(I may spin this off into a separate blog eventually.)
I am a historian and, even while I am not using my degrees professionally, I still have an abiding interest in the subject. Since moving to New England, I have been working on a personal bit of research, visiting and documenting the various graveyards I have visited.
Here is a google map showing many (though probably not all) of the graveyards and cemeteries to which I have been.
Of particular interest to me are the oldest burial places of Worcester County (where I used to live), specifically ‘graveyards’. Academic students of burial places (yes, they exist) demarcate those sites begun before 1800 to be ‘graveyards’, those afterwards being ‘cemeteries’. I have created another map specifically for these sites:
As you can see, I still have about 15 sites left to visit (or in a few cases, find). I have photographed most of the graveyards I have visited, though certainly not up to professional standards; perhaps I’ll post those someday.
I’m also (slowly) creating graveyard maps for Massachusetts other counties.
And even charting out where the stones of select carvers remain:
William Young (aka ‘The Tatnuck Thistle Carver’)
A Guide to Massachusetts Cemeteries (2nd Ed) by David Allen Lambert.
A comprehensive list of burial sites in Massachusetts; Lambert is based out of the Boston area and, especially for points outside of route 128, errors persist in the list. Most often these are duplications, such as when a cemetery has had multiple names. There are a few omissions (such as Boxborough’s Old North Cemetery) and factual errors (stating that the Brigham Street Burial Ground in Northborough has been removed) unfortunately.
Gravestones of Early New England and the men who made them, 1653-1800 by Harriette Merrifield Forbes.
The first comprehensive look at gravestone carvings as social documents, Forbes’ book is a great starting point to learn more about gravestones, their carvers, and the society that produced both. Also of interest is her discussion of how she went about identifying the many, mostly forgotten carvers, including my personal favorite William Young (aka the ‘Tatnuck Thistle Carver’). She’d make a great NPC in a Lovecraft country game, as she wandered New England photographing old gravestones and haunting dusty archives.
Epitaph and Icon: A Field Guide to the Old Burying Grounds of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket by Diana Hume George and Malcolm A. Nelson
A site by site survey of the graveyards of the Cape and the Islands. I picked this up in a used bookstore soon after moving to Massachusetts and found it a fascinating read. It inspired my adventures and research into the graveyards of Worcester County.
Memorials for Children of Change: The Art of Early New England Stonecarving by Dikran and Ann Tashjian.
Useful but not essential. Includes a more thorough discussion of motifs and symbols.
Also helpful is a good county atlas- find one that identifies cemeteries! The DeLorme Gazetteers do not.
Online and elsewhere
Having a GPS is also helpful but only to a point- sometimes Lambert (and other sources) list only a street or even a general location (“west of town center” or “on the old Bartlett farm”). Likewise Google maps is not free of errors, usually omitting a cemetery, but sometimes locating them incorrectly- “Legge Cemetery” in Oakdale is a parking lot while the actual ‘Leg’ cemetery up the road is unmarked. Ditto its placement of South Hopedale Cemetery and Village Cemetery in Dudley… sorry if I startled you creeping about in your misidentified back yard.
The Faber Gravestone Collection is available online and is truly amazing. A little practice with the various filters on the left tab (for location, carver, design element, etc.) will let you dig deep into the collection and let you explore hundreds of old cemeteries from the comfort of your couch.
The Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System; a database of all the sites registered by the Massachusetts Historical Commission, including many (but not all graveyards). Not all the records have been scanned into the db but many have, including some that posses details I’ve found nowhere else for locating obscure sites.
The Massachusetts Historical Commission and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreations websites also have a wealth of so-called “town reports” and “reconnaissance surveys”. They documents, while more focused on buildings often including interesting details about the growth and development of various settlements, including the graveyards. It takes a little digging- the MHC block you from using the directories – but these pdf reports are great for finding forgotten spots. Here are links to the reports for Athol, Lancaster, and Uxbridge. Here is an MDC report on cemetery preservation.
You might also look into the Association for Gravestone Studies… I keep forgetting to join though.