Hundreds of pioneers are buried in Lynden, Greenwood cemeteries
FERNDALE — If history can be measured by the square foot, it’s hard to imagine more history in a single area than the Lynden Cemetery.
For Dick Decima and the commissioners of Whatcom Cemetery District 10, overseeing the Lynden and Greenwood cemeteries, it goes far beyond the many gravestones that dot the two cemeteries’ landscapes.
It’s about preserving history, and the district’s office on the Lynden Cemetery grounds is packed full of it.
That history extends into the pioneer era of Lynden and Whatcom County, and Cemetery District 10 has worked with the Whatcom Genealogical Society to compile a list of pioneers interred in the Lynden and Greenwood cemeteries.
“We have here the alphabetical name of the person, the state that they came from and then the record that the classification of pioneer came from,” Decima said.
According to the district’s policies and procedures, the Whatcom Genealogical Society published the 1889 Territorial Auditor’s Census as their Washington State Centennial Project. The information was extracted from the available microfilm of the census of names of people residing in the Washington Territory on the first Monday of April 1889, which is filed in the Bellingham Public Library.
This information provides a complete transcript of the Whatcom County census as performed by then-County Assessor Albert W. Custer. It shows the microfilm page number for each entry page. The census notes the age, sex, race, marital status, birthplace and occupation of each person counted.
The pages in possession of the district show the names in the order that the census taker interviewed the individuals, house to house or farm to farm. It also shows family members under the head of household. The genealogical society has the ability to show an alphabetical index of family names in their records.
The Whatcom Genealogical Society painstakingly compared its index to the Cemetery District 10 records to locate matches in order to figure out who was in the county at the time.
There’s a separate list of individuals who died prior to the 1889 census who are interred in the cemetery.
Decima said it’s unusual that Washington has an 1889 census record available at all.
“Censuses are always conducted in years that end in a zero, but there was an 1889 census,” Decima said. “We believe that the reason for that is because it was a requirement of the federal government to have a count of the people when the territory became a state, and Washington became a state in 1889. They would have had to have done that.”
The list on hand at Cemetery District 10 has such locally well-known names as Hans Berthusen, Phoebe Judson, John Tennant and more.
“Pioneers as we’ve ID’d them as anyone who was included in that census regardless of age who are interred in the Lynden Cemetery or the Greenwood Cemetery,” Decima said.
Decima said there are 175 pioneers interred in the Lynden Cemetery and about 30 in Greenwood. The district has existed since 1974, and Decima has been a commissioner since 2004.
The Lynden Cemetery is considered a Heritage Cemetery, which means it has been designated as such by the Governor’s Council on Archeology and Historic Preservation. Decima said he’s particularly proud of this distinction, and that other cemeteries in the area could probably gain this status if they tried.
Their application materials, which are retained at the district office, are sizable and thick, and Decima said that certainly helped with earning the Heritage Cemetery distinction.
“We overwhelmed them with our application,” he said.
The district has done a lot over the years to preserve its cemeteries’ place in history, Decima said, including enlisting the help of Western Washington University to geologically survey its plots in order to map out which plots have been used up. FindAGrave.com reached out at one point and informed the district that around 500 people had been listed as interred in the district’s cemeteries without marked graves. Decima said there are various reasons for this, including families being buried together without all the names included on grave markings.
The district still meets regularly, and is still on hand for interested parties to contact regarding the cemeteries it covers. Decima said in all his years as a commissioner, they have never had a visitor, but they still set aside time each meeting for public comment. The meetings take place the second Monday of the month at 9:30 a.m.
Anyone interested in the district can visit https://www.lyndencemetery.com/ to learn more about it. Cemetery tours take place every Saturday at the Lynden Cemetery and the fourth Saturday of the month at the Greenwood Cemetery featuring a volunteer in a period costume from the Lynden Pioneer Museum. These tours take place during the months of May through October and are free and open to the public.