Dec 05 2011

James Higgins and his wife, Luraner Becraft Higgins,
farmed for many years as did their descendants.

When I was a little girl, I went to the Higgins Family Cemetery with my grandmother. She was a Higgins and a direct descendant of James Higgins, Revolutionary War Patriot, who died in 1816. James Higgins was the first person buried in the once rural cemetery, that is now surrounded by urban metropolitan Washington, D.C. As the years went by, many family members and extended family members were buried in the Cemetery, located off of what is now Twinbrook Parkway in Rockville, MD.

In July 2011, the Higgins Cemetery Historic Preservation
Association, Inc. designed a new sign and replaced the old one.

When I remember visiting the Cemetery, I remember standing grave stones, a good number of them, so it looked like a cemetery. Eventually with development happening all around it, however, the reverence for hallowed ground was set aside as the Higgins Cemetery fell into disuse and then later abuse. Not only did the land become a dumping ground, but vandals broke headstones and some were even carried off, never to be recovered.

Historical objects get misplaced or lost quite often. People move, storage areas suffer destruction from wind and weather and sometimes, objects are stolen by the public that loves them. And so, museums and historically designated properties are proactive about protecting their collections. Accurate accession records provide a data base showing each objects’ provenance, acquisition means, physical condition and art conservation treatments through the years. This careful registry of items in the public trust can include thousands of entries depending on the size of the collection. But what happens when objects of historical value are not safely hidden away in museum storage areas where those who have access can be controlled and monitored?

Tombstones are sometimes carried off as a prank causing
a destructive loss of heritage and history. Here is where
Mary E. Higgins Gott’s gravestone was found in April, 2011.

Well, sometimes historical objects get “messed with.” Things get broken or stolen and historic documentation is compromised. This is especially true with the birth and death records found on tombstones. We think of tombstones as being solid memorials, with their information literally “carved in stone.” But, graveyards are sitting ducks for those who don’t respect their informational value and enjoy being malicious. Unfortunately, with the Higgins Family Cemetery falling into seeming abandonment, many stones became lost and are now missing.

And so it was with the stone of Mary E. Higgins Gott, a women known to be buried in the Cemetery, but whose gravestone had been missing for years, until one day this past summer when the Higgins Cemetery Board of Directors received a phone call from Carroll County, Maryland. The tombstone was found leaning against a foreclosed home after the occupants had been evicted. It was not broken, nor overly damaged even though it was many miles from its home in Montgomery County, Maryland. Through a chain of events set off by the foreclosure eviction, Ms. Higgins’ gravestone was brought to the attention of the Carroll County Genealogical Society and finally returned to its rightful place in Montgomery County. The details of the discovery and return of the stone can be viewed by clicking here to read an article from the Carroll County Times.

Members of the Higgins Cemetery Historic Preservation
Association, Inc.
worked together to return Mary E. Higgins
Gott’s memorial back to the Higgins Cemetery in June, 2011.

Because of the public nature of graveyards and the impossibility of keeping their grounds and tombstones absolutely secure, organizations have gathered to combat not only the physical loss of tombstones, but also the loss of the data found on their surfaces. Genealogical societies have organized themselves to record all tombstone information within their locale. In addition, the Association for Gravestone Studies formed in 1977 to further the study and preservation of grave markers, works internationally to save our historical markers and their sacred grounds.

If you appreciate the beauty and value of our cemeteries as places of reflection and store houses of genealogical knowledge, consider joining the effort, as it is a profound task that, one must realize, increases everyday. As with all historical endeavors, volunteers and the money to fund their efforts are always needed, so any contribution of time or money will be appreciated. Contact your local historical society and you’ll see that it’s easy to get bitten by the genealogical bug. An infectious appreciation for our nation’s graveyards soon follows!

Stories in Stone: The Complete Guide to Cemetery
is a remarkable book. If you have an interest
in cemeteries and their memorials, hover your mouse
over this link: Stories in Stone

NaBloPoMo 2011

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NaBloPoMo November 2012