Monday, December 14, 2009

The Ontario Cemetery Finding Aid: Locating Cemetery Transcriptions

Let's say you have the name of your ancestor who was buried in Ontario, Canada and you are wondering if there are any cemetery transcriptions for the area.

Luckily, there is a great database that you can check to locate where your ancestor has been buried called the Ontario Cemetery Finding Aid which currently has a searchable database of over 3 million names of people who were buried in cemeteries all across the Province of Ontario.

Using the results from your search, you will be able to determine where you can purchase cemetery transcriptions for the cemetery where your ancestor was interred as well as see if others with the same surname are located nearby.

First, you go to the search page of the Finding Aid, which will show the following search fields:

Surname, Given Name, Cemetery, County, and Township

If you do not have all of that information, you can still use the search engine and later narrow down the parameters. If you have just the name of the individual that you are looking for and the name is somewhat common, be prepared for a long list. Let's say you want to find a John Smith, buried somewhere in Ontario and input just the surname Smith and the given name John, you will get 1,608 matches for John Smith, with many of the results giving poor matches on the first pages. The example above shows the very first result as:

Name: SMITH, - (i/d/o John & Janet)
Cemetery: Rocky Saugeen
County: Grey
Township: Bentinck
Reference: BG-G-025

This result shows that this result is for an unnamed infant daughter of John and Janet Smith who was buried at Rocky Saugeen Cemetery, Bentinck Township, Grey County Ontario. The reference number will be discussed later in this article.

Obviously, this not the burial of a John Smith, so it is not a helpful record, unless of course, you know that your John Smith was from Bentinck Township in Grey County and even if that was the case, you don't know if the father of this child was the same person as the John Smith you are tracing. It could be someone completely unrelated to your family. That is one of the limitations of this particular search: a very common name could pull many results that you have no use for.

You might have realized one of the benefits of this search. Many of the records have extra information included in the search results that could help narrow down the person you are actually searching for. Results can include parents' names or the name of a spouse which can be very helpful.

Let's narrow our search for John Smith a bit in this example. Let's say you know that your John Smith was living in London, Ontario and you are pretty sure that he died in that city. London is located in Middlesex County, Ontario, so by adding that to our search and clicking search, we get a much better result.

"Matched 120 records out of 3,316,949 in the database" with only 4 pages to go through. Although the first 16 or so results are for names other than John Smith, you may want to note that the 3rd result says "SMITH, Ann (w/o John Smith)" meaning this Ann Smith was the wife of John Smith and shows she was buried at Pond Mills Cemetery, London. She may or may not be the spouse of the John Smith we are looking for, but because we don't know when she died, this could be the wife of another John Smith somehow related to our John Smith - or she may just have been the wife of an unrelated John Smith. It's always wise to keep an eye out for possible clues like this when doing your research.

If you check the 2nd page of our results you will find these two John Smiths:

Name: SMITH, John (-1944)
Cemetery: Pond Mills, London
County: Middlesex
Township: London
Reference: MX-LC-758

Name: SMITH, John (h/o Ann Smith)
Cemetery: Pond Mills, London
County: Middlesex
Township: London
Reference: MX-LC-758

Both were buried at Pond Mills Cemetery and the 2nd is probably the husband of the Ann Smith shown above, but we cannot assume that is the case without further information. If you know that the John Smith you are interested in died in the 1800s, then the first John Smith shown above would not be the one you are looking for, but as always, it is a good idea to take note of anyone in the same cemetery bearing the surname of the person you are searching for. It may be an important clue further on down the line in your research.

Finding Others With The Same Surname

One search you should do if you find a name you are searching for is to do a search of the SURNAME and the CEMETERY and the COUNTY. Let's say you want to take a peek at all the Smith burials at Pond Mills Cemetery. Your search would be as follows:

Surname: Smith
Given Name: (left blank)
Cemetery: Ponds Mills
County: Middlesex
Township: (left blank)

Searching with this pulls up 28 Smiths buried at Ponds Mills (including a 3rd possible John Smith, named John Roy Smith - Always thoroughly check your results when searching records!)

What Is The Significance Of The Reference Number?

Each name has a reference number displayed on the right side of the results page. That is what you need if you decide you simply must have more information about an individual. Let's say that you are convinced that the John Smith buried at Ponds Mills Cemetery is the one you are looking for and that you want to find out what his gravestone has inscribed.

Cemetery transcriptions have been done on just about all of the various cemeteries in Ontario - with many online, so be sure to check to see if the cemetery information is published on the Internet. Taking a look on Google shows a map to Ponds Mill Cemetery, so if you want to go there and check the cemetery in person you can, but what if you cannot travel to London, Ontario?

Another website, available through Rootsweb has an actual picture of the gravestone of John and Ann Smith at Ponds Mill Cemetery! Just scroll down to John Smith and the gravestone will pop up in another window. Note: the page mentions the following - (Photos will appear via Pop-Up Window using Javascript, if the photos don't appear check your browser settings). In this case, we were lucky as many cemeteries haven't been photographed. That is why you will need the reference number from the search results in order to get a copy of the transcriptions for the cemetery you are interested in.

The Reference Number for John Smith in Ponds Mill Cemetery is MX-LC-758, which you will need in order to find out where the cemetery transcriptions are held.

You will need to return to the search page for the Ontario Cemetery Finding Aid (OCFA). Above the search area there is a sentence "For information on the Database Fields, see the OCFA Field Information page" and you will need to click the Field Information link and scroll down the resulting page to the heading: Reference. Click the link "Addresses", which will give a list of those organizations holding the transcriptions for cemeteries in Ontario. You will need to scroll down to find the organization holding the transcriptions for Ponds Mill Cemetery, in this case, the London-Middlesex Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society.

Clicking on the link takes you to their webpage, and you will need to click again, this time on Branch Publications with the price and contact information for purchasing the Ponds Mill Cemetery transcriptions.

This example can be applied for any name listed in the Ontario Cemetery Finding Aid database. If the cemetery is not already online, the transcriptions can be purchased through the local branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society using the Reference Number associated with the search result. Also, there are many kind individuals willing to do lookups for those unable to travel to Ontario.

No comments: