In my earlier post, Finding Your Dead in Canada, I discussed some of the valuable things my father learned about how to find Canadian burial grounds. In this post, I discuss more of my father’s tips on finding burial sites in Canada.
For my father, vital statistic records were not an option. So, he and his cousin got creative and employed a good road map, a local historian (and self-titled grave dowser) and his very best people skills. In a combination of climbing in, around, and under half of the stone walls and lilac trees in Ontario, he ended up finding new graves and important information. Other than the tremendous fun he had reliving his childhood, he came back with the following hints of what to do when nothing else is working.
Consider the prominent families in the area. Sometimes there really are a few plain markers hiding behind massive memorials in a family plot. One nice thing about burial with a prominent local family is that some (notice the italics) historical societies have records of these little graveyards. For example, see the Ontario Genealogical Society’s cemetery records online at http://ogs.andornot.com/cemmenu.aspx
If you’re looking for a family cemetery on private land, and there’s no convenient wrought iron fence in sight, try looking for these clues:
- Large oak or lilac trees. These were often used as markers grave locations and had sentimental symbolism; they also often last long enough to be acceptable memorials. If it’s a lilac tree, you may have to get down on the ground and lift some branches. Chances are the tree has covered the grave.
- Cobblestones in the middle of a field. Don’t necessarily think London streets; simply look for stones tightly bunched together in a patch at least three feet long. Bonus points if it’s underneath one of the above trees. These were not only to protect graves from wild animals, but also to prevent livestock from walking all over dear grandma.
- Nearby stone walls. Sometimes a gravestone is removed from the burial site and used to construct a wall. Old style gravestones were perfect for this; they were flat, sturdy and easy to stack. Once again, before you go around taking down peoples’ walls, ask permission and most importantly, ask when the wall was built. If they built it last summer, chances are you won’t be able to find Aunt Mable’s birth date hiding in there. If the property owner is nice and lets you do a little excavating, thank him profusely, be neat, and be sure to look on both sides of the stones. You may not be able to ever find the actual burial site, but the stone is what you really want anyway.
As on any genealogical expedition, bring a camera and a notebook. Remember to write down notes, especially contact information.
Happy hunting and have a fabulous search!