Tombstone Tuesday – Red Herring!


This framed photograph was in The Family Archives, so I naturally assumed the tombstone belongs to a particularly important link in my family’s chain of lineage. Upon close inspection, the name Grace Berry was visible. However, the surname Berry was not one I had encountered in family records before, such as Gunn, Dalrymple, White, and Fitts.

My husband and I then had a friendly Google search competition to see who could find information about Grace Berry first. He won when he found Record # 6600201 on


Someone in my mother’s family must have visited Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, taken a picture of the gravestone for its historical significance and had it framed for home decor, like hanging a print of the Battle of Lexington in the dining room.

Mystery Solved?

Not quite. Not to be outdone, I dove into my go-to search engine, Google Books, and came up with the real story of the tombstone in question:1

The date of the first interment is unknown, although probably occurring around 1660, and there is some doubt as to the identity of the oldest stone. Apparently it is that erected to the memory of Grace Berry, wife of Thomas Berry, who, according to the inscription, died May 17, 1625, or five years before Boston was settled. The stone is of old Welsh slate, well preserved and with the carving quite distinct; the edges are ornamented with curves and at the top are carved two cherubs and the angel of death. There is also cut a shield, without quartering of arms. The marks of British bullets are visible, this stone, like many others on the hill, having been a target for the British soldiers during the siege of Boston.

It has generally been held that the true date on the Grace Berry stone is 1695, a boyish freak of Mr. George Darracott having led him to change the figure 9 with his jack-knife into the figure 2; in the same fashion the date on the stone of John Thwing in King’s Chapel Ground was altered from 1690 to 1620. In like manner the dates upon the stones of John White and of Joanna, the six-months-old daughter of William and Anne Copp, has been altered to 1625, and that of Abigail Everden’s death to 1626. Like vandalism is evident in the old Charles town burying-ground.

There is little likelihood that the trouble would be taken, in the early days of perilous travelling, to transport the remains of a person of no particular note over the long journey from Plymouth to Boston, and at a date 35 years after interment. Beyond this, moreover, the fact is that Grace Berry, who was the daughter of Major John Jayman, a rope-maker, was living in the flesh with her husband, Thomas Berry, in their house near the Ship Tavern, at the junction of Ship (North) and Clark streets, very many years after her reputed death in 1625.

The Upshot?

In genealogy, as in life, it doesn’t pay to make unwarranted assumptions. I’m not related to Grace Berry.

1John Norton, Historical Sketch of Copp’s Hill Burying-Ground with Descriptions and Quaint Epitaphs (Boston: Hull Street, 1907), Digitized Book, Google Books.

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