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History and Description of the Project



It is now possible to search the RI Historical Cemetery Database on a computer at the Rhode Island Historical Society for an ancestor buried anywhere in the state. The pre 20th century data is over 95% complete. The earliest gravestone in the database is 1647 for John Coggeshall, Sr., president of the colony of Rhode Island. Books have now been published for ten of the 39 towns and more are planned. These books document  many never previously recorded gravestones.

The Rhode Island Cemeteries Database project was begun in 1990 as a way to document and computerize the many historical cemeteries around the state. Originally, there were thought to be 200,000 inscriptions in 2500 cemeteries. Today, we are now quite certain that there are 3100 +/- cemeteries in Rhode Island. In 1990 there were 1862 registered historical cemeteries. We have found and registered 972 bringing the current total to 2,833. We are now estimating that there are 430,00 inscriptions, although several large modern cemeteries may take that total higher.

The following is a yearly breakdown of the progress:
          Yr         total           cumulation  

         1990         5,000           5,000  
	 1991	     20,000	     25,000  
         1992	     52,000          77,000  
         1993        95,000         127,000  
	 1994        65,000         237,000  
	 1995        63,800         301,000  
         1996        44,000         345,000
         1997        25,000         370,000


Totals as of 2007 are 3,132 registered cemeteries with an estimated total of 3,294 thought to still exist. 428,614 of 
an estimated 575,775 headstones have been entered into the database. 73.17% of the project is complete.

Incorporated into this project is every cemetery transcript we could find. Data from over 100 people who transcribed 
cemeteries from 1850-2007 is included. The original plan was to just enter these transcripts into the computer and 
to record the missing cemeteries and add them. It soon became apparent as we added data from two recorders for the 
same cemetery that some of the data did not agree. Some recorders were quite good 94% to 98% accurate) but some were 
quite poor. (30% to 50% accurate). The average was probably 85% to 90% accurate. We soon decided it would be necessary 
to check every gravestone. Thus the project took on a phase I and phase II approach. PHASE I involves entering existing 
or newly taken transcription data. Phase II is to verify the data by taking printouts of the phase I data to the 
cemetery to verify, not only the original transcription but the accuracy of the input to the computer. The dimensions, 
composition, shape and condition of the stone are also recorded during Phase II. This method of recording the data 
increased the accuracy to probably 98%-99%. We have developed a number of techniques, such as mirrors to reflect the sun 
light and natural bristle brushes to clean the surface of the gravestones that have made it possible to read all but 2-3% 
of the marble stones and all but 1% of the slate stones. The early transcripts have made it possible to identify many of 
these unreadable stones and also to document stones that have been destroyed or have disappeared. In Rhode Island we are 
fortunate that many people in the past have taken the time to record some of the many historical burial grounds. Data 
from these transcriptions has been entered into the project. The database is broken down into two parts, the stone data 
and the cemetery data. Each part is further broken down by county and by town. The database is available at the several 
locations listed on the Cemeteries Homepage. The Database software (IBM format) we are using is available through the 
Association for Gravestone Studies at 278 Main Street Suite 207; Greenfield, MA 01301 and is now being used by over 
160 groups from California to Maine plus Canada and England, and South Africa.

Return to the Rhode Island Cemeteries Homepage