1816 Lyndeborough cemetery map leads to discovery of unmarked veterans’ graves

LYNDEBOROUGH – Memorial Day is a time for remembering all of the veterans’ from all of our previous wars by placing a flag on each grave. There have been a lot of wars and there are a lot of veterans.

When Ginny Chrisenton, of Lyndeborough, was elected a trustee of the cemeteries a few years ago, she took on the job of putting all of the cemetery information into a data base. She found that information in many places and in various formats, including the discovery of a hand-drawn map of South Yard from 1816.

“It’s been sort of like trying to herd cats,” she said recently, elbow deep in various versions of maps of the town’s eight cemeteries, “getting it all together.”

In compiling her information, she used a list “revised in 1895 by C.H. Holt,” which lists “those graves which are to be decorated.” That list has been regularly updated by members of the Lafayette Artillery Company who decorate the graves. The late Edna Worcester did a lot of research for the company.

In addition, Chrisenton used a book privately created in 1984 by Ann Nichols, which lists the wording on all of the grave markers in town. It also notes obviously unmarked graves, with spaces in the rows.

In the 1970s, “all of the cemeteries were mapped and copies were provided to all the trustees. Unfortunately, different trustees used different copies to write things on and I had to look at all the copies. There were names on some that weren’t on others,” Chrisenton said.

And the various mapmakers and recorders used different formats.

Then, Chrisenton had to cross-check all of those records with the genealogies in the two town histories, 1905 and 1955, and against the town’s official mortuary records. There are discrepancies, missing dates and different spellings of names.

She has found some blank spots: Veterans who listed in various places, but with no headstones, and she has set out to locate them. Her list includes Oliver Stiles, War of 1812, Center Cemetery, Jeremiah Abbott, Revolutionary War, West (Route 31) Cemetery, James Thompson, who was undoubtedly in the Revolution but apparently served from another town, and Andrew Thompson, Revolutionary War, in West Cemetery.

A grave could be unmarked because of lack of funds, or immediate family, or if the original marker was wood, which has since deteriorated.

“We need to actually plot where the graves are with surveyors tools and see if there are errors in placement on the maps,” she said.

In her search, Chrisenton found a treasure: a hand drawn map of the South Yard from 1816.

“It is very fragile,” she said, “and I didn’t dare open it until I had the data base. I unrolled enough to learn it was South.”

She has since carefully unrolled it and photographed the pages for study. The map shows 177 graves, located on top of the hill under the huge old pines.

“It is glued to a heavy underlayment. The pages were stitched together and whoever glued it didn’t line it up perfectly, so you have to take it with a grain of salt,” Chrisenton said. “We need to actually go out on the ground and plot where the graves are.”

The 1816 map shows two graves with no markers, Capt. William Blaney and Capt. John Stephenson. The 1905 history lists Blaney as “doing active service” and also hiring another. Stephenson served in the French and Indian War and was a “Patriot” during the Revolution.

“Patriots” present Chrisenton with another aspect. They were men who hired a replacement during the Revolution. Stephenson was probably too old to go himself. Other men hired replacements because they were disabled or had other obligations.

She learned of one pact between neighbors: one would go to war, the others would care for his farm and family.

Chrisenton’s plan is to document these men’s service records and find descendants or other family members to make application to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs for military-style headstones. That may be a problem with Captain Blaney. His family returned to Marblehead, Mass., after his death, and the only family member she has located is in New Zealand.

Captain Stephenson is a different kind of problem. During the French and Indian War, she said, “We were the British, not fighting against them.” She didn’t think the V. would honor that service.

Chrisenton and her husband. Tom, also found a puzzle during a recent visit to Gettysburg, the list on the monument to the 5th N.H. Volunteers.

“On the Civil War monument in town, Frederick S. Maning is listed as Co. I, 5th Reg, N.H. Vol, killed at the Battle of Gettysburg, Pa., July 2, 1863.” His name is not on the memorial in Gettysburg.

Lyndeborough’s monument was erected in 1871, she said, the Gettysburg memorial in 1886. The original carvings were replaced with bronze tablets because the carving in the stone was getting hard to read.

When the data base is as complete as possible it will be available for searches and, “we will have a copy at the library and the town office, the maps where people can actually look up a location.”

In the meantime, the flags will be placed on all known graves.

The discovery of a map of the South Yard in 1816 showing 177 graves has added another dimension.

“I didn’t dare open it until I had the data base,” she said. “It’s very fragile. I unrolled enough to know it was South.”

She found that the pages had been stitched together and were glued to a underlayment. “We assume it was done by a surveyor,” but if the name is on the map, it is not readable.