I had no thought or intention of researching my Hagell ancestors while on a recent research trip to England. So imagine my surprise when I discovered I was staying in the same London Borough of Islington where the family had resided in the 1800s. I had done little research on this particular family line and didn’t realize they had lived in the London area.
The written account of my 2nd great-grandmother, Catherine Hagell, came to mind, of how her mother, Eliza Mary Lee Hagell, died leaving behind eight young children just before their journey across the ocean and the American continent to Utah in the 1860s. Catherine wrote, “I being the oldest girl naturally felt the loss most keenly.” It dawned on me that the mother of this young emigrant family was likely buried not too far from where I was lodging. Imagining how that young family must have felt leaving their mother behind in a lonely grave never to be seen again, I knew I had to find her!
I learned that during the 1860s, people in London were being buried in public cemeteries, not in the parish churchyards. After searching for London city cemeteries I came across the Islington Cemetery, which opened in 1854 and was the closest cemetery to their residence. What I didn’t realize, however, was that the London Islington Cemetery is one of the largest cemeteries in the United Kingdom. I also didn’t realize that many tombstones in the cemetery had been “absorbed” in the natural forest growth that had sprung up over the past 150+ years. Deep within the forests, I could see raised bumps covered in natural growth that were now forgotten tombstones. Finding Eliza Mary Hagell would prove to be a bigger challenge than expected.
The sexton’s office was helpful in that I was able to see not only the index but also the original registers of those buried in the cemetery. To my great joy, there was the entry for Eliza M. Hagell! The register also gave her address at the time of death, her age, and burial date. Although I was able to find the general section of where Eliza was buried, there was just too much undergrowth and forest to locate her tombstone after hours of searching. Just knowing, however, that she was buried in that cemetery and that she was remembered and not forgotten was well worth it!
Most important, I learned while visiting the cemetery that the London Islington Burial Registers are going to be available online on the Deceased Online website at www.deceasedonline.com. Deceased Online is hoping to become the centralized location for digital burial registers, maps, and photographs for cemeteries all across the United Kingdom and Ireland from the 1850s onward. Although many of our ancestors’ tombstones may be lost and forgotten, they can still be found and remembered using this online burial database.