PEPPERELL -- A tombstone leaning up against a tree was probably one of the last things a homeowner expects to find in the backyard -- but there it was.
Lore Switzer found the marker for Lydia, wife of Samuel Smith, age 42, died Nov. 30, 1745, when she walked the property line a few days after she and her husband Bob bought a house on Wheeler Street in August. A lawn chair and beer cans were nearby.
They knew Smith never lived there. Their house was built in 1975.
A little research using Google gave them no information. "It wasn't a high priority in our world because we had just moved in our house," Bob said.
Still curious, Lore tried a new tack. She entered all of the text into a search engine and discovered the tombstone was supposed to be in the Old Hill Cemetery in Newburyport.
Allen Frost, better known as Frosty, got on the case. The general foreman of the Department of Public Service was just the man to make things right.
For the past 14 or 15 years, the cemeteries in the old maritime city have been in his care. He uses the latest techniques to preserve the historic markers.
Over the centuries, gravestones have toppled over, but never before did one show up 50 miles away.
"We were more than willing to take it to them," Bob Switzer said.
"It's a piece of history and it should be where it belongs, not in our backyard," Lore Switzer said.
They bundled the stone up and returned it one Friday.
Frost knew from transcriptions of original cemetery records which section of the hilly cemetery held Smith's body.
Finding the exact spot was a matter of dogged work and a bit of luck.
The sections run diagonally up a hillside. By matching the names on the remaining stones with records, the city workers were able to mark off the section of the cemetery where the plot is.
The cemetery and burial predates Newburyport, which separated from Newbury in 1764. The American Revolutionary War was years in the future.
One of the workers spotted a stone with a spot the size of a sandwich plate level to the ground. When it was dug out, it matched the shape of the stone found in Pepperell just about perfectly.
Slate, formed of layers of compressed material, splits easily. The front and back of the stone had split in two at some point.
Inches away, the crew discovered the base of the stone, snapped off and almost buried by time.
Based on the depth, Frost guestimated that the upper part of the stone might have gone missing a century ago.
The grassy hillside where Smith and her contemporaries rest is lined with rows of stones and dotted with a few large trees. Not so long ago, it was overgrown and covered with trees, Frost said.
The remaining stones show the damage caused by those trees when they fell. Corners are snapped off, tops lay on the ground and some are sheared in half.
Under Frost's watch, the bulk of the trees are gone. A new mower makes it easier to keep the grounds neat. Workers ride on top of it and can avoid the fragile markers hidden in the leaves.
Repairing the aged stones is ongoing. Some show repairs from earlier years, parts bound together with metal slats screwed into the stone.
Smith's 272-year-old stone received 21st-century care.
Using a German epoxy, Frost glued the front to the back. The imperfections in the stone fit perfectly, he said.
Using the same epoxy, he fastened the upper section to the base. Except for weathering around the edges, the break clicked together.
The seam stretching across the stone near the marker will be at ground level. The inscription is difficult to read in some light, but is all still there.
Instead of soft ground, the tombstone will sit in stones, making it less likely to topple.
Just who Lydia was remains a mystery. A Dr. Samuel Smith is buried in another part of the cemetery, but Frost did not know if he was related.
The stone will be re-installed on Nov. 30, 272 years after Smith went to meet her maker.
Lydia Smith was a colonist, an English person. The average life expectancy for an English woman at this time was just under 40 years, according to PlymouthAncestors.org.
However, Smith did not beat the odds. If a woman lived until 30, she could expect to live until she was 59.
Follow Anne O'Connor on Twitter @a1oconnor.