Many people pass a cemetery without a second thought, but others see it as an opportunity to look into the past and see the people who helped to shape the history of a particular area. For genealogists, cemeteries are treasure troves of information that can enable researchers to pinpoint relatives in order to fill in the holes of their own family histories. For researchers Doug Breen and Chuck Swift, the cemeteries that are in and around Laurel offer the opportunity to learn about the forgotten stories of Laurel. Stories of family, loss, perseverance, and connections that have been forgotten over the centuries. They are not only conducting their research to gain information for use today, but to also document it for future generations. Their research is important because it not only looks at the large established cemeteries of Laurel, but also the smaller, sometimes forgotten locations created by families.
No Cemetery Is Too Small
When Breen and Swift began their research, they first focused on Odd Fellows Cemetery, which is the largest cemetery in Laurel. With thousands of graves, the task was daunting, but one that yielded some surprising results. Some graves within the cemetery were unmarked and, by working with members of the Odd Fellows organization, have now been identified within the compiled inventory of the cemetery. The research has also afforded opportunities for the men to reconnect people to their family's past and to complete genealogies that had hit roadblocks due to a lack of information.
The inventory that the researchers began with dated from 1928 and excluded African-American cemeteries, as well as some of the small family plots. By working with area churches, as well as other organizations and people, Breen and Swift have been able to include these forgotten cemeteries in their research.
African-American grave sites offer a glimpse into a time of division and separation. Many of the people who were the first to be buried in these sites were former slaves whose stories can be difficult to document for their families. By documenting these sites, African-American families, whose roots are in Laurel, will have the opportunity to find information that can often be elusive in genealogical research.
The same problem existed for the small family cemeteries that lie outside of Laurel. Many of these cemeteries sit in the middle of working farms or in areas that have become inaccessible for various reasons. The immediate families know about them, but for family members who have moved away from the area, or who have forgotten about their family's distant connections, the information can be nearly impossible to find inside of any previously compiled documentation. Often times, even the maps that exist of the areas can be a hindrance due to changes in road names, landmarks, and ownership. Swift and Breen have dubbed this portion of their research “Fields of Stones."
Breen and Swift documented numerous family cemeteries. Some of which have grave stones dating to the early 19th century.
Research Made Available
In August 2009, Breen and Swift launched the first book in their series with the research they have collected. Odd Fellows Cemetery, Laurel, Delaware lists nearly 5,000 families and individuals who are interred at the cemetery. A more comprehensive collection of the research that was done was presented to the Laurel Odd Fellows in gratitude for allowing Breen and Swift to move forward with their research.
In May 2010, Breen a Swift launched their second book in the series entitled Cemeteries in Laurel, Delaware. The book is a accumulation of research that provides a comprehensive listing of the families and individuals who are interred at the various cemeteries within the Town of Laurel, including the historic Laurel Hill Cemetery. This cemetery is one of the most historic in the town and includes the graves of some of Laurel’s most prominent citizens, including Delaware Governor Joshua Marvel.
In December 2011, the third book in the series was released.Cemeteries Around Laurel, Delaware; Volume 1 is a comprehensive listing of the graves found at the church cemeteries of Old Christ, Mt. Pleasant, Broad Creek, Epworth, and Bethesda. Readers will also find listings of family cemeteries for the Adams, Chipman, Collins, Hitches, Phillips, Records, Short, Warrington, and Wingate families, as well as many others.
The next books in the series will feature other smaller family plots that lie outside of the town.
In November 2012, Breen passed away after a long illness, but Swift will be continuing the research that the two began.
For more information about the research that has been done, to notify us of a family cemetery that you know about, or if you have a question, please contact us via email at email@example.com.
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Laurel Historical Society - P O Box 102 - Laurel, DE 19956
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