Search begins for the lost graveyards of Scituate

Search begins for the lost graveyards of Scituate

SCITUATE - Don't be overly alarmed in the coming weeks if you see more people than usual tramping through the woods, armed with maps, lists, cell phones and other digital devices, because a group of town residents is slated to begin searching for historic cemeteries throughout Scituate.

About 30 people attended a special meeting in Town Hall last week, called by local history buff Fred Faria, to discuss state plans to find and record the locations of the state's historic cemeteries, estimated to be about 3,500 total with just 2,300 documented.

Evelyn Wheeler, a member of the Rhode Island Historic Cemeteries Commission, was on hand to explain what the searches will entail. The goal is to record the exact location of each cemetery by using GPS coordinates, which Wheeler said some cell phones record, or by determining the actual longitude and latitude coordinates. Pole numbers and street addresses also can be used.

The readings will then be recorded on state GIS (Geographic Information System) maps, now being prepared at the University of Rhode Island. The university is working on a preliminary data set of historic cemetery sites statewide using satellites and aerial photos to conduct searches, according to Wheeler's statements, but there was no mention of using these tools in Scituate.

In fact, such modern tools might not be needed. Faria and Wheeler distributed a 3.5-page typed list of about 100 lost Scituate cemeteries, with suggested locations for each.

Residents at the meeting, particularly the older individuals, looked at the list and, within minutes, took out their pens and started jotting down where the plots actually are and, in some cases, who was buried in the graves.

"I could show you 10 of them right now," said one woman. "Scituate loves its history," Town Clerk Peg Long remarked.

It was decided that teams would be formed from among those willing to tramp through the woods and each team would be assigned a different part of town to canvass for lost burial grounds, so all do not begin searching at the same place at once. They will return to share their results at the next meeting, Oct. 2, also at Town Hall.

For those who do not care to tramp through woods, Wheeler said, there will be a need for research work as well.

If searchers encounter places where property owners have encroached upon forgotten cemeteries for recreational use, Wheeler advised that the town building official be notified so he can have the situation corrected.

Wheeler explained that she has been working for several years on this project and has been trying to get more volunteers in Scituate for a long time. She became involved in saving the cemeteries when a development in Westerly came close to damaging a historic grave site there some years ago.

Anyone interested in helping with the Scituate grave search can contact Faria at 401-828-5355.