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  • The Edward Doubleday Harris Collection of Gravestone Inscriptions

    Theodore Chase

    Published Date : October-December 1984
    The Edward Doubleday Harris Collection at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston should be of particular interest to those engaged in research of 19th century ancestors and their gravestones in Saratoga County, New York, and in certain New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut towns. In the late 1870s, Harris, and some associates, carefully copied all of the inscriptions on all of the stones in all of the graveyards in Saratoga County. The work involved 229 cemeteries and 19,824 inscriptions. These are contained in five nicely bound volumes, each containing an alphabetical index of the graves and a description of each graveyard and its location, as well as the inscriptions themselves -- all done in a beautiful clear script. As stated in the introduction to the first volume, the .job was undertaken because of the proposed abandonment of several of the cemeteries. The work was extended to include all of the graveyards in the County because few of the towns kept vital records, with newspaper obituaries and the gravestones themselves representing the sole record. And, as the author states, from the nature of the marble used, it seemed certain that in a hundred years the inscriptions would no longer be decipherable.

    The volumes are variously entitled "Some of the Epitaphs in Saratoga County" and "Further Epitaphs." The term is used in its strict sense, meaning an inscription, rather than a verse or other description of the deceased. With few exceptions, the only information appearing is the name of the deceased, his or her relationship to some other person such as a husband, wife or parent, the date of the death and the age at death. The inscriptions are not organized alphabetically, suggesting an arrangement similar to that of the stones as placed in the cemeteries. Few of the stones antedate 1800. As the preface to the second volume suggests, the early markers are of rough fieldstone without inscription, but proximity of most of the towns to the Hudson River made it easy to obtain slate, brownstone and later marble. Some of the towns and villages are "dotted with family burying places," as for example in Old Saratoga, where 32 of the 39 graveyards are small private cemeteries.

    Mr. Harris' pursuit of this hobby was not confined to Saratoga County for there are similar volumes of inscriptions for Jackson, Jefferson, Lancaster and Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire, for Medford, Lexington and Newton, Massachusetts, and for Washington, Connecticut.

    Vandals, the weather and the lawnmower have undoubtedly destroyed or effaced many of these stones with the passage of time, so that in some cases these volumes represent the only record available for the genealogist. Only two copies of the Saratoga Epitaphs were prepared. It does not appear whether more than one copy was made of the other volumes. In any event, the Massachusetts Historical Society, and genealogists whose research may lead them to any of these places, are indeed fortunate that at least one set is thus preserved.

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