Saturday, March 12, 2011

Waiting for the Snow to Melt

Woodlawn Cemetery, Guelph, Wellington, Ontario

A Canadian cemetery in winter is a special place, especially after a recent snowfall. Of course, finding a gravestone while wading through a foot of snow can be an interesting challenge. Transcribing an inscription while avoiding frostbite is also quite the thrill.

A cemetery visit in winter can be aesthetically rewarding, but for genealogical research it's probably best to wait for spring. Early spring is an excellent time for cemetery visits. Gravestones do not yet lie in the deep shadow of trees. The sun is still low in the sky for most of the day, creating better contrast for reading inscriptions and photography. Flowers, shrubs and grass which can obscure gravestones in summer have yet to make an appearance.

The gravestone of my ggg-grandmother Elizabeth LEWIS née STEVENS (1815-1885) is an excellent example of the advantage of cemetery visits in the early spring. I first visited her gravestone at Exeter Cemetery near Exeter, Ontario, several years ago at the end of June. Her gravestone and that of two of her children, was completely surrounded by a mass of orange day lilies. Quite picturesque, but I don't think anyone would have appreciated my stomping of the lilies to get close to the stone. A few months later, I did wade through the decaying remains and was able to take some adequate photographs. But it wasn't until a visit two years ago this month that I finally got the photograph I wanted — the complete stone, every carved word and symbol cleanly and clearly detailed.

As usual, research during the winter months has generated a long list of gravestones to photograph, but here in Ontario we're still waiting for the snow to melt.

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