Recently, I visited the Special Collections unit of the Carothers Library at the University of Rhode Island. URI is situated in the picturesque village of Kingston, Rhode Island. Like many east coast state universities, the campus is somewhat large and spread out. Before you ask, let me say, yes, as on all college campuses, parking is a problem. Going in June helped.
I called Special Collections in advance, as requested for summer visitors on the website. They were very nice. I felt badly that I arrived a bit later than my appointment time. See the book shop notes at the bottom of this post. Next time, library first, book shop second.
I pulled up to the university Visitors Center and walked in. They issued me a temporary parking pass and gave me a map so I could find the parking lot. The lot was not all that close to the library, so there was a bit of walking to do after I parked.
The reading room for Special Collections was located on the second floor. I went in and introduced myself. The librarian asked me a few more questions about the records I wanted to look at, then went and retrieved the archival boxes.
My mission was to seek records for the Grace Church Cemetery in Providence (PV005 in the Rhode Island Historical Cemeteries Commission website). URI holds the archives of various Episcopal Churches of Rhode Island. According to their online catalog, there were records of Grace Church, as well as records specific to the Grace Church Cemetery, which is located just south of downtown Providence on Broad Street. These records are in the archives; none are online.
Grace Episcopal Church
I have noticed over the years that I have several ancestors buried in the Grace Church Cemetery, Providence:
- my g-grandfather Miles E Baldwin Sr (1863-1926)
- my ggg-grandmother Margaret (Lawrence) Murdock (1837-1921)
- my gggg-grandparents James (1807-1882) and Ann (Shortridge) Lawrence (1810-1897)
as well as various sons and daughters of those ancestors. I learned of this through death records.
If anyone were to read my blog often, they might realize this is one of the first times I’ve written about my ancestors having a connection to a church. Prior to about 1900, I almost never find them getting married at a church, or appearing in any church activities. If they did, it tended to be Methodist, Congregational, or Baptist, with a few Quakers in the distant past. But Episcopalian? The only one I can think of was my grandfather’s Aunt Jenny, who was, according to her obituary, a member of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Providence.
So I sat at the library and thought through the idea of the Episcopal Church. It occurred to me that I might expect English immigrants to be affiliated with an Episcopal Church. Aunt Jenny and my great grandfather, Miles E Baldwin Sr., were half siblings, and their mother was born in Surrey, England and came to the U.S. around 1843. James and Ann (Shortridge) Lawrence were immigrants from two different places in England around 1833, and Margaret Lawrence was their daughter. I went so far as to check out the church rolls and sacrament documentation in the special collections (in addition to the cemetery records) but no luck. Probably, they were loyal to the church and turned there for burial, but apparently were not regular members. Possibly, a real church wedding or funeral was too costly.
Grace Church Cemetery records
The Grace Church Cemetery records were in boxes 45, 46 and 47 of Group #144, Series IV. In the end I looked at all three boxes, and several mini-boxes of cards. In Rhode Island, one gets used to a “cemetery” being a small group of ancient stones enclosed by rusting ironwork behind an old barn. Records of any sort (other than later gravestone readings) are quite a luxury. I haven’t gotten used to them, so I made sure I looked at everything.
I found what I was looking for, and I found a little more. These are the family members that I found:
- Lot #88
- my g-grandfather Miles E Baldwin Sr (1863-1926)
- Jennie Baldwin, dated 8 April 1908 (Lot 721) (29 November 1926 removed to Lot 88)
- Lot #250
- my ggggg-grandmother Margaret (Balmer) Shortridge (1781-1873)
- possibly, my ggggg-grandfather John Shortridge (1786 – ?)
- my gggg-grandfather James Lawrence (1807-1882)
- my gggg-grandmother Annie (Shortridge) Lawrence (1810-1897)
- four children of James and Annie Lawrence:
- my ggg-grandmother Margaret (Lawrence) Murdock Knight (1837-1921)
- John H Lawrence (1840-1862)
- William J. Lawrence (1845-1865)
- Elizabeth Jane (Lawrence) Scott (1849-1937) and her husband John Thayer Scott (1846-1921) and some of their children
- Lot 378
- Hazel M Baldwin (1910-1931) – daughter of Miles, above
- Jennie K. Robblee (1864-1944) – sister of Miles’ second wife Mabel Robblee
- Lot 547
- Mary (Shortridge) Bamford (1806-1883), daughter of John and Margaret Shortridge
- her husband William Bamford and some of their children
- Lot 215
- Margaret (Shortridge) Hardman (1816-1892), daughter of John and Margaret Shortridge
- her husband William Hardman and two of their children
I used the typed index (Box 45), the card index boxes (Box 47), “plot listings” showing – I think – ownership (Box 47) and the plot diagrams (Box 46). In a few cases I learned a little more at the R.I. Historic Cemeteries Commission website.
A few surprises
I found some surprising things while researching this cemetery.
- Jennie Baldwin in lot #88 – that is from the cemetery index in Box 45, folder 1, evidently taken from the plot diagram. R.I. Historical Cemeteries Commission adds an entry in lot #88 for Myrtle Baldwin – that makes a lot more sense. Miles and his daughter Myrtle are in one grave – the rest of #88 are strangers. “Jennie Baldwin” is jotted sloppily next to Miles’ name on the plot diagram. I suspect my Aunt Jenny paid for her brother’s burial, and the girl’s grave was moved at that time, and maybe the clerk got the names mixed up. There is no Jennie Baldwin. I think.
- John Shortridge is mentioned in the plot diagram with a question mark. I’ve never found any trace of him after the family’s 1832 arrival in New York, when he was 46 years old. Sure wish I knew what this meant. I don’t think anyone would buy a burial plot for someone who disappeared – he must have died. Strange.
- John Lawrence was killed at the Battle of Antietam. I had lost track of John Lawrence, now I see why. Researching this topic is going to be my next task. [Update – see further info on my subsequent blog post, A Death at Antietam]
- John’s brother William Lawrence, who died of Typhoid Fever in 1865, may also have served in the Civil War. Need to research.
- Possibly, the two Civil War letters that are currently lost in my family were written by one of these two. As I think about a mother saving such letters and passing them down to the child she lived with at the time of her death, I can see how these might have ended up with my grandmother. Something to think about.
I had a good visit at the Carothers Library special collections unit, and pretty much just did what I came to do. I can think of a few other topics to look up there, and that may happen another time. Some of my local genealogy friends say the library itself is a reasonable research spot; I didn’t look at the regular collections. All in all, I got some valuable information and was able to share it with a cousin that I met through DNA testing.
The Grace Church Cemetery
I was able to copy the cemetery map at the archives. It is below. Click here for a copy that can be clicked to enlarge.
The Rhode Island Historical Cemeteries Commission website provides some details of many of the graves. Using the “Search Web Database” link, I searched for various last names in this cemetery, PV005, over the years. Now, in hindsight, I see that the information was really quite helpful. The lot number is given, and other information, and John Sterling himself updated the listings in 2000. Can’t get much better than that.
The problem with Grace Church Cemetery is the location; it’s in a downtrodden neighborhood just south of downtown Providence and is a little the worse for wear. In fairness, the neighborhood was nothing fancy when my ancestors were buried there. I took some pictures for this post, but I expect to find my ancestors’ graves in the future, after I finish compiling what I know.
A little detour
Across route 138 from the campus, I saw a used book shop as I was driving to the library and I had to stop. It was Allison B. Goodsell, Rare Books, also called the Kingston Hill Store. The shop had a great Rhode Island history collection, a small genealogy section, and, in back, some complete old sets of Rhode Island compiled books – Records of the Colony of Rhode Island, Early Records of the Town of Providence, etc. – the kind of thing I have used on Google Books or Internet Archive.
They even had two copies of Austin’s Genealogical Dictionary of Rhode Island. And many other treasures. This may be my new favorite used book store in Rhode Island. I bought a book that will be featured on the blog at a later date.
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