Carroll County Times
January 22, 2012
By Alisha George Times Staff Writer
January term class documents local graveyard
“No Trespassing” signs cover the trees lining the dirt road that leads to the Mount Olive Methodist Episcopal Church Cemetery near New Windsor.
Homes are now neighbors to the graveyard rather than the church that once stood there. The graves see few visitors, but on Jan. 10, McDaniel College students investigated the site in search of making a record of the people who are buried in the 19th century cemetery.
Students in chemistry professor Richard Smith’s January term class, “Roots: Discovering Your Past,” picked up graves since knocked down from more than a century of wear and tear or vandalism. They found other graves that have been hidden for years.
“It’s like looking for fossils,” Smith said.
In the class, students research their own genealogy and also work to document people buried at the undocumented black graveyard in Frederick County. The individuals who can be documented as buried in the cemetery will put on frederickroots.com, where people will be able to access the information for free, Smith said.
This was not the first time the students visited the graveyard, probing the ground for graves since covered by earth and documenting the tombstones still decipherable. During their first visit, the students documented about 120 names.
Senior Casey Whilden covered a tombstone engraving with flour to make it easier to read. She was looking at graves close to where the church once stood. In a graveyard, typically those who are buried closest to the church are people who were deemed most important, Whilden said.
The oldest tombstone they found was one from 1839, presumably a baby who died before turning one-year-old. The students also had to pick a surname from the graveyard and try to trace the family back to its slave roots, Smith said.
Many of the last names seen at the cemetery are white last names, which meant that many of the individuals or their ancestors were likely freed slaves in Carroll or Frederick counties and stayed in the area, he said.
Not only did tombstones contain names, pieces of slate found on the ground and in surrounding tree beds but also served as grave markers for those long ago deceased. That is unique to the cemetery, as was marking graves with yucca plants, Smith said.
Students researched terms used during that time period and the conditions endured by people from that working-class community.
The class has been a great opportunity for Whilden to personally research family history, she said. During her explorations, she found the passenger list of the ship her ancestors came over on from Ireland and information about him and his wife, which excited her grandfather, Whilden said.
“He wanted everything sent to him,” she said.
Smith hopes his students, who are from all over the country and world, begin to feel a part of the history of the local community through the experience.
Junior Caitlin Bennett, from Seattle, Wa., said her parents study genealogy so she took the class to likewise explore the field.
“It’s interesting to understand the local history,” she said.
Sophomore Daniel Alegbeleye said it’s neat to see what the people buried in the cemetery have in common.
“They all seem to connect back to each other,” he said.
Alegbeleye is originally from Nigeria, so he said it’s been great learning about his relatives back in his home country.
“It’s just interesting to connect all the pieces,” he said.
Senior Catherine Brooks-
Kenney said the class taught her how to look further back into her family history than she was able to previously. She hopes documenting the graves helps others trace their lineage, too.
“I think everyone always wants to know where they’re from,” she said. “Even though it doesn’t have to do with you, it helps you know who you are.”
Reach staff writer Alisha George at 410-857-7876 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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