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Sand Banks Cemetery Project Methodology

A description by Bill McEvoy of the methodology he used to compile information for his Catholic Mount Auburn or Sand Banks Cemetery Project

In 2011, Joyce Kelly, Marilynne Roach, and Lynne O’Connell, of the Historical Society of Watertown, and Kenneth Rand, an interested Watertown resident, met with me at the Catholic Mount Auburn Cemetery, Watertown, MA.

Mr. Rand had a map of the cemetery, which he had updated from a previously existing 1954 map.  He also had a copy of a notebook, containing 310 pages, indicating burials at the Cemetery from 1885 to 1947.  Mr. Rand indicated that he had made the copy in the early 1990s.  At that time the burial notebook was maintained at the Calvary Cemetery in Waltham, MA.  Mr. Rand also had 50 pages of copied lot cards that included some burials done after 1947.

After our meeting, Mr. Rand allowed Ms. Kelly to take possession of the copies in order that she could duplicate them and return Mr. Rand’s copy to him.  Ms. Kelly allowed me to make two sets of the copies.  Ms. Kelly kept one copy, and I the other.

On February 8, 2012, I began my effort to post all of the names noted on headstones at the Catholic Mount Auburn Cemetery to Findagrave.com.  That was the initial goal of the project.

I divided the cemetery into eight zones and proceeded to take digital pictures within each zone.  I then posted the names on the headstones to Findagrave.com.

 As that task progressed, I discovered that my dividing the cemetery into eight zones was not effective in identifying the grave and row numbers to be noted on Findagrave.com.  I continued the effort with the knowledge that I would have to find a more efficient and accurate method.

Several months later, the initial goal was accomplished, I expanded the scope of the project.  I designed a spreadsheet and recorded the burial notebook information on it, beginning in 1885 and ending in 1947.  The notebook listed 6,383 burials for that period.  The dates noted in the burial notebook were usually the date of death.  I then added about 167 post 1947 burials noted on the lot card copies and not the headstones I had just done.  The dates on the lot cards were the date of burial.  At that time, the spreadsheet noted, month and day of death; year of death; the deceased last, first and middle name/initial; age at death; grave lot number; and row.  I sorted that list by row then by grave number.

In order to correct my initial method of photographing lots, working East to West, beginning with Lot number 1, Row 1 East, and doing 2 rows at a time I retook all of the headstone pictures.  As I progressed through the rows, burials without headstones were added to Findagrave.com.  Additionally, many headstones that had fallen facedown were matched and noted on the spreadsheet.  The fact that the headstones were facedown was also noted on Findagrave.com as well as the photos of those markers.  Lot and Row numbers were then added to all Findagrave.com postings.

That task was completed at the end of September 2012.  It became obvious that my original estimate of 12,000 burials in less than 6,000 lots, located in less than seven acres, was greatly understated.  That was a result of my assumption that each lot was a two person grave.  However, as the standard grave at that time was 2.5 feet in width, the measurements of the length of each row of the cemetery indicated that each lot could hold four people, two people wide, with two above the first deeper burials.  The spreadsheet often noted more than four burials in a four person lot, while many lots contained less than four burials.  Over-burying sometimes also occurred in the eight person lots.  The calculation for normal capacity can be found at the end of this document.  Note:  The number of burials recorded from the burial book is close to the capacity without over-burying.  The years and months not added due to those records having been lost by the Cemetery is noted later in this document.  I believe those lost records would add 1,500+ names to the cemetery inventory.

Again, I expanded the scope in an effort to locate the pre-1885 burial book(s).  The Archdiocese of Boston’s Archives, located in Braintree, MA, had the records of lots sold, beginning April 11, 1854, to Michael Lehan and James Boyce.  The first burials were Michael Lehan and Jane Boyce on April 11, 1854.  The Archives also has three burial books recording the first burials on April 11, 1854 to June 30, 1882.  I digitally photographed the burial and lot sales books.  There were approximately 16,000 burials recorded during that period.  Taking the pictures of the information maintained by the Archives allowed me to transfer that information to the spreadsheet while working at home.

The burial notebook for that period reflects the date of burial.  After comparing a sample of dates of burial to the death records, I found that most burials were performed the day after death.  Therefore, dates of death posted to Findagrave.com normally reflect the subtraction of one day from the date of burial.

The burial records for the period from July 1, 1882 to December 31, 1884, have yet to be located.  The extensive unsuccessful efforts to find them are noted below.

While at the Archdiocese Archives, I also found a spreadsheet copy of all lots sold.  That was done by Mr. James F. Martin of Chelmsford, MA.  I was able to contact him and he generously emailed me his Excel spreadsheet noting the lots sold in chronological order.  I highlighted the lots that had headstones.  Highlighting was useful in determining who was buried in lots where the headstone had fallen facedown.

During October 2012 to November 2013, I continued to post the names from 1854 to 1882 to Findagrave.com and the spreadsheet.  I was careful not to duplicate any names already added during my initial headstone effort.  Due to questions of the spelling of certain names recorded in the burial books, I often performed searches on Ancestry.com, Familysearch.com and the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s on-line recorded deaths from 1841 to 1910.

I became interested in the causes of deaths, occupations, residences or places of death, places of birth, spouses’ names, maiden names, parents’ names and their places of birth.  Additionally, many records of deaths noted other cemeteries as the place of burial.  Data columns were added to the spreadsheet to record that information.  Based upon the burial books, I knew that those people were buried at Catholic Mount Auburn.  Incorrect burial locations included most of the cemeteries in the Boston area.  The most frequent error was the burial being noted at “Mount Auburn.”  The staff at the Mount Auburn Cemetery indicated that, over the years, people have come to that cemetery looking for the graves of their relatives.  Those names were noted in the municipal death records as being buried at “Mount Auburn” are not noted in the burial records of Mount Auburn Cemetery.  That discrepancy once again caused me to expand the scope to include many of those errors on the spreadsheet.

The majority of the people buried at the Catholic Mount Auburn Cemetery resided in the North End, Charlestown and East Boston sections of Boston.  The next most common place of residence was Cambridge, followed by Somerville.  The vast majority of the lots were sold by the end of 1865.  They were purchased by people who were born in Ireland.  It is likely that the residents of the Catholic Mount Auburn Cemetery immigrated around the First Irish Famine or are their descendants.  The next country of origin by purchasers, although a very small percentage, were people born in the Azores.

The task of noting the vital statistic information, noted on the death records, resulted in accumulating data for about 21,000 people.  That effort began in January 2014 and was completed in November 2014.  During that task, I often added the place of birth and place of death to Findagrave.com, as well as maiden names.  Entries to Findagrave.com that note that information are assumed to be accurate as it was taken from the death records.  That process also indicated many variances in the spelling of last names, even within the same family.  I recommend that anyone searching for a name utilize all the variations; ex: Burn, Byrnes, Burns; Shea, Shay, O’Shay, O’Shea; Kelly, Kelley; Callahan, Callaghan, O’Callahan, O’Callaghan; Daly, Daley, Daily, Dailey; Connor; Conner, O’Connor; Hogan,Horgan; MacKay, MacKey, McKey, McKay; Power, Powers; etc.

A full edit of the 23,000 names was performed during December 2014 to February 2015.  The final task was to review the names that have been posted to Findagrave.com.  That review eliminated duplicates, corrected certain errors of spelling, dates of birth and death.

The following items remain unresolved as of April 21, 2017:

Missing burial records:

July 1, 1882, to December 31, 1884*
June, 1885*
August, 1895*
January 1, 1910, to May 31, 1911*
September to October, 1916*
January 1, 1918, to April 30, 1918*

*A visit to the Catholic Cemetery Association on December 15, 2015, yielded no further information as they do not have the records noted above.  I was allowed to review their records and verified the loss of those records.

Efforts made to account for missing burial information:

The periods of July 1, 1882, to December 31, 1884, June, 1885, and August 1985:

Records of Boston deaths posted on Ancestry.com note burials only as “Watertown” and include no specific cemetery.  The place of burial is also missing from Familysearch.org records.  Names of people noted as being buried in Watertown were compared to the burial records maintained by the town of Watertown for its public cemeteries.  Note: St. Patrick’s Cemetery was consecrated August 23, 1896, therefore burials of those not listed in the town’s records may be assumed to have been made at Catholic Mount Auburn.  Those names (720) were added to the spreadsheet and Findagrave.com.  If I was able to match a burial to an existing family's lot, I noted it.  Most do not indicate the grave location.  If a death occurred during that gap and is noted on a headstone, it has already been added, by me, to the spreadsheet and Findagrave.com.

I took the same approach for Cambridge deaths, as Boston and Cambridge account for the vast majority of burials. Note: Place of burial was not included in Chelsea death records until 1891.

1910 and subsequent years:

The death records from 1910 to 1920 are accessible by city/town on Familysearch.org.  There is normally a single certificate for each death.  The specific cemetery of burial should be noted on the certificate.  An on-line review was made of each city's/town’s certificates to determine burials at the Catholic Mount Auburn Cemetery.  The records of Boston, Cambridge, Watertown, Belmont, Somerville and Chelsea were reviewed.

Ancestry.com records of deaths end at 1890.  Familysearch.org’s records of deaths currently end at 1920.  Searches beyond 1920 would have to be made directly at the individual city/town Clerk’s office.

Unresolved names:

Certain last names, on the spreadsheet (noted in blue), cannot to be attributed to a death and burial of a specific person.  The burial book may only note, “McEvoy’s family lot.”  I entered the items in blue, noting the last name.  The vast majority of those entries matched the purchase date of the lot.  I later resolved about 50% of those items by finding a burial on that date that could be attributed to the owner’s family.  It was normally the death of a young child.

Names noted in red are so poorly spelled that they cannot be attributed to a specific person.  Those items require further review.

Unresolved lots and/or rows of burials:

Although the names are recorded in the burial book, full information is not.  The examination of the burial books maintained by the Catholic Cemetery Association did not reveal any further information as the specific location was not noted in their records.

On May 15-16, 2015, an edit was made of the spreadsheet data.  The following Information fields (columns) were sorted and reviewed:  cause of death, occupation, city/town of death, street of death, place of birth and marital status.  All errors were corrected.

During June and July 2015, an analysis of causes of death was made.  The data was separated into two periods:  April 11, 1854 – December 31, 1881 and January 1, 1882 to 1920.  That bifurcation was done to compare the economic, living and health care conditions of the two periods.  My hypothesis was that the passage of time would improve those conditions and that would result in a positive impact on mortality data.

During June and July 2015, newspaper searches were performed to find stories where the cause of death was noted as either homicide or suicide for people buried at the Cemetery.  The same newspaper search was made where the cause of death was noted as by accident.

During November and December 2015, analysis of data commenced in preparation for a PowerPoint presentation in late Spring of 2016.  Slides of various data were prepared and narratives were developed for the presentation.

Work was completed by the anniversary of the fourth year of the project on 2-8-2016.  Actually, this project will never be completed as more work will be required as post-1920 death records become available and other researchers make further discoveries.