The beautiful village of Perth situated on the Tay River in Lanark County Ontario is celebrating the 200th anniversary this year of the founding of the Rideau Military Settlement.
My mother-in-law, Annie, grew up in Perth and her parents are both descended from Irish emigrants who were escaping poverty, famine and oppression back in the homeland. A few years ago out of a frustration in the paucity of early records in Ontario I visited St. Bridget’s Catholic Cemetery in the historic North Burgess Township, now part of the present-day Tay Valley Township to find and photograph monuments of these pioneer families. Each visit led to discovering new connections which, in turn, required more visits to photograph other monuments. Eventually I photographed all the monuments.
As this cemetery did not appear to have been documented other than a transcription done by the Lanark County Genealogical Society I wanted to share my images. This led to a review of existing Graveyard Monument Sites and I decided to use Find-a-Grave for reasons I will discuss in a later post. The Cemetery was already created with just a few entries so I just had to create a spreadsheet with the Birth and Death information and upload it and then the corresponding images.
This foray into monuments led me to volunteering to photograph monuments at Beechwood Cemetery close to my home in Ottawa where my mother and other family members rest. Beechwood Cemetery is well documented. The staff there are friendly, available and helpful to people researching their families histories. The Burial Registers from 1873-1990 are even available on Ancestry.ca (subscription Required). It was a lot of work and after having to visit a few not so popular cemeteries closer to home I realized that these older, smaller cemeteries were more at risk and were the ones needing documentation.
My first attempt was the historic Old St. Mary’s Anglican Church Cemetery beside the Pinhey’s Point Heritage Site near Dunrobin, Ontario. This required some tact and research as the Cemetery is on private land owned by the Anglican Parish of March and though a transcription had been done by Dr. Bruce S. Ellioitt back in the 1980s it was long out of print. I obtained a copy from Microfilm at the Archives of Ontario while on a visit there and later discovered a copy existed at the Library of the Ottawa Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society.
My wife is a runner and participates in the annual Perth Kilt Run so we are occasionally in Perth.
Not wanting to be outdone by the foolishness of running 5 miles in 28 degrees in a wool dancing kilt I started to photograph the monuments at the Craig Street Cemetery. I had actually started this project back in December 2015 when researching my wife’s Irish ancestors I started accessing the registers of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church at Perth in the Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923 collection at FamilySearch. This is an image-only collection that is not yet indexed and so can be a chore to find records in. I decided to go through the registers starting at the beginning in 1823 and adding the burial records to the Craig Street Cemetery.
It should be noted here that this cemetery is known by a number of names; “The Craig Street Cemetery”, “The Old Burying Ground” and as the “Pioneer Cemetery.” This, combined with Find-a-Grave’s woefully inadequate lack of an easy way to search for Cemeteries in Canada has led to much confusion and the presence of a Methodist “Old Burying Ground” (St. Paul’s United Church Cemetery) nearby on Robinson Street has not helped matters. My frustration finding cemeteries in Canada led me to create a map-based front-end for Find-a-Grave in Canada.
On first visiting the cemetery and doing a walk through I almost tripped across the monument of my wife’s 3rd great grandparents John Menzies (1788-1862) and his wife Cathrine (1787-1854) who are that “touch of Scotch” poisoning the “All Irish” mix in the words of her grandmother Martena “Tena” (Byrne) Halaren (1908-1992).
I think this illustrates why this cemetery is so important. Vital records of Births, Marriages and Deaths were only required to be kept starting in 1869 and compliance for the first decade or so was rather hit-and-miss. Many early church records are either missing or only available at archives in distant cities so monuments can sometimes be the only evidence for the births and deaths of our ancestors. Occasionally they provide genealogical gems such as the year of emigration or the exact birth locations back in the homeland that can provide that tidbit of information that smash brick walls in our research and allows us to “hop the pond” and trace the ancestral lines further in the old country.
Another concern is that the monuments in this cemetery are at risk as many are weathering to the point of illegibility or victims of vandalism. A search was done looking for existing transcriptions and one was located. This transcription was again done under the auspices of the Ontario Genealogical Society by Louise I.(sabelle) Hope back in 1993. Again it was out-of-print and a trip to the Archives of Ontario was required so early this summer while the family visited Canada’s Wonderland I retrieved a copy. These transcriptions are a wonderful resource and can greatly aide in deciphering the photographs by filling in the blanks. I am attempting to use the transcription in a ethical manner and not violate the copyright of the OGS which, as I understand it, means that the names and dates can be published but not the actual details of the transcriptions including the relationships therein contained. For such an important cemetery this can be an issue especially as the only existing transcription is essentially unavailable. To attempt to alleviate some of these issues I am updating the transcription with the additions and corrections I have found and will present it to the OGS so they can once again make it available and can add the names and dates to The Ontario Name Index (TONI). I have also contacted the Society to request permission to add the transcriptions for the monuments that were present in 1993 but have since disappeared to the memorials on Find-a-Grave.
In late June I photographed the Catholic section of the Cemetery and the back portion of the Presbyterian and Anglican sections and a couple of notable other monuments including a distant relative of mine Thomas Mabon Radenhurst (1803-1854) who married his cousin Lucy Edith Ridout (1811-1878) who is related to my son’s mother’s Ridouts.
I returned at the end of July and photographed the remaining portions of the Presbyterian and Anglican sections of the Cemetery and have now uploaded the photographs and transcriptions. Currently the Cemetery has 1355 records. What remains are 75 or so monuments that are unreadable and 50 some monuments that were located in 1993 but were not located in 2016. I will be returning to Perth in the next couple of weeks to visit the memorials where the images were indecipherable from the photographs to retake the photos and transcribe what I can using non-invasive techniques such as water spraying, using reflectors to angle available light and braille-reading. Reading these monuments is challenging as the monuments are all, for the most part, facing East and are thus back-lit from noon onward and, not being a morning person, the afternoon is usually when I am there.
The 1993 transcription includes a composite map created from 3 maps of the Presbyterian section of the cemetery designated “A,” “B” and, “C.” I will be using the existing monuments and a list of plot-holders from the 1993 transcription combined with GPS data embedded in the photographs in an attempt to assign as many of the extant memorials to the correct plots.
The final stage of this project will be to attempt to gain access to the burial records for St. James the Apostle Anglican Church and transcribe those that exist from the earliest date until 1872 so burials that are recorded with no corresponding memorials can be included and likewise for Presbyterian records from the First Presbyterian Church and its descendant St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church can likewise be included.
So Happy Birthday Perth, this is my present to you and the descendants of the Military Settlers and the later Scotch and Irish Emigrants.
- History of St. John the Baptist Catholic Parish by Deacon Brent McLaren, Perth’s Town Crier
- History of St. James’ Anglican Church
- History of St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church
- Archives Lanark Cemetery Transcripts
- St. James’ Anglican Church Fonds
- Anglican Diocese of Ottawa Archives
- Finding Aid for Presbyterian Records at Archives of Ontario
- Finding Aid for Rev. Wm. Bell Fonds at Queen’s University
- Ottawa Presbytery Archives
- Lanark County Genealogy Society
- Archives Lanark
- Ottawa Branch, OGS Publications
- Kingston Branch OGS Publications
- Lanark County GenWeb
- Heritage Designation
- Vandalism at Cemetery
- Craig St. Cemetery – Find-a-Grave
- Lanark Cemeteries – Canadian Grave Marker Gallery
- Old Burying Grounds – Canadian Headstones dot com
- Perth Old Cemetery / Old Burying Grounds – Canada GenWeb’s Cemetery Project
- Craig St. Cemetery (Old Burying Ground) – Lanark County GenWeb