|Saint Paul's Anglican Church and Cemetery. Trinity, Newfoundland|
It sounds morbid to non genealogy people, but I love cemeteries. I find them very peaceful to walk through. I also find it interesting to read the headstones.You can learn so much from them, besides birth and death dates. Family members are sometimes buried in one plot, and can give you new avenues of research. Even if not buried together, families that have been rooted in one area for a long time will be in the same cemetery. But what do you do when you're researching from a distance?
1. Cemetery Websites
Here are some of the main sites out there to find Canadian graves:
- Find A Grave
Find A Grave is a well known cemetery site. Using their search engine, you can insert a name into the search engine, and they'll show you everywhere that person has been listed as buried. The problem with this site is that unless you are searching in the US, you can only narrow by country. There is no way to search by province. A man by the name of Ken Lange helped us Canadians out though, by designing a search page for Canada that lets you narrow down your search to a province. You can search either by name or by cemetery. The link to his page is here.
Run by volunteers, this site has indexes to over 18,000 cemeteries across Canada. Some of the cemeteries listed are not indexed on the site itself. However, where possible, they've included links to where you can get an index. For instance, my grandfather's family was a part of St.Peter's and Paul's Roman Catholic Church in Bartibog, New Brunswick. By clicking on it, I get the location of the cemetery. It also provides the link for the Miramichi Branch of the New Brunswick Genealogical Society, who has the index. You can also search by name, and narrow your search to a particular province.
Keep in mind that this is an ongoing project, so you may not turn up anything. I put in "BOUTILIER", one of my very common Nova Scotia surnames, I only got 27 hits. None of them were part of my direct ancestors. keep checking back though if you don't find anything at first.
The free option of using Billion Graves lets you search by person. You can also see a GPS map of all cemeteries in a specific area.The cemeteries are color coded to let you know how much, if any, of the interments are on Billion Graves. Surprisingly, when I zoomed in on Lindsay, Ontario, neither of the two cemeteries in town have any records on there. Sounds like a good volunteer project in my future. Also on the free version is the ability to connect your tree to the site to search for graves. By hovering on the "Research" tab, you can see what else you do on the site for free. You can also see the benefits of upgrading to the Billion Graves Plus option.
This site is a non profit website that has over 40,000 records. You first click on the Province or Territory you want to search in, then narrow by surname. The search box is in the top right and labelled quick search. You can then filter by given name, and also by specific area if you choose. I left the given name blank and searched with the surname GREENING in all of Newfoundland and Labrador. I got 67 hits. I clicked on 6 or 7 of them and they all had pictures. It's by no means as extensive as some of the other sites, but keep checking back.
You can search this site by name, but I found it was quicker to search geographically. First click on province, then region. It will list the cemeteries in that region that have been transcribed. By clicking on the specific cemetery, you will get a list of all interments transcribed. There are no photos. I think this is the quicker way of doing this because if a particular cemetery or region has not been done, you will not waste time wading through possibly hundreds of results. By using MCDONALD in the surname search, I got 183 results. It would be very frustrating to wade through all that and then find the cemetery I was looking for isn't even on the site.
2. Provincial and Local Archives
If your ancestor's grave is not on the cemetery websites, try the local or provincial archives. Many of them have collections of cemetery transcriptions. You probably won't get a picture, but at least you'll have a transcription. Some are even online. Others are available through inter library loan
The Provincial Archives of New Brunswick has a large cemetery database on line. You can do a conventional name search, with the ability to narrow by county if need be. What I like though is the search by cemetery function. Select the county, and it will give you the cemeteries in that county on their database. It will then let you choose from all the surnames that are listed there. They have them listed by the spelling that was on the headstone, so look through the list for variations. It will then give you the results for that particular surname. By clicking on details you will get the headstone transcription.
The Trent Valley Archives in Peterborough, Ontario has transcriptions of Peterborough County cemeteries on site.
3. Genealogical and Historical Societies
Most genealogical and historical societies have collections of cemetery transcriptions. If they have an online presence, they might have something on their website. The Fort St.John North Peace Museum has a link on their website to a rootsweb page of cemetery transcriptions of the North Peace area of British Columbia. Even if they don't, you can contact the society. Most of them offer research services.
4. Local Libraries
Most libraries have collections of local history in their reference departments. Try contacting the library in the area of your ancestor to see if their collection include cemetery indexes and transcriptions. The local societies may have donated a set to the library.
5. Library and Archives Canada
LAC holds a lot of cemetery indexes. Most are available through inter library loan. You can search to see what they have by using AMICUS. They suggest searching using terms like "cemetery Calgary" or "Beechwood Cemetery".
6. Contacting the Cemetery
If you know where your ancestor is buried, try contacting the cemetery to get information. I recently had good experiences with two Toronto cemeteries. One of the sadder stories in my family tree is a great aunt and uncle. My great aunt Pauline MCDONALD died of influenza at 2 years old in 1934. One year later her brother Baby Boy MCDONALD was stillborn. According to their death certificates, they were to be buried in St. John's Norway Cemetery in Toronto. I emailed the cemetery asking for details of their graves, and in less than 2 hours I was emailed back by Jeremy. Both babies were listed in the records, but since they were "poor graves", their exact location in the cemetery is unknown. This was not a surprise to me about them being poor graves, as the family lived at that time in one of the poorest areas of Toronto. Jeremy was kind enough to give me a transcription of the records.
My great grandfather, John MCDONALD was their father. I know he was buried in Prospect Cemetery. From the FamilySearch index database Ontario, Toronto Trust Cemeteries, 1826-1989, I was able to get what I was sure was his burial entry in the index book. I emailed the Mount Pleasant Group (who oversees several cemeteries) with the information from the index. Within a day I had a reply from Susan. She was able to tell me which plot my great grandfather is located in. There is no gravestone, as he was a Social Service burial, and there are 4 other people interred in that plot. Along with a transcription of the burial record, she also sent me 2 maps showing the location of the burial. As she noted in her email, there are 47 burials with the name of John McDonald in Prospect Cemetery. With the information I gave her, she was able to right away find my John McDonald. So it's a good rule to make sure you give as much detail as you can, especially if you are dealing with a large cemetery, and/or a common name.
If you know of any other avenues or websites to pursue for Canadian graves, feel free to leave them in the comments, and I'll add them in.