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The Cemetery Nut

By Gloria Pare, December 17, 2000

OK, I will admit it, I am among the growing number of live people who spend much of their free time out haunting cemeteries. What is the reason there are so many like me, who not only spend their time doing this but, actually enjoy it? There are a few reasons; it is, quite simply, an interesting pasttime, some are doing genealogy research and others to help record and preserve the records that the monuments themselves contain. Yes, I know a lot of you are shaking your heads and thinking "Is this lady crazy?" Please try to reserve your judgement, if only for a few more minutes.

Cemeteries, an interesting pasttime. Sounds like I have a few problems right? Not really. I managed to get hooked quite by accident actually. I volunteer at my local county archives, The Haldimand County Museum & Archives, in southern Ontario. While helping people with research involving cemeteries in the area, I discovered that the records held by the archives were up to thirty years old. A great many people had taken up residence in Haldimand County's almost fifty cemeteries over the last thirty years. Out I went determined to update all of these records and hoping it would help people locate whoever they were looking for. I spent the following year visiting and recording every cemetery in the county. What an eye-opener the task was! I discovered beautiful monuments in tribute to those long gone in all shapes, sizes, colors and locations! They often stand, majestically, among trees and bushes fighting to be seen and to be remembered, the information cut into them a genealogist's dream.

Genealogy is one of the fastest growing hobbies worldwide. Once bitten by the genealogy bug, you are hooked for life. There is no cure. Nobody is even seeking one. Cemeteries are like a huge book, sitting there silently yet begging to be read. They are the final resting places for those gone but they are also for the living. They are places to remember our families and discover our ancestors. Even to the newest genealogist there is nothing like the feeling of finally discovering the monument of one of your ancestors. The day I found the grave of my great grandfather, who had passed away when my father was only two, was like the day I made a new friend whose life was etched on this simple stone in the ground. As I cleaned it off and read the name and dates it was like he was right there with me. It gave him more of an identity to me. He became a real person, not just a name I had written on a piece of paper. It is a feeling of joy not sadness to make a discovery such as this and we should protect all of cemeteries, their permanent residents and the wonderful, invaluable information they contain.

I have been in cemeteries all over the province of Ontario. Some are like parks, kept clean, well maintained and the monuments repaired when any damage is done to them. Many others have been long forgotten. The monuments are overgrown with bushes and weeds and often buried. They are broken beyond any possible repair and the records once written on them now illegible, lost forever to time, the elements and neglect. Many old stones contain the only record of the death of a person. Quite often they also contain the only record of a marriage and the children of that marriage. The loss of these stones is like the loss of the vital records, births, marriages and deaths, now kept by our governments. They are one of a kind, irreplaceable. There are many people, like me who have realized the importance of preserving our cemeteries and the records they contain and that is just what we try to do whenever time allows.

I hope that you have kept an open mind while reading this and now understand why you often see people running around old cemeteries with a notebook, pen and often with a stone cleaning kit near at hand. They want to be there. They enjoy the peace and beauty in a cemetery or are perhaps doing some family genealogy research or maybe they are among those who realize the importance of the records etched in the monuments long ago so lovingly erected. Whatever their reasons in one way or another they are helping to preserve some of the most vital records of all in their notes. Perhaps a few of you are still shaking your heads and thinking that I am crazy and that is OK. I believe that there are many more of you who have perhaps had their eyes opened or enlightened a little as to the importance of our cemetery records. Maybe next time you see me, or one of the other dedicated cemetery "nuts" out there, you will take the time to think about why we are there and remember, we can always use another pair of hands to help out.

- Gloria Pare

Gloria has visited and recorded several cemeteries throughout Ontario, Canada. Her work is featured on this site. She can be contacted at: gloriapare@sympatico.ca

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