Members of a county preservation group want to keep their ancestors -- and the deceased kin of others with deep Carroll County roots -- from literally turning over in their graves.
The General Assembly has made a dead issue of legislation requested by the Carroll County Genealogical Society the past two years. But this 200-plus member organization is determined to preserve a piece of county history before it is bulldozed in the name of progress.
The Carroll delegation is sponsoring a bill for the Genealogical Society that would require a landowner in the county whose property contains a cemetery to record the location of the burial ground in Carroll Circuit Court and to give written notice of the site to any prospective buyer. Failure to provide notice would be punishable by a fine of up to $2,000.
Two Genealogical Society members, President Karen Dattilio and Harold Robertson, testified Wednesday before the House Economic Matters Committee.
A number of small, private cemeteries have been destroyed, sometimes unknowingly, by developers or government entities plowing through graveyards as they convert farm properties to other uses, said Janet Colburn, a genealogy librarian at the Westminster library and one of the organization's founders. More than 200 family and church cemeteries have been identified, she said.
"We want to make developers aware ahead of time so they can take cemeteries into account when drawing their plans or they can move them," said Robertson. "If they were your ancestors and somebody drove a bulldozer through the bones of your great-great-great grandfather, it might bother you."
The bill would require anyone disturbing a privatecemetery identified by the society to move the remains and tombstones to a permanent site in Carroll and record the new location in court.
"In a lot of cases, the only way to trace family roots is from the tombstones at these cemeteries," said Colburn, adding that Maryland began keeping birth and death records in 1898. "We're keeping alivea lot of history."
The society has been identifying family and church cemeteries since 1984, later returning to sites to copy inscriptions from tombstones. The society has published a research guide for the cemeteries and is compiling seven volumes containing the inscriptions.
The cemeteries date back to the mid-1700s when the first settlers ventured to Carroll. Some tombstones are inscribed with epitaphs of Civil War participants.
Identifying locations of some graveyards has been difficult because survey descriptions have dropped from land records, and tombstones have deteriorated or disappeared, said Colburn. Some cemeteries that have been identified have been lost to development in the last seven years.
Hampstead resident Joan Porterfield is working with Hampstead officials to preserve a piece of townhistory. She says she has traced her roots back nine generations, toEdward Richards, the first settler in the Hampstead area around 1738. The family cemetery, Rattlesnake Ridge, is on property that has been annexed by the town for development.
"We've got to protect thesecemeteries," she said. "Most developers won't make a point about doing something about it unless they have to."