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Strange things that happened on the way to a cemetery…..

Several years ago, it was a weekend, and we were bored. Of course, when my husband suggested a ride in the car, I pulled out my list of cemeteries to visit. (Only genealogists have backup lists of cemeteries for days such as this!) I decided on a cemetery in Woburn, and we set off with a full tank of gas, the camera, note book and family tree. Woburn is only an hour’s drive from home.

Our destination was the First Burial Ground in Woburn, Massachusetts. I had a list of ancestors from my father’s side of the family, with surnames such as Converse, Carter and Thompson. However, my husband wanted to stop at his office on the way, so I sat in the car, listened to music, read a book, got bored… time ticked by. Finally, he got back in the car and we were on our way. However, now we were both hungry and since it was late, it was now past lunchtime.

So, the next stop was for a sandwich. Not knowing the town of Woburn, we meandered, decided on a sandwich shop, and then had fun people watching whilst eating our lunch. Now it was midafternoon, and I wanted to find the cemetery, find the gravestones, and get a few photos before the shadows got too long. I wasn’t worried; it was turning out to be an interesting day.

After driving in circles around the Woburn town common, we finally found the correct one-way street to the First Burial Ground. It was my favorite kind of New England cemetery, installed on a hill, with lots of crooked and interesting stones from the 1600s and 1700s. I knew I would want to spend hours there, even though it was already late in the day. Only one other family was there, and I needed to find some time to chat up the locals, too.

We started looking and snapping photos, and eventually ended up next to the other family group. Of course, we all started to ask “Who are you looking for?” and “Is it an ancestor?” and “How are you related?” I was looking for the Converse surname. It turns out that they were looking for Francis Wyman, and I pulled out my copy of my family tree and said, “I think I’m descended of him, too!”

It turns out that on my mother’s side of the family tree, there were Wymans, and Francis Wyman was the first immigrant ancestor. He was one of the first settlers in Woburn, and his gravestone is one of the oldest in Massachusetts. Soon we were all comparing notes, angling for photographs and exchanging names. One of the other people was on the board of the “Wyman Family Association” and she was soon telling me all about the 1666 Francis Wyman House. It is the oldest house in Burlington (formerly part of Woburn) and is still owned by the family association. Five minutes later, they were gone, and so were we. Our brief cemetery visit was complete.

If we hadn’t dawdled that morning, stopped at the office, spent time lingering over lunch we never would have met up with strangers in the burial ground. We were there ten minutes, and so were they. We easily could have missed each other, and never have met to exchange stories. But within the next few days we joined the Wyman Family Association, attended a fantastic family reunion and toured our ancestor’s home. We made friends, met new cousins, and added pages and pages of notes to our genealogy data base.


Lesson learned: Stop, slow down and enjoy the ride! You never know what will happen on the way to the cemetery (or once you get there!)


For further information: - A genealogy website centered on Woburn, Massachusetts - The website of the Wyman Family Association - Francis Wyman and the Settlement of Woburn


Copyright 2010, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

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