Historic Brooke Grove, now Agape AME

Recently, I decided to revisit my Prather family’s historic cemetery in Montgomery County, Maryland.

The church was then called Brooke Grove Methodist Church, and is on Maryland’s Inventory of Historic Properties.

I discussed in a previous post how useful these types of databases can be.

Brooke Grove was built 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 are buried at this church.

It’s a beautiful, peaceful place with large trees, only interrupted by the surrounding modern development. I can only imagine what it was like then.

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Heritage Montgomery published a wonderful PDF brochure about the African-American churches of Montgomery County. Brooke Grove is described on page 23.

I hadn’t been to the cemetery since 2009. Now, I knew so much more about the community and the people. I could search with brand new eyes and I saw connections everywhere.

Cluster Research

Elizabeth Shown Mills’ wrote a quicksheet I highly recommend: “The Historical Researchers Guide to Cluster Research.”

I use the cluster research research strategy frequently, but Ms. Mills provides many more examples of its use that I’ll probably spend a lifetime trying to do.

Her quicksheet suggests using the technique at cemeteries. It involves noticing who is buried near your ancestor, especially those with different surnames. They may be relatives. That was a completely new idea for me.

For example, Martha Simpson had several siblings buried nearby. The surname “Simpson” made them easy to notice:

Simpson Sibs

The McAbee Connection

Right behind these Simpson headstones, were the headstones of Nicholas McAbee and his wife H.Leannah:

McAbee Headstone

McAbee Headstone

At the time I didn’t know it, but H. Leannah was Harriet Leannah Simpson.  Using cluster research, later discovered she was Martha’s sister and the wife of Nicholas.

It makes sense that they were buried right behind the other Simpsons; the cluster was here at work!

Several McAbee headstones are located near Nicholas and Harriet; they in fact were their children:

Other McAbees

Other McAbees

Prather and Lancaster Family

Here are Howard Prather and his wife Rosie’s headstones:

Howard and Rosie

Howard and Rosie

Right next to Rosie’s headstone is that of Elijah Lancaster:

Elijah Lancaster

Elijah Lancaster

Elijah was Rosie’s father. If you didn’t know her maiden name, the cemetery held a big clue. The cluster at work.

I mapped part of the cemetery on a few sheets of paper and I got about halfway through before I ran out of energy.

Plus it started to get dark and though I love genealogy, I don’t love it enough to be at the cemetery when its dark!

Years ago, the broken headstone for my second great-grandparents Levi and Martha Prather lay partly on the ground:

Old Headstone

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!

New Headstone

Closing Thoughts

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.

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