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26 October 2010

Tuesday Tales: Cemeteries - Sometimes Places Neither Final Nor Restful

Just in time for Halloween, Mary's back with tales from some cemeteries.

I spent a Sunday “tombstone tripping” in Rhode Island, and the experience made me think of some of the things that can happen to ancestors’ remains after burial in cemeteries. In 2008, I went to the Old Cemetery in Suffield, Connecticut to find a number of tombstones. Unfortunately, the church had expanded right over the early Kent graves!  They were now buried under the church, and the tombstones were gone. I guess their early 1700s bones were dust by the time of the construction, but the situation was unsettling.

On this Sunday in Bristol, Rhode Island, I went to Juniper Hill Cemetery, one of the most beautiful cemeteries I have ever seen. It was located, as the name implied, on a gentle hill in a wood of juniper trees. You walk along and a cleared area of tombstones, usually all of one family, would appear. Two of my ancestral families were early settlers in Bristol and were founders of St. Michael’s Church and were buried there. The stones from St. Michael’s cemetery were moved to Juniper Hill, and some were moved back to St. Michael’s later and placed near the church. Members of one family, the Pearses, were in a nice clearing in the woods; however, I was dismayed to see their stones stacked in rows with a foot or two between each stone. Obviously, only the stones were moved. Where were their remains? And what about the stones moved back to St. Michael? Shouldn’t our ancestors be left in peace?

The early members of the Monro/Munro family were also moved to Juniper Hill to join later family members. One important member was missing originally. My 4th great grandfather, Dr. Thomas Munro, lived in Bristol but died in 1785 on a trip to visit friends at the Davis farm in Stonington, Connecticut. He was buried there; however, his granddaughter, Lydia M. Cook, had the remains brought to the family plot in 1900. The original stone was also relocated and seems prophetic. Part of the transcription reads:

O, Death, thou hast conquer’d me.
I by thy dart am slain,
But Christ hath Conquer’d thee
And I will rise again.

I feel somewhat better about this move.  He was buried alone in Connecticut, and his remains and the original stone were moved to join the other family members in a lovely cemetery.  All these examples remind us that being buried in a cemetery does not guarantee that we will be left in peace for eternity.

– Mary Mettler

Photograph by Julie Nathanson, used with permission.

Copyright © 2010 by Kathryn M. Doyle, California Genealogical Society and Library