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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Debuting April 2nd - 1940 U.S. Federal Census

April 2nd, everyone.

Just a reminder that on April 2, 2012 the 1940 U.S. Census will be available for all to see, free of charge.

Visit their dedicated website to learn how to read and interpret the unique features of this latest Census.

From the website:    "On April 2, 2012, NARA will provide access to the images of the 1940 United States Federal Census for the first time. Unlike previous census years, images of the 1940 U.S. Federal Census will be made available as free digital images."

AND, here are a few fun facts they've posted about the population of this new census:

Many of these individuals are part of what has been called the greatest generation.
These are people who:

  • Survived the Great Depression
  • Fought in the Second World War
  • Innovated technology (TV, Microwave)
  • Sacrificed in the name of freedom
  • Practiced thrift and compassion
  • Understood hard work and industry

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Wreck of the Barque Isidore

Cemetery wanderings often reveal sharp and sudden flashes of local history.  Quite by accident, I recently came upon what is called the Village Cemetery of Kennebunkport.  Within, inscribed on a huge flat stone panel, was the following:

   Capt. Leander Foss d. 30 Nov 1842 aboard the Isidore

In an odd moment of synchronicity (which I am discovering happens more and more often if we remain "tuned in" to the details of our present moments!) a new restaurant called Isidore on the Rocks Tavern, recently opened in my home town of South Berwick I had wondered about the source of the name.  Now I understand it is in reference to the historic wreck of the barque Isidore which occurred off the coast of nearby Cape Neddick in 1842 - a wreck presaged by bad omens and ominous dreams of coffins, by the shipmates. The ship was built at the Landing in Kennebunk and embarked on it's maiden voyage to New Orleans November 30, 1842. After slack winds, the weather turned into a vicious Nor'Easter overnight, dashing the Isidore upon the rocks at the foot of the cliffs of Cape Neddick.

The only survivor of the fifteen man crew was her carpenter, Thomas King, who it is said, was so frightened by the omens preceding the ship's launch, hid in the woods on the day of her departure.(1)

Harvey Reid, a local historian, has written a book about the wreck, and includes a music CD: "The Wreck of the Isidore."

Returning to the legends that graveyards share with us:  This huge stone monolith, copiously inscribed, holds many clues to the local history of Kennebunkport.  However, even the humbler stones are worth reading carefully.  Even more important, if you are truly interested in piecing together the past, look not just to the individual stones, but to the dates and names of the cemetery as a whole.  These "stories" can tell us of tragedies, epidemics, peaceful living, family a genealogical/historical reference - I find - there is nothing like standing in a graveyard.

Village Cemetery (aka Bass Cove Cemetery) Kennebunkport.

{1. Source: Eastman, Dick; Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter; (; "Descendents of the Shipwreck Isidore Sought;" accessed March 27, 2012.}

Photos: J. Sweetland, March 25, 2012

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Art and Science of Cemetery Restoration

The process of "mending a gravestone" is far more complex than simply restoring a stone to it's previous condition.  Performed correctly, cemetery restoration projects require careful observation, a scientific knowledge of the make-up of stone materials, an assessment of surrounding environmental conditions that have caused damage to the stone, and may do so again at some future date, sensitive treatment of fragile artifacts, and an understanding of art restoration.

Cemetery restoration is, in fact, not unlike an archaeological dig where, before any excavation is actually performed, a team of knowledgeable individuals combine their expertise to analyze and plan the delicate task of preservation.

The best example of this in my estimation, is "Monument Conservation Collaborative LLC,"  headed by Irving Slavid and his team of experts who have each worked in their field for years. They are located in CT, but work internationally.  Without further explanation, I urge you to visit their website for a fascinating and comprehensive view of important cemetery restoration work. It's a very visually detailed site.  Do not miss the article on their work at the beautiful Satala Cemetery, in American Samoa. You may read that article from here, but again, I urge you to visit this extensive, informative site.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

How did they meet? Graveyard marriages of the 1800's

The Applebee Cemetery sits quietly distant at the back end of a wide, flat field in the Berwicks of Maine. I was fortunate to come across this peaceful plot surrounded by thick stone walls yesterday, during an afternoon drive through acres of rolling farmland. (And yes, I'm afraid I did hike quickly, but respectfully! across someone's field.)

Within,  the usual mix of several surnames - families, in-laws, children.  Here interred:  Prays, Applebees, Harmons, Clements, and a Fixx.

Revolutionary War plaques honor several of the men.  Another, a Civil War veteran.
One stone indicates "Sarah E" is wife of "Nelson Harmon," died in 1863. Another nearby stone for "William H.," son of "Alexander and Sarah Pray" catches my eye...  William H. died at 20 in 1867.  What were the connections here?    (The Pray name in this area of Maine connects to extensive research I have done on the Cummings family. My curiosity was piqued - again.)

I decided to look up the Census records for William H.  The most relevant one I found for him was the 1850 U.S. census (since he died in 1867, I assumed this one would hold the most information regarding his birth parents and home.)  There he was, William H. Pray (erroneously indexed as "Pry") in his father's household: Alexander (Pry) Pray.  William H. is 9.  His father Alexander is 54, a farmer - but the next female listed in the household is "Sarah E." age 18.  It appears that Alexander is a widower, and Sarah E., his eldest daughter.  Interesting, and all making sense.  Good.

However, right above Alexander's name, I find the name "Nelson S. Harmon," age 20, a shoemaker!   He is listed as living in the Daniel Perkins household, next door neighbor of the Prays.

Clearly, being neighbors, Nelson met Sarah.

And Nelson and Sarah being of the same age, a marriage was made.

And Sarah being the sister of William H. is now buried alongside him in the family burial ground.  (The Applebee connection is yet another marriage connection.)   And another nearby stone marks a child of Sarah and Nelson - "Mary A. Harmon" - who died at age 3 in 1856. And Sarah herself, at age 30, in 1863.  Family connections over many years.

Neighbors: a marriage: children: and death... It does not happen in quite the same way or the same place, for most of us today.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

From burial plot to park for the Dead

Mt. Hope, Bangor Maine.  Images from their website.
From family churchyard to family burial plot to park cemetery.  Travels of the dead are pretty interesting.  It seems that churchyards, the original resting places of the deceased, became very over-crowded and also....rife with rather gross elements of disease, and contamination.  Yuck.  This is when folks started burying their dead on their own properties.

As you can see all around Maine, there are small family plots everywhere:  back fields, woods, roadside (once dirt wagon roads) settings, sometimes in the middle of busy Route One shopping areas...
However, I have learned that some of these folks got moved to new cemeteries, later.  Why?

It turns out that Mt. Hope Cemetery of Bangor, Maine was one of the first three "park like" cemeteries in the United States.  (This was also around the time Public Gardens, such as Boston's Public Garden, were created.)  The idea of a restful, idyllic spot for the dead became popular.  Once these "parks" were created, many families moved their deceased from their own land to these new beautiful resting spots.

Here is a link to Mt. Hope's history:  Mt. Hope Cemetery, Bangor, Maine
And I can't wait to go...