Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Cemeteries Also Preserve Our Heritage

By Leon Smet (Originally Published - 14 April 1982, Saint Croix Courier, St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada)

Many people view the cemetery as a place to deposit the remains of the deceased and then forget. But there’s more to it than that. Although death is man’s greatest enemy, and many have gone through all kinds of sorrow to get out of this world, let’s look at cemeteries in a different light.

Cemeteries are beautiful places in the sense that the grounds are well-kept and the atmosphere is more like a park or a garden. In Charlotte County, we have some fine examples of gardenlike parks and places that are a joy to walk through.

Some of the interesting things are the monuments that have been created over the years. There are some very good examples of stones that are stories which tell of the artisans that have made memorials and also the personalities of the people they commemorate.

For an example of artistry have a look at the memorial in the Eaton lot in the St. Stephen Rural Cemetery that is cut out of a solid piece of white marble to appear in the shape of a sheaf of grain, believed to have been made in Italy by a prisoner.
The Eaton Lot
St. Stephen Rural Cemetery

The Loyalist Ground on King Street in St. Stephen is where many of the earliest Charlotte County residents were buried. An interesting feature is that some of the name may no longer mean anything to us now, but there were here. To some, the only way we could know is because of the marble monument carved with a stoneman’s chisel.

One example of the ingenuity of man is represented in the St. George Rural Cemetery in the form of Vermont Grey Granite. Its weight is calculated to be around 37,000 pounds.

Another is the Johnson stone, which is approximately 13 feet high, with a weight of approximately 20,000 pounds. It is a marvel even today as to how these memorials were places.

The Johnson Stone
St. George Rural Cemetery

The largest memorial Smet Monuments placed only had a combined weight of 16,000 pounds. That had a base length of 17 feet for the six girls who were killed in an accident at Rexton, New Brunswick.

All these memorials attest to the workmen of Charlotte County over the years. For a period of time, memorials were standardized, with the few companies mass-producing, resulting in so many stones which look alike.

Today, people are changing, not so much to ornate and expensive memorials, but more the personalized designs; designs that are more in keeping with the personality of people they are to represent and commemorate.

For example, we at Smet Monument’s have had sailing vessels for boat builders, fishermen and people who live by the water; farm scenes for people who spent their life tilling the land; horse scenes for people who loved horses; outdoor scenes for people who loved to hunt and fish and open Bible designs for Bible readers.

Another interesting thing in our cemeteries in Charlotte County is to read the interesting epitaphs. One interesting one reads “Remember me as you pass by, as you are now, so once was I. As I am now so you will be, prepare for death and follow me.”

Another reads “And I have hope toward God that these also entertain that there shall be a resurrection.” One inscription that we put on a memorial once for an Eastport, Maine, family had 344 letters in it.

Have you visited a cemetery lately? Why not go through and appreciate it at a time when you are not there, because of a loss in your family. A greater percentage of people are even prearranging their cemetery lot and memorial.

Rather than view a cemetery as a morbid place, look at it as a place that memorializes people and families, and reminds one there is going to be a resurrection. The interesting fact that most cemeteries bury with the feet to the East is another thing to think on.

Footnote: Leon Smet was the founder/owner of Smet Monuments. Smet Monuments continues to thrive and is located just north of St. Stephen. You can visit their website at http://www.monumentsonline.com/

Saturday, June 18, 2011

"Where is that #&@$ Cemetery & Church!"

A few years ago, I started a Panoramio account with the hopes of sharing photos of local landmarks of historic importance. For those not familiar with Panoramio, it is a website that allows you to upload photos and plot them into Google Map and Google Earth. If you have ever used either Maps or Earth, you may have noticed photos that people have uploaded and are plotted to a specific location. This is all done via Panoramio.

Well, my good intentions lasted for a few months back in 2009 however recently I have rejuvenated my effort. My hopes are that researchers looking for a particular church or cemetery on Google Maps/Earth will find one of my uploaded photos helpful. For my own experience, I have spent hours roaming back roads in search of an old cemetery with little data offered from the internet. So, over this summer I intend to upload and plot as many photos of cemeteries, churches and landmarks as possible.

You can check out my Panoramio account by visiting http://www.panoramio.com/user/2632673

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Cemetery Laws in New Brunswick

It has crossed my mind on a number of occassions; what exactly are the laws/regulations regarding cemeteries in the province of New Brunswick? Well, after surfing around the gnb.ca website, I found the "Cemetery Companies Act", which can be read at http://www.gnb.ca/0062/PDF-acts/c-01.pdf

Though the act (updated last in 1994) principally focuses on regulating the companies that operation a cemetery, the act does point out some interesting items:

1. Its illegal to be buried in a vault, crypt or under a church. Also, burial must be within 5 metres of a church or building outer walls.
2. Its a violation to remove a monument without the consent of the cemetery company.
3. Technically, a person can be punished under the criminal code for cutting a tree, bush or plant in a cemetery. Same goes with playing games and shooting guns in cemeteries. Unfortunately the law is not tough enough on vandals when they are caught damaging headstones.

There are plenty other interesting regulations governing cemeteries. One item that I found missing was the issue of people burying pets/animals in cemeteries. Oddly enough, I know of two cases where this was done and I always thought it was illegal. Thoughts?

While on the subject, there are a few unwritten rules or etiquette when it comes to cemeteries:
1. Do not remove items from a cemetery - An old-wives' tale says that these items will bring bad luck and upset the spirits.
2. Cemeteries are closed at dusk - Though this rule sound like something from a vampire tale, it is common knowledge that cemeteries close a dusk, even if the gates (if applicable) are not closed.
3. Don't walk across the burial plots, stay on the trails - Out of respect for those that lie at rest, visitors should try and keep to foot paths and roadways.

Do you know of any other rules regarding cemeteries?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Genealogy - A Look Back

Recently, I have been asked by a blog visitor to give some insight on the genealogy work that I am focused on. So for this blog entry I thought that I would start with a look back on my voyage of researching family history. Now, I don’t remember the exact year that I became interested in genealogy but I know that I was still High School when I starting putting information down on paper. During those early years, I was in and out with the interest and like most young people, strayed away when something else caught my attention. It was in 1996, with the introduction of the internet and our first home computer, that I really started to put my family history together. When I look back on those early days, I have to laugh at my novice approach. With genealogy, few are fortunate to have mentors and often approach the subject the best way they know how. Then along the way, we meet others with who we share ideas and best practises. But there was something that sparked my interest at an early age. In my case, it was my great-grandfather, Donald Bradford Sr. As a young child, Gramp would tell me great stories and he had so much pride in his family’s rich history, a history that goes back to William Bradford of the Plymouth Colony and the Mayflower families. At his home, on the steps leading upstairs, were several old photographs of Gramp’s brothers who fought during the First World War. Those old photos of young men in uniform always caught my attention and Gramp was proud to tell me the names of his brothers. However, I always wanted to know more; more about the Bradford family; more about my great-great-uncles, especially of Martin and Eric who were killed as a result of the war. Perhaps it was due to Gramp’s own death that I felt the need to keep those stories close and to build on them for future generations. So started my adventure with family history. 

While the Bradford family branches from my maternal grandmother, another adventure was at work with my maternal grandfather’s family, the McGarrigle family. On a particular St. Patricks Day in the mid-1990s, I was asked by an old man at the end of a bar why I was celebrating St. Patricks Day since my surname, Gaudet, was far from being Irish. I mumbled something that my mother’s maiden name was McGarrigle but in reality I had no solid information other than that. I couldn’t even tell this drunken old fool where in Ireland my family came from. Was I just another person posing as a wannabe Irish for the day? What was worst, few in my own family could even say for certain where our ancestor came from. Well, that started another adventure and years later, in June 2009, I found myself standing on the old McGarrigle property at Foyagh Hill, near Ballintra, Co. Donegal, fully aware of my Irish roots and the story of my ancestor, John McGarrigle, made when he left Ireland in the mid-1840s. Oddly enough, the pride that I now have in my Irish roots keeps away from the pubs on St. Patricks Day. 

The Bradford and McGarrigle families are from my mother’s side but I have been just as busy researching my father’s side, I have successfully traced the Gaudet and Belliveau surnames back to France in the late fifteenth century. The history of the Gaudet and Belliveau, along with the various other Acadian surnames intertwined with these families, are very similar since they nearly all follow the history of the Acadian people. From leaving France and settling in the New World (“Acadie”), to the Deportation of 1755 which split families apart and destroyed communities. In 2004, I attended the Acadian National Congress in Clare, Digby Co., Nova Scotia. I might never have attended the event if I was not aware of my heritage. While at the Gaudet world reunion, I met with many distant cousins, some from Louisiana and Mississippi. Together we created a family tree on a gymnasium wall which started with Jehan Gaudet, our common ancestor from France. The tree was amazing as it branched out and expanded down through 15-20 generations. There, on the wall, was perhaps the true meaning of life. Where would we be if it was not for Jehan? And during the events of Hurricane Katrina, I found myself patiently waiting for responses from my cousins in the southern states because after all, they are family no matter how far removed.  

Researching family history is not always an enjoyable task. You become more aware of life and death and attend more funerals than most of your cousins. But you also have to contend with relatives that feel that you are pulling skeltons out of the closet or have some ancient belief that talking about the dead is bad karma. I have often said that it is sometimes easier to get information from those that are deceased than those that are living. Some relatives withhold info and old family photos as if they were holding back something that will make them rich. But with each relative that attempts to withhold, another relative appears that shows up with just as much interest as you. In the end, your reward is a wonderful story; one full of life’s hardships and blessings; a story that is a non-fiction classic, a story that is your own.

Beside my four primary surnames of Gaudet, McGarrigle, Bradford and Belliveau, I am gathering information on the Leavitt (of Charlotte Co.), Burrell (of York Co.), Proctor (of Kings Co.) and Connors (of Charlotte Co.) families. If you have any question on these families, please feel free to contact me.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Charlotte County Archives Benefit Dinner

On May 28, 2011, I attended a benefit dinner for the Charlotte County Archives. Just previous to the dinner, I was asked to say a few words on researching and the importance of institutes such as the county archives. The following is an except of my speech:

Good evening friends, my name is Jason Gaudet. I am a member of the board for the archives however most of my time over the last decade has been spent in front of a microfilm reader, as a researcher. I would like to thank you for taking the time out of your day to help a worthy cause such as the Charlotte County Archives. If you are here today, you understand the importance of this organization within our community. It is a vital link to our past, to the stories of our people.

Over decade ago, while living in Fredericton, I would spend many hours at the Provincial Archives in an attempt to piece together my family’s history. While friends enjoyed the lights of the local watering holes, I feel in love with the warm light of a microfilm reader. In many cases, genealogical research tends to lead into historical research in an attempt to understand the community that one’s ancestor were apart of. However, I noticed that there was absence of information pertaining to some of the communities of Charlotte County, specifically Blacks Harbour, with a few exceptions being school records and records regarding the movie theatre at Blacks Harbour. How could this be? From family stories and from being a child raised in that community, I knew that Blacks Harbour had an interesting history; an inseparable history between a community and its employer. But where was this information?

Another case was Pennfield Ridge. For many of us, we drive past the old air base on our way to Saint John, taking a glimpse of old cement firing back. Some wonder about the story of the air base. Others retell tales that their grandfathers once told them, often based on nothing more than local hearsay. As a young boy, I was always amazed with these stories. I imaged those vintage bombers landing on those long runways or buzzing out towards the bay. However, I am never one to settle with a simple story. I always need to know more. Unfortunately, there were no records on Pennfield Ridge. So I set off to put together a history of the air base.

Seven months after the declaration of war in Europe, the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan was created. As part of this plan, Pennfield Ridge Air Station became operational in July 1941 as No.2 Air Navigation School. With the use of Avro Anson twin-engine bombers, airmen earned their navigation wing. In May 1942, the RCAF turned over control of the air station to the RAF and Pennfield Ridge became designated as No. 34 Operational Training Unit. The British choose the fast American Lockheed Ventura as the primary training bomber… a decision that will be long debated. At No. 34 OTU, bomber crews learned how to work together in an operational setting. In June 1944, the RCAF took control of the airfield once again. With the war winding down in Europe, there was little need for Pennfield Ridge as an air base and the decision was made to close the gates at the end of August 1945. The airfield sat dormant for a couple years until it was turned over to the Department of Transportation and operated as the official Saint John airport from 1947 to 1951. After being handed back to the Department of Defence, it was used as part of Camp Utopia until that base was closed and the air field was privately sold in the early 1960. Amongst all of these dates, the airfield had an eventfully history. On the lighter side, many men arrived in Charlotte County to train and ended up marrying local women. Some of these marriages even took place in the chapel on the air base. Hundreds of men passed through the gates of Pennfield Ridge. However, the air base offers a more tragic past. Of course, there is the well-known story of an RAF man who was training at the air base and who was eventually tried for murdering a young woman from Blacks Harbour. But there is less known of the over 130 accidents recorded during the airfield’s military history. As a result of these incidents, 70 men died while training at Pennfield Ridge (38 Canadians, 12 British, 12 New Zealanders, 8 Australians). It is worth mention at this point that Camp Utopia had 6 casualties of its own during its operation from 1940 to 1958.

So without institutions such as the archives, how would we learn about our past? How would we know of those 70 men that perished while stationed at Pennfield Ridge or those 6 men that served at Camp Utopia? Would their graves just be cast off as a lonely “veterans” grave or would the story of their lives be known? Another aspect of the history of Pennfield Ridge and Camp Utopia that is overlooked, is their impact on the community. The war was not only being fought overseas but the constant reminder was often heard in the skies over towns of New Brunswick. In some case, tragedy occurred when aircraft crash in our backyards. Lest we forgot the great sacrificed that was made for all of us.

Today, with institutions such as our county archives, I continue to be one of those folks that bring stories out from the past. Recently, I have undertaken a survey and an extensive genealogical project regarding the two cemeteries in Blacks Harbour. In many cases, discovering unmarked burials of those that would otherwise be forgotten. With this project, I first make a detailed survey of a cemetery. Each burial plot is catalogued with all of the relevant genealogical data. Vital records and data are extracted from the archives. In the end, a burial plot (for example of Donald Bradford and his wife Cora) will have birth, marriage and death information and in most cases, even be accompanied with obituaries. Once completed, these projects will find homes in the local libraries and archives for others to utilize. This information will be a great source for those researching their own roots in Blacks Harbour. And in the end, finally the archives in Fredericton will have some new information on Blacks Harbour.

In closing, we learn today a small piece of history regarding this county and we learn this with the great assistance of our county archives. What other stories can we learn? What other stories are waiting to be discovered in archives? Once again I thank you for your interest and sincerely appreciate all of you assistance to the archives."

I have to point out that I was being brief on some items as the point was to highlight the archives and not the subject matter. Though I spent many years on research the WW2 military bases of Chartlotte County, I am no longer active in the project and now endorsed the work of a local group who is taking up the charge to tell the story of the former bases. Overall, the dinner was a great success, generating just under $1,200. Though this is a long way to cover all the cost of operations, the archives is always looking for your support.