SILVER SPRING, MD—As Nancy Burton traced the genealogy of her family, she noted it was like gathering and deciphering evidence to solve a real-life mystery.
Born and raised in Silver Spring, Ms. Burton shed light on the process of searching into the past of three families—the Burtons, the Lees and the Smiths—whose collective journeys are the foundation of her modern day family.
Like an investigator in a television drama, Ms. Burton utilized all means at her disposal to learn about her relatives: DNA testing, U.S. Census data documents, photographs, the internet and oral history accounts.
Ms. Burton provided those results to 130 in attendance during a meeting of the resident-led Democrat Club at Riderwood on January 8th. She has worked at the Erickson Living retirement community as a Communications Specialist at the Lakeside Commons clubhouse for over nine years.
Ms. Burton described how these families’ ties to North America originated via the trans-Atlantic slave route. They were African men and women who were forced into slavery due to the growing and world-wide economic system of the era. She also chronicled the tension between the history of plantation colonies and efforts at abolition.
Along the way she discovered many surprising life experiences. For instance, Sarah Lee and her family received 137 acres of land, essentially their economic freedom, from the estate of Evan Shaw in 1857, prior to the Civil War.
She learned that the Smith House, located on the 85-acre family farm, was a community hub for farming, entertainment and worship in Smithville, located on the outskirts of present-day Colesville. It included the Smithville Colored School, one of sixteen Rosenwald schools for African American students. Ms. Burton’s older sister and cousins attended the school prior to its closing in 1952 because of segregation, and a marker on Randolph Road recounts its history.
Her research revealed teamsters, bootleggers and World War II patriots, a collage of stories that comprise her family’s history in the United States.
“Nothing is static,” noted Ms. Burton. “Looking into the past illuminates the future and its possibilities. I like genealogy and was inspired in part by residents at Riderwood to do the research. It is truly an investigation of the past. You get into the minds of people and do the best to understand why they did what they did.”
“We can’t change history, but we sure can learn from it,” she concluded.