Remembered in stone

Mary Pearson Palmer’s gravestone in Rowley. Images courtesy of Findagrave

My family tried something new for Thanksgiving: lunch at a (very nice) restaurant in Rowley, up the road from my father’s house in neighboring Topsfield, Massachusetts. As I was there early, I went for a walk up Main Street, past the Rowley Burial Ground. Most of the stones nearest the road were well-weathered, but two popped out at me: stones for a Pearson and a Pickard.

Both are names in my seventeenth-century New England ancestry, so I sat beside a fire pit next to the restaurant and did some online digging.

[Two] popped out at me: stones for a Pearson and a Pickard.

The Frederick Ayer monument at Lowell Cemetery.

My paternal grandmother, Anne Beekman Ayer, was the great-granddaughter of Persis (Cook) (Ayer) Parke, a native of Preston, Connecticut. Persis’s grandmother, Mary (Palmer) Cook, descended from the Palmers of Rowley, and her great-grandparents — Samuel Palmer and Mary Pearson — are indeed buried in the Rowley Burial Ground. (Mary Pearson’s mother, in turn, was Dorcas Pickard; her place of burial is likely in Rowley, but not demonstrably in the town burial ground.)

It was an interesting exercise, using modern research tools while sitting in the brisk outdoors scant yards from the seventeenth-century Rowley Burial Ground. My father’s family has lived in the area for the last century or more, but there is another century’s gap in there where the Palmer and Cook families moved south to Connecticut. It was my great-great-grandfather, Frederick Ayer (1822-1918; erroneously listed as Charles “Frederick” Ayer at Findagrave), who left the Preston area for Syracuse, New York, and then Lowell, Massachusetts, although he died in far-away Thomasville, Georgia, which affords no clue about an earlier family connection to Essex County!

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward was the founding editor at Vita Brevis; he served as NEHGS Editor-in-Chief 2013-2022. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

6 thoughts on “Remembered in stone

  1. Mary Pearson’s grave photo supplied by Bill Boyington. Contact the manager of Charles “Frederick” Ayer at Findagrave to let them know his obituary is wrong and he is not Frederick.

  2. Thanks, Scott! I drive past the Rowley Burial Ground quite often, but have always been in too much of a rush to stop and wander around looking for “my people” in there. I appreciate the hint that Samuel Palmer and Mary Pearson are near the street because they’d be on my hit list, as my 8th great grandparents. My descent is through their daughter, Martha, who married
    Samuel Hale (born in Newbury). That line eventually ended up in Boston, after spending a few generations in the opposite direction from CT: Hollis, NH.

  3. I love your “find,” Scott. I had a similar experience when I bought a cottage in Provincetown years ago, took a book on the local cemeteries out of the library, and found Mehitable Cook Ghen’s detailed gravestone in the main cemetery there (2nd cousin 5X removed). It led to a discovery of many Genn/Ginn/Ghen ancestors in the Cape Cod region, mostly through NEHGS articles.

  4. Several members treated in my book, “The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts,” should be buried there, but it looks like only two photographs are on findagrave, Thomas Nelson (1635-1712), and his granddaughter Abigail Nelson (1697-1716)

    There is also a decent four generation Pearson Genealogy – – which I used when developing the chart on page 478 of Gary Boyd Roberts, Ancestors of American Presidents, showing John and Dorcas Pearson as ancestors of Presidents Pierce, Coolidge, and Hoover.

  5. I read these stories to look for possible clues to my own family story and get ideas of better ways to research. This article listed no one in my family or places they lived but there was a short line about Frederick Ayer dying in Thomasville, Georgia in 1918. My great something grandfather was stabbed to death on a hanging day in Thomasville in 1835. My discovery of the columns’ long report of his death in the history of Thomas County was one of the first discoveries I made of the many William Barwicks going back through my mother’s line. I became fascinated with the various ways to trac people through time and place. I’ve been researching ever since…..

  6. Your story was posted a long time ago, but I’m sorting through old emails and spotted this one. Mary Pearson Palmer is my 7x great-grandmother and I’m a descendant via their daughter Martha, who married Samuel Hale. So we are related, albeit distantly :-).

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