Cemeteries & Graveyards

Copies of A Guide to Burying Grounds in Thompson CT are available at the THS Museum, Town Hall and the Thompson Public Library.

Jump to Cemetery List, Hale Collection

Burying Grounds in Thompson

“Cemeteries are like museums. They preserve and exhibit an early American Art Form and tell stories of many past lifetimes.” (1)

Burying grounds, burial grounds, graveyards, cemeteries ….. different terms used to define where the bodies of those who have died are placed. Cemetery comes from Old French cimetiere which comes from the Greek word Koimeterion, which is the word for ‘sleeping place’.

In modern day usage all locations used to bury the dead are cemeteries; however, only those within the confines of a church property are a graveyard. In 2024, Thompson has twenty-three identified cemeteries with only one, St. Joseph’s Cemetery, defined as a graveyard.
Providing a place for the dead was originally a family obligation; many Thompson cemeteries were started as family cemeteries and remain as such today. Long before white settlers arrived the Native Americans also buried their dead; some of those locations are known, but not named because of the potential of desecration.

Headstones are usually upright. From the use of a simple wooden cross to field stones to today’s modern styles, headstones come in a multitude of styles and configurations. The kind of stone used has varied over time. Original field stones with no markings can still be found in our local cemeteries. James Slater in his The Colonial Burying Grounds of Eastern Connecticut and the Men Who Made Them (2) identifies numerous men who are recognized for their slate carvings; these sometimes have not only the name of the carver but also the cost of the stone; examples can be found in the West and East Thompson cemeteries.

Gravestones in the 1700s and early 1800s were made primarily of gray, dark blue, and blue-green slate with a limited number made of sandstone which has been shown over time to deteriorate from weather conditions. In addition to the weather, improper care along with the once popular “rubbings of gravestones” to preserve the art and messages thereon has damaged many stones; rubbings are discouraged and prohibited in some cemeteries.

The State of Connecticut has very detailed legislation dealing with cemeteries (Chapter 368j) which covers everything from who may own a cemetery (an individual cannot) to care of neglected cemeteries to protection of grave markers and much more.

It was common for some people to be buried with both a headstone and a footstone to mark the length of the grave — a practice used to prevent overcrowding and accidental excavation. Footstones usually are flat and only show initials. In some local cemeteries, footstones have been removed to allow for easier maintenance of the cemetery.

If there is a family plot in a cemetery one will often find a larger monument such as an obelisk with inscriptions on all the sides; with these, you will most likely find footstones. Burials in such family plots would have the head of the deceased person closest to the monument. Obelisks symbolize ancient godliness and greatness.

In the late 1880s, the Monumental Bronze Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut sold “white bronze” markers which were not white nor were they bronze; they were made entirely of zinc and are bluish gray in color; in 2024, these are referred to as “zinky’s”. These stand up to the weather very well; if you rap on one with your knuckles it will sound hollow. There are several in Thompson including one in the Wilsonville Cemetery for the Davis family and that of Harriet Graves in the West Thompson Cemetery.

Symbols on a headstone have various meanings. For example, “the two clasped hands on the same level with matching cuffs typically represent: A farewell/goodbye to earthly life. The continuity/unity of life and death as a human condition. A greeting/welcome to eternal life.” A skull with wings on a grave is called a “death’s head”; “some have speculated that winged skulls were intended to symbolize a combination of physical death and spiritual regeneration.”

The position of burial is often discussed. Early pagan rites indicate that burials faced east because that is where the sun rises. Rites in Christian based religions had the body facing the east because the Messiah is expected to return from the East. In today’s cemeteries the burial plots are more likely to be arranged to make best use of the available space. Now that cremation is replacing traditional casket burials, local cemeteries are setting aside specific areas for the burial of the cremains.

Metal grave markers are common and usually indicate the deceased person’s relationship with an organization; for example, the five-pointed star symbol with GAR stands for the Grand Army of the Republic meaning the man served in the Union Army during the Civil War and was a member of this fraternal organization when he died. Other such markers include the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Fire Departments, Masons, et cetera.

Although the burials are in Thompson, Thompson was once considered the North Parrish of Killingly. To find birth, death, marriage, and land records prior to 1785, when Thompson became an independent town, one must do research in the town of Killingly, not in Thompson.

The data collected by the Thompson Conservation Commission in 2013 identified twenty-three (23) cemeteries. Of these there are only six (6) that in 2024 allow burials; two, Wilsonville and the Swedish Cemetery have burial restrictions in place.

The Hale Collection Original List along with the research done by the Town of Thompson Conservation Commission under the direction of Carolyn Werge have formed the research basis of the Thompson Historical Cemetery collection.

— Ida Ransom, July 2024

(1) Thompson Bicentennial Memory Book 1785-1985, 1985.
(2) Slater, James, The Colonial Burying Grounds of Eastern Connecticut and the Men Who Made Them.

There are 23 identified cemeteries in Thompson.

The numbers below correspond to the entry on the Guide.

 

Hale Collection

Charles R. Hale Collection of Connecticut Cemetery Inscriptions 

This project to locate all the cemeteries in the State of Connecticut and retrieve the vital information contained on the headstones began in 1932 and was completed in 1935. There are three different formats of the Collection for the Town of Thompson. The first is an alphabetical listing by the deceased person’s last name followed by the name of the cemetery; the second is a listing by cemetery name that then has its burials listed alphabetically by the deceased person’s last name; the third is the original Hale listing that records the location as the person who collected the information walked through the cemetery. Learn more here.

 

Other Resources

Town of Thompson Conservation Commission – Cemeteries

Thompson, CT cemeteries list
Contact details for those looking to make burial arrangements, donations in support of maintenance, or schedule a visit.