When Graves Go Missing

Introduction

This is a two part story of my research into why I can’t find gravestones of my relatives on PEI and what other records of their tombstones might exist. My earliest family record is of John Buchanan and Marion Nicholson giving birth to Malcolm Buchanan on Point Prim in 1829. Three generations of family lived, worked and died on PEI but only the gravesite of the last known family member on the island, Sadie Buchanan, who died in 1980, could be found.

Vital statistics said they had no record of my great grandfather Samuel Buchanan’s death. I found his will and it had been proved by a great aunt. Last summer I found a record of his death at the public archives, a single line in a Church record which simply read "Capt. Buchanan - natural causes - 16-Apr-1930 - buried Springton". But I had seen the Springton cemetery transcript and knew none of the family were there! It was the first cemetery I had checked when I began my research! I even went to the cemetery and verified the transcript personally. Why wasn’t there a gravestone for Samuel or his wife Catherine in Springton? Why weren’t there gravestones for John or Marion or their children in the Polly cemetery or St. John’s cemetery?

Why aren’t there any monuments?

I talked to several people who knew some of the history of the cemeteries I was interested in during a trip to PEI my family and I made in the summer of 1998. Gradually I was able to piece together what may have happened to some of our family monuments.

Polly, St. John's and the French Pioneer Cemeteries

A family historian on Point Prim related the following stories on the early cemeteries.

1. There is a row of unmarked graves at St. John's. The gravedigger or groundskeeper claimed they are all Buchanans.

2. Stones may have been moved from Polly Cemetery to St. John's. But the caskets were not moved, only the stones.

3. There are only 2 stones in the French Pioneer cemetery but many people. Someone who needed stone dug up the stones and dumped them at the Point Prim Wharf a long time ago.

Springton Cemetery

I spoke to several people connected to the church which looks after the cemetery. From those conversations I pieced together this history of the cemetery.

Springton cemetery was a public cemetery which anyone could use at no cost. Unfortunately no group took responsibility for the cemetery and it became overgrown. A women’s group eventually organized a clean-up of the cemetery. (My notes suggest this took place in the sixties.) The men who cleared the cemetery threw the broken stones they found into the surrounding woods. Later the surrounding land was sold to a lumber company. The lumber company built an access road on the East end of the cemetery. They called the church because their graders kept hitting old grave markers. The road workers threw the obstructing stone pieces into a pile at the side of the road. No plot records from the "Old Part" of the cemetery exist. No burial is allowed in the old part because no one knows where people are buried. Previously when burial was allowed in the old part they often hit old caskets while digging new graves.

Do monument makers keep records?

At one point I wondered if the family just didn’t go in for gravestones. But it now looks just as likely that some of the stones have been lost or destroyed. I wondered if the monument makers kept records of the stones they cut. I posed the question along with requests for monument company telephone numbers on the PEI Email List. A few list members and I spoke to several monument makers to determine what records they kept and for how long. The results of our inquiries are outlined below.

1. The only monument company operating in PEI around 1930 was Vere Beck.

2. Vere Beck ceased operation about 15 years ago. No one took over the business.

3. At one time Vere Beck had tons of records. But eventually the bulk of these records were destroyed and the remaining records were destroyed just as soon as Revenue Canada would permit it.

4. The monument companies operating today on PEI keep records for a maximum of 5 years. (At least the ones I spoke to.)

5. Everyone I spoke to echoed the same sentiment: The records are too voluminous, they don't have space for them.

6. One of the Nova Scotia Monument firms has records sorted by year back to the early 1900s and has kept the new records in a database for many years.

The end result is that it appears that monument records aren't available for PEI.

I would like to suggest that PEIGS or the Public Archives consider archiving these materials for the monument companies in future. Although it is hard to imagine monuments not surviving today, the value I would place on those old Vere Beck records is quite high. And what family historian wouldn't want to know who bought a monument and when? Just something to consider.

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This material is Copyright 1998 Craig Buchanan. All rights reserved. This page may be freely linked to.
Please send comments or questions to mailto: buchananc@acm.org.