A final resting place

Resting place 2In the virtual world of genealogy, one can easily go to www.findagrave.com or www.billiongraves.com and record a gravestone – or simply pay respects to an ancestor’s gravestone. This technology has made it possible for countless genealogists to virtually visit or search gravestones thousands of miles away. This technology can also be utilized by apps designed for your smartphone.

What about the gravestone no longer located in its original cemetery? When I first started working on my book A Guide to Massachusetts Cemeteries in 1987, I made inquiries into cemeteries throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Strange stories of abandoned gravestones located on stone walls or at historical societies became a database in their own right.

Where did these stones come from, and where did they belong? Shortly after I started working at NEHGS in 1993, three seventeenth-century gravestones were mounted on the wall of the portico of Old South Church in Boston’s Copley Square. These gravestones were found in various locations in Boston and placed here during the nineteenth century. One can pay respects to the gravestone of Ann Quinsey, the thirteen-year-old niece of John Hull, minter of the Pine Tree Shilling; to Joshua Scottow; and to Captain John Alden (d. 1701/2), the son of Mayflower passengers John and Priscilla (Mullins) Alden. Was this last stone taken by a souvenir hunter of the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries and then discarded? In 1870 this stone and others were located when a cellar was being dug at Carlton Place, near Eliot Street. In The New England Historical and Genealogical Register of January 1872,[1] several other missing gravestones are listed, their current whereabouts unknown: Captain Thomas Moore (d. 1689), Mary Jones (d. 1688), Edmund Perkins (d. 1689), Sarah Phippen (d. 17–?), Mary Monk (d. 1697), Mary Monk (d. 1701), Elizabeth Pierce (d. 1680), and Nathaniel Dyer (d. 1681).

It is illegal to sell gravestones at flea markets and antique stores, but they still end up surfacing from time to time. I recall in the 1980s seeing an original slate stone from the 1750s being used to prop a door open at Faneuil Hall marketplace. In Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, the gravestone purchased from an antique dealer in the 1960s for their churchyard turned out to derive from a cemetery in Gilmanton, New Hampshire, and was returned in 1991.

Ancient gravestones from Roman-era Britain and France were found in practically every museum I visited in Europe this year. I would think a detailed transcription database of all these stones should be undertaken by the archeological and genealogical community. But during my trip I visited my own ancestors. I went to the small village of Brereton-cum-Smethwick in Cheshire, England. Here my maternal ancestors lived from the 1580s until the late nineteenth century. I attended church services at my ancestral home, where the sixteenth-century stone edifice of St. Oswald’s still stands. I took pictures of all the monuments, both inside and outside – or so I thought.

Resting place 1After brushing off many gravestones outside, my hands needed some soap and water. I inquired where the bathroom was and was directed the small bathroom located in the church. As a lover of gravestones and cemeteries I was greeted by the most interesting monument I have photographed. Placed into the wall was a black slate gravestone with the following information: Here Lyeth Interred ye Body / of Mary Wife of William Farring / ton and Daughter of Thomas & Joan Bosson  de Moorehead / in Brereton. Who departed this / Life November ye 24th Ætatis / Suae 66 Annoas Domini / 1715. (My Findagrave entry for the stone can be found here.)

The placement of the twentieth-century plumbing around this tomb is what struck me the most. I have never until this day seen a gravestone located in a bathroom. This really gives new meaning to finding a final resting place!


[1] Register 25 [1871]: 88.

About David Allen Lambert

David Lambert has been on the staff of NEHGS since 1993 and is the organization’s Chief Genealogist. David is an internationally recognized speaker on the topics of genealogy and history. His genealogical expertise includes New England and Atlantic Canadian records of the 17th through 21st century; military records; DNA research; and Native American and African American genealogical research in New England. Lambert has published many articles in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, the New Hampshire Genealogical Record, Rhode Island Roots, The Mayflower Descendant, and American Ancestors magazine. He has also published A Guide to Massachusetts Cemeteries (NEHGS, 2009). David is an elected Fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston, Mass., and a life member of the New Hampshire Society of the Cincinnati. He is also the tribal genealogist for the Massachuset-Punkapoag Indians of Massachusetts.

20 thoughts on “A final resting place

  1. Another interesting resting place: The 1866 organ in my church in Augusta, Maine, was originally hand pumped and lighted with gas lights. Today, if you open the door to the side of the keyboard, you find an old granite gravestone weighting down the bellows. I haven’t been able to look at the gravestone closely, but I’ve always suspected that it was one that was discarded, perhaps because of an error made while it was being made.

  2. Guess that’s why it’s called a “rest room” ;-). But your mention of the Pine Tree Shilling struck me because my 9th great-grandfather was Joseph Jenckes … who manufactured the coin!

    1. Janice, I would be interested to know your connection to Joseph Jenckes because he is in my lineage also. Over the course of time, the spelling in my family changed to “Jenks”, I live in SW Wisconsin and my great grandfather was Judge Aldro Jenks.

      1. Hi Anna – wow this post was a while ago! Anyway, my 3x great-grandmother was Hannah W. Jenckes (have also seen spelling variations). Her father was Jeremiah Jenckes, then his was Jonathan, Jonathan’s was Jonathan, then Nathaniel, to Joseph, and then to the Joseph Jenckes who was my 9x great-grandfather. Very cool that your great-grandfather was a Judge. I think this family had many prominent people.

  3. Thank you for sharing that. How very interesting.

    Once while in England I saw a tombstone which mentioned EACH of the deceased man’s three wives. Do not know if this is unusual, but I thought so, and took a pic.

  4. While growing up on the family farm, I was always aware of grave markers of ancestors (maybe footstones that never got placed) in our granary.
    Also, our local historical society has a couple of markers, that were mistakes by the monument company, placed strategically in their landscaped gardens. Visitors do notice and do ask questions!

  5. When my father-in-law died 40 years ago, the family put up a headstone. Recently when his wife (my mother-in-law) died, the family replaced his headstone with a double one, with both names. I brought the single stone home, and it is now part of our landscaping. I’m sure at some point in the future, someone will ask about it.

  6. While in Montgomery County, Missouri, last year on a genealogy trip, we were told about a farmer that had thrown headstones from a graveyard he wanted to farm into the Missouri River. Sad story.

  7. About five years ago, my wife noted that a soldier’s grave stone was for sale at a local antiques group. I tracked down that is was a Confederate soldier and contacted that state’s Son of Confederate Veterans who contacted the local (Ohio) police to take possession and hold it for a member to come get it. It now is back home.
    And one of my favorite stones is at Mt. Auburn in Cambridge MA. It lists his multiple degrees and then his wife’s achievements, including Rockette!

  8. What is a nice of John Hull? I know but I could not find a way to contact the author or Vita Brevis to comment on the actual posting rather that my reply above.

  9. When I was a little girl, in Iowa, my baby brother died. He was buried in the local cemetery (with a headstone I think). We moved to Illinois and years later when my mother died she was buried in a local family plot. My father had my baby brother’s body moved from Iowa to Illinois to be with his family. A new headstone was made to match the ones already there. I don’t know what happened to his original headstone.

  10. The strangest stone I have seen was one in Vermont for my great grandmother’s 5 year old brother. When I was taking a picture of the gravestone, I noticed that there seemed to be writing at the very base of it. Upon investigation I discovered that the writing was upside down and memorialized a little girl who had died a few years previously. I couldn’t see anything wrong with the inscription — perhaps the family never came to pay for the stone and it was repurposed.

  11. I don’t know if you would be interested or not, but I found my grandmothers ashed that had been left in storage for 60 years. I found them by accident when I was doing my family research. I wrote a book on my quest to find her and where to bury her. I never knew her. My book is on amazon.com “Someone forgot to pick me up” by Penny Yates-Becchio. It is a true story written in her own words with the thought your ancestors are always around you, which I believe. If you read it let me know what you think.

  12. Re: your comment “Ancient gravestones from Roman-era Britain and France were found in practically every museum I visited in Europe this year. I would think a detailed transcription database of all these stones should be undertaken by the archaeological and genealogical community”, such databases already exist, originally in print and – increasingly – online: e.g. the UK database: http://romaninscriptionsofbritain.org There are comparable databases for a numbe rof other European countries though the sheer volume of inscriptions in Italy is overwhelming…

  13. Thanks for sharing this interesting story, David. Here is my relocated gravestone story.

    My ancestor Elijah Miles was a Captain in DeLancey’s Brigade (Loyalist) during the American Revolutionary War. After the war he settled in Maugerville, New Brunswick, with his wife (Fannie Cornell) and children. Maugerville is east of Fredericton on the St. John River. On a vacation in that area in September of 2013, we searched for Elijah’s grave in several local church yards. At a local produce market, a long-time resident told us that the stones of Elijah’s family had been in a warehouse near Fredericton but were now missing. The current resident of Elijah’s more-than-200-year-old house told us that she believed that family graves were on Elijah’s property but that the stones had been removed and were missing.

    At one of the nearby church yards we visited, we met a local pastor with whom we discussed our search. The following April, the pastor found the missing gravestones and sent us an excellent set of photographs. The Miles family gravestones are in the “churchyard” of St. Mark’s Church which was relocated to King’s Landing Historical Settlement, an “outdoor Living History Museum, recreating the lives of New Brunswickers in the 1800s.” The museum website, http://kingslanding.nb.ca/en/learn-about-us/, explains that King’s Landing “was created in the late 1960s. The buildings were moved to this site to allow construction of a hydro-electric dam, which raised the water level of the St. John River over 150 feet.” The damn is about 12 miles upstream of Fredericton. Elijah’s home in Maugerville is about the same distance downstream of Fredericton. Elijah’s home and property were not affected by the construction of the damn, but it appears that the gravestones from his property provided a time-period-appropriate prop for a churchyard in the “historical” village recreated at King’s Landing. The church is called St. Mark’s, according to the museum website, and was relocated from Kingsclear, a community on the St. John River, near the damn.

    We had read in a book of cemetery transcriptions at the New Brunswick Archives in Fredericton that Elijah’s gravestone was at St. Mark’s Church, but no one at the Archives that day could tell us where St. Mark’s Church was, and it was not listed among the local churches in the area. This was definitely not the church that Elijah and his family attended.

    David, in your research tours to New Brunswick, had you ever heard about the Miles family gravestones now in a recreated churchyard at King’s Landing Historical Settlement?

  14. The title “migrating gravestones” really struck a chord with me. In Nov. 2014 I was visiting an church in Reading, England where my ancestors had worshiped in the 16th century a generation before migrating to New England. Around the church was the cemetery and we walked around looking for my ancestors. Of course after so many years the stones were mostly unreadable. Then we walked around the historic preservation area behind the church and struck up a conversation with an elderly local and told him what we were up to. He said that an older church cemetery was across the street from the front of the church where an apartment building had been built and they’d moved the stones against a garden wall behind the building. We walked over and there we saw all the stones lined up along the wall and even more weathered and unreadable. At least I felt I was close to the bones of my ancestors. Thank you for you article.

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