1,000+ names from cemeteries in Woodstock compiled for book
The Woodstock Historical Society expects to have a record of all gravestones in the town’s cemeteries available in a published book, hopefully by fall, thanks to the research and work of a dedicated volunteer, Joyce Howe.
The book and a DVD of gravestone photos will be available for sale as a fund raiser for the society as the town looks ahead to its bi-centennial in 2015.
“Joyce has completed a task of very high value to the Town of Woodstock and genealogists everywhere,” said Town Manager Vern Maxfield. “We did not have a complete index of those buried in the Lakeside Cemetery and other cemeteries in the area until now. The incredibly time consuming labor of love will be a great resource to many people, thanks to Joyce.”
Howe said she learned about the importance of preserving and caring for old and neglected cemeteries through her membership in the Maine Old Cemetery Association (MOCA) in Augusta, which she joined four years ago.
MOCA was founded in 1969 for the purpose of locating old cemeteries in Maine, encouraging their care and preservation, and gathering and preserving historical information about them.
MOCA was eager to assist Howe in her work, she said, and she in turn shared her research with them. She was tutored in MOCA’s Maine Inscription Project, a format and data-collection procedure prepared on a spreadsheet.
As she worked with MOCA she saw the value of having the information available in book form, both for the historical society and the town, as it could be very useful to genealogists. Volunteers from the historical society were also supportive of the project.
Howe said there are 22 neighborhood and family cemeteries identified in the Woodstock area. The largest cemetery, Lakeside, is in Bryant Pond and has about 1,000 names listed on the gravestones. Two smaller cemeteries in North Woodstock and South Woodstock have
about 100 gravesites each. Private family cemeteries make up the remaining number.
Howe follows an organized process for recording gravesites. In small cemeteries, she starts in a corner and works in rows, while in larger cemeteries she works by sections.
She clears stones of debris in order to read the stone and take a photo. She records information from the stone and gives each gravesite stone a number.
Each name on that stone is listed under the same gravestone number plus another identifying number. If no stone is found in a gravesite, she makes a note of her observations, such as a depression in the ground, field stones, or other markers. In addition, each individual cemetery is identified by its own code.
Howe found two helpful references for her work in some of the cemeteries. These included Woodstock Cemeteries, by Eva Bean, Ruby Emery and Mary Cobb, published around 1981, and the Woodstock cemetery recording by James Bonney of Bethel, when he did his Eagle Scout project in 1993-4.
Howe enters transcriptions taken from gravestones in a data base on a spreadsheet. The GPS coordinate is also noted. She is in the process of designing a map of each cemetery to help people locate gravesites. The spreadsheets contain another item of interest - all military affiliations. She said the Daughters of Union Veterans have been helpful in adding this information. They also place flags on all military graves for Memorial Day.
Still a mystery
Howe recalls a mysterious incident that involved a lot of research on her part. A woman from New Hampshire contacted the historical society seeking to locate the grave of a friend’s ancestor by the name of John Starbird, buried in a cemetery known as Skunk’s Misery.
Howe was on a mission to find it. With the help of several friends, she discovered that Skunk’s Misery was the cemetery known as Dunham, now identified as Koskela, in South Woodstock. She had not recorded this cemetery at the time. One of her friends made the comment that many folks buried there had come from a neighborhood called Skunk’s Misery, because even a skunk would be miserable there.
“It’s also said to be haunted by a ghost of a buried soldier who has been seen wearing a uniform,” said Howe, adding, “I’ve never seen him myself.”
In further research, Maxfield found a document listing the names of some of those buried in Skunk’s Misery (no Starbird mentioned) and described the location, which is the same as Dunham/Koskela.
In spite of hours of research, the grave of the friend’s ancestor was never found.
Howe said many of the family cemeteries have changed names over the years. For example: Cushman Cemetery has been called Perham’s, Perkin’s, and Davis. These names are noted on the spreadsheets for reference.
Howe is quick to point out the assistance provided by volunteers to this project. First, she acknowledges the help and support of her mother, Annella Burnham, who has since passed away. Howe has placed a memorial tribute to her mother on the Lakeside Cemetery cover page of the data sheet.
Other volunteers who helped with the initial reading and recording of the gravestone inscriptions, photography, and editorial assistance include Elsie Bonney, Ruth Howe and Sylvie Murphy. Howe also received much help from MOCA, namely the president, Cheryl Patten, and the treasurer, Roland Jordan, who is
in charge of the Maine Inscription Project.
Once the snow is gone, the final stages of the project will be underway. Howe and her volunteers will be getting out to the remaining cemeteries for recording, photos, and data sheets and then double-checking for accuracy.
Now that her project is nearly completed, Howe said she is getting excited about having the results of her research printed and available in a book.
A lifelong interest
Howe has always been interested in cemeteries. She recalls living in Otisfield in her youth where she would stroll in the cemetery, checking out the stones. During a trip to Boston, her agenda included a visit to the Granary Burial Grounds where Paul Revere is buried.
She became interested in genealogy after the death of her grandmother in 1990 and her father in 1997. This led to a greater interest in cemeteries in general, and Woodstock ones in particular, as her husband’s relatives are buried in several Woodstock cemeteries.
She recalls meeting the president of MOCA, who introduced her to their work. “I was hooked,” she said.
Anyone interested in working with their own town cemeteries may e-mail Howe for information at email@example.com.