Lessons Learned from a Public History Project

October 17th, 2013 by Andover Historical Society

The following article was written by Kimberly Whitworth, J.D. for publication on the NEHGS e-newsletter. Ms. Whitworth has given permission for it to be shared with Andover Historical Society readers on our site.

During the past year, I have been working on creating an on-line map and database of the Old Burial Ground, located on Academy Road in North Andover, Massachusetts.  The Old Burial Ground was established around 1650 and the site holds the remains of the founding families of Andover, as well as their descendants.  This means the graves marking the burials—as well as the burials themselves—are of historic significance to early New England.

OldBurialGround Map-1

I developed the idea for this project from a graduate class I took last fall which considered the historical aspects of the New England landscape.  Burial grounds certainly do not come to mind immediately as a landscape, but all have been created by the human hand.

People often think of burial grounds as static, where nothing changes.  What I discovered at the end of my project is that the Map is only a 2013 “snapshot” of this particular landscape.  I was fortunate enough to have access to the work of prior efforts to collect and catalogue the burials and markers at the site.

When reviewing maps and data taken during the 1960s and the 1990s it became clear the site has changed over time due to a variety of factors, including environmental damage and weather, destruction wrought by tree roots and occasional vandalism.  Stones that were recorded in the 1960s or 1990s were occasionally found as “missing” in the 2013 database.

The technology I used to create the Map and locate each headstone is called “GIS” or Geographic Information Systems, “a collection of computer hardware, software, and geographic data for capturing, managing, analyzing, and displaying all forms of geographically referenced information.”

Each headstone on the map represents a point collected using satellite technology.  Now, each headstone has a latitude and longitude line associated with each point gathered.  The accuracy of each  point with the system used in this project is within a meter.

Today, the Burial Ground is owned by the Town of North Andover and it is under the care of the North Andover Historical Commission.  I was fortunate enough to have Town support for the project, along with assistance from many departments at Town Hall.

I also had the support of the North Andover Historical Society and the Andover Historical Society, along with a few dedicated volunteers who braved some of the hottest days of the summer to take “points” with me.  Without the creativity, generosity and teamwork offered by so many people in and around the Town of North Andover, this project would have never been completed and available for public research.

Link to website and database:  http://www.townofnorthandover.com/pages/nandoverma_bcomm/cemetery.pdf

*  Kimberly Whitworth is a practicing attorney North of Boston and she is completing her Master’s Degree in History at Salem State University.

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