By Dave Eisenstadter
April 17, 2014
George Lipphardt, a genealogy buff from Tucson, Ariz., will travel to Dedham to see the Sons of the American Revolution place a marker at the grave of Captain Joseph Lewis, Lipphardt’s fifth-great grandfather.
“In order to join the organization, you have to be able to prove you had an ancestor that participated in the revolution against England,” Lipphardt said of the Sons of the American Revolution, counterpart to the more famous Daughters of the American Revolution.
The 67-year-old Liphardt said he began researching his genealogy in 2002, and within a few years had discovered an ancestor who qualified him for membership in the Sons of the American Revolution: Andrew Cunningham of West Roxbury, who is buried in the Old Granary Burial Ground in Boston, which also holds Paul Revere’s gravestone.
For his hobby, Lipphardt chases down marriage and birth certificates going back hundreds of years. Some of the places where records had been kept burned down over the years, he said, forcing him to seek alternative sources.
“It’s exciting,” said Lipphardt. “It’s detective work is what it is. You can find stuff on the Internet, but you need to find more documentation that supports what you’re looking for. One record doesn’t do it.”
Lipphardt discovered the information about Lewis in 2012, while reviewing research he had done on his mother’s side of the family five years earlier. Finding a footnote at the bottom of a page of a 19th-century genealogy, he learned that Lewis was first lieutenant of the Dedham Minute Men and responded to the alarm at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775.
Though Lipphardt wasn’t able to uncover much biographical information, he did find that Lewis married a woman named Molly Baker and had six daughters, who all married. Lewis died on June 9, 1804, at the age of 66.
Using earlier research, Lipphardt determined that Lewis was a direct descendant, and had not been recognized with a Sons of the American Revolution marker at his grave.
The problem was that he did not know where Lewis was buried. That’s where Norwood resident Bill Boyington came in. The history enthusiast, whose ancestors came to Massachusetts in 1638, takes photos of gravestones in cemeteries and posts them online for genealogists like Liphardt on websites like www.findagrave.com.
“There’s a bunch of people that are doing this,” Boyington said of his hobby. “I personally like the really old cemeteries. I’ve taken about 10,000 pictures at maybe 50 different cemeteries.”
Boyington has taken his camera to such towns as Lexington, Arlington, Cambridge, Dedham, Westwood, Medfield, Walpole, and Dover.
“I go to a cemetery, figure out what time of day the lighting is going to be good, and then I just start randomly taking photos 200 at a time,” Boyington said. “Then I upload them to my computer.”
Boyington researches each one, trying to determine the person’s date of birth, marriage, and parents if the information is not already on the stone.
Dedham’s distinction as one of the first towns incorporated in the area means the Dedham Historical Society often fields inquiries from genealogical researchers, even from far away, said executive director Vicky Kruckeberg.
“My hat is off to the group that is putting [the Lewis tribute] together,” she said, “and it is important to me as the director of the historical society because this just confirms what we do as an organization and why it is important to the community.”
While the Dedham Historical Society is working to get its records online, researchers do their work the old-fashioned way, poring over old documents, newspapers, and census records in the organization’s archives. Often, they work through its archivist, Sandy Waxman.
Liphardt had asked for help from Waxman, who said she found Lewis among the society’s records. In addition to his service on April 19, 1775, Lewis marched as captain of the First Dedham Company in Colonel William McIntosh’s regiment on March 4, 1776, when the patriots took Dorchester Heights and forced the British to withdraw from Boston, Waxman said.
After spending a year confirming Lewis’s service and his own connection to him, Lipphardt contacted the Sons of the American Revolution last year to discuss placing a marker. They decided to wait for this coming weekend, when Lipphardt could be present.
Saturday’s ceremony will begin at 10:30 a.m. at the Old Village Cemetery, where Lewis is buried. Established in 1640, the cemetery is located behind what is now St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Court Street.
The ceremony will involve dedicating a Sons of the American Revolution marker at Lewis’s grave. The organization has placed nearly 5,000 such markers since the 1890s, when it was founded, said Andrew Schell, who helped organize the ceremony. Schell, a Natick resident, is an SAR member with three ancestors who served during the Revolution.
Noting that the event will take place roughly a year after the Boston Marathon bombings, Schell said: “There will be a reflection of what happened on that tragic day. Freedom, liberty, and justice — all those elements come into play when talking about the Marathon tragedy.”
Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at email@example.com.