Category: Cemeteries

At the right time…

I’ve been chasing information on John Alexander of Dresden for a number of years now. I kept asking folks about where the meetinghouse burial ground might have been because there was a deed1 that mentioned it. I assumed that might be where John and his wife, Susannah Reed, were buried. I just kept running into walls but on actual wall in the Pownalborough Courthouse is a map denoting the cemeteries of Dresden.

The first cemetery? The Alexander cemetery supposedly up the road from the Courthouse. But if it’s there, it’s certainly not obvious nor could I find anymore information about it.

Then the Dresden Historical Association contacted the Maine Old Cemetery Assocation asking for assistance with their cemeteries and stating the opening times for the old schoolhouse in Dresden. I popped over there on the next Sunday and was immediately shown a genealogy of the William Alexanders of Harpswell. Wrong I thought!

The real story of the Alexanders of Dresden is still unfolding but in the midst of the conversations that day, a lovely 90ish year old lady arrived. She dove directly into a book on Dresden that is not in print today nor is it or any mention of it findable online. Eleanor Everson is the delightful Dresden historian and she stated there were only 50 copies of that book made at the time. It is a bound book of typewritten pages and there it was, a page about John Alexander’s grave.

The dates were obviously not correct by my research so I returned home to finish that research and confirm what the truth was. John, his wife Susanna and their daughter, Sally Hill, were all buried there – as it turns out on Eleanor’s land!

“This cemetery is located in the pasture of the Richard Paige farm (H. Ellsworth Crocker, Trott, Small back to Alexander) – the south ­portion which is in Dresden. It is located on the top of a ridge -being the first full ridge on that farm as one approaches from the south. At the time of copying (April 8, 1979) there was a cleared path back to the area which lies some distance back from the road. These were the only two stones found at that time. Four field stones are in the area, with the surrounding area seemingly void of stones of this type. Also, several depressions, scattered about in no order, were observed. No apparent fencing or wall.

It is said that the bodies in this plot were moved from the sand bank on the Hathorn/Everson property many years ago. This sand bank is located between the Everson house and the house where the Alexanders lived (house no longer standing.)”

Eleanor said she had tried to read the old tombstones, a difficult task sometimes, but between her info and my research, I was able to piece out the correct birth years and death dates of both John and Susanna.

This tale is most remarkable due to the sheer bits of coincidence – having the right people in the right place at the right time. It’s a lesson in graves/cemeteries in a state that still allows burials on private land and how those graves/cemeteries can and do move.

In my quest to document the Alexanders of Maine, I’ve found numerous 1700s family members who I cannot definitely track back to a specific Alexander parent. John of Dresden is one of those though I believe he might well be the son of Robert and Elizabeth Potter Alexander of Bowdoin. Now I also know the end of his family’s story, a sad tale indeed and a story for another post.

Cemeteries and Gravestones

One of the most important parts of checking out cemeteries is the old medical adage of do no harm. I encounter unreadable gravestones all the time and the temptation is to fix the problem.

But one should be aware of proper techniques. I’m no expert but the Maine Cemetery Association has a page that lays out the points:

  • Use WATER ONLY to clean stones.
  • Professionals may use other cleaning agents.
  • Remove loose, dry material with a soft-bristled brush.
  • Clean the sides and back of the stone first, then lastly the front.
  • Always wash the stone from the BOTTOM UP to avoid streaking.
  • Use small circular motions as you work.
  • Change the water often. Using dirty water can cause scratching of the stone.
  • Clean out engraved and other recessed areas of the stone with a soft toothbrush or soft wooden craft sticks, if necessary.
  • Finish the cleaning process by rinsing the entire stone with COPIOUS amounts of clean water. A pump sprayer is ideal.

We’re coming into the time of year when folks start cleaning up so thought the information was timely and I needed an update myself before I get outdoors!

The biggest problem is having enough water on hand. Sometimes there simply is no water available so you have to carry a lot with you. So the last point is really just this – plan ahead of time.

Quickie kit!

I’m going to put together my cemetery kit this year. I haven’t done it before – the last time I was in cemeteries was in Maine when I had flown up and didn’t want to cart things around with me. I may be driving this time but even if I’m not, I’ll assemble a small kit.

IMG_0184Toothbrushes and craft sticks are easy, small and lightweight.  And then a soft brush? Not a problem due to my many past hobbies and jobs, I’m sure there’s one in the basement I can use. A cheap paintbrush should work fine.

One other thing I like to have is a digging tool. I’ve run across a lot of stones that are buried deep enough to cover up additional engraving on the stone. So something to remove the dirt (without scraping the stone, of course) can be really handy. Not so small or lightweight… A garden spade is perfect for the digging but not so perfect for a suitcase on a flight. So I just started cruising my “respositories” in the house. One container turned up a plastic attachment to  a hair dryer. Sturdy enough to dig with, small and lightweight. Perfect for a traveler. Then I found all that I needed at my local craft store – all wood implements I can use for digging and cleaning stones.

Photographing the graves afterwards can present other problems. The more sunlight, the worse it is for photography in this case. Overcast days actually return better photographs. Early morning is frequently the best time of day because so many sites face the east. Later in the day then the face of the stones are then in shadow.

Plan ahead of time:

Assemble a kit.
Bring lots of water if possible.
Determine what time of day is best for photography at the particular cemetery.

And if you are really serious about this and want to learn more (and will be in Maine in Aug), attend MOCA’s no fee workship Aug 19 – 22 in Wilton, Maine.

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