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Ferns grow in hollows made in the ground by collapsed coffins. This is all that remains of the Trenis family cemetery near the ruins of their house, Landsdown, located on what is now the west side of Marine Corps Base Quantico.

Photo by Adele Uphaus-Conner

Forgotten family graveyard found on Marine Corps Base Quantico west side

28 Jan 2016 | Adele Uphaus-Conner Marine Corps Base Quantico

In 2011, Alicia Osgood sent her first e-mail to Marine Corps Base Quantico asking for help locating the graves of her great-great-great grandparents, Bertram and Martha Trenis, who lived on what is now the west side of the base and died in 1858 and 1877 respectively.

It was not until December 2015 that she finally was able to place a bouquet of evergreens, yellow roses and white tulips on the ruined foundation of the pre-1812 family home, which is located in the 16 Alpha and 17 Bravo sections of the west side near the border with Prince William County. Adjacent to the foundation is a collection of fern-filled hollows in the forest floor — all that remains of the Trenis family cemetery.

After an odyssey of five years, Osgood said it feels “pretty amazing” to have found her ancestors.

“It was nice to be in the spot where they rest,” she said. “It’s a peaceful place and beautiful even in stark winter. There are remnants there of the life they lived — in my head, I can picture the house, hear wagon wheels, the clink of bone china, the swish of hoop skirts. I feel their presence here.”

There are 74 known graveyards on Quantico, according to base archaeologist Kate Roberts. The Trenis cemetery is one of possibly many more that remain unidentified, waiting quietly for family genealogists to hunt them down.

“You have to have tenacity and patience to be a genealogist,” Osgood said.

Osgood’s interest in genealogy began while she was working part-time at Barnes and Noble to pay for the apartment she’d just bought. A woman came to pick up a book she had ordered. The surname “Osgood” was on the hold slip and Alicia mentioned that it was her last name as well.

“She said ‘Oh, then you should research your family history because I bet you have a relative who served in the War of 1812,’” Osgood explained.

The woman turned out to be a membership recruitment officer for the Daughters of the American Revolution. At the first meeting Osgood attended, the genealogy bug bit her. She found learning about her distant relatives to be a healing process, repairing the emotional wounds of growing up in a dysfunctional family.

“It gives me a sense of self, a sense of value,” she explained.

While researching her mother’s family, Osgood learned about her maternal great-great-great grandparents, Bertram and Martha Trenis, and their home, Landsdown, on a plantation of around 100 acres called Oak Hill. Besides the house, a school, a store and a church were also on the land. Martha Trenis had inherited the property from her father and that intrigued Osgood.

“She was a female landowner,” Osgood said. “And she was widowed before the Civil War, so she was raising her eight children and managing the farm herself. She was this petite but formidable woman.”

The house was burned during the Civil War and the Army requisitioned the land after the war was over, but Osgood said Martha never accepted that.

“In her 1870 will, which was witnessed by two women’s rights advocates, she left Oak Hill to her daughters, rather than her sons, even though it wasn’t hers to give anymore,” Osgood said. “I see the strength and also the sadness in that.”

When Martha Trenis died in 1877, she was buried at Oak Hill, next to her husband and ten to 12 other relatives. Between 1888 and 1930, the land was parceled out and sold or rented. Trees grew up on what was once open farmland. Bit by bit, tenants removed items from the property, including the headstones marking the graves and the iron fence surrounding the graveyard, which went missing in the 1990s.

“Everything was probably sold for profit,” Osgood said.

In 1942, Oak Hill was part of the 55,000 acres the Marine Corps purchased in order to have more area to train for World War II. So when Osgood contacted Prince William County to ask for help locating her family’s home, they referred her to Marine Corps Base Quantico.

Osgood visited Quantico on three occasions to search for the site with Command Visit Coordinator John DeBerry and Range Operation Officer James Woodfin. Based on Osgood’s cousin’s memory of visiting the Trenis graves in the 1960s, they were looking for a cemetery surrounded by an iron fence off Aden Road and before Orlando Road.

The iron fence was gone and the roads that traverse the west side move and change names often, but Woodfin was able to locate the house site that turned out to be the ruins of Landsdown. Six months later, Roberts, the base archaeologist, was finally able to confirm that the house was Landsdown. She examined an 1862 map, which marked the site of Landsdown and the Trenis store, for any roads or landmarks that are still in existence.

“There is an old road in the area that can still be seen but is no longer in use,” Roberts wrote in an e-mail. “It's a little different now, but the basic shape is still there.”

She then searched for the mean age of ceramic artifacts that were found on a past dig at the Oak Hill site and found that they dated to the mid-nineteenth century, when the Trenis family occupied the land.

Osgood plans to return in April to visit the site of the Oak Hill slave quarters and to see the wild lilies and daffodils that grow in the area. She is also saving up to purchase a granite marker to place on the foundation of the house commemorating her ancestors.

“I want to keep up visits to that place,” she said.

“I’m glad that the land is being used the way it is now, by the Marines for training,” she continued. “If I had to pick tenants for the place, I’d definitely pick the current ones.”

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