Washington E. Keen, Still a Man of Mystery

So, when last I wrote, we were deep in the crypt of the Old North Church.

MA vacation (6 of 7)


I had just learned that the church doesn’t store historic records any more. The educators at the church told me that the records are now housed by the Massachusetts Historical Society. I planned to call once I got home.

While we were still in Massachusetts, though, I messaged a friend in the DAR who has an Ancestry subscription. I was hoping that Jenice would be able to dig up some information on Washington before we left Boston.

And, wow!

She found Washington and Lydia’s marriage certificate, two Boston directory listings, and Washington’s city of Boston death record! Thank you, Jenice!

(I’m telling you, without this wonderful community of genealogists, I would never have found out what I have. I can’t tell you the times that I’ve come up empty handed, and then others have dug, researched, or even tramped over hill and dale for me. It’s truly heartwarming, and I always try to do the same when I can. It’s one of the reasons that I write this blog; there may be someone out there, a distant relative or just a curious researcher , who can benefit from what I’ve written.)

But, back to Washington and the Old North Church. From the Record of the Deaths and Burials in the City of Boston for the Year 1844:

keen-washington e-1844-death record-boston ma

He died on June 19th, was interred on the 21st, at the age of 34, from consumption, which was the old name for tuberculosis. His body was prepared by the Whitcomb undertakers and ta-da! was indeed interred at the Christ Church Cemetery No. 27, not No. 28.

“But, Barbara,” I can hear you saying, “Christ Church isn’t the Old North Church!”

But, yes, dear reader, it is. Here is a link to the church’s web site.

Jenice also found a more complete record in Deaths and Interments in Boston, where names have been recorded by year, in order by surname:

wak 1844

So, right there by the arrow is the listing for Washington E., who died at age 34. But, look carefully at the line right above him: Washington Jr., aged 4 years, 9 months, who died Jan. 20, 1839, and was also interred at Christ Church. In Tomb No. 28, according to the Record of Deaths and Burial in the City of Boston for the Year 1839. Hummm…

The record above is just chock full of interesting information listed under the surname Keen. There is a column to the left of Disease for Family. If you examine the page, you will see that the name Shadrack Keen is often listed in this column. And, each name with Shadrack Keen as the family name is also interred in tomb No. 27.


The occupants of No. 27, under the family name of Shadrack Keen, are:

  • Richard, died Aug. 30, 1821, age 1 year, 2 months, dysentery 27 Christ Church
  • Abigail, died Jan. 2, 1823, age 5 years, dysentery, 27 Christ Church
  • John E., died Jan. 5, 1824, age 1 month, 5 days, whooping cough, 27 Christ Church
  • Dorothy J., died Aug. 6, 1842, age 6, dropsy in the head, 27 Christ Church

The occupants of No. 27, under the family name of Washington Keen, are:

  • Mary Ann, died Dec. 28, 1832, age 2 years, scarlet fever, 27 Christ Church
  • Washington E., died June 19, 1844, age 34, consumption, 27 Christ Church

There is obviously a connection between Shadrack and Washington. I just don’t know what it is. Father and son? Brothers?

[Little Washington Jr., is the only outlier. In this record he is interred in 2 Christ Church. So, is it #2 (as in the record above), #27 (with his presumed father Washington E.), or #28 (as in the 1839 record)?]

So, yes, my great-great-grandfather was indeed buried under the Old North Church.

Whether he is still there is another matter.

In the 1800s, families could purchase, or more correctly rent, a tomb. It would be maintained for that family undisturbed until the money ran out. Sadly, it wasn’t uncommon for the church, which needed the income, to empty a tomb into a charnel pit and then rent it again, if the original family couldn’t or wasn’t able to maintain their hold. You can read more about the practice here.

So, one mystery solved, but much more left to uncover about Washington.


2 thoughts on “Washington E. Keen, Still a Man of Mystery

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