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Mapping Martha Washington's Condolence Letters

Published onAug 03, 2020
Mapping Martha Washington's Condolence Letters

Embedded version of the project’s StoryMap. View the full version here.


Erica Cavanaugh, Project Developer, Center for Digital Editing, University of Virginia. Follow on Twitter @ecava12.

The documents used for this visualization project were transcribed and annotated by the editors of the Washington Family Papers:

Alicia K. Anderson
Kim Curtis
Kathryn Gehred
Lynn Price
Mary Wigge

Project URLs


Project Website:

Project Abstract

This visualization illustrates the time in Martha Washington's life immediately following the death of George Washington. Using an ArcGIS StoryMap, it depicts information regarding the individuals sending her letters during her time of grief. Tracking information such as gender, location, and whom she responded to helps to paint a picture of her social networks, how some people responded to the death of George Washington, and whose opinions and thoughts may have been most important to Martha. The use of maps and images of historical places and figures, as well as textual descriptions, links to other accessible resources, and the platforms mobile friendly integration, allows this project to be used by a variety of persons including: middle and high schoolers, in addition to those interested in both Early American and Women’s history.

Screen capture of the storymap landing page showing a map of places where letters originated. Text and an image of a historical map at left introduce the project.

Screen capture showing one destination of a response sent by Martha Washington. At left, text and images describe several prominent correspondents.

Time Needed

When did you begin this project? When did you complete this project?

Time Span: March 12, 2018 - December 19, 2019

Length: 1 year, 9 months


What is the outcome of the project?

This is available online as part of a series of visualizations surrounding the Washington Papers.


What tools, resources, programs, or equipment did you use for this project?

ArgGIS Online and ArcGIS StoryMaps, the Classic Story Maps builder.


Please describe any costs incurred for this project, and (if relevant) how you secured funding for these costs.

No costs or licenses were needed for this project. Instead, a free ArcGIS Public Account was used. While the free account does have limited-functionality, it does provide permanent access to create and share maps with robust functionality.


Please give an overview of the workflow or process you followed to execute this project, including time estimates where possible.

I consulted with the editors of the Washington Family Papers to determine the condolence letters that had been discovered so far. The document title, sender, receiver, and date were entered into a spreadsheet. Additional information (place written, gender, description) were added to the spreadsheet later using the document specific annotation as well as information for the George Washington Papers cumulative index. A multi layer map was created in Arcgis. The base map was brought over from Mapbox, primarily for aesthetic purposes, as this tool allows users to create their own unique base layers and integrate them into other platforms. The layers created were for each of the different data points to be extracted (gender, location, response received). Once the map was created and functional, the storymap app was created, using the newly created map and various layers as the base. Narrative text was added throughout the storymap in order to explain what was being depicted in the map layers as well as adding more contextual information. This narrative included images, quotes, and links to external sources of information. Before publication, all of the information was copyedited by individuals at the Washington Papers.

Challenges & Opportunities

Is there anything specific you wish you had known when beginning your project that might help other people to know?

Part of the planning process was bringing in the spreadsheet information and testing various aspects before all of the content had been aggregated. The downside was that I had to import the spreadsheet a few times (each layer needed the information brought in separately). Any edits made to the spreadsheet text at the end needed to be done to each layer and not just one spreadsheet. If the information had been aggregated and then edited before incorporating it all, it may have been a good deal easier.

Next Steps

Do you have any plans to follow up on this project or work on something similar in the future?

This is part of a series of visualizations on the Washington Papers that is continuously being added to. Current available projects can be found at

Publications & Presentations

Presented at the 2018 Association for Documentary Editing conference.

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