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Follow the Beer Trail to the Courthouse


Every family historian has gotten frustrated at some point in time with their inability to find a lost ancestor. Over the years, genealogists have come up with some pretty innovative techniques to find these people. Unfortunately, these techniques don’t always work very well when you are trying to find something else, like a lost building.

So, how do you find a lost building? And not just any building, but Maryland’s most famous courthouse, a picture of which is depicted in every book on Maryland history. Unfortunately, none of the original buildings from Maryland’s early days in the 1600’s have survived to the present. The exact location of the courthouse had been lost for generations. It turns out, in this case, the best way to find the lost courthouse was to follow the beer trail.

A courthouse is one of the most important buildings in any town. Not only is it the keeper of the official records, historically courthouses has also served as an important meeting place for the citizens of the town. How can this fact be exploited? Well, for one thing, when people get together, they like to drink. Not surprisingly, most courthouses in American colonial times were surrounded by drinking establishments.

As reported in WTOP News, an anthropology professor, with the assistance of a local genealogist, first narrowed down the search area using historic land deeds. They were then able to trace the exact location of the courthouse by doing some digging in the area and mapping out the location of all the broken stoneware, pottery and glass from all the old wine bottles and beer tankards they found.

They knew they were getting closer to the courthouse as the density of broken pottery started to increase. Once they also started to find broken bricks, windowpanes and tobacco pipes, they knew they had found the exact location of the courthouse. In the early colonial days, only the most important government buildings would have large windows and been made out of brick. Case solved with a truly innovative genealogical research technique.

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