At 134 years and a little more than a half-acre, the Methodist cemetery in Tenleytown is one of the oldest and smallest cemeteries in Washington.

For Donald Barnes, a commercial real estate appraiser for the D.C. government, the graveyard behind Eldbrooke United Methodist Church on River Road NW is a treasured link to his family's past.

Now in his early forties, Barnes has been involved with the cemetery since he was a boy. His father, who died when he was a preschooler, is buried there, as is his stillborn son, two of his grandparents, four of his great-grandparents, a great-uncle and a great-aunt.

All told, he figures his relatives account for 25 of the approximately 300 graves in the cemetery.

The graves account for his extraordinary attachment to this resting place, but so do the other life stories embedded there. Not far from his family, he notes, lies Joe Payne, a Potomac River fisherman in the 1830s who was a sturgeon fishing and bear hunting buddy of President Andrew Jackson. A few plots over lies John Frizzell, a Chain Bridge construction worker who as a Southern sympathizer during the Civil War was part of a scheme to kidnap Abraham Lincoln.

Barnes knows all this because many of his forebears also were involved with the cemetery. His grandfather, Joseph Barnes, a farmer and part-time miner in a gold reserve north of Chain Bridge, was head of the church Sunday school and planted the three towering oaks that now shade the grounds.

Barnes knows the stories because, "after Dad died, it seemed like Mother wanted to go to the cemetery all the time . . . .

"And I was always fascinated by the stones. I always wanted to know, well, how was this one related and how was the other one related and how old is that one. And I wanted to know the stories."

In those days, Barnes said, the Methodist Cemetery Association, organized in the 1930s, retained a regular groundskeeper and the lawn was kept neat with flower beds and little fences around each plot. And people would bring purple irises -- folks called them "flags" -- to decorate the graves.

Not any more. The association has two members: Barnes and his secretary. And the only flowers are dandelions. The grass is overgrown, and a section of chain-link fence has been knocked down. There are few signs of vandalism, perhaps because next door is the U.S. Secret Service police station.

"I did have a man cut {the grass} a couple of times during the summer . . . . I feel I have to do it, because my child's here, my father's here, that kind of thing."

A sixth-generation Washingtonian, Barnes boasts a great-great-grandfather who was a supervisor on the building of the Washington Monument. The son of a plumber, Barnes grew up in nearby Glover Park and attended Western High School, now the Duke Ellington School of the Arts.

His interest in his ancestors began with visits to the cemetery, but intensified with frequent visits to his maternal great-grandmother, who lived to age 94 in Bedford County, Pa.

There, around the kitchen table in the two-story gabled country house where his mother had grown up, Barnes heard stories about his mother's side of the family.

"I stuttered as a child," Barnes said. "I never spoke . . . . I would just listen to what grown-ups were talking about . . . . They would also put up with my stuttering, and if I had a question, they gave me the chance to get it out."

Barnes also liked to visit Bedford's old brick courthouse, where everything in the mahogany paneled courtroom was polished to a sheen.

"I'd go down in the vaults and look at the more unusual court records," he said. Once he found a a court document with the signature of his great-great-grandfather on it. "I never knew he could read or write," Barnes said.

Although Barnes lives in Arlington, he made sure all four of his children were born in Washington "for continuity's sake."

And several times a year, he visits the Methodist cemetery. It was purchased by families who were members of Eldbrooke in 1855, but was never officially affiliated with the church even though Aquila Eld and Philip L. Brooke, for whom the church is named, are buried there.

Nearby St. Columba's Episcopal Church once maintained a graveyard adjacent to the Methodist cemetery, but the bodies there were disinterred in 1940 when 42nd Street was extended from Albemarle Street to River Road.

"I just like to read inscriptions, I like to read epitaphs. It doesn't have to be anyone there that's related to me."

Over the years, Barnes has visited several other cemeteries. He has developed a love for genealogy and teaches several adult education classes at Montgomery and Fairfax county schools. He encourages people to get their older relatives to record their stories.

"Oh, tape these old people . . . tape their stories . . . . It's later than you think," he said.