Very often whether I am at a local club meeting or visiting one of the many online message boards I am asked “How do you start a research project”. A lot of what we know in regards to this subject we take for granted. Because we have been in the hobby for a long time and have become quite successful we tend to forget about the beginner and how hard it is for them to determine where to detect. When I first joined my local club (Mid Western Artifact Society) there was a member (Steve) that was showing up to every meeting with great relics from the Civil War and before. When asked where he was finding them he became very secretive and gave very vague answers. He was sure I was trying to get as much detail about his locations as possible so I could sneak out there in the middle of the night and steal his finds before he had the chance to recover them. He never understood that I had the utmost respect for him, his abilities, and his knowledge of the local area and history. I did find out he was looking for and finding Civil War and Dragoon Campsites that were located out in the middle of corn and bean fields. During our winter months when the club holds our meetings indoors Steve would provide us with some of his research knowledge and give us information on where to start looking for our own areas to detect. In November of 2008 Steve found 2 gold coins at one of his campsites and it wasn’t long after that he stopped attending meetings. I feel he felt he became too much of a celebrity and too many people wanted to know where he was hunting so he decided to just fade away. Steve still posts on his favorite message boards but has decided to stay away from the local clubs and their online forums.
I owe a lot of what I know about research and detecting from Steve. Being new to the club and detecting I always asked and hoped he would take me out detecting and show me how and where to find the great relics he was finding but he never did. Believe it or not I am very grateful he never took me out. I realized that if I were going to be successful in this hobby I would have to learn from trial and error and the only person that was going to get me into the great detecting spots was going to be ME.
I decided one day I was done detecting the local parks and digging the thousands of clad coins every month. Sure the newer clad coins provided me with spending money and probably paid for my detecting hardware but it just didn’t provide me with the satisfaction that I was looking for. I remember knocking on those first couple of doors and sputtering out my request that I wanted to detect the homeowner’s yard. Even now I am amazed that anyone ever let me. Here I am a short stocky balding guy that the owner had never seen before disturbing him/her and asking if I could dig in his yard.
When I first started knocking on doors I was lucky to get a yes 3 out of 10 times. It took a lot of practice and patience to hone my skills but can now say that I am given permission 8 out of 10 times. The key to my success has been to find the confidence to be able to talk to a perfect stranger and find some common ground. I also figured out the kind of doors to knock on and the kind of doors I shouldn’t knock on.
When you approach a house you want to look at the yard first and then decide to knock on the door or not. Is the yard well kept and manicured? Are their toys that would belong to young children scattered around? Is there a large guard dog or sign stating there is one? All these are indications that the home owner does not want you there.
When I do approach a door I knock and then step back away from the door a couple of feet. First impressions are very important so I make sure I smile and when the property owner answers half jokingly I ask “can I ask you a strange question”, this usually catches them off guard and gets them curious about what I am going to ask them. I then state that I metal detect for a hobby and am out looking for older homes where I might get permission to detect around the front yard a little bit. I ask the owner how old the house is and after they tell me I tell them there might be a coin out there that old. Now I really have their attention and they usually say “YES”.
Now that I have established how to approach the land owner and how to ask now I need to tell you how to find the property you want to detect. It doesn’t matter if you are detecting an old home site or a Civil War Camp you will need to know a little bit about the area you are in. The first thing I do before I go and look for a house to detect is to find the oldest map I can of the area I am going to be driving around in. Being a computer and internet savvy person I do most of my research online. The first place I go to get old maps is http://www.historicmapworks.com. Now anyone can go out to this site and view a map but if you want to be able to zoom in and out and move the map around on your screen you will need to create an account. This doesn’t cost you anything and it is the only way to get access to the tools you will need to navigate these maps.
1877 Map of Rochester, MO
Historic Map Works older maps will show houses, schools, churches and other landmarks, for example you find a 1877 map of a particular town and zoom in you will be able to see where these landmarks were located and you will be able to see towns and villages that no longer exist.
Now the next step once you find a piece of property you want to detect is to find out who owns it. There are different ways of doing this either by asking around, going to the county courthouse or you can use an up and coming resource that may or may not be available for your specific area of research called G.I.S.
GIS or Geographical Information System is the ability to overlay real time data over the top of a map, in our case property owner information. The actual Wikipedia.org definition is: “Geographic information systems (GIS) or geospatial information systems is a set of tools that captures, stores, analyzes, manages, and presents data that are linked to location(s). In the simplest terms, GIS is the merging of cartography, statistical analysis, and database technology. GIS may be used in geography, cartography, remote sensing, land surveying, public utility management, natural resource management, precision agriculture, photogrammetric, urban planning, emergency management, navigation, aerial video, and localized search engines”.
To find online resources for this technology isn’t going to be the same for each location. What I normally do is a google.com search on the county I am looking for. For example you can type “Andrew County GIS” in the google.com search window. The first entry that I get to come up is:
So I click on the link and then click OK on the Disclaimer and the County then appears. The map attached above from historicmapworks.com was for Rochester, MO in Andrew County so we now want to zoom into this area on the GIS map. You will notice that the map changes to an aerial photograph once you get zoomed in and you will be able to see the property lines. You now need to turn on some of the features so you can see section numbers and property owners. In this example this is done by clicking on Layers in the top right portion of this window. There are many options for you to experiment with but for my example I am going to turn on “Owner Name, Parcel Number, and Tracts”, click to refresh map and this is what you get:
If you compare the 2 maps you can locate the Cemetery and if you look NW from the cemetery on the map of 1877 you will find School 21 which on the GIS map no longer exists. From the GIS map we are able to see the John Newhart owns this property so he will be the person to contact.
We can go back to the GIS map and in the upper right box again click on “Parcel Search”, type in John Newhart for owner name and leave the rest blank click on search and you get this:
This image shows each piece of property John Newhart owns in Andrew County. By clicking on each link you will be able to determine which one is his residence.
Before you go to visit Mr. Newhart I suggest you print out your maps so you can show him exactly where you want permission and you may even want to tell him why you want to detect there (this is up to you, I believe in being completely honest with the land owner).
With any luck (yes luck has a lot to do with it) and if you have all your ducks in a row, Mr. Newhart will grant you permission to detect his property. Make sure you offer to show him what you find and if he decides to keep some of your finds I suggest you happily give them to him. If you stay on the good side of a land owner he will tell his friends and that might get you into other locations.
Some of the key points to remember here are to set up an account on http://www.historicmapworks.com and this will give you access to zoom in and out on the old maps. If you find a map of an area that you plan to spend a lot of time on I suggest you purchase the map from http://www.historicmapworks.com
When searching for and using GIS information remember that each county is different, some may have GIS websites and some may not. Some counties may use the view that I showed you in the illustration above and some may use something different with different functionality.
When approaching the land owner be confident but don’t be intimidating. If you are turned away say “Thank You” and don’t appear to be disappointed or angry. In small communities everyone knows each other and they all talk. If you can get in good with one of his neighbors they might be able to talk to other land owners and get you permission for the property you are really interested in.
. This will show your support for them and help them to know what kind of products people in our hobby are interested in.