The Providence Journal's frontpage headline for Halloween, "In grave condition: Rhode Island's historical cemeteries are suffering from neglect," tells how one woman, Evelyn Wheeler of Narragansett, is leading Rhode Islanders throughout the state to notice the condition of historical cemeteries near them and take action to clean them up. If you didn't read it, I hope you'll read her story. One person can make a big difference!
NOTE that November 3 is historical cemetery cleanup day! There are spring and fall cleanups every year, and lots of little ones. You can go clean up a cemetery yourself, but check the hints and guidelines because there are problems you might not think of at first. Scroll down the RI Historical Cemeteries' homepage for helpful hints.
Rhode Island differs from other states in many ways, one of which is that because the government and religion were always separate here, cemeteries were not necessarily coordinated with churchyards. Birth, death, and marriage records were always considered civil rather than religious matters. Consequently, in the 17th and 18th centuries especially, and even down to the present day, cemeteries were established all over the place. Some cemeteries are even on private land rather than on land held by an association.
The Providential Gardener is especially interested in historical cemeteries because these can be places we not only can enjoy for their natural beauty, but also for rooting us in the history of this state. At Providence's North Burial Ground (North Main St & Branch Ave), professionals and volunteers are developing and implementing a comprehensive plan to make the place more of a park and arboretum, and we've been adding trees. The Groden Center now uses the greenhouse to grow annuals for sale. The gates on North Main to this cemetery are now unlocked so neighbors can take walks there, enjoy the serenity of the place, see the birds attracted to the pond.... This particular cemetery tells more than 300 years of Rhode Island history if you start looking carefully. And reading gravestones puts the day's troubles into perspective, you know. Keeps you focused on what's really important in life. "Oh, for the touch of a loved one's hand, the sound of a voice gone still...."
The article by Donita Naylor points us to The Rhode Island Historic Cemetery Commission's homepage. Note the database listing the historical cemeteries, each of which is numbered. Are your ancestors in any of these cemeteries? There's a master index of names of those buried in these cemeteries. Is there one near where you work? Where you live? Do you drive by one regularly? Check it out! For further info, contact Evelyn Wheeler at 401-789-3503 or email.