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Local Catholic cemetery records now available online

A statue of an angel overlooks Holy Cross Cemetery in Malden. Pilot photo/courtesy Clair Vail Photography

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BOSTON -- Researchers can now search hundreds of thousands of records containing detailed information about people buried in eastern Massachusetts Catholic cemeteries through a new online database, thanks to a partnership between American Ancestors/New England Historic Genealogical Society, the Archdiocese of Boston's Archive Department, and Catholic Cemetery Association (CCA).

The Catholic Cemetery database -- which will include an estimated 1 million names by December 2021 -- is available with a member subscription on AmericanAncestors.org.

The database spans the years 1833 through 1940 and contains records of burials from 20 cemeteries throughout eastern Massachusetts. Family members of the deceased, family historians and researchers can now easily locate and view detailed information about lot sales and interments, including burial dates and locations, and names of lot owners. Since many of the deceased may not have purchased a grave marker or their marker may have eroded with time, this collection is of essential value for anyone researching deceased people buried in eastern Massachusetts. Digitization of this information is not only a boon for researchers, it also helps to preserve the original, and often fragile, paper-based records kept by the archdiocese.

The Catholic Cemetery Association database currently features information from nine cemeteries: Holy Cross, Malden; Calvary, Waltham; Sacred Heart, Andover; St. George, Framingham; St. James, Haverhill; St. Joseph, Haverhill; St. Jean Baptiste, Lynn; St. Mary, Beverly; and St. Mary, Malden.

Records for 11 more cemeteries will be added throughout 2021.

In addition to the searchable database, American Ancestors and its partners are providing maps of each cemetery to help researchers locate burial plots. Where possible, maps include sections, ranges and, in some cases, narrative description of how headstones are arranged by row and lot number.

Also included are points of interest such as entrances, exits, flag poles, monuments, offices and spigots. Special sections for burials of infants, priests and members of religious orders are also noted. Additional maps will be added throughout 2021.

"American Ancestors is proud to offer this new cemetery records database alongside our current project with the archdiocese -- the digitization of sacramental records from 1789 to 1920," said D. Brenton Simons, president and CEO of American Ancestors/New England Historic Genealogical Society.

"After the positive feedback we received for our sacramental records collection, this was the next logical step, and we are grateful to the CCA for agreeing to make these records available through our website, AmericanAncestors.org,'' Simons added.

Thomas Lester, director of the Archive and Library at the Archdiocese of Boston said, "American Ancestors has been a valued partner in helping the archdiocese make these records available to a wider audience than ever before. We hope that the ability to find a record and use the maps to locate the final resting place of family members, whether they be long-deceased ancestors or a close relation, will bring peace and comfort to many."

"We look forward to continuing our focus on the management of the original records and maintaining our cemetery grounds throughout the archdiocese, making sure they are a place where visitors can peacefully pray, mourn and reflect upon the lives of the deceased," remarked Rob Visconti, executive director of the CCA.

According to Molly Rogers, database manager for Digital Projects for American Ancestors, the project is expected to be completed by the end of 2021 and, when finished, will include all of the CCA records through 1940 and maps of each cemetery.

Future releases include records from: St. Francis de Sales (Charlestown), St. Paul (Arlington), North Cambridge Catholic (Cambridge), St. Joseph (Lynn), St. Mary (Lynn), Holy Cross (Malden) (additional volumes), Immaculate Conception (Marlborough), St. Mary (Salem), St. Patrick (Stoneham), Catholic Mount Auburn (Watertown), St. Patrick (Watertown), and Calvary (Winchester).

The Catholic records databases, including the cemetery and sacramental records collections, are made possible through the work of American Ancestors volunteers and philanthropic support. In 2017, American Ancestors launched the Historic Catholic Records Fund to support the project.

Information about contributing to this fund can be found at AmericanAncestors.org/catholic-records-fund.

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