All the various cemetery sites online are great for finding inscriptions and pictures of your ancestors' tombstones. But one resource that many people overlook are the registers for the cemetery. The reason for this is because it involves a little more of the old fashioned leg work and persistence. You are not going to find these online. You have to track down where the registers are kept, and then find out if you'll even have access to them. This will involve letters, emails, and/or phone calls. You may even have to make a personal visit, depending on the policy of the register holders. In our digital age of instant gratification, this may seem like too much trouble. You may think that since you have the tombstone information, then there's no point in trying to track down the register. You would be wrong though. The registers can hold any or all of the following information:
- Full Name of the deceased
- Birth date
- Age at death
- Death date
- Death Place
- Cause of death
- Name of nearest relative
- Marital status
- Burial date
- Owner of the plot. This could lead you to more family members.
If you have Toronto ancestors, you're in luck though. Thanks to the Toronto Branch, Ontario Genealogical Society and Family Search, you can look at the registers of the Toronto Trust Cemeteries Collection online, for free. This was a massive indexing project that took from 2009-2015 to complete. In all, over 360,000 names were indexed. Thanks to their efforts, researchers can look at the records of four major Toronto cemeteries:
- York Burying Ground (Potter's Field) 1826-1855
- Necropolis Cemetery 1849-1989
- Mount Pleasant 1876-1988
- Prospect Cemetery 1890-1985
Now take note that not all the images contain the burial register itself. From what I can see, more recent burials are index books only. Also note that not all years are on here. In the Mount Peasant Cemetery for instance, the volumes skip from 1933-1949.
You can find links to this collection on Ancestry, but your best bet is to actually go to Family Search itself. The images on Ancestry takes you to Family Search anyway, so why not just go the source.
You can go to the search page of the collection here.
You have two options. You can search for a specific name, or you can browse by cemetery.
Searching by Name
I have a great uncle named Garfield DOUGLAS. The poor little guy died just shy of three years old in 1923, of whooping cough. According to his death registration, he was buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery. So I entered his name and right at the top of the search results was his entry. Clicking on it gave me this information:
Now did you notice on the right underneath the image, it says that the information may contain more information than was indexed. So by clicking on the image it also had this extra information:
- He died at the Hospital for Sick Children
- His death date was 8 February 1923
- Also listed on the grave location was "north grave" in brackets
- The Medical Attendant's name was Stanley Copp
- Rev. Broughall officiated the burial
- B.D. Humphrey was the undertaker
Some of this information I knew from the death certificate. But if I did not have a death certificate, then I would now have information that would help me to seek one out. I found the "north grave" information interesting. I'm not sure if this means there are more than one internment here belonging to the Douglas family. It bears looking into. Also, there's the name of the reverend. By finding which church he belonged to, I could possibly be able to find church records for the family.
As a side note, I also noticed in the image an entry a few above him, for a Grant MACDONALD. This little guy was only 5 years old when he died of bronchial pneumonia. I do not think he belongs to my particular McDonald line. That wasn't what interested me. It was the fact that according to the register, he died 8 February 1923, "put into the vault" 10 February, and wasn't buried until 26 April. If you were looking for a church burial record for him, you would have to look not in February, but April in the church registers to find it. A little tidbit of information you wouldn't have gotten from his tombstone.
Browse by Cemetery
Now let's look at a later burial. My great grandfather John McDonald died in 1964. I used the browse function for him because it's actually faster than wading through all the John McDonalds I know are going to come up using the search function. I knew he was buried in Prospect Cemetery. But, I've never been able to find him on any of the cemetery sites online. So, I clicked on Browse through 7,234 images, then Prospect Cemetery. I then clicked on Volume 5, 1963-1972. This particular volume is an index book. It is indexed by first letter of surname, and then by year. In a rare stroke of luck for me, there is only one John McDonald buried in prospect in 1964.
The index says that John is buried in 13-768B, and his entry is listed on page 106414. What's also interesting is that what looks like "acg" is written before the location. I used this information to email the Mount Pleasant Group of Cemeteries, of which Prospect is now a part of. They were very prompt and helpful, replying back the next day. The information I was given was:
- He was 69 years old and 7 months when he died
- His next of kin listed was my great grandmother Edna
- His birth place is listed as Kingston, ON
- His death place was Newmarket, ON
- He died of Myocardial Infarction
- The "acg" stood for Adult Common Grave
I've never seen a digital collection like this one. Hopefully, this will start a trend into bringing cemetery registers online. I have seen the odd transcription or compiled database put up here and there, but human error can always come into play with a transcription. Even with this collection, the indexing doesn't give you all the information that's available.
If you know of any similar other digitized register collections in Canada, then let me know, and I'll feature them in a future post.