This is an entry in our “Random Reference” series, which features interesting discoveries made and reference questions answered by our Archives & Library Reference Services staff. Click the Random Reference tag at the bottom of the post to view more in the series.
My dog Bruce, like many dogs, enjoys a good dig in the yard. Sometimes it seems like he just digs for some invisible treasure, but one day I found him digging around an old rusty object. Not wanting him to hurt himself on sharp metal, I decided to help him get it out. Working together, we unearthed a round metal band, about 3-4’ in diameter. I sent pictures out to friends to ask “What is this thing?” and someone suggested it might be a wagon wheel.
In my mind, a wagon wheel is a big wooden or spoked thing; this object was neither. After some searching though, I found a video of someone attaching a steel tire to a wooden wagon wheel, which looked identical to what I found in my yard.
Once I solved that mystery, I was still perplexed by the question of how this object found its way into my yard. I do not live in an historic home, or a historic neighborhood. The houses in the neighborhood were built in the mid-20th century, when horse-drawn carriages were no longer in regular use.
I remembered a Facebook group I’d seen years ago who were working to clean up a cemetery in the neighborhood. On their group page, there was a map of “The Estate of the Late Ignatius Schutte” that showed the location of the cemetery. The layout of the existing roads at the time and the railroad were similar enough that I could recognize that it was my neighborhood, and overlaying the maps, I found that my house was located just a few yards west of the “barns and stables.”
Possible Unearthed Wagon Wheel
Photo by Author
I wanted to know more about the map, so I reached out to the owner of the Facebook group to learn where they found it, but they didn’t have a citation. My curiosity truly piqued at this point, I was determined to find the map. I turned to the Library of Virginia catalog and searched for Ignatius Schutte; unfortunately, I found nothing. I searched online to see if I could locate information outside the Library, and came across a Find-A-Grave page for Ignatius Schutte, with a full bio written by a descendant, Dana Schutte. This did not talk much about the land, but I was glad to find additional information.
I had to pause my research temporarily to cover a shift at the lobby desk to check patrons in for their appointments. The first patron walked in and I asked her name, to which she replied “Schutte. S-C-H-U-T-T-E.”
I looked at her in disbelief and asked, “Like, Ignatius Schutte?”
“Yes! He’s my ancestor!”
She told me her first name, Dana, and I exclaimed “I just read the bio you wrote on Find-A-Grave!”
I was able to learn a bit more about the family history from her, and it was one of the most random experiences I’ve had working in libraries.
However, I still did not have the map. I asked an archivist, who said it looked like it was a “loose map,” and therefore not in the plat book. The map was signed by J. E. LaPrade, who was a surveyor for many counties in Virginia, along with his sons. Again searching the catalog, I found the LaPrade & Brothers archival collection. This collection is enormous, spanning from the 1800s to mid-1900s, and it lives at the State Records Center. Due to COVID-19, the record center is closed, so all materials must be requested and sent over to the Broad Street location. Working from the finding aid, we requested several boxes. When they arrived, I searched all of them, but I found nothing. We ordered more, unrolling more fragile chipping maps, but not the map I was looking for.
The Facebook group owner had said she probably found it while looking through deeds at the Library of Virginia. Though an archivist noted that plats are not necessarily included in deed books, I decided to look at the deed books anyway. On a whim, I asked another archivist if he would be able to help. He looked in the archives catalog, and found that a plat book exists. I pulled the microfilm and flipped through, and there it was; both the initial draft of the map, as well as the finalized copy that was on the Facebook page. Two important lessons I learned in all of this – always cite your sources, since you never know who might want to access that information in the future, and also, even as a professional, we don’t always find things right away – even when we know it exists!
* The original blog post was edited for clarity.