06 February 2009

Boston: Where the bodies lie

Talk about dedication! Although not about a Jewish cemetery, this story is an inspiration to all ancestor hunters.

A Massachusetts woman has spent a decade cataloging every grave in town, from 1711-2003, for a book. She has also photographed every grave - 6,000 - in the town's 31 cemeteries.

Her story was detailed in the Boston Globe here.

'I am not afraid of death," says Jean Douillette, who has immersed herself in it for a decade.

It started in 1999, when Douilette, a dentist-turned-housewife, used her interest in genealogy as a way of connecting with her community. She began documenting the epitaphs of Lakeville's 31 cemeteries, mapping the gravestones on graph paper, then recording any gravestone carving in a notebook.
Her book - "Lakeville, Massachusetts, Gravestones Inscriptions 1711-2003" - catalogs every person buried in the town in its 463 pages.

"My mother told me I was crazy for doing this. She was also the first person to purchase the book when it first came out," said Douillette.
Her work has assisted genealogists and historians whose roots are in Lakeville but couldn't find their ancestors' graves.

Although she selected Lakeville's cemeteries just because she lived there, the area was made for her research. In many New England towns, a population center's cemetery began as a family burial site.

Douillette was also inspired by Cambridge's Mount Auburn Cemetery, as she went by it to get to her grandmother's home, where she heard stories about her family history and ancestors who arrived on the Mayflower.

As she began researching her own relatives, she began making contacts with genealogists around the country and helped to assist their research in her area. During one project, she saw gaps in information and decided to record all of Lakeville's graves to help those who could not come to Massachusetts to do their own research.

"I also wanted to preserve the information before time and weather obliterated the inscriptions or destroyed the stones," she said.
Some cemeteries had only three graves, making it quick work, but others were very large and took weeks to complete. Thompson Hill had a stone nearly 300 years old and still readable.

The story also contains hints about photographing stones. She used a wall mirror on an easel to reflect sunlight onto the carvings to obtain a clear photo.

The book is organized by cemetery with photographs, how to locate it and plot maps. It includes all markings on the stone, along with individual's name, birth and death years and carvings. She also tried to confirm the information on the stones.

In 2002, after she acquired a digital camera, she began imaging every one of the 6,000 headstones in the 31 cemeteries and these are on a DVD released in January, "Photographs of Lakeville, Massachusetts, Gravestone 1711- 2003."

The story details changes in art style of the stones over time. In the 1700s, there were simple faces, sometimes wings were added in the 1800s, which also saw poems and biographical details added. In the 20th century, other motifs were carved on white marble, and more recently, a greater variety in shapes and materials have appeared.

"There is a visible progression in style," she said, "but there are also differences between the styles of the gravestone carvers, and there are a variety of carvers."
Read the complete story at the link above.

No comments:

Post a Comment