Ever since I started copying over my ancestor Emma Richards’ journal, I have wanted to visit the town where she lived: Williamsburg, Massachusetts. As it happens, my parents currently live in Vermont, a couple of hours away from Williamsburg. The day after Christmas, my parents and my two sisters traveled through the snow to this village to see the sights.
Our first stop was the Williamsburg General Store, founded in 1876, and still open for business. Neighboring buildings included the Grange Community Hall and the Town Hall (now used by the Historical Society), neither of which were open. That’s my mom in both pictures. We also found a memorial to the 1874 Mill River Flood victims, one of which was my great-great-great-great grandmother, Sarah (Strong) Snow and another was Emma (Tilton) Richards’ little brother, William Tilton.
Next, we drove to see the Nash Hill schoolhouse, which has been restored by the Williamsburg Historical Society. Due to references in the journal, I believe this is the schoolhouse where Emma and Frank’s children attended. We couldn’t go inside, but we could peek through the windows. My sisters and dad are the people in the photos.
We returned to the village center to stop at the library and ask for directions to the Village Hill Cemetery. We did not have the time to avail ourselves of the library’s historical collection, but the librarians were very nice there and recognized a couple of the family names we mentioned. It seems that Emma’s step-father-in-law – Prescott Williams – was kind of a big deal in this village. (Which if I had stopped and thought about it, being a Williams from Williamsburg in the 19th century probably means you were related somehow to the namesake of the town.)
I had prepared for our visit to the cemetery by identifying and copying down the names of buried ancestors from the website Find a Grave. When the five of us parked at the cemetery, I said to my parents and sisters, “Okay, we’re mainly looking for Richards, Tiltons, and Snows. Bonus points for their minister, Henry Snyder and also bonus points for the grave of Juvenalia Winch, not because she’s related, but because her name is awesome.” Then we scattered over the cemetery on our scavenger hunt.
Due to the snow that had fallen all day, many graves had to be cleaned off to even be read. It was an odd and touching sensation to walk through this cemetery: I recognized many names on the gravestones as Emma’s neighbors and friends, as people they visited or conducted business with, and thus mentioned in the journal.
My older sister found our great-grandmother’s grave – our mom had forgotten to mention that she was buried there and Find a Grave had not included her name. So that was a nice surprise to start out the search. She had lived to be 100, so I had known her as a child.
Next we started finding some of Emma and Frank’s children and their families. I found the Rev. Snyder and my older sister exulted over finding Juvenalia. My younger sister, however, had the distinct honor of finding the graves of Frank, Emma, infant Ruby, and oldest daughter Mattie, who had died when she was 17. Their graves were quite worn.We were fast losing our light and everyone was feeling the cold. We had not found the graves of Emma’s parents or her younger brother William, so we fanned out on our way back to the car, just in case someone found them. I had almost reached the car when my younger sister called us back because she had found all three. Emma’s parents had died eleven days apart.
Her little brother’s grave inscription reads: “William Henry/Son of/H H & J E Tilton/Drowned in/Mill River flood/May 16 1874/
Æ 3 y’rs 7 m’os/”Up in that beautiful city/Which hath no need of the sun/Safe on the shepherds bosom/Resteth the little one”
Our last stop in Williamsburg was the farmhouse. It’s been fixed up since Emma’s day with modern siding and windows, so it didn’t really evoke the 19th century past-times described in Emma’s journal. But we spotted a few old apple trees on the land, which at the very least symbolically connected the place to the Richards family, as Frank earned a living by packing local apples onto trains. Frank’s step-father, Prescott Williams, was himself a kind of apple guru of the region. We snapped a couple of photos of the house and hoped the current inhabitants weren’t disturbed by the camera flashes. Then we left to go back to Vermont.
My final two photos are of Emma and Frank – my mom had found them while going through old photo albums, and then scanned them, so now I get to share what they looked like. The photos are undated, so I don’t know how old they are, but I love being able to put faces to the names.
3 responses to “Visiting my ancestors’ hometown: Williamsburg, MA”
Wow! What an absolutely wonderful experience for you. Thanks so much for sharing the photos and info you discovered. 🙂
Aesome stuff! What a fabulous discovery you’ve made. I remember doing a similar journey in Wales and it is truly a satisfying feeling having made a connection with your ancestors – even if it’s just a stone. But as you found, a grave stone says so much (written and unwritten). What a beautiful thing on William Henry’s stone. Thanks for sharing this.
Candiss – Glad you enjoyed them!
Tamara – That’s lovely that you had such a journey in Wales. Where in Wales? Not that I know Wales well, but I’ve been there before, while I was studying abroad in Cheltenham, England.