I’m pretty confident that your bucket list of those “must sees” before your time on earth is up doesn’t include trips to old cemeteries. Skydiving perhaps or an exhilarating bungie jump off a bridge, but sauntering through the grounds of a timeworn cemetery may not be at the top of your “to do” list.
Bear with me for a moment.
As you get older, you’ll likely begin to ponder the fate your ancestors. Where did the live? What did they do? What was life like back then? Am I tough enough to have survived those days? Your ancestors form a bridge from the past to the present. We gain a better understanding of the world we live in when we examine it through a historical lens. We achieve a better awareness of who we are when we get to know our past.
Before you set off on a search for the final resting place of your ancestors, do a little homework and get to know their stories. By doing so, your time will be well-spent and deeply impactful. This is especially the case if you have the opportunity to visit the cemeteries of your ancestors that walked the earth two, three or four-hundred years before you.
One such cemetery is located in Chelmsford, Massachusetts which is 30 miles northwest of Boston. It is fittingly called The Forefathers Burying Ground. Now you may likely ask, why is this historic place called a burying ground and not a cemetery? Historically, a burying ground or graveyard refers to the final resting place of the dead on land that adjoins a church. As you travel across America, you’ll oftentimes see graveyards like these adjacent to older churches. As the population in America increased and these graveyards filled, new burial sites on lands not adjacent to churches named cemeteries were created. The word cemetery originates from the Greek word koimeterion which translates to ‘dormitory or resting place’.
My direct Spaulding family ancestors arrived in Chelmsford around 1650 and were actually part of the town’s founding. By 1760, my direct ancestral line began to migrate to nearby Massachusetts towns of Westford and Lowell and north to the states of Vermont and New Hampshire. But many of my Spalding and Spaulding cousins remained in Chelmsford, and continue to remain there today, nearly 400 years later. So The Forefathers Burying Ground was an extraordinary place to discover my past.
I’ve visited The Forefathers Burying Ground twice. First in 1991 with my wife and sons. It gave me an opportunity to begin to share our Spaulding family history story with my sons. I can still vividly recall that first visit as my boys would announce, “Dad, we’ve found another Spaulding”. Not only did we find the grave markers of our direct family line from the 1700s, we discovered numerous Spaulding cousins.
The second visit was in 2021 when my wife and I explored the site with Marti Spalding, fellow family historian and author of Touring the Forefathers Burying Ground, Chelmsford, Massachusetts. That day was special as we learned the stories of so many of our ancestors from Marti who has devoted countless hours to preserve the Spalding/Spaulding family legacy.
The earliest of my direct ancestors buried at The Forefathers Burying Ground are my ninth great-grandparents Edward (1601-1669) and Rachel Spalding (1622-1670). No gravestones exist for Edward and Rachel but it is believed they are buried adjacent to their grandson Joseph Spaulding (1673-1728)1. My eighth great-grandparents Deacon Andrew Spaulding, Sr. (1652-1713) and his wife Hannah Spaulding (1654-1730) are also buried there. Andrew, Sr. and Hannah’s son Deacon Andrew Spaulding, Jr. (1678-1753) and his wife Abigail (1682-1768) who are my seventh great-grandparents also rest in peace at this historic site of our forefathers.
In addition to my direct ancestors listed above, the following Spalding and Spaulding family cousins are buried at The Forefathers Burying Ground.
- Lieut. Edward Spalding (1635-1707)
- Edward Spalding (1674-1761)
- Joseph Spaulding (1673-1728)
- Henry Spaulding (1680-1718)
- Lieut. John Spaulding (1704-1791)
- Phebe Spaulding (1707-1752)
- Ruth Spaulding (1733-1754)
- David Spaulding (1716-1793)
- Robert Spaulding (1750-1771)
- Col. Simeon Spaulding (1713-1785)
- Sarah Spaulding (1717-1746)
- Joseph Spaulding (1756-1820)
- Job Spaulding (1762-1835)
- Sarah Spaulding (1761-1830)
- Nathaniel Spaulding (1791-1829)
- John Spaulding (1786-1830)
American Revolution Connection
The story of American Revolution veteran Joseph Spaulding highlighted above is fascinating. He fought at the Battle of Concord which was the first skirmish of the war where the “shot heard round the world” was fired. But it was at the Battle of Bunker hill occurring two months later on June 17, 1775 where Joseph Spaulding will be forever known. Here’s how his story unfolded as documented in The Spalding Memorial by Charles Warren Spalding.
Here are the words of Private Joseph Spaulding’s later response to the charge.
Stories like that of Joseph Spaulding is what makes studying family history and visiting historical sites like The Forefathers Burying Ground captivating.
I cannot begin to describe the emotions felt when you stop for a few moments, kneel and lay your hand on the gravestone of ancestor that predated you by over 300 years. Your mind gently wanders back to the days your ancestor walked the earth. You imagine what life may have been like for them. You wonder if you have what it took to survive in those days. You dream about someday meeting them in heaven. You ponder the many questions you have for them.
There are many ancestral burial sites across the United States like The Forefathers Burying Ground in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, particularly on the east coast in the states of the original 13 colonies. As you uncover the stories of your ancestors, I’d encourage you to travel to the place they lived, visit their graves and discover your past!
- Spalding, Marti. (2002). Touring the Forefathers Burying Ground. Massachusetts: Spalding Documentation Services, Inc., p. 59, 67.
- Spalding, Charles W. (1897). The Spalding Memorial: A Genealogical History of Edward Spalding and His Descendants. Illinois: American Publishers Association. p. 226.