Dan Weiskotten's Cemetery Project The Question (from SB 11/27/1997)
I'm working on my Eagle Badge for scouts and need to do some research on cemeteries.  Are there some really old ones that would be interesting to look at?  I especially like the old stones and the ones that aren't in use any more.  Could you tell me about the old grave yards in the Cazenovia area?

Dan Weiskotten's Answer (12/3/1997) (last modified 2/24/2005)
My study of the cemeteries of the towns of Cazenovia, Fenner and Nelson has identified 58 burial places, of which 28 are in Cazenovia, 16 are in Fenner, and 14 are in Nelson.

I have recently completed a transcription of all the tombstones in smaller cemeteries (many of which were not recorded or had serious errors). This information, with lists of who's buried in the larger and still active Evergreen, St. Agnes, New Woodstock, Welsh Church, and Erieville cemeteries shows that there are nearly 12,000 "named" burials in the three towns.

With these thousands of "named" dead folks are an additional 2,266 "unnamed" but marked or visible grave sites. The location of these "unnamed" graves are identified by the presence of uninscribed upright fieldstones, footstones with no matching headstone, rectangular sunken areas in amongst the marked graves, and historical records of burials in places that are no longer found today.

Of the burials in the three towns there are a minimum of about 10,000 in Cazenovia, more than 1,500 in Fenner, and more than 3,000 in Nelson. That makes more dead people in the towns than live people! Cazenovia's population in 1990 was 6514 (3,500 more dead folks), Fenner's was 1694 (150 more dead folks), and Nelson was 1892 (1,100 more dead folks). (My research was primarily done in the early 1990s, so I do not have many people who have been interred since then in the active cemeteries.)

Considering that Fenner's population has doubled since only 1960 and Nelson's has doubled since 1950, that's a lot of dead folks = we're outnumbered by more than 3,600 dead folks - and that's including only the graves that we can still see! Predictions are that there will may be as many as another 10% (over 1,400 more dead folks) out there in forgotten, unmarked, and unidentifiable graves from the early pioneer days, and in the original Cazenovia Village cemetery, lost family plots, farm children in orchards, etc.. That doesn't even count the bodies left behind by thousands of years of Native American occupation!

Additional information on SB's question on cemeteries in the Cazenovia/Fenner/Nelson area, 12/3/1997 (with additional preaching)

I want to add a little note about my beliefs regarding those that are buried in our community. I feel that these people from our past deserve a great deal of respect and we should understand that they were placed where they are in the belief that would be their final resting place. Since the location of many early burials are unknown (see above) it often happens that modern construction runs across a body or two. In situations such as this, I feel that it is our responsibility to find out who these people were. While it is nearly impossible to put a name to these unknowns, it is possible to find out what there life was like. I feel that we not only have the responsibility to learn from these individual, but out of respect for them to identify something about who they were and what their life was like. This information may be evident only as dental cavities showing that they ate a certain diet; morphological indication of sex, age, or race; stress fractures indicating a difficult occupation; injuries from a particular struggle; or no physical pathology at all indicating a healthy life. These clues may not put a name to the individual, but they do tell us something about who they are and what their life was like. I find that to be most respectful. I also believe that when the above has been accomplished we need to further respect them by returning them to their final resting place.

I've spent years loping through cemeteries and have done a lot of work along these very lines in all of the local cemeteries and in hundreds of other cemeteries across New York State, Vermont, and Maryland. Very little of my research has to do with digging up bodies and I've never had the opportunity to excavate a burial, although I do use information other people have gathered from excavations at cemeteries from all cultures and time periods in the region. To conduct my "no-dig" researches I need scientific studies on coffin hardware and decoration, burial techniques, body placement and adornment, grave offerings, etc.. My Masters Research Paper was titled "Patterns of Iroquois Burial" and I looked at the data collected from hundreds of excavated burials. Many were not excavated properly and thus the value of the information is nil, but the data from properly excavated burials, no matter who, what, or when, is extremely valuable to understanding the past.

End of commentary, and back to cemeteries in general.

Although most people are aware of the genealogical information that can be found on the tombstones, cemeteries reflect the community in which they are found and the processes under which they were formed. Thus, they can do more than just provide information on ancestors and be good places for picnics and late night parties.

While genealogists too often only care what names and dates cemeteries can provide their family tree, there are many people who look at cemeteries as valuable sources of information that tell us about what life was like in the past. Cemeteries naturally attract the curious eye and archaeologists and historians have long studied cemeteries to learn about community demographics, human morphology, religious beliefs, folk art, mortuary practices, stone working technology, historical geography, landscape architecture, etc. Most of the information that these disciplines seek is not found underground and thus they can be carried out without disturbing the dead.

The cemeteries of Cazenovia, Fenner and Nelson (CFN) are in no way unique, but the form a great collection of data for various angles of study. Several people have made transcription lists of our tombstones but there are many errors on the old lists. Some of the old lists have upwards of 75% of the information wrong (the lists compiled by the DAR are terrible and those lists compiled by Joyce Scott and her friends are not much better). Several other cemeteries were never inspected. Al this lead to a terrible resource for genealogists. If you were looking for the Wilson Family you would not find them even though they are located in the front row of the Wilson Cemetery! Poor Cornelia A. Beckwith, who died in 1835, was listed repeatedly as Rhoda Becker, died 1855 - glad I wasn't doing research on her!. I found one whole family cemetery and over two hundred old stones in the three towns that should have been on the old lists but had never been recorded! (Of those on the old lists I was unable to relocate 131 stones, and I cannot be sure if I missed them, they were never really there, or they were so poorly recorded that I could not matched them between the old and new readings.)

I recently completed a combined listing of all the smaller cemeteries in the three towns (CFN).  The larger New Woodstock, Erieville, Welsh Church and St. Agnes cemeteries have been recorded by others, but I have listed their burials on my web pages.  I'm still typing up the Evergreen tombstone and record book information that I collected a decade ago. Besides the transcriptions I have also measured, mapped, and described the smaller cemeteries in good detail.

A copy of my preliminary combined listing of CFN cemetery transcriptions is on file at the Cazenovia Public Library and I hope to soon complete a larger work on the history and patterns of the cemeteries themselves.

Early tombstones are found in many local cemeteries but we don't have as many of the locally carved shale/sandstone markers as in the towns to the south - probably because we had better access to marble from the east, whereas the communities to the south of us had direct access to good quality shales and sandstones. These stones are not found to the north of Cazenovia where the stone was not native. For some really nice shale/sandstone markers, made before the 1830s or so, look in the New Woodstock and Welsh Church cemeteries, or head south of town to the Sheds, Georgetown, and Crumb Hill cemeteries. Each of these cemeteries has dozens of wonderful carved local stones by several different carvers. They're rarely signed, but I'm studying a cluster of carvers from Cortland County whose work can be found all across central and southern New York. The earlier Cortland County stones (1800-1830) have wonderful folk-art designs while the second generation (1820-1850) are very geometrical in their carving.

The stones up our way, which may be made locally, tend to be the beautifully carved "classical" urn and willow designs, an Ogee top, and leafy borders. The most gorgeous example of these great pieces of art is the triple stone of Martha, Sarah and Elizabeth Downing, elderly sisters who died on May 12 and 13, 1813, and are buried just north of Peterboro. I also found, but reburied a unique stone in Evergreen Cemetery which had two small birds perched upon the willow. This was on the original stone of Harriet Bryan, the daughter of Reuben Bryan who had sold the cemetery grounds to the village in 1814. His wife died in 1813 and her stone is equally fine. We have a number of very early stones that are imported (before the massive importing of white marbles when the Erie Canal opened to central New York in 1822). The most common of these important stones are made from hard bluish "Dove" marble and they match in every detail stones found in abundance near Swanton, VT and in neighboring Quebec. They are also found in Utica, Oswego, and along the south shore of Lake Ontario which leads me to believe that they were brought in along Lake Champlain and the Mohawk River or down the St. Lawrence and into Lake Ontario.

Another singular imported stone is the small well-made black schist marker of Leander Chester Smith, who died 1816 and is buried in the Weaver Cemetery off the Nelson-Erieville Road. The only other grave stones that I have seen of this material, in the hundreds of cemeteries I have traipsed through, are located in the Woodstock, VT area. Perhaps it was brought west by family members - Oh, so much research to do!!

Cazenovia had a number of tombstone carvers, but since the known carvers worked in marble from the 1850s on I haven't done much study of their work.  I have identified the name of one early Cazenovia carver, Amasa Nims, who may have been active in the community as early as 1805, and who left his name hidden in the ornaments of a stone for a woman who died in 1813 and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery. One of the most prolific was Sidney Stanton who began about 1840 and carved hundreds of beautiful stones in his Cazenovia and Syracuse shops. One unusual stone, now fallen in the Union Cemetery, has a test alphabet carved at the base, probably where a prospective employee showed his stuff before being hired.  Carvers were active in Cazenovia right up to the first decades of the 20th century, and their story is yet to be told.

Stones are representative of the taste and skills of the time that they were made, so when looking at the stones you need to watch out for early dates on later stones. There was often (and still can be) a considerable lag-time between the time of death and when a stone was finally erected. This discrepancy may have been many years and will screw any tombstone study up good!

One other form of early tombstone, and usually found in a very fine, almost sculpture- quality pink marble, or in a very course large-grained white marble, are what I call the Ogee stones (for lack of a better term - others improperly call them bed-stead stones). These stones came in near the end of the Dove marbles and continued up to the 1840s before being phased out in favor of the commonplace square-topped (sawn) marble slabs.

In Evergreen Cemetery there are many forms of stones and monuments, from the pedestal- and-slab grave of Joshua Leonard, the block monument of John Lincklaen, to the several tall Onondaga Limestone obelisks carved out of local stone, and the massive big-city monuments along "Millionaire's Row." (some of these larger monuments were produced in Cazenovia shops, so I don't necessarily mean that they were made in urban shops.)

That's just a brief summary of tombstones in the area, I have gathered a considerable amount of information on carvers in other parts of the state, but unfortunately have no early local carvers although they were surely here.

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