Old St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery

Transcription by John Austin

  This is a list of the grave stones still visible in the old St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery on Route 56 in the Town of Potsdam, NY. This census was taken in the late summer of 2001 and approximately 1050 separate graves were identified, plus about 50 more pedestals which probably bore gravestones in the past.  Many of the stones were broken or so worn that they were illegible.  Approximately 50 stones were discovered buried under several inches of soil but it must be assumed that many more were not discovered. The parish death register from 1879-1915 was later consulted to help fill in missing dates and to clarify names.  Data from this register and certain information from censuses is written in parentheses to show that it does not actually appear on the stone.  If a line separates members of a family in this listing, it means that they are in the same plot as others but have a separate stone.

   In at least 25 cases, the year of death marked on a stone was one year off from that which was recorded in the parish register. Some of these discrepancies may have been due to transcription errors in the cemetery, but it is puzzling, at the very least, that each difference is off by exactly one year, and that it is always the last digit of the date

  The cemetery is at the corner of NY Route 56 and the Garfield Rd., with the Garfield Cemetery forming the eastern border and an empty field forms the northern line. There are 60 rows of graves, numbered starting from the Garfield Cemetery.  There are 7 columns assigned letters A through G, with A being the most northerly one.  A narrow driveway leads from the main entrance on Route 56 and enters the cemetery between columns C and D. This path is not completely straight and bends slightly to the north as it goes up the small hill towards the Garfield Cemetery

  There are virtually no trees or shrubs in the cemetery, but several large stumps attest that there were at one time. Most of the graves face Route 56, but a few face the opposite direction, and a very few face north. 

  The cemetery was apparently established some time in the 1850s, and burials as late as 2000 were recorded, although there is a newer cemetery which is the one generally used today(which is also located on Route 56, but just outside the village limits.)

   St. Mary's parish has a map of plot ownership of the old cemetery, but no actual burial list. However, a record of funerals beginning in 1879 does exist and helps to shed some light on stones that were difficult to read or broken.  However, from 1879 until 1915, there were no years in which more than half the recorded burials actually had visible gravestones by the summer of 2001. There are 420 separate plots, each one 10 by 24 feet.  There is room in each plot for at least 5 graves, or a minimum capacity of 2100 burials. It must be assumed that the new cemetery was begun because all (or most) of the plots in the old cemetery had been sold and/or used.  The fact that only 1050 graves could be identified, and the fact that only a small percentage of the people listed in the funeral book could be found in the cemetery points to the fact that there must be many graves which have sunk out of sight or perhaps never had permanent markers at all.

  It appears that burials up until the 1880?s were done under a system of common ownership of the cemetery.  However, in January 1886, parishioners were asked to purchase lots ($10) or half lots ($5) for their family use. Lots were sold starting in Row 1 up near the Garfield Cemetery, and were sold down as far as lot 44 which is at the brow of the hill leading down to (what is now) Route 56. After January 1886, lots were sold as they were needed and in no particular order.  This fact helped to identify some (about 60) of the burial sites in the cemetery. By correlating dates of plot purchase with the funeral list, the burial sites for many individuals could be ascertained. The last names of these burials appear in italics in this list so that researchers will know that no gravestone exists for that person, but that the plot was purchased at the time of the death and it can be assumed that the person is in that plot.

  Many of the Irish names in the cemetery have two forms:  with the ?O? (grandson) or ?Mc? (son) prefix or without it. Technically, almost all Irish surnames have one or the other prefix, however, it became politically expedient to do away with the prefixes in 19th century Britain and America. Lately, the trend has reversed, and many families are re-instating the prefix. If an ?O?Leary?  does not appear on this list, look under ?Leary?. The families are the same in any event.

  French surnames present an entirely different set of problems. French spelling and pronunciation is so different from English that many names are almost unrecognizable in the anglicized form.  For example, Gearo is probably Giroux originally, and LaBaff and LaBoef are the same.  Many times families would simply translate their name into English, so Desjardin became Gardiner.  However they sometimes left off the prefix as the Irish did, so Oliver Graff was also known as Oliver LaGraff

  There are at least 29 veterans buried in the cemetery, including 22 Civil War soldiers.  Some other statistics

  • oldest burial: Margaret Falon, Jan. 26, 1849
  • newest burial (as of Sep. 2001):  Helen Gardner, Jan. 10, 2000
  • oldest person in the cemetery:  John Osier, died at 105 in 1854
  • person born longest ago: John Osier would have been born in 1749
  • most common name: Sullivans comprise almost 5 % of known burials


 I would like to express my appreciation to Ms. Peggy Boysuk, the office manager of St. Mary?s Rectory in Potsdam. She was the one who initially helped me get a copy of the cemetery map and allowed me to check my data against the parish registers.  John Austin <uncajohns@yahoo.com>





Copyright 2001-05 by Norm Young and Russ Sprague

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