The Friends of Ancient Cemetery is a community volunteer group dedicated to the preservation, protection and promotion of Yarmouth's oldest burying ground. The Friends organization grew out of concern for the deteriorating state of Ancient Cemetery's oldest gravestones, which were rendered illegible and noticeably deteriorating under a covering of lichen and dirt. A handful of volunteers working under the direction of Patricia Armstrong, then the Director of Parks, Recreation and Cemeteries for the Town of Yarmouth, began to clean stones in the summer of 2018.
The following year, Melanie Barron and Laurel Gabel, took the lead in organizing, training, and educating eighteen dedicated volunteers who spent the summer of 2019 photographing, recording, cleaning, and researching assigned gravestones under the guidance and support of Cemetery Foreman, William Bullock. By the end of 2020, this R.I.P team had cleaned and documented 689 gravestones with data on 782 individuals. Several genealogists also volunteered their time and expertise to find out more about the lives of the people whose stones had been cleaned. Collected information has been compiled to correct and enhance the available town records. Eventually there will be an accurate map of the area.
R.I.P. stands for Record, Investigate, Protect and is one of the key functions of this multi-pronged effort of the Friends.
what we have accomplished
• R.I.P. Volunteers have recorded, cleaned, and photographed 800 gravestones in Ancient Cemetery. Data collection forms and the documenting photographs are organized in over 1,000 individual files.
• All of the collected Ancient Cemetery data has been entered into a comprehensive spreadsheet with 35 searchable information fields. The spreadsheet helps document incorrect or incomplete cemetery records and highlights broken, damaged or otherwise endangered stones. (See the video, Data Analysis of The R.I.P. Project)
• Two volunteers collected cemetery maps from various Yarmouth Town repositories and completed a detailed spreadsheet inventory of 168 maps of all seven Yarmouth Town cemeteries.
• The R.I.P. Project purchased and delivered three new map-case-file components to house all Yarmouth Cemetery Department maps and records.
• In collaboration with Bill Bullock, Foreman, Yarmouth Cemetery Department, on May 25th, 2021 we conducted a GPR survey of an undocumented section of Ancient Cemetery, which was set aside in 1826 for the burial of Black and Indian residents. Currently, the area has no gravestones and no associated burial records.
• Project leaders conducted multiple small-group orientations, workshops, walking tours and mentoring sessions for volunteers.
• The project produced eight zoom presentation/classes for volunteers to replace in-person meetings. These sessions have been recorded, uploaded to a proprietary YouTube channel, and made available to R. I. P. volunteers and HSOY members. See our video page, friendsofancientcemetery.org/videos.
• Leaders organized a “Secret Cemetery” field trip outing to two hidden Cape Cod cemeteries.
• Volunteers received ‘appreciation certificates’ at an end-of-the-season celebration at Ancient Cemetery, where participants helped plant daffodils next to some of the newly cleaned stones.
• One volunteer team cleaned, photographed and completed extensive research on the Revolutionary War soldiers and their families buried in Ancient Cemetery.
• All twenty volunteers have elected to return to the project in 2021 and 2022.
• Created, recorded and presented a Zoom program to share “Stories Behind the Stones” that highlights volunteer research, funded by the Mass Humanities in collaboration with HSOY.
• Produced a brochure about the Ancient Cemetery R. I. P. Project to explain our volunteer stewardship and to reinforce Ancient Cemetery’s relevance to the community’s social history.
• Created a Zoom seminar that reviews, analyzes, and graphically displays collected cemetery data and individual gravestone discoveries. (Completed May, 2021)
• Created, designed and published this website for the Friends of Ancient Cemetery, friendsofancientcemetery.org
• Established Friends of Ancient Cemetery, Inc. as a Non-Profit Corporation in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
what we plan to do
• Facilitate the placing of a memorial boulder and plaque in Ancient Cemetery at the undocumented burial site of unknowns believed to have been Native American and Black citizens of Yarmouth.
• Consider aspects of establishing a Friends of Ancient Cemetery 501 (c)(3) organization.
• Design and present a free Outdoor Music Program in Ancient Cemetery that will involve student musicians and interact with the guided small-group audience.
• Create an Ancient Cemetery Scavenger Hunt as a hand-out designed to involve school-age children.
• Plan a field trip/ tour of Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge and to Cape Cod burying grounds.
• Continue to connect with experts that can teach us more about lichen, gravestone geology, period plantings, and relevant new conservation techniques.
• Conduct interviews with a funeral home spokesperson, cemetery director, monument dealer and historian, to better understand how death and burial customs, procedures, and laws have evolved over time.
• Fund the digitization of historical records of the individuals interred in Ancient Cemetery (almost 1000 records to date.)
• Continue our mission to clean, Record, Investigate and Protect gravestones in Ancient Cemetery in collaboration with the Town of Yarmouth and Community Preservation Fund with a focus on section A.
• Photograph cleaned stones and link to a GPS map, and connect to an aerial view of Ancient Cemetery to produce a map of the old section of Ancient Cemetery.
• Create walking audio tours for the public using QR codes.