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In the Classroom > Unit Overview
Lessons: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |

Research & Investigation Project (RIP): A Grave Undertaking
Lesson 1: Forward, Into the Past!

Unit Central Questions: In This Lesson:

How can we use primary source materials to investigate the lives of some people in Deerfield, Massachusetts in the period 1780-1880?

Lesson Length
Key Ideas
Activity 1
Activity 2

Lesson Length

Day one - 1.5 - 2 hours for introduction and preliminary activities
Day two - 1/2 day for virtual field trip

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Key Content Ideas Taught in this Lesson and Teacher Background

The Albany Road Burying Ground, originally one of several Native American burying ground sites, was the first burying ground used by the Puritan settlers of Deerfield. After 1800, burial in Albany Road was discontinued, and Deerfield's dead were buried in the Laurel Hill Cemetery instead.

Burying grounds and the gravestones in them are helpful primary sources, providing useful information about the early residents of Deerfield, and the evolution of ideas and customs about death and burial. From the fatalistic Puritanical designs to the more romantic Victorian images, tombstone art and various forms of mourning art found in Deerfield reflect the evolving attitudes towards death in the society at large. Burying grounds are a good place to begin an investigation of the residents of Deerfield in 1780-1880.

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Intended Learning Outcomes

Students will understand:

  • how the attitudes of Deerfield residents toward death and burial evolved from 1780-1880.
  • the way in which burying grounds were established in the early days of New England using the Albany Road burying ground as an example.
  • that burying grounds and the gravestones in them provide useful information about the early residents of Deerfield.

Students will be able to:

  • sketch gravestones and gravestone iconography and text.
  • read and interpret historical maps of the graveyards.
  • locate the gravestone of their research subject using a map of the burial ground.
  • seek out characteristic tombstones using a map of the burial ground.

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In Preparation for Teaching

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Secondary Sources:


*not provided with this unit

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Activities Materials in Context

Activity 1
Introducing the Unit- Day One

A. Introduce the unit and discuss the activities in which the students will be involved for the next two weeks. Distribute binders. Review the schedule of activities. Explain that:

1. Students will be divided into teams.
2. Each team will be assigned a person from Deerfield's past to study using primary and secondary sources.
3. Sources will include:

a. Primary Sources: gravestones, objects, a variety of family records, town records, correspondence, U. S. Census records, historic houses and monuments.
b. Secondary sources: Town histories and reference books.

4. After completing the research, student teams must prepare and present a final project that illustrates what they have learned about their person.

B. Distribute and administer the Introductory Activity Pre-test, correct it as a group, and use the opportunity to discuss the material included on the test. It is of particular importance that students understand what primary and secondary sources are.

C. Students read Death and Dying in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries and fill out the Worksheet: Death and Dying in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

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Introductory Activity Pre-test


Background Essay: Death and Dying in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

Worksheet: Death and Dying in the 18th and 19th Centuries

Activity 2
A (Virtual) Visit to the Burial Grounds- Day Two

A. Introduce the research work by explaining that students will be:

1. Analyzing the inscriptions and art on stones at the burying grounds.
2. Completing worksheets about the inscriptions and epitaphs, and a cemetery research organizer about the person they will be researching.

B . Divide students into research teams and assign each team an individual research subject (historic person). Use the list of research subjects as a reference when making the assignments.

C. Distribute a Deerfield Cemetery Worksheet, and a Cemetery Research Organizer.

D. Inform students that each person must complete the Deerfield Cemetery Worksheet either following a visit to the graveyard or following a virtual visit. These may be done either individually or in small groups.

E. Ask each team to use the list of gravestones at Albany Road Cemetery and Laurel Hill Cemetery to find where their person is buried.

F. Then, instruct student teams to search for the grave of their research subject (either on-line or at the cemetery). Those at the Albany Road Burying Ground will use the map and Alphabetical Catalogue of Gravestones with Map Legend to locate the correct grave. When they have found him/her, all team members should complete their Cemetery Research Organizers.

G. Instruct students to make a list of questions that come up while they work. [In the next period (see Lesson 2 Activity 1 a), the class will compile the questions and hold a discussion with the teacher.]

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Worksheet: Deerfield Cemetery

Cemetery Research Organizer

List of Research Subjects

List of gravestones at Albany Road Cemetery and Laurel Hill Cemetery

Alphabetical Catalogue of Gravestones with Map Legend

Albany Road Cemetery map



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