When conducting research of a specific time and a specific place, it is imperative to understand how the events described fit into a bigger historical picture. By plotting out the local and national historical events that are commonly accepted as fact, a researcher can better understand the context of new evidence as it is uncovered. For example, the circumstances leading up to the settlement of the Marlborough Plantation indicated that the founding fathers were concerned that their home town of Sudbury was becoming overcrowded. These proprietors, seeking open land for their families on which to farm, were motivated by reasons common to most families in the growing colonies at that time.
Another example of greater events being played out on a local level was relationships with neighboring native tribes. The dealings between the early American pioneers and the Indian natives were sensitive and often contentious. In New England during the years before and after King Philip's War (1675-76), conflicts both small and large were common on the Marlborough Plantation. Skirmishes, mediation, raids, and evacuations also occured in all 13 colonies and it is important to our understanding of local history to see how our local ancestors encountered the same.
While not covered in the scope of the current Brigham Street Burial Ground project, local Northborough, MA lore also tells of how a peddler, several months before the heralded Boston Tea Party in 1773, encountered a group of men dressed as Indians who burned his large bag of tea publicly. In this case, the small acts of local men foreshadowed a grander, more notable rebellion and illustrated how the "big" events were a culmination of what was happening on a smaller local scale.
Kent, Josiah Coleman Kent. Northborough History. Newton, Mass.: Garden City Press, 1921.
I have come to a crossroads in my research; there are three paths in front of me but I can only choose one. [Unless I can clone myself, but that is unfortunately not available as a site tool.]
My choices are:
#1) Trace the family trees of each of the identified burials backwards in time to the settlement of the town. The subsequent step would be to move forward in time to identify extended family. My reasoning is that families were buried together and that more members of my identified families have the greatest odds of being found at the Brigham site as well. A wide range of sources exist, from historical publications to documented genealogies.
#2) Go back to the founding families of Marlborough Plantation and trace their lines forward through my research period. (All three towns being researched were originally part of one single “plantation.”) The thought is if they lived here, then they died and were buried here in one of the 3 towns, including our Brigham site. This approach, while theoretically creating a large net of possible burials at Brigham Street, is the most time consuming method and isn't efficient in narrowing down possible burials there. As with method #1, a wide range of sources are available with this information.
#3) Locate documented inventory lists of the early colonial burials in Marlborough, Northborough, and Westborough to use to identify in which modern town early settlers resided. Historical documents from each of the towns may still exist and be obtainable from reliable sources. Death records for Massachusetts up to the year 1849 have also been published and are easily accessible. The following step would be to locate each of the recorded deaths from Marlborough, Westborough, and Northborough in any of the cemetery burial inventories. Unlike the other two methods, the evidence for this research task has already been researched and documented by others and I do not need to reinvent the wheel.
In summary, the most critical factor in moving forward with research will be to have the list of burials in nearby old burial grounds to refer to as ancestors are identified. Once I have the known deaths and burials for reference, I can decide how to approach the unknown burials.
LESSON LEARNED: Work from the "known" to the "unknown".
When Daniel Howe (d.1779) wanted to be buried with his parents, well after the cemetery was "closed," it reminded me that a person's desire to end one's time on earth alongside family was (and still is) a very important part of our culture.
To show how this might play an important part in solving the mystery of "WHO?" for our project, I created very simple family trees to show the relationships of family members as they are identified. To date, I've identified 2 family groups (HOWE and HOLLOWAY/WHEELER). Of the 3 children I've yet to identify for gender and names, one is a HOLLOWAY.
LESSON LEARNED: As for the children pre-deceasing their parents, it will be interesting to see with whom they might have been buried, following the theory that you stick with family. The research trail for these little souls will start by researching the death records of their parents and locating their burials.
Sometimes Serendipity happens. After I found a few sections of Reverend Ebenezer’s published diary online, I understood the importance of having access to all available diary entries. By following his ministrations throughout his tenure [which included the years the Brigham Street Old Burial Ground was active], I theorized that I might find more clues about who was buried there as he would have officiated at the funerals. The repository to use is the American Antiquarian Society (Worcester), which holds most of the surviving original diary volumes. More investigating revealed that the society published a transcription of their holdings in 1974, which included an Introduction jam-packed with historical fact gems.
No stranger to online bargain hunting, I looked up what was available through online booksellers of rare and used books. And there it was on eBay. Among listings for the price as high as $380 was a copy containing 3 volumes of Rev. Parkman’s diary for $4. Really, I kid you not. For the total price of about $8 with shipping, I received in the mail today the most valuable resource imagined for this particular research project.
And the surprises just kept on coming. I opened up to a random page, only to find Rev. Parkman visiting with Hezekiah Howe, one of the unidentified burials I found last week. Hezekiah was alive and well, waiting to tell us his story. On the same page was a funeral and conversations about 3 children recently buried in the northern “side of town” as well. Time to clean my new glasses and get reading from page 1.
LESSON LEARNED: A book reseller in Arizona has absolutely no clue about the historical value of a first-person account of early colonial life in Massachusetts. In other words, the significance of an eyewitness reporting events as they happenis absolutely huge. And I have the genealogical equivalent of gold sitting right here on my desk.
Parkman, Ebenezer. The Diary of Ebenezer Parkman (1703-1782): First Part, Three Volumes in One (1719-1755). Edited by Francis G. Walett. Worcester: American Antiquarian Society, 1974.
Beth Finch McCarthy