(This story was first published in the March 28, 2013 edition of the Vermont Standard.)
By Katy Savage
HARTLAND — The history of a 200-year-old family graveyard in Hartland has recently become clearer.
Kate Kenny and John Crock of the University of Vermont Consulting Archeology Program, dug the Aldrich family cemetery at a landowner’s request in 2011 and are tentatively scheduled to present findings at the Hartland Public Library April 14 at 2 p.m.
Vermont telecommunications executive and landowner Michel Guité wanted the Aldrich cemetery on his property moved closer to a town road for privacy reasons. His request was met with unfavorable remarks from townspeople in 2008. Some objected because they believed Noah Aldrich, one of the descendants and a veteran of the War of 1812, was buried there. But science has proven that’s not the case.
“Noah Aldrich died within a few months or even a few days of birth,” said Kenny. The war veteran in question is Noah’s uncle, who is not buried with the rest of the family.
Though the topic is sensitive to some, Kenny hopes the public will appreciate the effort involved.
“We do know that there have been some unfavorable objections to the project,” she said. “We’re hoping people are interested in finding out the story of who (the descendants) were and what we found out.”
After looking under every nook and cranny to find all information possible about the Aldrich family, digging began centimeter by centimeter, sometimes with a shovel, but mostly by hand. It was typical for graves to be 5 feet below the surface in the 1800s.
Ten people and one cat were found in the Aldrich cemetery; the oldest died in the early 1800s.
Researchers dug and identified all bodies in less than a month, even through the hurdles of Tropical Storm Irene, which delayed the study temporarily. But locating all the remains wasn’t easy.
The soil was mixed and natural disturbances over time had moved graves. The cemetery also predated the time when marble grave markers indicating the name, age of death and time of death, were used. Deaths were not required to be reported in Vermont until 1850 — some of the Aldrichs died before then.
Red paint on all of the Aldrich children’s coffins suggested that they died after 1820. The children coffins were also slightly fancier than the parent’s, with hinged lids, handles on the side and glass viewing windows.
Two of Aldrich children were buried almost on top of each other.
“In Vermont, when children died or people who were extremely close to one another died, they ended up with the same grave shaft and sometimes the same coffin,” Kenny said. “It indicates that they died close to the same time and they were closely related.”
Archeologists weren’t required to move the cemetery. Legally, an undertaker and in some cases, medical students, could have done the job, but to make sure all remains were collected, archeologists were needed.
Kenny said the findings represent an important part of Hartland history.
“We’ll share what information we can provide above and beyond the written record,” said Kenny. “Sometimes records get lost and data is incomplete. The most gratifying part was retaining the identity of the individuals — you can’t beat that as an archeologist.”
Guité provided new caskets for all the Aldrich’s — including the cat — and has since reburied the family on a different portion of his property.
Kenny is preparing a final report which should be done in the coming weeks. The presentation will be held in conjunction with the Hartland Historical Society, which can be reached at 436-1703.
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