Maryland Woman Wants to Protect Unmarked Graves at Historic Black Cemetery

In Deale, Maryland, Elinor Thompson has taken the maintenance and preservation of a historic African American cemetery into her own hands.

Thompson began caring for Tanyard Cemetery (also known as Thompson Cemetery) and cleaning the headstones after the previous caretaker passed away two years ago. The cemetery, which is owned by Franklin United Methodist Church, contains over 120 graves, the oldest of which date back to 1842. Thompson believes that Civil War veterans, a veteran from the War of 1812, and multiple formerly enslaved people are buried in the cemetery. Thompson has researched individuals buried at Tanyard and found many of their death certificates. She told Capital Gazette that she hopes to “locate descendants of the people buried here to help connect the community.”

Beyond maintaining the site, Thompson has been trying to protect potential unmarked graves. After discovering that the property next to the cemetery was going to be developed, Thompson grew concerned that unmarked graves outside the property lines might be disturbed. Thanks to her advocacy, the county required an archeological survey twenty-five feet out from the cemetery’s property line to ensure there aren’t any graves there.

If any artifacts are found during the survey, they will be stored in the county’s archaeological curation facilities where they can be accessed by the public. Any graves that are discovered during the dig will remain in place and protected by an easement. The county will receive the results of the archeological survey in the coming weeks.

If you believe your ancestors may be buried at Tanyard Cemetery contact Elinor Thompson at