Well, last week I tried to make the best of being furloughed (fortunately I’m back at work) by doing some genealogy. I’d been wanting to re-visit one of my Prather family’s historic cemeteries in Montgomery County, MD, not far from where I live. The church was historically called Brooke Grove Methodist Church, and is on Maryland’s Inventory of Historic Properties. I discussed how useful these types of databases can be in a previous post.
Brooke Grove was started after the Civil War by a group of former slaves, several of whom had been enslaved together. Some were my Prather ancestors. Generations of the black community in this area are buried at this church. It’s a beautiful, peaceful place, with large oak trees, only interrupted by modern development. I can only imagine what it was like then.
Heritage Montgomery published a wonderful PDF brochure recently on the African-American churches of Montgomery County; Brooke Grove is described on page 23.
I hadn’t been to the cemetery since about 2009. It was a gorgeous sunny day when I went last week, and I knew so much more now about the community and the people. I could search with brand new eyes and I saw connections everywhere. Years ago when I visited, the headstone for my ggrandparents Levi Prather and Martha Simpson had broken apart:
At our family reunion later that year, I suggested we collect donations for a new headstone. I finally got to see it and it looks great!
Part of the purpose of my visit is that I wanted to put into practice some of Elizabeth Shown Mills’ guidance in her quicksheet, “The Historical Researchers Guide to Cluster Research.” I have used the clustering technique many times in my research successfully, but Ms. Mills gave many more examples of its use that I’ll probably spend a lifetime trying to do. Her quicksheet suggests using it at cemeteries. It’s the technique of noticing who is buried near your ancestor, especially those with different surnames. They probably are relatives.
Martha Simpson , from the headstone above, had several siblings buried nearby. The surname “Simpson” made them easy to notice:
Right behind these Simpsons headstones, were the headstones of Nicholas McAbee and his wife “H.Leannah”:
At the time I didn’t know it, but “H. Leannah” was Harriet Leannah Simpson, the sister of my ancestor Martha and wife of Nicholas. It makes sense that they were buried right behind the other Simpsons; the cluster was here at work. There were several McAbee women buried near Nicholas and likely related to him:
Here are Howard Prather and his wife Rosie’s headstones:
Right next to Rosie’s headstone is that of Elijah Lancaster:
Elijah was Rosie’s father; if you didn’t know her maiden name, the cemetery held a big clue.
I began to map out the cemetery on a few sheets of paper and I got about halfway through before I ran out of energy. There are clearly hundreds more buried at the cemetery than have surviving headstones today.
What adventures have you had at the cemetery lately? The next time you go, study the “cluster”; write down the names of those buried nearest your ancestors. Those individuals could very easily be the parents or family of the wife, or sisters hidden under their married names.