First Burial Ground, Woburn, Massachusetts: My First Visit

Sorting through a box of stuff sent to me a number of years ago by my aunt in Texas led me to start reviewing what information I have on my Snow family line.  This is the line of my maternal grandmother, Bricena Annet Snow.  According to a compiled genealogy done by her brother Frank, probably in the late 1930s, we go back to a Richard Snow who settled in Woburn by the mid-1640s.  Another early settler.  I have had this line sketched in for a number of years, based on another copy of this manuscript, but not pursued documenting it much.  So I don’t have all the evidence making all the connections.

Last week we wanted to take advantage of the lovely Fall weather and I came up with the idea of looking for the early Snow burials in Woburn, which isn’t far away.  I had a memory that Richard Snow, and perhaps his wife and son Samuel (my ancestor) had been buried in the first cemetery there.  We found the name of the cemetery, the First Burial Ground, and its location and drove off to find it.  It turned out to be (not surprisingly) close to the center of town.  It also turned out to be surrounded by a First Burial Ground, Main Gate - 2017 11 09-3tall metal fence with a gate – that had a padlock on it.

What to do?  The sign over the gate only gives the date of the cemetery (1642) and lists the Woburn Cemetery Commission.  There are no telephone numbers or instructions about who to contact.  Since we were in the center of town we went over to Town Hall and asked in the Town Clerk’s office.  A very helpful woman there said to call a person and gave me the name and telephone number.  She said that I would need to ask to have someone unlock the gate for me.  When I called I got voicemail and so had to leave a message.  I did, having only learned that I had a name and number for the Cemetery Commission.  We had also been told that the office for the Commission was in the big cemetery in town that is currently used, so we decided to ride over and see if we could find the office.

We found the cemetery (not hard to do with good directions), and drove around looking for the office.  We eventually saw a sign pointing to the office and followed it, finally finding the place.  It was locked up (even though the sign out front said it was open from 9-4 and it wasn’t yet 4PM).  At that point we gave up for the day and started home.

Once home I was able to find an email contact for the Commission (same person I had left a voice mail for) online and sent off a message with essentially the same information as a back up.  I got a response back later the same day, with the information that someone had to meet me at the First Burial Ground gate to unlock it for me, and that was possible Monday-Friday during normal working hours (except for the intervening Veteran’s Day holiday).  I was able to go back the next morning and after calling her and waiting, she unlocked the gate and I was entrusted with the unlocked padlock.  She only asked that I replace it and re-lock the gate when I was finished.  (She also said to call her if there were any problems with anyone else coming in while I was there.)  The fence and gate are intended to help protect the old stones and to prevent foot traffic using it as a shortcut.

As part of the celebration of the Woburn 375th town anniversary, the First Burial Ground was restored (including the low stone wall and the addition of the iron fence) and re-dedicated in a special Memorial Day ceremony this past May.  The newspaper article linked to above notes that ground-penetrating radar was used to help locate 431 unmarked graves.  Once in the cemetery I went up to see the listing of the named gravestones and to look at the map on the other side of the display that showed all the found graves (marked and unmarked).  This is the map and the red dots show the numerous unmarked graves. Finding out more about this is on my to-do list.

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