September 11, 2008





I am finally at a computer where I can post original items freely. The situation I discuss below is one that can happen in Anytown, U. S. A. My husband and I became part of the conflict after finally locating a family cemetery we had unsuccessfully searched for during previous trips to a New England town.


When a person purchases a piece of property at the far end of a quiet neighborhood, they should expect privacy.


Where cemeteries exist, persons who are descendants of the buried should expect to have access to their ancestor’s burial sites.


This is the core of the conflict facing New England residents in a condominium development and descendents of those buried in a small family cemetery. The kernel of the debate is whose rights triumph. Can the condominium management bar non-residents from using the road that is the only access to the cemetery?


Although the developer of the condominium allegedly agreed to maintain the cemetery when it purchased the property, the sorry results were displayed when my husband, Monte, and I, found the cemetery site in disarray. The entrance was via a slight path that was overgrown and barely visible, a woodsy area in the rear of several condominiums that was filled with briar bushes that left small scratches on my legs and pulled at my clothing. Our guide, a local native, pulled down a large branch broken from a branch of one of the trees, saying he did it so the branch wouldn’t fall on someone and hurt them.


We spent a few minutes at the site, which was only found with the help of our guide. I took photos while he and Monte talked. There were perhaps a dozen or more stones, most with lettering washed off. The latest stones were from the mid-1800s, the earliest the late 1600s. The remnants of a metal fence, supported by cement posts, surrounded two sides of the cemetery. It was rusty and covered with overgrowth. The writing on the stones faced south. There was a sign with the name of the cemetery and its historic number.


As we left, we tried to note landmarks with visible signs and photographs, hoping we could find the cemetery independently should we return to the site again.


The next day we returned to retrace our steps, finding first our parking space. Monte stayed with the car as I took more photos, this time in order with accompanying notes with precise information—including that the entrance to the woods leading to the cemetery was across from a certain numbered condominium.


Returning to the car, Monte told me a woman puttering around her porch kept eying him and the car, but she kept her head down. He felt she was uneasy with our presence, and that I should speak with her to ease her mind.


Monte was right.


I walked toward the porch and yelled out “Hello.” When I had her attention, I said I’d stopped to explain my presence and actions so she wouldn’t be wondering who the stranger was and what she was doing.


The woman said she was definitely uneasy about strangers parking, moving about, and taking pictures. She told me we were in a private development, with private roads, and she liked it here because of this privacy. After I explained that I was a descendent of the family cemetery residents, she seemed slightly more easy, but she again stated the “private” aspect of the roads and condominium development.


“This is a family cemetery,” I responded. “Access cannot be restricted for family members.”


She agreed, but again restated her points.


“It is my understanding that the condo developer was supposed to maintain the cemetery,” I said.


The woman went on to discuss the disrepair of the cemetery, adding that her garden club had offered to restore it but that word came from “up high” in the condominium association that this approach was prohibited, based on input from family members who said “NO!” However, the condominium association, at which meetings she tended not to speak, was trying to find a solution.


I apologized for disturbing her without backing down on my position on the right of access to the cemetery.


The woman continued her explanation, saying she was leery, because, since the cemetery site was deemed historical and listed on an Internet site, a variety of people had arrived in the condominium—parking, walking about, and exploring. Once two tour buses came in and a group of little old ladies sought out the cemetery.


“They were on a tour of historical cemeteries,” she said. “They like that kind of stuff, I guess.”


She continued, saying some teenagers had come in one night, parked, and left debris.


“That would be disturbing,” I responded. “But family cemetery members need access.”


She told me that I should see it in the winter, with the snow (something I had heard from my guide).


“Do you do digital and computers?” I asked.


“No, but my husband does,” she responded.


I asked if she might consider sending me a winter photo, since I couldn’t visit the area then. She agreed to take my card and ask him. She would post the card on her bulletin board.


After giving her my business card, Monte and I left the woman who was somewhat mollified, but not ready to release the problem.


This experience is just one of many in this country where preservation of historical sites conflict with progress:


History meets development.
The past meets the future.
The present blocks the past.
The past blocks the present.


Perhaps if the developer had designed access to the cemetery into the community, this problem would not exist. Since it didn’t, it is up to the condominium association to find a solution. Meanwhile, both cemetery visitors and condominium residents will have to practice consideration, patience and humility.

The situation described occurred in New England. However, it could occur in Anytown, U. S. A. 

ADDITIONAL READING on the Cornell family (with an ongoing dialogue concerning the cematery in the Killed Strangely post):


A Father-Daughter reunion after 30 years or



KILLED STRANGELY: A NEW ENGLAND MURDER STORY or (this post has an ongoing dialogue about the cematery in the comments)

Two Photographers Named Cornell or



  1. I live in MA so our laws a slighlty different, however here in MA there is a “right of access” to all cemeteries (private or public). The law states as long as you are conducting cemetery business, during normal business hours (daytime) there are no restrictions of access. When I was on my journey to locate this cemetery I visted the Portsmouth town hall in an attempt to determine its excact location. A small group of volunteers many years ago located and numbered all the cemeteries in town. They explained that it was abandoned and they would like to have it cleaned up. I was not aware the condo owners were suppose to maintain it, I was told some members of the condo assoc offered but were told if they started then they would be responsible forever (which is not true). According to the town, there are no direct-family left to contact about maintaining the cemetery.

    Comment by Craig Tjersland — August 8, 2009 @ 4:17 am | Reply

  2. […]      A post on Rebecca Cornell and her son, Thomas Cornell (KILLED STRANGELY: A NEW ENGLAND MURDER STORY ), has generated the most comments through the years: I guess we are shirt-tail relatives as we both descend from Rebecca (Briggs) Cornell, as well as Lizzie ( a little error—my Cornell lineage separates from the Lizzie Borden lineage) I am descended . If Thomas and Lizzie are guilty I hope it’s not genetic as my Great-Great Grandmother, Caroline Briggs, and her son, David Briggs, were convicted of killing a teacher in Southern Oregon in 1874… and  Thomas Cornell was my eighth great grandfather. I’m going to Rhode Island in three weeks to visit these spots you mention and others. Were you able to find the graveyard where he is buried? There is a lot of interest in the historic Cornell cemetery, which I also wrote about in my post IN NEW ENGLAND, HISTORY CONFLICTS WITH PROGRESS. […]

    Pingback by Blogging: Does it Have Value? Part 1 « Carolyncholland’s Weblog — January 9, 2010 @ 1:41 am | Reply

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