The Rhode Island Historical Cemeteries Transcription Project
People complain all the time about the condition of the RI historical cemeteries.... These small family cemeteries are private burial grounds that belong to and are the responsibility of the descendants. Most of them were reserved out of the deed when the farm was sold with words like "I reserve my family burial ground 4 rods by 4 rods with rights of pass and repass forever." The towns and the state have no responsibility to maintain them and as a matter of fact could be sued if they attempt to repair the gravestones and damage them (a very likely probability).
There are 3100 historical cemeteries in RI and about 400 are well cared for and in good condition. That is about 10 per town. The rest are for the most part abandoned, overgrown, and generally decaying. Herein lies the problem of the family cemetery and reserving it out of the deed. Most of the descendant who have never seen the family farm do not know they own a cemetery and are responsible for its care.... In many cases they are removed to larger cemeteries, but in some cases they can be worked into the landscaping of residential and commercial development.
RI is unique among the original colonies in that it had separation of church and state. This tolerance of religion allowed many churches to be built throughout each town, but each one was small and most did not have a cemetery. There are no town greens with a large white church and a cemetery (Little Compton started out as a Massachusetts town) in RI. Each family buried their dead on the family farm until about 1850 when large town and private cemeteries became popular. A typical RI town has 150 cemeteries; a typical Mass. town has 18 as does a typical Conn. town.
Please remember that the Cemetery Transcription Project is a work in progress. Some towns are completely done, while others are only half done. Probably 95% of all 17th, 18th and 19th century gravestones have been recorded. Probably less than half of the 20th century gravestones have been recorded.
NOTE: The cemeteries and the listings are primarily 1647-1900. There are some entries for the 20th century, but the goal of the project is older cemeteries that are no longer accepting burials. If a name is not listed it may not have been on the records obtained, and a volunteer has not yet walked the cemetery to verify and add records.
To the Rhode Island Cemeteries Database Home Page
History and Description of the Project
Find a Grave - Rhode Island (includes pictures of some stones)
Return to Rhode Island USGenWeb Home Page