Ronald Emmons Sr. removes pieces of a cedar bush Thursday that concealed a headstone bearing the names of his wife’s relatives at the Cotton Cemetery in Richmond. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

RICHMOND — What began for Ronald Emmons Jr. as a simple search through genealogy websites ended with the discovery of two hidden locations containing graves of several long-deceased relatives, including a great-great-great-great-great-grandfather who fought in the American Revolution.

“I’d been doing some research during the COVID times,” Emmons said. “People didn’t do things or get out of the house, so I had been doing some digging.”

Emmons said he was partly inspired to begin his research after his grandparents and an uncle had died. They had maintained a family cemetery in Bowdoinham for years, and after their deaths, the responsibility fell to Emmons, his parents and his sister. Emmons’ grandfather and great-grandmother are buried at the cemetery.

But Emmons wanted to trace his ancestry back farther, and the journey led him to the woods behind the Triple J Farm and Country Fare Inc., an excavating contractor. Both are in Bowdoin.

He went to, a website that led him close to the spot where his great-great-great-great-great grandfather, Ephraim Small, was buried. Small was a Revolutionary War veteran who was born in the mid-1700s and died in 1842.

It was behind the same horse farm where Emmons’ wife had been volunteering for about 18 months.


Martha Emmons confirms the names Thursday of her relatives on four sides of a headstone that was hidden by a cedar bush at the Cotton Cemetery in Richmond. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Emmons said he asked the owner of the farm if there is a cemetery behind the property. The owner joked it is “a ‘Small’ one,” because it contains only graves of members of the Small family.

Emmons was given permission to search the area, and soon found a spot with five gravestones.

“It was all grown up with leaves,” he said. “I got my parents a couple days later, and we took some equipment and went down to the spot and spent about an hour and a half straightening the stones that had fallen down.

“We cleaned all the debris and straightened the stones that had fallen over, and we put an American flag on (Ephraim’s) stone, because he was a Revolutionary War soldier.”

Ephraim’s wife, Dorcas Small, was buried next to him, along with his brother, Amos, and Amos’ wife and their children.

Emmons’ said it was sad to see that over the years, these people and their graves had gone all but forgotten.


“Hundreds of years ago, you have relatives pass away,” Emmons said. “They probably built a cemetery on family property and got buried on this family property. And then nobody takes care of it, and everything just grows up all around it. That’s kind of sad to see, and you know it’s not the only place in Maine where this has happened.”

Emmons said it was interesting how so many things happened to fall into place, leading to the eventual discovery of the hidden family cemetery, especially considering Emmons was not the first person to search for it.

“The owners of both adjoining properties have said they’ve had a couple people from out of state that have come up in that area and looked for this,” he said. “They showed them where it was in the woods, so I’m not the first person to find them, but my parents and I went and cleaned it up, which we thought was the right thing to do.”

Ronald Emmons Sr. saws a cedar bush Thursday that concealed a headstone belonging to relatives of his wife, Martha, at the Cotton Cemetery in Richmond. Ronald and Martha Emmons say they did not know until Thursday the cemetery is the resting place for several of her family members. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

The discoveries did not end there. Emmons’ mother was searching for a distant cousin whom she, as a child, called “Aunt Edna.” Emmons again consulted and located where she was buried, at the Cotton Cemetery in Richmond. His parents, however, were unable to find the grave.

Emmons visited the cemetery a night later and, using an old picture of the grave as his reference, determined it must be inside the cedar bush. He peeked through and found the grave.

“I stopped by the house and showed them a picture of it and said: ‘What’s the matter? It’s right there,’ just razzing my parents,” Emmons said. “And they said we’re gonna have to go down there and trim this bush back.”


Emmons’ father, Ronald Emmons Sr., returned the next day to cut the hedge and reveal the headstone, which contained close to a dozen names.

The younger Emmons said he was not sure when the shrubs had grown around the grave because the online photograph showed no shrubs.

Through talking about his research, Emmons has also discovered he is distantly related to a co-worker.

“It all kinda came together in the last month, with this type of thing happening,” he said.

Emmons said his search is not over. His new goal is to go back a generation to locate Ephraim’s father, Taylor Small, whose grave might be in Harpswell.

Based on his research, Emmons said Taylor Small’s father had ties to Native Americans, and had been given property that covered all of Parsonsfield. He said other Smalls might have moved up to Harpswell, and Small Point could have been named for a relative.

“That’s the unique thing about digging,” Emmons said. “We’re finding that a lot of area in Maine was once owned by Smalls, but that could be the same for a lot of people here, too. Generations have gone by and a lot of people are related here. I just found out I was related to a co-worker.”

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