Southern Maryland is a region made up of towns such as Leonardtown, Waldorf, Prince Frederick, La Plata, Hughesville, Accokeek, Brandywine, and so many more. However, what makes up these towns are the people and families who have called these towns within Southern Maryland home for centuries.
Families with a rich history dating back to the Settlement of Lord Baltimore in 1624 have seen Southern Maryland go from farming tobacco to having hospitals, schools, and businesses. Unfortunately, they tend to be forgotten throughout time or only mentioned in family stories. However, to the Southern Maryland Family History Study Group, they are celebrated, mentioned, and recognized as they should be: our ancestors, for without them we would not be here today.
The Southern Maryland Family History Study Group/Southern Maryland Families on Facebook is a group consisting of over 9200 members, who welcome all family historians, whether they are just getting started or have decades of experience.
Through their Facebook page and their Saturday Meetings on Zoom, they offer advice and information on how to research through various resources, connect with others, and learn that history is all around them, waiting to be found. The information that is found is for the use of current and future family historians as they connect their family lineage through the years, making sure all researched and verified family history lineage and information is publicly made available when and to whom may need it.
The duties and responsibilities of the Administrators and Moderators of the Southern Maryland Family History Study Group/Southern Maryland Families on Facebook are:
- Research, rebuild, review, record, preserve, and work on original and long-standing families from the time period of 1580-1980 who are from the five Southern Maryland Counties: Southern Anne Arundel (South County), Calvert, Charles, Southern Prince George’s (Central Avenue South), and St. Mary’s.
- Keep a Family Tree Program/Database
- Supply an online platform (Facebook) for members to connect and share family history information.
- Set up genealogy-related questions on the Southern Maryland Families on Facebook Group to engage group members’ interests.
- Convert answers from posts into accessible files/reports for the members to review and assist in their research.
- Locate and invite others who have an interest in local family history research to the group.
- Make their own research available to those interested by sharing through Facebook/Emails,/Workshops.
- Supplying research and lookups of family lineage for the members.
- Pull information from online sources, such as obituaries, to add to the database.
- Supply online Zoom Meeting Presentations to inform and introduce local groups, organizations, and societies to the members.
- Supply Conferences to spotlight local families and genealogy/history-related groups, organizations, and societies.
The Saturday Morning meetings originally took place on Sunday Mornings at the Old Country Buffet in Waldorf, dating back to 2002. Eventually, they moved to the Charles County Public Library – Potomac Branch in Bryans Road (with occasional trips to the Southern Maryland Studies Center and the LDS Family History Center in White Plains) and met on Saturdays until December 2019. The group also hosted The Southern Maryland Genealogy and History Fair Day Conferences at the College of Southern Maryland in 2018 and 2019, where people from across the country, as well as Scotland and England, attended presentations, went on tours, and took part in workshops.
When COVID-19 led to shutdowns, Wanda Simmons saw that the group could still have their meetings using the power of technology, and in September of 2020, she hosted the first Southern Maryland Family History Study Group/Southern Maryland Families on Facebook Virtual Zoom Meeting. This pivot to meeting virtually was highly successful, as many members joined from all over the United States, which would not have occurred had they met in person due to living so far away from the area. Since then, the group has continued to meet most Saturdays through Zoom, and each meeting has a different point topic.
A screenshot of the Southern Maryland Family History Study Group/Southern Maryland Families on Facebook List of Projects presented at the 1/15/2022 Virtual Zoom Meeting.
For the Creator/Moderator Wanda Simmons, “My love of Genealogy began as a child,” she explained, “listening to my mother tell stories about her childhood and growing up in Waldorf in the 1920s and 1930s, the families of that time, relatives, being Tobacco farmers and how they lived, etc. She told me much about her grandmother, whom I remember and passed away when I was 5 and ½ years old. My great grandmother Frances loved her family, telling stories through the years, their history, how they lived, and the lineage they created along the way. Frances was the one who started the interest amongst her family, wanting to know more about the past and their ancestors. If it wasn’t for her telling stories to my mother, she wouldn’t have told them to me, and I wouldn’t have the interest in Genealogy that I do now.”
“My father had passed in 1972,” she continued, “and my mother, having been ill throughout the 1990s, died in 1999. Losing my parents at a young age, as well as my love and interest in family history, steered me into wanting to learn more. I began with my two families, Simmons and Pickeral, and wrote down every piece of information I knew about both sides. Once I got to the point where I needed to look for more information, I began to research through online resources and the public library, as well as walking cemeteries. “
“By 2002 I had exhausted all my online resources available at the time, walked all the local cemeteries gathering tombstone information, and reviewed the Census. I joined Genealogy.com, where I connected with many individuals who were also working on our local families. I thought, why not bring these folks together in some way to workshop and share information about our Charles County and, eventually, our Southern Maryland families, and this led to the formation of our group. 10 years later, there were groups on Facebook who were interested in the historical aspect of Southern Maryland, but very few who were interested in the Genealogy side. That led to the creation of our group on Facebook, Southern Maryland Families.”
When asking Ms. Simmons how her research expanded, she said, “At first, I listed the families I knew I was related to. Through research, I found more, and it quickly expanded to well over 1,000 original and long-standing families from the region. We have been able to take the majority back in time and build their lineage as far back as the 1500s-1600s.” Through her research, she has found that most of her direct families in Southern Maryland are from Charles and Southern Prince George’s Counties. “You start with yourself and work back, listing what you know until you don’t,” She also suggests that to assist in furthering family information, it is necessary to look at the history of the United States and the events occurring during the timeframe you’re researching.
For member Lynne Clements, the interest in Genealogy also started at an early age. “I had always wondered about my father’s family,” she informed me, “we really didn’t know of anyone except for one uncle who was my father’s half-brother, Charles; he was 11 years younger than my father. My father’s adoptive parents, the Clements, both had passed before our grandchildren were born. And my father rarely spoke of them; I wanted to know something, anything about them. It started out as just being deeply curious about where we came from. I quickly learned that there was a story about each individual, and each story was important and significant to each one of us…. the true story of this family. There have been some boring parts, but there have also been a few surprises along the way that are worth recording and sharing.” She became more involved in her family research of the Clements Family, who, according to Ms. Clements, “just spouted out the St. Mary’s County dirt.”
In 2006, that led her to discover then the Local Charles County Family History Study Group. “At the time, I lived in Charles County when I joined.” She explained, “It was a local group, the only genealogy group that I had ever found, which made my decision easy enough. I needed to find some research assistance. As a novice student, I really didn’t know what I was doing or how to effectively research.” And while it took some time, she made family connections through the group. “After six years of attending meetings and being a bit disappointed that I hadn’t found at least one close family match; one day two cousins happened to attend the meeting. As I was introducing myself yet again and stating my family names, I just knew that no one was going to match with me this time either…Then suddenly, I was “hugged” from the back, and I heard these ladies yelling out… “we’re cousins”! What a fantastic surprise, both knew my father when he was a young man living in Leonardtown, MD. Many stories were shared that day and even more today, as more cousins have been introduced to me since then. I have made several connections, and they all seem to be my cousins! We’ve become great friends, and we find research more fun these days. Always finding something to share with these newfound cousins.”
For member Hannah Spalding, her involvement with Genealogy “Goes back to the sixties. Not my sixties, but the 1960’s! Bernie (her husband) and I had sent family group sheets to his family since he was one of 5 surviving children. We had 4 children, but his siblings had more than us. We did that to keep track of the children, who belonged to who, and their birthdays for birthday cards, and that’s how I got started with the Southern Maryland portion. My children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren have interesting relatives, and unique family names repeat within the family.”
Her first cousin also lived in Paris but would go to Ireland and send Mrs. Spalding what she found, furthering her interest in Genealogy. Her husband’s line consists of the Abell, Elder, Fenwick, Merryman, Russell, Shercliffe, Simms, Spalding (according to Mrs. Spalding, there are 18 spellings for the surname), and Wathen families. With the Spalding line, they can be traced back to Thomas “The Immigrant” Spalding, who arrived at St. Mary’s City in 1657. “I nicknamed him “The Immigrant” because there’s a Thomas in each generation after him, so that way I can distinguish him as the first one.” Mrs. Spalding explained. Thomas was an indentured servant and, at the end of his servitude, was given 50 acres.
During the servitude he was able to bring a person over to Maryland, earning him another 50 acres, and he married another indentured servant who herself had been given 50 acres, leaving them with 150 acres of land. “They had 10-11 children. The old way of wills was that the oldest son got all the land, but Thomas divided his land amongst all his sons.” In later generations, the families migrated to Charles County, as well as Virginia, Washington D.C., and Nelson County, Kentucky, where they were part of Maryland to Kentucky Migration.
“One of Bernie’s cousins led the Migration, went to Kentucky, came back to Maryland, and led another group back to Kentucky, and these were 6-week trips at a time with obstacles along the way. Another cousin, who was orphaned as a young girl, founded a Religious Order of women who taught and healed children and adults in Kentucky.” Mrs. Spalding informed.
Mrs. Spalding joined the then Local Charles County Family History Study Group to find out more about the Russell family because she could only go back a couple of generations. She also wanted to go to the area where they lived because she lived in Prince George’s County, and the group gave her the opportunity to meet people who knew the descendants, history, and events. “I learned new approaches for research, storing of records, and habits from historians, which has been valuable since they live in the area,” she said. When asked if she had found any information surprising along the way, Mrs. Spalding replied, “Our relation to Mother Catherine Spalding, she Founded the Sisters of Charity of the Nazareth who taught in the schools of St. Mary’s County. We visited their Mother House during a conference about her, and when the people there found out that Bernie was her third cousin, I didn’t know if they would let me bring him home!”
When asked where one can look up for research and verification, Ms. Simmons recommends visiting cemeteries, the Maryland Archives, and Genealogy websites such as the Census (1750-1950), Ancestry, Findagrave.com, FamilySearch.com, etc. “Remember when sharing family history, lineage, and information,” she explained, “make sure to re-research what you’ve found, no matter where you received the information or which resource you used. What you have gathered needs to be verified and backed up by documentation (which should also be verified). We are all human. We can, and do, make mistakes, or interpret information incorrectly, or gather from others believing it to be right and it may not be accurate.” She also recommends installing a computerized Family Tree Program such as Family Tree Maker to keep track of the family tree and information gathered, such as documentation and pictures.
“I began with pencil, paper, and a seat at the National Archives.” Ms. Clements explained in reference to research. “Now we don’t have to leave home for most information has been placed out onto the web. Part of the research process should include a DNA test and upload it to the research database. To see the matches within seconds via the computer-generated results is stunning. Computers, genealogy websites, Facebook, and DNA testing has made searching for answers so much easier and much more fun to join the hunt for our next relative.”
“I use Reunion for Mac PC, Archives, Family History from family members, Census Records, My Heritage, Commercial records, and family Bibles.” Mrs. Spalding explained what she uses for research. “You can find loads of stuff for free at home with your computer. You don’t have to join a lot of expensive organizations or travel to places. When you find things, carefully record the source, and it’s important because you’re going to come across something that will contradict it. You need multiple sources because everything that’s written isn’t always accurate, even if it’s in a published book. And DNA doesn’t lie.”
With the development of technology, DNA testing has also become prevalent in Genealogy as it has led to genetic discoveries and another tool for research. Many of the members, including Ms. Simmons, Mrs. Spalding, and Ms. Clements, have taken DNA tests through companies such as Ancestry and 23andMe. Ms. Simmons took her DNA through the aforementioned companies three years ago, and it has led to her connecting with more relatives as well as discovering the countries her ancestors came from, expanding the research beyond Southern Maryland. Mrs. Spalding also found a few distant relatives, but for Ms. Clements, it led to a shocking discovery. “My father was a secret adoption from Pennsylvania.” she revealed, “A 105-year-old secret never revealed. If my father knew, he never said, not even to his wife, our mother.”
Even though copious amounts of research have been discovered, there is still more information out there to find, and of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t roadblocks along the way as well. For Ms. Simmons, those roadblocks consist of some of the females in her lines, particularly the Duffy and Swann families. For others, such as Ms. Clements, it’s finding the origins of the Clements family. She assumes they’re from England but still has the questions of How, When, and Where? For Mrs. Spalding, time is her roadblock. “I have 3 cubic feet of paperwork I need to go through and input into my Reunion system. I also run a Genealogy through Technology group of 50 people in my neighborhood that I devote time to.”
“Personally, I didn’t know anything about my family.” Ms. Clements said when asked why people should be more interested in Genealogy. “Genealogy research has brought more family stories, new family connections, and answers than I could ever imagine. We want to know how and why we came here to America. It gives a sense of belonging and having a purpose. Genealogy is fun; it directly relates to history which makes researching more interesting. Mapping is a huge part of the research as well. Tracking those relatives from all over the world, you must reference a map often. It is one big puzzle, and we’re trying to fit the pieces into the correct places.” On what draws people to Genealogy, she said it’s about “Finding that one lost or roadblocked relative, and then finding there’s a great story connected to them.”
When asked on how the group has helped her with research, she said, “There’s a great wealth of knowledgeable members. You can ask a question that you believe, “there’s no way anyone can help me with this…” and suddenly, there’s a voice that says, “hey I know about that, here’s what you got to do!” And just like that, I’m off and running again! I am impressed with how adaptable the group has been with keeping up with technology, having Zoom meetings (handling things with covid restrictions), having guest speakers, and member briefs; this group has been nothing short of “Amazing”! One person can do genealogy research…. but why do that when this fantastic group is here to help? I truly love The Southern Maryland Families Group. My successes in genealogy are only because of this group. Ms. Wanda Simmons, the group’s founder, has been holding my hand ever since my membership began in the fall of 2006. Wanda’s daughter, Courtney, is a wiz with all things genealogy research and organization of the information. The group members are the best supporters and hold a great wealth of knowledge in their own right. I don’t believe that I would have found out about my father’s secret adoption without Wanda and Courtney’s expertise and the group members’ multiple tips and tricks.”
When asked why people should be interested in Genealogy, Mrs. Spalding answered, “One of the reasons people should be interested is that people are now finding that there are diseases that run in the family like Sickle Cell Anemia and Hemophilia. Also, they get to “meet” relatives of past histories, locales, and lifestyles. Some find secrets of relatives they knew because of lack of documentation. They also realize over time as they look at pictures, they see “oh that’s the same kind of nose I have” or “they were interested in Gardening, and I’m interested in Gardening” and say, “these people contributed to who I am”. People need to realize that their ancestors contributed to their mental and physical characteristics Who we are and what we have today is because of our ancestors.” When asked how the group has been useful for her, she replied, “I love how Zoom has been set up. It’s a brilliant thing they came up with because you’re getting people from around the country who couldn’t have come if it was still at the library, and it’s one of the benefits of the pandemic; there are ways we can communicate and share with each other, we don’t have to be in the same room.”
I asked Ms. Simmons what has impressed her the most about the group, and she replied, “I think it’s awesome how so many people from different backgrounds, cultures, professions, etc., get together with the same goals in mind: to work on rebuilding their family’s long-standing history, heritage, and lineage. I have been so surprised and happy to witness how our members are kind, eager, and willing to help each other find the answers to others’ research questions and with filling in the gaps to their family trees. Overall, the members of Southern Maryland Family History Study Group/Southern Maryland Families on Facebook are among the nicest and most helpful people I have ever met.”
In conclusion, if you are someone who is interested in learning more about your ancestors and their rich history within Southern Maryland, want to know how to get started on their family history search, or a researcher who is looking to find a group that shares the same joy of Genealogy as they do, then the Southern Maryland Family History Study Group and Southern Maryland Families on Facebook are definitely a group to join. The members are gracious with their time, and dedication and are eagerly willing to help those interested in tracing their ancestors. The members are a community that embraces the past, present, and future. As a member of this group for the past 11 years, I am pleased to see the growth that they have had, not only in their research but in the family connections that have blossomed from it.
Below are the remaining meeting dates for 2022:
- May 14th, 2022: Hancock Family of Southern Maryland
- May 21st, 2022: Enoch Pratt Free Library: Where to Find Maryland Genealogical Resources – Caprice DiLiello
- June 4th, 2022: Roadblocks & Detours – Enoch Pratt Library Rep. John Jewitt
- June 11th, 2022: Organizations Within Southern Maryland Accepting Genealogy & History Related Materials to Store and Share with the Public.
- June 25th, 2022: Virtual Southern Maryland Families Genealogy Workshop Day
- July 16th, 2022: Cemeteries That Our Southern Maryland Families Are Buried
- July 23rd, 2022: Kimberley Calaway Colonial Dames 17th Century Continued
- July 30th, 2022: Calvert and Smallwood Families of Southern Maryland (Including Maddox and Thompson Families)
- August 6th, 2022: Wathen Family of Southern Maryland – Leonard Wathen
- August 13th, 2022: Virginia Families that Connect to Southern Maryland and Its Families Part 2
- August 20th, 2022: Maryland State Library Resources and Researching Your Family History Using the Enoch Pratt Free Library – Enoch Pratt Library Rep. Caprice DiLiello
- August 27th, 2022: History of The Old Waldorf School – Sandi Middleton
- September 3rd, 2022: Inherited Diseases, Disorders, & Illnesses Within Southern Maryland Families
- September 10th, 2022: Surratts House Museum – Coby Treadway
- September 17th, 2022: Wedding Family Reunion/Presentation/Workshop
- September 24th, 2022: Prince George’s Genealogical Society – Barbara Hopkins
- October 1st, 2022: African American Genealogy: An Introduction – Enoch Pratt Library Rep. Christine Iko
- October 8th, 2022: Society of The Ark and The Dove – Sarah Mitchell
- October 15th, 2022: Anne Arundel County Genealogical Society
- October 22nd, 2022: Southern Maryland – It’s a Living Magazine Presented by Vicki Milburn
- October 29th, 2022: DAR Presented by Janyce Van De Wert & Ann Chess
- •November 5th, 2022: Southern Maryland Families Who Migrated to Pennsylvania & Pennsylvania Families that Migrated to Southern Maryland
- November 12th, 2022: Military Veterans of Southern Maryland
- November 19th, 2022: Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites – Robert Mosko
- December 3rd, 2022: Bowie Family Reunion/Presentation/Workshop
- December 10th, 2022: 2022 Virtual Zoom Meeting Presentations in Review & Preview of the 2023 Southern Maryland Families Virtual Meeting Schedule