Saturday, May 31, 2014

Cemetery Crawling

Over the past few weeks I have had the opportunity to visit a number of smaller cemeteries in the Hamilton and Niagara regions of Southern Ontario. Only a few of these cemeteries contain gravestones related to my own research interests. Most I visited as a volunteer photographer and indexer with the Canada GenWeb's Cemetery Project.

When I photograph a cemetery I usually try to make two visits at different times of the day. This allows me to photograph east-facing gravestones when the sun is in the east, and west-facing stones when the sun is in the west. As I later index the photographs, I cross-check against the Ontario Genealogical Society (OGS) transcriptions compiled in the 1980s. This usually sends me back for a third visit to locate any gravestones I may missed. Sometimes I find them. Sometimes they have disappeared. And sometimes I find a stone that was missed by the transcribers.

Here are a few of the cemeteries I have recently photographed:

Marx Binkley Cemetery, Ancaster, Ontario

Marx Binkley (1745-1805) and his family came to the Ancaster area from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in the late 1790s. He established a family burial ground in 1803, and his 1805 gravestone in one of the oldest in Southern Ontario. His gravestones has an unusual epitaph:
When I am dead and buired
And all my bones are rotten
When this you see oh think of me
Lest I should be forgotten
Beside him is buried his wife, Matelena, who died in 1838.

Henry Binkley Cemetery, Ancaster, Ontario

Henry Binkley, a grandson of Marx Binkley, established this family burial ground in 1852. The oldest gravestone is that of his father William Binkley (1784-1852).

Turney Family Burial Ground, St Catharines, Ontario

Imagine having a cemetery in your backyard. This was the consequence of building a subdivision in the Power Glen area of St Catharines. Access to this graveyard of six stones is via a branch of the Laura Secord Legacy Trail that climbs up from the valley of the Twelve Mile Creek.  The Turney Family Burial Ground is located on land granted to John Turney (1744-1819), a Lieutenant in Butler's Rangers during the American Revolution. While no stone to John Turney survives, there is a stone to his daughter Jenny (1774-1812), wife of William Boyd (? -1837).

Smith Family Cemetery

Another cemetery located on land once owned by an United Empire Loyalist is the Smith Family Cemetery. Nicholas Smith was a fifer in Butler's Rangers. His land is now owned by the Henry of Pelham Winery. None of the stones remain in situ, however, a wooden pavilion has been constructed to protect the fragments of stones that have been found. Nicholas Smith's gravestone is broken in three pieces and is no longer readable. That of his wife is also broken in three but the inscription is clear:

CATHERINE Consort of
of PELHAM who departed
this life Feb 3, 1817
Blessed are the dead who died in the Lord

St. George's Anglican, St. Catharine

Finally, there is the remnants of the graveyard that once surrounded St George's Anglican Church in Downtown St Catharines. Most of the graves were moved to Victoria Lawn Cemetery many years ago, however, about 60 stones remain, some on the west side of the church, and some in a courtyard squeezed between the church and parish hall.

The stones date from the first half of the eighteenth century, but over the years many have sunk into the ground or become overgrown with grass, some have become obscured by juniper and barberry bushes, some are broken (presumably before the courtyard was enclosed with a locked gate), and two are hidden behind a heat pump. Photographing these gravestones is proving to be a challenge.

Fortunately, in addition to the 1984 OGS transcription, other records of the gravestones exist. In the early 20th century, Janet Carnochan described the cemetery in her Inscriptions and Graves in the Niagara Peninsula. Even more useful is the 19th Century Tombstone Database Project Records held by Brock University Archives. In the summer of 1982, students supervised by Dr. David Rupp collected information on various graveyards in the Niagara region. 

Of particular interest are the photographs and detailed sketches of the gravestones. These records are important since a significant number of gravestones at St George's and other Niagara region cemeteries have been damaged or have disappeared. One example is the stone on the left.

Weathering and the encroachment of ground cover have made the stone difficult to read. According to the OGS transcription this is the gravestone of Samuel Freure (1775-1855) and his son Samuel Freure (1802-1841). The Register of Burials in the Parish of St. George's, St. Catharines records that Samuel Freure, "formerly from England," died on 29 Mar 1855 at the age of 81, and was buried on 2 Apr 1855. But what is inscribed on the stone? Fortunately the 19th Century Tombstone Database Project Records includes a drawing:

Samuel Freure was born in Bedfield, Suffolk, England, the son of Benjamin Freure and Elizabeth Pritty. Samuel likely came to Canada with his son and daughter-in-law in 1836.  

The oldest gravestone at St. George's is that of Jacob Shipman (1796-1813). Three pieces of this gravestone were found resting against the wall of the church. A photograph in the 19th Century Tombstone Database Project Records shows in stone in one piece and beside that of his mother. Jacob was the oldest son of Paul Shipman (1756-1825) and Elizabeth Hawke (1767-1847). St. Catharines was originally known as Shipman's Corners, named after Jacob's father, the second owner of a tavern located at the junction of the Iroquois trail and another trail than ran alongside 12 Mile Creek. Jacob was born in New Jersey, and came with his parents to Upper Canada in 1802.

Jacob was not originally interred at St. George's but at the First Anglican Chapel Burial Grounds located near his father's tavern. This burial ground was closed in 1837 after the site for the future St. George's was procured. At least sixteen graves were exhumed at the old site, and the remains transferred to the new burial ground.