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After an eighteen-month hiatus from blogging due to the chaos of work and family life, I retired last week. So…I’m taking a deep breath and jumping back into blog life and family exploration.

Post-retirement getaway number one will include a quick family history stop in Baltimore next week. No research, but a 24-hour pilgrimage to visit five generations of houses, work, school, and worship places, and a cemetery. I lived in Baltimore until I was five, and with no family there after we left, have never really explored the family sites.


Nicholas Snowden Hill about 1909 with his daughter, Mary (Hill) Mills, and grandchildren. L to R: Elsie (my grandmother), Audrey, Mary Carroll, and Jimmy.

A big part of my love of genealogy (and of history in general) is about putting people in the context of their places–geographical genealogy. I want to be able to visualize where they lived and what they did there. Placing Granny in her childhood home–an urban row house on Park Avenue, Baltimore, full of children; picturing the 1912 funeral of her beloved grandfather, conducted by his lifelong friend, Cardinal Gibbons, at the Baltimore Basilica; walking the Johns Hopkins University campus where my dad studied and my parents strolled with me as a toddler, all keeps their memories alive and vibrant in a way that mere names and dates never can.

And then there’s my inner architectural historian at work. To see these buildings that are so evocative of their time and place–the Italianate row houses in the Mount Vernon and Bolton Hill neighborhoods, the 1920s apartment building near Hopkins, the spectacular, high Victorian Johns Hopkins University Hospital. These places would speak to me even if they weren’t tied to my family, but those connections make them especially dear.

Step one in my geographical genealogy research is to figure out where my people lived, most often through census records and city directories. According to these records and the deeds for the property, my great grandparents, James and Mary (Hill) Mills moved to their home on Park Avenue in 1900 with my grandmother, Elsie, age 1. They had been married two years, and rented the house for five years before Mary bought it in 1905. They remained on Park Avenue for the rest of their married life. James, a physician and medical professor at Hopkins, ran his practice from home, and he and Mary raised their four children here. By the time James died in 1925, the children were grown, and Mary sold the house and moved in 1927.

James Mills 1900 census

After identifying the locations of family places, then comes the fun part–seeing what they looked like. Through the wonders of Google maps street view I’ve figured out which of these homes and related places are still standing (happily, most of them), and found current images of the ones that survive.

853 Park Ave Mills House

James and Mary (Hill) Mills’ home on Park Avenue in Baltimore (left of the white building).

My pilgrimage will include a few sites from my own early childhood, including a peek at one of my earliest homes.

The Bradford

The Bradford Apartments on St Paul Street, where I lived with my parents in the late ’50s.

And for extra thrills, real estate websites have even provided interior views of the Park Avenue house (now apartments, but a few original details survive), and some beautiful 19th century interior features of the Eutaw Place house where my grandfather was a tenant while he attended medical school at Johns Hopkins. Seeing the very rooms where my family lived a century ago takes my breath away.

853 Park Ave interior

A 2nd floor bedroom (Granny’s?) in the Park Avenue Mills House, courtesy of an online rental listing.

1324 Eutaw Pl. Baltimore interior

Perhaps my grandfather, Ken Oliver, had a chair in this first floor window, or in a similar upper story window when he rented here on Eutaw Place in 1926.

Of course, public buildings are easy to find, and I’m headed to see a few of those as well. James Mills, my great grandfather, taught at the Hopkins medical school, where my grandfather, Kenneth Oliver was his student in the 1920s. One thing led to another, and Ken married Dr. Mills’ daughter Elsie in 1925.


An early view of the Johns Hopkins University Hospital, completed in 1889.

Elsie was a student at the beautiful, Renaissance Revival style Maryland Institute College of Art, and I’ll be headed there too.


Maryland Institute College of Art, where Elsie Mills, my grandmother, studied in the early 1920s.

I’ve also found images of buildings that haven’t survived.  The two below were both victims of the Great Baltimore Fire in 1904.

B&O RR Central Office 1880

Design for the 1880 B&O Railroad Central Office, where Nicholas Snowden Hill was purchasing agent until 1888. Destroyed in the Great Baltimore Fire.


Carrollton Hotel

The Carrollton Hotel, managed by my great grandfather, Nicholas Snowden Hill, was also destroyed in the Great Baltimore Fire.

Much to see and much to enjoy during next week’s adventure!