Family genealogists often contact the Portsmouth Historical Society about the location of family cemeteries in Portsmouth. In the days before the larger cemeteries became popular, many families would bury their dead on family plots on their own property. These historic cemeteries are being inventoried as part of Portsmouth’s Comprehensive Plan. Volunteers are needed for this work – contact town planner Gary Crosby if you would like to help in the effort.  Click on the following link for a pdf of the cemeteries map.  family-cemeteries-map-2

My husband and I volunteered to do the inventory for the Giles Slocum Cemetery which is opposite the Glen Farm barns. I chose this particular one because I know the stories behind many of the people buried there. In 1995 my students at Elmhurst were researching Glen Farm and I brought a group of student photographers up to the barn area. The students were interested in the ancient cemetery and many chose to take pictures of the old tombstones. This sparked my interest in researching the stories behind the names engraved on the tombstones.

slocum cem

Elmhurst Students at the Slocum Cemetery in 1995

Once you step inside that tree shaded historical cemetery you may notice that the gravestones tell the story of two families, the Cundalls and the Slocums. The Cundall burials range from 1810 to 1820 and they are on the westside of the plot and the head of the stones face west. Among those buried here is miller Joseph Cundall who lost his life in a Christmas Eve blizzard, his frozen body found only a few feet away from where he now rests forever. The headstones for the Slocum family are of an earlier time – 1703 to 1722. They lie in the northwest corner of the plot and the engravings face south.

You might think that the tombstones are primary sources because they date from the time of the person they memorialize. What is written on the stone represents what someone else thinks they know about the person who has died. In my own family, for example, we still do not know the year of my grandmother’s birth. She lied about her age for years and since she was born in a Canadian territory, we have had no luck in tracking down accurate records. A historian will look for other sources to confirm the information on the stones. I found confirmation of the Christmas Eve death of Joseph Cundall in Newport Mercury accounts of the miller’s death.

The inscriptions on tombstones provide valuable clues for genealogists and historians.