County and of courts for adjacent counties. Most residents of the area did not live in town.

Other Features

The "Features" page lists many of the features of the area with an emphasis on waterways.

Useful in Deeds for Genealogical Research

The real estate transactions recorded in deeds can be an important tool to sort out individuals and to begin to discern relationships. Martha Marble and Gloria Taylor have done a valuable service for descendants of the Taylor families who lived in Craven and its successor counties by extracting more than 300 Taylor deeds from 1740 to 1880.

Property Descriptions

Craven County, North Carolina land descriptions – especially in early deeds – are of the “metes and bounds” variety; that is, the subject real estate is described in terms of landmarks, directions & distances, and boundaries with adjoining ownerships. This contrasts with “public survey” land descriptions in which the real estate is described in reference to surveyed section & township numbers, range lines and meridians.

“Public survey” land parcels are usually rectangular; “metes and bounds” parcels rarely are. The irregular metes-and-bounds shapes make for just one of the problems presented to the researcher attempting to glean genealogical tidbits about their ancestors.

Other problems include:

An illustration of the difficulty can be found at this link.

However, precision may not be essential to the task of identifying families by their locations. The principle “location, location, location” applies to this analysis as well. Persons with the same name in widely-separated locations at the same time are probably not the same. Groups with the same surname in the same location probably are related. Young people of opposite genders tended to meet and marry those geographically near.

Measurements

Some surveying measurements used in metes-and-bounds descriptions include:

Directions are also needed, usually given in terms of degrees west or east of north or south instead of a 360 compass bearing. For example, "N 4235' W" means 42 degrees & 35 minutes west of north; "S 4235' E" is the same bearing, but traversed in the opposite direction.

Mapping software --
http://www.outfitters.com/genealogy/land/compmaps.html & http://www.tabberer.com/sandyknoll/more/metesandbounds/metes.html

Sometimes, metes and bounds descriptions led to inconsistencies. Some courts used this priority scheme to resolve them:

  1. Natural monuments (e.g., hills),
  2. Artificial monuments (e.g., roads or surveyed lines)
  3. Adjacent tracts or boundaries,
  4. Courses or directions,
  5. Distances, and finally
  6. Area or quantity.

Methods

To aid in this task, the author has identified & reviewed landmarks in Martha Marble’s & Gloria Taylor’s deeds likely to have continued in existence and compiled descriptions for those not intimately familiar with Craven geography. Towns, highways & railroads -- which might not have existed in historical times -- are named only as modern-day aids.

The focus – like that of our ancestors – is on waterways. Rivers and streams provided the most reliable means of transportation. The US Geographic Names Service lists 129 streams in present Craven County alone; we can cover only some.

Please bear in mind that the USGNIS does not allow apostrophes in feature names and that place names are given to change over time. USGNIS data collection began in 1976; names not in use at that time may have been lost. We have, so far as within our power, attempted to indicate both the modern name and its ancient counterparts.


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