The solitary Mrs Allice Petiot marker at Lille. March 1907 age 31 years.
There are people who breeze through our community on missions unbeknownst to us all. That is unless we get wind of them and track them down. Alison Glass and Pat Goulden are on an important mission and showed up here last week to continue their worthwhile cause. I was invited by Ken and Anne at the York Creek Bed and Breakfast to come and meet them and perhaps assist in their mind blowing quest. Their mission: Grave Documentation
Alison and Pat are part of a growing number of graveyard hobbyists who are busy chronicling the millions of grave sites across Canada for a monster database known as FindaGrave.com. FindaGrave started out in 1995 as a searchable database of celebrity gravesites and has now ballooned into a worldwide source site of dead people’s locations that takes a mind staggering 4.5 million hits per day. By 2010 the site had accumulated 52 million records from a half million contributors and I can’t imagine what the numbers are like now. Especially if intrepid researchers like Alison and Pat and the now 800,000 others like them out there just keep hammering away at sites documenting every single solitary marker and entering it into the database by spreadsheet.
For Alison it all started six years ago when a Find a Grave volunteer in Toronto emailed her snapshots from the Glass family tree. Having always been fascinated by genealogy she got “horrendously hooked”. Pat got started in 2011 doing the Salmo, BC area and has expanded out to places like Ymir, Nelson, Creston, Cranbrook and Sparwood. They were corresponding on line and finally met this spring to celebrate and work to find a relative of Alison’s in the Edgewood, BC cemetery. Naturally they photographed all of Edgewood and just for laughs did five other cemeteries in the space of two days. Wow. Last week besides the work done here they hit the abandoned Hosmer, BC cemetery and got a start on St. Margaret’s in Fernie. Talk about serious documenters!
These two grave stalkers are determined, skilled and pretty well unstoppable when it comes to getting those elusive remote markers onto the site. Case in point. Wednesday they swept into East Bellevue and photo documented all of the Union Cemetery sites. Alison tells me the cemetery was pretty soggy which is no surprise as it is in a highly vulnerable place for drainage and took a real hammering on June 20th of this year . Not satisfied to swarm that abandoned resting place that hot day they then headed up to Lille to the old cemetery therein. Unperturbed by a badly chewed up road past the Gold Creek Estates they parked and hoofed it the five kilometers there and back to visit and photograph what turned out to be the only visible grave marker there. Records suggest that there were only a dozen or so Lilleites buried at the cemetery but no matter. Someone somewhere may be looking for that name to connect to a family tree. And that’s really what it is all about. Connecting people to their past.
It is a very gratifying to be able to help make connections like this. The movement towards researching one’s past is stronger that it has ever been. Alison has done her own family homework in spades. Her family tree research has branched out into over 16,000 names.
It is no easy task helping to build this amazing database. But Glass, a retired bus driver from St. Albert, just keeps swallowing up cemeteries. The Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Edmonton was completed by her and that is a whopping 18,000 names. Imagine the work that took and the epitaphs she has seen. Alison tells me one of her favourites is: “Do Not Resurrect”! Her work gives her peace and exercise and she spends her winters entering her data and responding to hundreds of online requests. Her tools are a hat, a camera with spare batteries and memory cards, a clip boar and a coat hanger for pulling grass and weeds out of the way of the photo. She also carries aluminum foil and a soft brush to do rubbings on undecipherable faded lettering.
Alison says: “I could stay home and grow roses but roses won’t benefit anybody. Pictures of gravestones might help someone somewhere.” By September of last year she has contributed over 52,000 memorials to the site which means a search of any of the 106 graveyards she has been to in North America and England might turn up a lost long relative.
In a few weeks the Blairmore and Bellevue cemetery info will be on the site. Coleman is already up there as well as Hillcrest. For me that means the memorials of my brother and grandparents in Coleman, my other grandparents in Bellevue and someday soon my parents in Passburg will all be accessible to me and to others. The website is a bit addictive Alison tells me as far as drawing one into searching for loved ones. Take your time and make sure you fill in all the blanks you can.
As of this date Alison tally is now 68,281 memorials to FindaGrave and 37,899 photos. If you find there is no photo of a person of interest listed one merely has to put in a photo request to her and it will be added. Make sure you say please and thank you though! As you can imagine managing this data is pretty onerous but for Alison it is a labour of love.
I spent a spectacularly beautiful Thursday morning wandering around the Coleman Union Cemetery by myself, reconnecting with many of the wonderful Pass people who have passed but with FindaGrave.com this connection is available at your fingertips any time you want.