Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tombstone Tuesday ~ A Visit to Mount Auburn Cemetery

Mount Auburn Cemetery is a very historic place in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Some of the most famous Bostonians and New Englanders are buried here, and will continue to be buried here. I used to pass by here  as a student, since it is just a few blocks from Harvard Square.  My student teaching was right down the street.  I remember riding my bike through the cemetery with friends. It's located right next to the Cambridge City Cemetery, but Mount Auburn is much more beautiful since it was designed to be a park.  The trees, flowering bushes and plantings, lawns and hillsides are all features usually not seen in municipal, or even most private cemeteries.  It's 170 acres are officially an arboretum.

You can read all about the history of Mount Auburn and its illustrious "residents" in books or online at the website HERE .  As a genealogist, I'm most impressed by the staff and services offered by the main office at Mount Auburn.  I've been to visit similar cemeteries around Boston, like Woodlawn or Harmony Grove.  Both of those cemeteries are private, garden style cemeteries, with gates and staffed offices.

The difference between these cemeteries is how visitors and genealogists are treated.  At Harmony Grove, the office manager will bend over backwards to share her files on the families buried there.  But sometimes she cannot pull information up while you wait, but she will mail things and keep your name on file to connect with unknown cousins.  At Woodlawn, the staff is very suspicious.  If you don't have a specific name, you won't get information.  You cannot browse the files to "look up people" who might be buried there from your family, or even to see if there might be another family plot under the same surname.  Woodlawn also doesn't allow photographs.

Compare those with Mount Auburn and you will have a pleasant surprise.  First of all, Mount Auburn welcomes visitors with open arms, and not only for visiting graves, but for riding bikes, bird watching, jogging, you name it.  There is an active "Friends of Mount Auburn Cemetery" group for events and fund raising. They reach out to the community, and the community has embraced the cemetery back with both arms.  Tourists, photographers, family and historians all are welcome.

The staff has set up an extensive website.  You can link to a map page where you can search for a specific plot HERE  or read about their genealogical resources HERE. The staff also takes email requests for genealogical information  and is very prompt about returning answers to queries. Copies of the cemetery plots are available free of charge HERE for family plots (not for burials in public lots).

What information is included in a cemetery lot card? Here is an example of the front and back of a cemetery plot for my distant cousins.  You can see that the entire family is listed, and that three were buried at the same time, even though they died in different years.  I can assume that they were removed from another cemetery to be buried here.  The layout of the stones marked on the plot map matches the layout in the photographs.  On the back you can see that the three marble stones are under perpetual care.


From this information on the lot card I was able to look up the names of the females buried here, to find their marriages, since I only had their maiden names. This helped me to find their marriage records, and to add their husbands and families to my family tree.

The Nicholas Land Family:

Generation 1: Nicholas Land, born about 1802 in Germany; married on 15 May 1834 in Boston to Abigail Rice Arnold, the daughter of Eliphaz Arnold and Mary Torrey Rice.  She was born about 1801 in East Weymouth, Massachusetts and died on 19 July 1854 in Boston.   Abigail was was the widow of Elisha Wales, by whom she had two daughters, Lucy Ann born 1823 and died 17 June 1849 in Boston, and Cordelia born in 1831 and died in 1833.

Three Land children:

1. Mary Abigail Land, born about 1835, died on 31 August 1895 in Boston; married on 4 December 1862 to Nathaniel Greenwood Snelling, son of Enoch Howes Snelling and Sarah Dargue Jones.  He was born in Cambridge in 1823 and died on 24 July 1902 in Hull, Massachusetts.
2. Nicholas L. Land, born about 1839 and died 1880 in Boston; married on 11 November 1862 in Chelsea, Massachusetts to Mary E. Pettingill.
3. Catherine I. Land, born about 1843, died on 19 October 1905; married on 22 April 1889 in Boston to Josiah Brigham Stetson, son of James Aaron Stetson and Abigail Fiske Brigham.  He was born 23 July 1843 in Quincy, Massachusetts and died on 25 April 1895.

Nathaniel Greenwood Snelling, known as Greenwood, is my first cousin 5 x removed.  His mother, Sarah Dargue (Jones) Snelling (1794 - 1875) is the sister of my 4x great grandmother, Catherine Plummer (Jones) Younger (1799 - 1828).  They were both sisters of Mary Lambert (Jones) Dominis (1803 - 1889), who went to Hawaii with her husband and had a son, Governor John Owen Dominis (1832 - 1891) who married Queen Lili'uokalani of Hawaii.

When Queen Lili'uokalani came to Boston in 1897 to visit her relatives, she attended a family party at Nathaniel Greenwood Snelling's home.  He lived on 96 Dudley Street in Roxbury, which was a swanky address at that time.  I know there were three first cousins in attendance: Nathaniel Greenwood Snelling, Governor J. O. Dominis, and Mary Esther (Younger) Emerson, my 3x great grandmother .  My great grandmother, Carrie Maude (Batchelder) Allen and her mother Mary Katharine (Emerson) Batchelder were probably in attendance, too.  It is Carrie who passed on the story of how she met the Queen to my family.  She would have been 24 years old at the time of the Queen's visit.  Carrie died in 1963. I spent twenty five years trying to find out how Carrie was related to Queen Liliuokalani!

In her autobiography Queen Liliuokalani describes a party at N. G. Snelling's house in the January of her Boston visit.  pages 320-1  "Before leaving Boston, as it was my intention to do some time during the month of January, my cousin  Mr. N. G. Snelling, gave a family party at his house, to which my suite was invited, and I had the pleasure of meeting as many of the family as could be brought together.  More than thirty relatives and a few of the most intimate friends of the kind host were present.  An elegant table laden with refreshments and adorned with flowers occupied the centre of one of the rooms, and the event was made in all respects as delightful as possible to us."  [The Queen was famous for using only initials in her autobiography, which made it very difficult to figure out who the relatives were in Boston!]

The staff at Mount Auburn is collecting stories on the people interred in their cemetery.  This is a perfect example of a wonderful bit of history and an interesting story to add to their files.  Imagine the delight it will give to someone someday in the future, when they contact Mount Auburn about this family.  I have news clippings, letters to Hawaii and family trees to contribute.  Imagine what other information is already in the Mount Auburn files, and maybe it is one of your ancestors!


Mount Auburn Cemetery http://www.mountauburn.org/

Wikipedia- Mount Auburn Cemetery and its history http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Auburn_Cemetery

Friends of Mount Auburn Cemetery at Facebook https://www.facebook.com/mountauburncemetery?fref=ts

Harmony Grove Cemetery, Salem, Massachusetts has no official website, but a list of famous people interred there can be found at this link http://salem.essexcountyma.net/HarmonyGroveCemetery.htm 

Woodlawn Cemetery, Everett, Massachusetts http://www.woodlawncemetery.com/


Copyright 2013, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. Great post Heather! I love these things. Evergreen Cemetery Office in Portland has them for both Evergreen in Portland and Forest City Cemetery in South Portland. Many a mystery in my family has been solved by them.

  2. I visited Mount Auburn for the first time just last summer to photograph gravestones for a great aunt and her husband's extended family. A beautiful place! In addition to the wonderful website links you note above, there is also a smart phone app that has been developed that a visitor can use to tour the cemetery. More information is at their website.

  3. Intetesting information! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Great post! I love Mt. Auburn and take a walk in Harmony Grove nearly every day. By the way, I posted on Salem photographer G.K. Proctor this morning and provided a link to your little boy. Cheers, Donna.

  5. Wow! Mount Auburn is collecting stories on the people interred in the cemetery!? Let's hope this becomes a trend -- it is such a humanizing thing to do. And I never knew it was possible to find out helpful information from a cemetery lot card. Thanks!

  6. You are mistaken about bicycle riding and jogging, both of which are prohibited in the Mount Auburn Cemetery.