Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Searching For Ancestors

I like it when people let me know they are reading and enjoying my posts on the blog, and I received a reply from my dad’s cousin Carol in New Zealand yesterday telling me she was enjoying my posts. She also asked me if I was close to any of the my grandmother’s family’s houses when they lived in Toronto and the graveyard where my grandmother’s parents were buried. 

Well, I immediately felt a Blog Post coming on . . . . 

I did an internet search and located the two houses she mentioned and then I found the graveyard where Emma and Alonzo Verrian were supposed to be buried. The graveyard, Prospect Cemetery was a fair distance away, but was right on a good streetcar line, so it was easy to get to. We had noticed on our walks that the streetcars were not at all crowded, so it seemed a safe way to get around the city. 

Prospect Cemetery, Toronto 

The next step was to see if I could actually locate their gravesite in the cemetery. More internet research yielded a website for the cemetery that was able to tell me Emma and Alonzo were buried in section 22, plot 2314. Now for someone who is not at all religious, I seem to be the one to explore cemeteries and locate graves. I found Regis’ grandparents graves in Cheticamp on a trip to Cape Breton, and it was me that located her dad’s plot in Sackville as well as her Aunt’s headstone in the same cemetery, so I have some experience in exploring graveyards.

So I set out this morning to take the Subway up Young to St, Claire and then the streetcar to Lansdown where the Prospect Cemetery was located. 

I discovered that this is a massive cemetery. It extends over two blocks and is in two sections divided by a road. There were pretty good maps, so I realized I would have to walk all the way across Rogers Rd to the second area of the cemetery to find section 22. When I got there I started just wandering among the headstones looking for the name “Verrian” on any of them. I then realized that scattered among the headstones were many simple markers set into the ground. Now I do not know a lot of history of this side of the family but I did not think they were extremely wealthy, so I suspected I was looking for a simple marker. The cemetery is actually a beautiful one and looks to be well maintained, but with winter just over and spring just starting, there were leaves scattered all over, and I quickly realized many of the leaves were clustered over the hollows in the ground where the grave markers were. This meant I had to brush away leaves from many of the markers to read them. I diligently searched section 22 for over an hour with no luck. Finally I decided to ask the police officers in the patrol car sitting on the roadway just outside section 22 for advice. Of course the other positive result of asking them was to reassure them that the old guy in the cowboy hat and shillelagh was not a grave robber. They had no knowledge of how the cemetery was laid out, but suggested I go check with the office. Of course the office was all the way back at the entrance, but it did seem to best way to proceed. 

In the office I found Margaret, a very pleasant and helpful lady who gave me a map and highlighted the general area I should look. She then printed out a detailed plot map of this general area. I thanked her and she wished me luck. 

Margaret's Helpful Maps

Back at section 22, I found the patrol car was still there, so I was reassured that I was not the subject of their surveillance. I again found the general area and it was not where I had searched previously. I also noticed a fellow across the road who was picking up branches, and I approached him to ask if he knew anything. He was a grounds keeper and, he said he was not an expert, but had a general idea of how things were organized and he offered to help. Together we scoured the area looking for a marker with no success. He did show me how the plot numbers worked but suggested that they were not always in order, and he said that sometimes the markers sink into the ground and if relatives do not maintain it, they can completely disappear. After 30 minutes searching I thanked him and said I would do a bit more on my own. 

I started then not only looking for the name but also trying to locate the plot 2314 where the grave was supposed to be located. I was able to further narrow down the area by finding numbers above and below 2314. I then located a 2316, but although the plot should have been close I could not find it. I did realize that in many cases the grass had been slowly encroaching onto the markers, and I started using my cane to locate the stone markers under the leaves and grass. Then, sure enough, close to 2316, I found a spot with a solid sound, and kicking the grass aside I discovered 2314. No actual grave marker but the number was there, so I had located the actual site of Emma and Alonzo Verrian’s grave. 

Finally . . . 2314

Then back at the condo I found another e-mail from Carol that explained that she knew there was no marker and was in fact thinking of putting one in place. It obviously had been a while since anyone had actually visited the gravesite, so I hope my little cemetery adventure today helps the Verrian side of the family know that the grave site has been found and remembered. 

1 comment:

  1. That is so very cool, Art! I know Denise and I tried to find her grandparents’ gravesite while in Shawinigan PQ. We found out that if no family pays the annual ‘rent’, then they simply dig up Grandma and Grandpa and put someone else in there. We were kind of afraid to ask where they put the dug up remains …🧐