about friends of ancient cemetery
Who we are and What we do
The Friends of Ancient Cemetery is a community volunteer 501(c)(3) organization 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 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.
Volunteers cleaning stones. photo Melanie Barron
The following year eighteen dedicated volunteers spent the summer photographing, recording, cleaning, and researching assigned gravestones under the guidance and support of Yarmouth Cemetery Foreman, William Bullock. This effort has continued every year since. Over twenty volunteers have now cleaned more than 1,100 gravestones and recorded data on more than 1,350 individuals buried in the oldest section of Ancient Cemetery.
Volunteers cleaning stones. photos Angela Carbone
To read more about our volunteers, click here: Meet the Volunteers.
Several genealogists volunteer their time and expertise to research the lives of the people whose stones have been cleaned. These family genealogies and additional biographical information accompany each gravestone file. Click here to see an example of a genealogy report by volunteer Nancy Mumford: Genealogy of Hattie B. Gage
The collected data is compiled in a comprehensive spreadsheet linked to the Town of Yarmouth website under the Cemetery Department Heading: www.yarmouth.ma.us/2018/ancient-cemetery, Spreadsheet title: Ancient Cemetery Gravestone Inventory.
The data is used to correct and enhance Yarmouth town records and highlights broken, damaged or otherwise endangered gravestones and helps identify stones for conservation. (See video, Data Analysis of The Ancient Cemetery Project for preliminary information.)
Project leaders conduct small-group orientations, workshops, walking tours and mentoring sessions for volunteers during the fall and winter months.
Eight Zoom presentation/classes for volunteers were made available to volunteers and HSOY members during the Covid shutdown. See our website’s video page, friendsofancientcemetery.org/videos.
Friends of Ancient Cemetery has received two consecutive grants from the Yarmouth Community Preservation Act, in collaboration with the Historical Society of Old Yarmouth and the Yarmouth Department of Public Works. Grants provide funds for gravestone preservation, cleaning supplies, website design and management, volunteer education, and other project support.
• On-going cleaning, documenting and photographing stones.
• Professional conservation work will continue given sufficient funding, for the next three to five years or until identified damaged stones are repaired.
gravestone before restoration
gravestone after restoration
• Continue to connect with experts who can teach us about lichen, gravestone geology, period plantings, and relevant new conservation techniques
• Continue to safely archive and store the 168 inventoried maps rescued from the Towns seven municipal cemeteries.
• Facilitate the placing of a memorial boulder and plaque, or other recognition, in Ancient Cemetery at the undocumented burial site of unknowns believed to have been Native American and Black citizens of Yarmouth.
• Link digital images of cleaned stones to Yarmouth’s CemeteryFind.com
• Make publicly accessible the original historical records of the individuals interred in Ancient Cemetery.
• Design a free Outdoor Music Program in Ancient Cemetery that will involve student musicians and interaction with a guided small-group audience.
• Create an Ancient Cemetery Scavenger Hunt hand-out designed to involve school-age children.
• Initiate an “Adopt-a-Plot” program to engage the community in conservation of gravestones.
• Conduct and record 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.
• Plan a field trip/ tour of Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge for volunteers.
Ancient Cemetery is the oldest of Yarmouth’s seven municipal burial sites. No one knows for sure when the first burials took place, but it was probably very close in time to the establishment of the settlement's first meeting house, believed to have been located near the large landmark boulder in the center of the burying ground.
plaque on the boulder
While impermanent wooden posts or unadorned field stones may have been used to mark the early graves, the oldest surviving permanent marker is that for Margaret Miller whose slate gravestone records her death in 1698. Slate headstones and footstones mark a majority of the 18th-century burials, overtaken by marble monuments in the 19th century, with granite markers attaining dominance in the 20th century. Today the expanded cemetery contains 21.6 acres and almost 5,000 recorded graves in addition to the unknown number of unmarked burials.
Margaret Miller, d. 1698
Commemorative Boulder for First Congregational Church