An estimated 600-900 neglected and forgotten Famine-era graves were discovered in Massachusetts in September when Rhode Islander Annie McMullen was attempting to trace her husband’s Irish ancestry in New England.
McMullen’s journey to discovery began several years ago when she became interested in learning more about her in-laws’ journey from Ireland to the U.S. She soon learned that her husband’s great-great-grandfather and three brothers came to the U.S. during the Famine, and that shortly afterwards one of the brothers died in a freak accident and was buried in the Irish Catholic Cemetery in Waltham, Massachusetts. But when she went to the cemetery, it was gone, replaced by a school, a new church, and residential housing.
“I began to wonder about all the individuals who have been searching their Irish family history and have not been able to find where their family members are buried,” she said. Eventually, she uncovered a news report that the graves in the cemetery had been reinterred in the city’s Calvary Cemetery following an agreement between Waltham and the Archdiocese of Boston in 1947. But when she went there, all she encountered was a field with a few headstones.
“That seemed odd, this big grassy area and only four headstones,” she told the Waltham News Tribune. So she took to excavating on her own, and discovered, under a few inches of topsoil, grave markers for immigrants from counties Cork, Kerry, Donegal, Galway, and more.
After her discovery, she reached out to the Waltham Historical Society and the Irish Ancestry Research Association. The triumvirate is embarking on a headstone reclamation project, hoping to restore the cemetery to its former state. ♦