Billerica is a bedroom community of Boston,Ma ssachusetts. It is a sleepy place. The town was founded in 1655, and nothing much has happened there since. The residents like it that way. I know because I lived in Billerica for seventeen years. While I have no ancestors in the town, I did walk through the cemeteries several times. The Colonial-era tombstones are fascinating. Now Billerica descendants can search cemetery listings online. Photographs of many of the older tombstones are also available online.
Two researchers have spent about two years studying Billerica's cemeteries, taking pictures, and recording data from headstones in an effort to create an Internet catalog. Increasingly, projects like these are being recognized as a tool for genealogists and people interested in social history.
The researchers, Kathy Meagher and Gregory McClay, both town library staff members, hope the catalog serves as a reference for people examining Billerica's history or those trying to find details of their family's past in the town.
Billerica has seven cemeteries. The oldest is the South Burying Ground, which dates to 1663. The names of some of Billerica's first families, such as Rogers, Farmer, Patten, and Danforth, appear on the headstones.
The Old Corner Burying Ground off Pollard Street, also called the North Burying Ground, sits behind a sturdy wrought-iron gate. Three slate headstones memorialize the Dutton family, each etched with a skull, wings, and crossed bones.
The Duttons -- John, his wife, Rebeckah, and their daughter, also named Rebeckah -- all died within a month of each other during a smallpox outbreak in December 1760. The epitaphs on the stones say ''Memento Mori," or roughly translated, ''Remember your mortality," according to cemetery archivists.
The headstone for Timothy and Salla Stearns, two siblings who died of smallpox in 1791 and 1793, bears the portrait of a young boy and a girl. The epitaph reads, ''Two lovely babes here sleeping lie, Which God did lend us a while, Then took them back our faith to try, And we resigned them to His will."
My favorite Billerica tombstone is found over the grave of Lydia Dar, an elderly widow who fled Boston in 1775. It is rare to find so much information on a tombstone. Her epitaph reads, ''She left a good estate & came Into ye country May 22d 1775; to Escape ye abuse of ye Ministeral Troops sent by George ye 3d to Subject North America to slavery."
The information compiled by Kathy Meagher and Gregory McClay can be found online by going to the library website, http://www.billericalibrary.org, and clicking on local history and then on cemeteries.