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Hidden Graveyards

One of the issues facing Quaker researchers is dealing with tracing records of the meetings that were impacted by the Great Separation of 1827. In many cases, the Separation resulted in separate meeting houses and burial grounds being created for the meetings within each faction. Because the Hicksite branch was more prominent through much of the Mid-Atlantic area, it is mostly the Hicksite branch meetings that survived over time to become modern day monthly meetings after the two main branches reunited. For the most part, the records of each side have been preserved, but the piece that sometimes falls through the cracks is the outcome of the physical properties of some of the meetings.

For example, someone who knew that their ancestors were members of New Garden meeting might start their search for grave markers at the modern day New Garden Meeting burial ground, without ever realizing that there is also an old Orthodox burial ground just down the road. Sometimes, the alternate branch has a burial ground and/or meetinghouse very close to the original, such as the case of Goshen meeting, where the two buildings are next to each other, or Concord where the Orthodox burial ground lies next to the Hicksite ground, but sometimes the alternate burial grounds are a little trickier to find.

There is also the case where the original meeting house has long since disappeared after the meeting was discontinued, but the burial ground remains intact. Among the Chester County, PA meetings that fall into this category are Nantmeal, Whiteland and Doe Run (Derry). Aerial photographs often show these cemeteries, but seldom include any indication of their name.

Luckily, there are some tools available to help locate and identify these old burial grounds. In 1996, Clearfield Company of Baltimore reprinted in 1996 a survey of church archives for the Society of Friends in Pennsylvania that had originally been done by the Works Projects Administration in the late 1930’s which details the Quaker meetings of that time period, including some history of many that had already been discontinued. Because this work was done during the period in which the Friends had separated, the book includes information of both the Orthodox and the Hicksite properties. Though the address of the meetings are sometimes rather vague, it is still possible to determine when alternate meeting houses and burial grounds were established. The trick then becomes locating these places, and for that task, I turn to the old atlases. Historic Mapworks has many old atlases and maps online at their site that can be an extremely valuable tool for this purpose. Once I know that an alternate house or burial ground existed, based on information from the survey and the old atlases, I can then turn to the modern mapping tools like Google Earth to determine if the site still exists.

As I work through the process of adding meeting information to the new Data Dictionary on this site, I will be including as much information as possible about these old “hidden” properties and hopefully including some of the gravestones from the burial grounds involved.