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Archaeology: Cemetery Resources

gravestone
Sarah Gardiner grave, North Kingstown (Photo: Michael Bell)

Cemeteries are among Rhode Island's most unique and most overlooked historic resources. Rhode Island contains at least 2833 historic cemeteries, from small family burial grounds to landscaped garden cemeteries.

Cemeteries contain information about local individuals and families, landscape and architectural design, grave marker artisanry and technology, religious beliefs, and community history. Many cemeteries and burial grounds are threatened by neglect, vandalism, and encroaching development; however, many resources are available to researchers and advocates.

Resources:

  • The Rhode Island General Assembly website makes state laws relating to cemeteries available online. On May 9, 2012, the RIHPHC voted to approve new state regulations that establish standards for registering and protecting historic cemeteries.  The new regulations were authorized by the General Assembly in 2011, and they have been endorsed by the RI Advisory Commission on Historic Cemeteries.

  • The Rhode Island Cemetery Commission is a permanent advisory commission to study the location, condition, and inventory of historic cemeteries in Rhode Island and to make recommendations to the General Assembly relative to historic cemeteries in Rhode Island. The Commission aims to formulate and develop plans and programs to restore, rehabilitate, and maintain historical cemeteries and locate sources of funds such as grants and individual or corporate sponsors.

  • The Rhode Island Cemeteries Database documents gravemarkers and burials in cemeteries around the state. This ongoing project relies on volunteer transcribers and published records. The website also contains information on gravestone carvers and other links.

  • Some cities and towns have cemetery ordinances and commissions; others have delegated responsibilities to certain town officials. It is always important to check with the local government to determine ownership and how to obtain any needed permissions when planning cemetery clean-ups.

  • The Association for Gravestone Studies website features articles, links, and frequently asked questions. Useful information includes "Gravestone Rubbing Dos and Dont's" and "Symbolism on Gravestones."

  • Rhode Island genealogy websites include the Rhode Island pages at Rootsweb, Cyndi's List, and USGenWeb. Places to research in person include the Rhode Island Historical Society Library, Rhode Island State Archives, Rhode Island State Library, and town and city libraries.

  • For more information, contact archaeologists Timothy Ives or Charlotte Taylor at the RI Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission.