Alumna discovers unmarked graves

Union alum, Mj Pettengill (‘05), discovered the anonymous graves of 298 lost souls, and honoring them had a profound impact on her life and career.

“I came upon an unnamed cemetery in rural New Hampshire with numbered markers that piqued my interest. At first, I was told the records of those buried were lost in a fire. After months of painstaking research, I identified 268 of these forgotten human beings. They were paupers from a County Farm-Pauper Cemetery dating back to 1870,” Pettengill said.

The unearthing compelled Pettengill to tell their story.

“The fruits of my passion and research resulted in the penning of a historical novel, ‘Etched in Granite.’ Originally, my book was going to be non-fiction. However, to reach a broader audience, I decided to craft a cultural narrative — historical fiction,” Pettengill said.

The original book turned into the “Etched in Granite Historical Fiction Series” resulting in three additional books, “The Angels’ Lament”, “Down from the Tree,” and “The Crows’ Path.”

Woven into the books, readers learn about the lamentable treatment poor people experienced in the 1800s, ranging from county poor farms to tenements to asylums, workhouses, orphanages, textile mills, orphan trains, and Magdalene Laundries.

Pettengill led the fight to have a monument created at the Pauper cemetery.

“From the very beginning of this unexpected, rich journey, and in answering the call from beyond the anonymous graves, I worked to have a memorial placed at the site to honor them,” Pettengill said. “Working with county officials and raising donations, a piece of granite from the original foundation of the ‘County Poor Farm’ was used in the memorial.”

The “Honoring the Pauper’s Memorial Project” displays the dedication of the monument to acknowledge the unacknowledged souls.

The UIU alumna graduated with a B.A. in 2005 and studied under renowned professor Dr. Richard Hathaway. Dr. Hathaway influenced her lifework as an author and social historian with a focus on cultural narrative and traditions, historical and intergenerational trauma integration, ancestral healing, and social welfare development.

In addition to having a passion for history, the multi-talented Pettengill is a cellist and has a background in Civil War Musicology. Musicology, as defined by the American Musicological Society, is the study of music, encompassing all aspects of music in all cultures and all historical periods. Musicology includes a wide variety of methods of studying music as a scholarly endeavor; although the study of music performance is an important facet of musicology, music performance itself is an original area of study.

Mj’s passions also include nature and the ancient healing customs of her ancestors. She practices the art of gathering and preparing wild food and plant medicine.

Visit Mj Pettengill to learn more about Mj and her fascinating work.


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