Xavier and military cartography

Letter X: Twenty-fourth of twenty-six posts in the April 2016 Blogging From A to Z Challenge. Wish me luck and please join me on the journey!

A wonderful benefit of the Dempsey Cousins Family Research Team is learning about collateral relatives and the interesting lives they led. One of these was Francis Xavier Dempsey, maternal grandfather of cousin Barb from our Dempsey team.

 2nd Lieutenant Francis Xavier Dempsey, 26, at the front in Langres, France, during WW I. Big Frank, a lithography transfer and pressman in civilian life, served as a U.S. Army cartographer whose unit helped mechanize military map-making and reproduction in the field. Photo courtesy of Barb/Dempsey Cousins Family Research Team
2nd Lieutenant Francis Xavier Dempsey, 26, at the front in Langres, France, during WW I. Big Frank, a lithography transfer and pressman in civilian life, served as a U.S. Army cartographer whose unit helped mechanize military map-making and reproduction in the field. Photo courtesy of Barb Schmidt/Dempsey Cousins Family Research Team

With many thanks to cousin Barb, here is the fascinating story of Francis Xavier’s work as a cartographer during WW I:

A grandson of William Patrick and Katherine (Gormley) Dempsey,  Francis Xavier Dempsey was born on 26 Jan. 1893 in Baltimore City, Baltimore Co., Md. He was a son of James Joseph and Mary Elizabeth Dempsey — and a nephew of my great grandmother Elizabeth C. Dempsey (James Joseph’s sister).

As a boy, Francis Xavier apprenticed as a lithography transfer and pressman at Baltimore’s Crown Cork and Seal Company. That’s where he was working at the outbreak of World War I.

When Big Frank — as his descendants call him — enlisted on 15 Dec. 1917 in the U.S. Army 29th Engineers, the company’s newspaper Crown Topics gave him a rousing sendoff:

Sergeant Frank Dempsey, formerly of Guilford Avenue Lithography Department…is now printing maps for Uncle Sam. By special orders of his Major General, he has taken a special course in lithographic work…and expects to leave for France at any time. We are proud of you!

During his military service, Francis Xavier was stationed in Langres, France — where he served as a cartographer and was promoted in the field to 2nd Lieutenant. Big Frank and his unit did important work during and after WW I, as described in this 16 May 1919 article in The Base Bull, a military newspaper:

U.S. Engineers Break Map-making Record

Paris, April 10 — The 29th Engineers of the American Expeditionary Force are conducting interesting experiments in map-making and reproducing in the field. With a 5-ton truck as a printing and lithographic establishment, they have turned out 10,000 copies of field maps an hour. The French and British are taking a keen interest in the outfit, as they have used a railway train for such work, and their best output has been 300 copies per hour. In some operations of the war, every man in a trench raid party has been furnished with a map, so the importance of quick map-making is very great.

In Maps point the way I wrote about the importance of civilian maps for studying the places where our ancestors lived — and perhaps even finding their names associated with land and workplaces.

Military cartography, such as that done by Francis Xavier Dempsey, adds another dimension to researching veteran ancestors and learning more about the battles they fought in.

Up next: Yes! Almost there! Please stop back.

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8 thoughts on “Xavier and military cartography”

  1. We tend to forget how important the map makers and surveyors were during war time…including the difference between firing at the enemy versus their own men. He does look like a big man.

    1. Good point. And once the gunsmoke cleared, they left valuable records to aid our understanding of where our military ancestors were positioned.

  2. I so admire people that have such skills. My experience with map making is how to get there from here! Definitely not to scale.
    My Dad brought home a few maps from WWII – one shows all the German prison camps, another shows all the allied positions.

  3. I wonder what originally fueled his interest in maps? He certainly lived an interesting life.

    How lucky you are to be working with a team of people! What one can’t find, surely the other can and to have people to bounce things off of would be wonderful.

    1. The Dempsey cousins team is truly amazing, each line of descent with its own fascinating ancestors. I believe Francis Xavier came to the mapmaking because of his lithography background — and ended up mechanizing the process with his unit based on that experience.

    1. Your friend’s printmaking studio sounds wonderful. That might make an interesting post for your blog, if it is in Maui. But totally agree — it’s hard to imagine life without copy machines now that we have them!

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