Inherited Craziness
A place to share all the nuts found on my family tree

Monday, 28 September 2020

Discovering Direct Ancestors' Burials

Headstones (left to right): great-grandparents, David and Laura Jones, 2x great-grandparents, Henry and Mary Stone and 3x great-grandparents, William and Ann White.

Researching documents and discovering online records that go towards telling an ancestor's story is fascinating. Visiting the places where they were born, baptised, married, lived or worked really helps put those things into context, but there is something very emotive about finding a grave with a headstone to feel properly connected to family members, knowing a physical part of them is right there beneath your feet. But with cremation being the norm in the most recent generations and the majority being too poor for headstones, such moments are very rare and special. There are no graves for my parents nor grandparents, so the first would be for my great-grandparents. 

Old Church Cemetery, Cobh, Cork, Ireland

In 2014, we went to Cobh (formerly Queenstown), Cork, Ireland where my paternal grandmother had been born and brought up. While there, we were met by the late Jack Gilmartin, who used to provide free guided tours of the Old Church Cemetery, where there are a number of famous burials, particularly many of the victims of the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915. I don't know what I was expecting, but Jack took me totally by surprise, when he said, "I'll take you to your family's grave." It sent a shiver down my spine and completely took my breath away. And it still does.

With an inscription on the cross-shaped headstone reading, "The Jones Family, Church Lodge, Rushbrooke, At Rest", this is the final resting place of my great-grandfather, David Jones (1850-1935), my great grandmother, his second wife, Laura White (1870-1917) and their two sons, Cornelius Jones (1893-1926) and David Jones (1898-1966) (Young Dave.)

What I didn't fully appreciate until later is there's also an earlier family grave in this cemetery, where the inscription reads, "Erected by David Jones In memory of his beloved father Thos. Jones Who died Jan. 8th 1873 aged 56 years Also his beloved son Thomas Who died Jan. 8th 1891 Aged 9 years and 3 months And his beloved wife Johanna Who died Feb 18th 1891 Aged 35 years."

There is also Catherine Jones (Kitty), who was wife of Young Dave. 

And I wouldn't have known about any of those, had it not been for Jack giving me a pair of A4 sheets, listing all the Jones' burials there. It was so sad to read about Jack's death less than a year after we'd met him, but lovely to read that he has been buried in the Old Church Cemetery. You can listen to Jack talking about the cemetery and some of the stories of his co-occupants here.

St Peter's Churchyard, Uplowman, Devon

The second discovery was equally surprising and was something I came across quite by accident online, thanks to the work of Janice Dennis, contributing at Find A Grave

Henry Stone (1828-1901) and Mary Ridgeway (1833-1885) were my 2x paternal great-grandparents. Henry had been an agricultural labourer and, as such, I wasn't looking for a grave with any marker, because I didn't expect the family to have had the resources. We'd even been to the church at Uplowman and didn't bother to look. We've been back a couple of times since.

That there is a headstone, which is just by the side of the path to the rear of the church - notable itself as a Grade II* Listed Building, having been built originally by Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII - is probably because this was first the grave of their son, John Stone (1858-1882), a Labourer on the Railway, who had died on 25 Aug 1882, aged just 24, from Phthisis (pulmonary tuberculosis or a similar progressive wasting disease).

Another of Henry and Mary's sons, Francis Stone and his wife, Frances Jerred - who my father always refered to as 'Aunt France' - are also buried in this churchyard. I very much suspect there may be others, unmarked.

Headstone for William White and Ann Francis in need of support (left)

The Rosary Cemetery, Thorpe Hamlet, Norwich, Norfolk

So the third of my direct ancestors graves - that of some paternal 3x great grandparents, William White (1806-1871) and Ann Francis (1802-1889), at the Rosary Cemetery, Norwich - we visited on our recent trip. In these times of COVID-19 we figured this activity a safe bet as we'd probably not meet too many currently infected people in churchyards and cemeteries! 

In the lead up to the trip, I'd done a flurry of research so there'd be specific things to look for: I'd known that this family lived in Thorpe St Andrew and asked a local history group if they might have come across any White graves in the local churchyard. They had not. However, I was then contacted by former Sheriff of Norwich, Nick Williams, whose wife had seen my question and who provided photos and even a plan, which made the plot very easy to find. 

The Rosary Cemetery itself is notable, nay unique, too, as it was the first non-denominational cemetery in England. Laid out in 1819, it celebrated it's 200th Anniversary in 2019. Nick Williams, who is also involved in The Friends of the Rosary Cemetery, has now written several books on the burial site and here talks about The History of Rosary Cemetery.

Interesting to read that the site was a former market garden and is "... also a haven for flora and fauna", as William White (as well as his sons, William and Walter - I'm descended from the latter) were all gardeners by profession.

And here I need to highlight that in none of these cases were there any official records online that would have found any of these plots for me. Finding graves often requires luck and thinking outside the box (or casket).

Prospect Cemetery, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

The forth grave of any direct ancestor that I know about is all the way over in Canada. Dan Tompson was a 2x great-grandfather, who had emigrated with his second wife, in 1912. This record, at Billion Graves, I did find recently via a link at Ancestry (the BillionGraves Index is also available via FamilySearch), but relies on volunteers. For obvious reasons, having only found this information this year, I've not visited this one [yet].

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