Upper Marlboro visits its past with history research project

Friday, Aug. 4, 2006

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Bryan Haynes⁄The Star
Frederick Douglass High School students Linda Cools (left), 17, and Nina McCoy, 17, both of Upper Marlboro, look through old records with county Genealogical Society archivist Karen Miles while doing research on the town of Upper Marlboro.

The three summer interns had all heard stories of how the town of Upper Marlboro, like most of Maryland, used to be tobacco country.

But it wasn’t until the seniors at Frederick Douglass High School began combing through volumes of books and Web sites that they realized just how much the crop had driven the area’s economy and shaped the way residents lived.

That nugget of information was among a trove of facts the trio of students has uncovered during a journey through the town’s 300-year history.

Starting in early July Liana Cools, Nina McCoy and Brandon Colbert, all 17, began a fact-finding mission in an attempt to chronicle the town’s past. The research project is part of an attempt by the town to record its history during a yearlong tri-centennial celebration, said Bonita L. Bray, the town’s interim town manager.

Bray said that the goal is to have the student’s project become an additional source among the many that are already available on the town.

‘‘What we’re hoping to do is include this outside of the standard history which is readily available,” Bray said.

Bray said that the students, who live in Upper Marlboro but not within the town’s limits, entered the project without the biases that someone who’d grown up there might have.

‘‘They’re coming at it with a fresh perspective because they don’t [already] know the history of the town.”

The students are charged with submitting six pages of original articles each. The articles will cover a range of topics from the impact of the slave trade on the town to the various social classes that existed during the early 19th century.

The interns also plan to conduct on-camera interviews with some of the town’s oldest residents. The students plan to create a documentary-style video that would accompany their written research.

Cools said she had no idea that town residents would keep houses in their families for generations, a fact that contributed to early ancestors maintaining deep roots in Upper Marlboro.

‘‘It was interesting and kind of wonderful to see how houses stayed in the family for generations,” Cools said.

Karen Miles, a researcher with the genealogy library of Prince George’s County, said that many residents are unaware of the rich history lying around their fingertips.

There are original records in ‘‘this county that are out there in attics and basements that will never see the light of day and it’s a crying shame,” Miles said.

Colbert, who admitted to not knowing much about the history of the tiny town, which covers one square mile, said that he’s adopted it as his second hometown.

The research project has put a fresh perspective on ‘‘what the town is really about,” Colbert said.

‘‘It just made me realize it’s more to this little town.”

E-mail Lester J. Davis at ldavis@gazette.net.