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A c1906 view of the Congregational Cemetery on Maple Ave. South, photo courtesy of the late Mel. Robertson. Note how clean and crisp the lettering was.





Copyright © 1996 – 2020 by Clayton Barker

(Published 1996 based on a study done under the auspices of the Corporation of The Township of Burford in 1985)


The oldest grave markers in Ontario date from the 1790s. Most early pioneer grave markers were just a simple wooden stake or board slab with the name and date of death carved or burned into it. As community cemeteries became more established surviving members of the early settlers quite often replaced their predecessor's crude markers with better stones that were more durable, however, the majority of the earliest burials were not properly recorded and their locations remain gaps in the rows of tombstones.


While I was still a student at Fanshawe College in London, I was employed for a work term by the corporation of the Township of Burford from May to December 1985. I was hired primarily to assist the local Municipal planning staff in preparing and updating zoning maps etc, but my projects varied and I did everything from sorting documents to measuring parking lots. You've probably heard about some individuals who get so wrapped up in their work that it follows them home, well I got wrapped up in this particular major project, and after it followed me home, it stayed there for ten years.


One day I was asked by the clerk if I would do a map of the Congregational Cemetery on Maple Ave South. Apparently, a cemetery map existed at one time but was either lost, or stolen. The Township Clerk advised me that this would not be an easy job, and he took me down to the cemetery to show me what I was up against.


  Two of the oldest gravestones in this cemetery: One erected to the memory of two girls, Minerva (age 2 yrs.) and Ann Eliza (age three months) the daughters of Florentine and Sophronia Mighells, died 1834; the other records the name of Mrs Jane, wife of Nathan Dopking who died 1836 aged 54.


The Congregational Cemetery has been technically classified as a "closed" cemetery, that is, it is full as far as purchasing plots is concerned. However, those who still have burial plots located in the cemetery may still be buried there if they wish. Since a job like this was never done in Burford Township before the sky was the limit, and I was able to design my own technique for accomplishing the goal. The township didn't care how it got done as long as it got done! One thing about cemetery's in general is that you can't always be sure of what's under the ground but you can depend on what's above the ground, so I set out to measure each and every tombstone in the lot and also mapped existing trees and other physical features.


I remember after the clerk left me there to figure out how I was going to tackle this project, I just looked at the stone-congested horizon and gulped! Nowadays, with modern computerized survey equipment, this type of job would be a snap and perhaps would take only a week of ongoing fieldwork to complete. Unfortunately, back then I only had a few college surveying classes under my belt but had a good knowledge of practical measurement and drafting. With a makeshift chaining-pin and a 100-foot measuring tape, a roll of string and some inconspicuous little homemade wooden stakes, I gridded the property 'datum line' style and I think the map I produced at the end of my work term is fairly accurate. I was out there as early as 6:30 or 7:00 am some mornings, and I often went back after hours and on weekends to do more survey work. I was even out there in December while the snow-covered the ground.


When I was a kid growing up in Burford in the '70s the only place us kids did not want to hang around was the cemetery. Just looking through the fence scared us as we read the large surnames among the monstrous gloomy monuments;

 BLOODSWORTH, BALLARD, COAKLEY, COOKER and UNDERHILL. Another spooky thing about that place was that the sidewalk (which had originally gone to the front door of the old congregational church) was still there but it now stops in the middle of nowhere.


After about a week of being among the gravestones, I felt more comfortable there than I had before. To me, it is the most peaceful of places there is and contrary to childhood belief the "boogieman" does not live there. (He has left the building or so to speak) In fact, if you believe in any form of spirits or ghosts at all (religious or other), then you would realize that the one place in the world that is absolutely spirit-free is the graveyard, for it is just a place for lifeless bones and monuments to remind us of the souls that once occupied this world.


To compile the map, my job had several stages; the first stage was where I went up the rows and prodded the ground for potential stones that had been overgrown by grass. Then I used a shovel to lift the stones and straighten the crooked ones by packing new gravel beneath them and around them. As I discovered other stones, I increased the known population of the cemetery and also located the corners of existing family plots.


The next stage was for mapping and measuring. I gridded the cemetery with string offsetting the datum line, then located the stones according to the grid. This information went directly onto the final map (which is the property of the Corporation of the Township of Burford).


Besides measuring and straightening stones, I decided that while I was there, I might as well take down the information that is written on the tombstones. If you have ever tried to read weathered white marble (or alabaster), you will know how hard this stage of the project was. That's why I left this work until last. I rubbed chalk over the words to get a relief image. It is unbelievable the amount of social history and information that can be gleaned from a tombstone! Quite often, I came across situations where some individuals had been married three for four times and had several children.


The greatest portion of the front fifteen rows are the graves of infants and young mothers, many of whom died in the late 1840s during a severe epidemic. It has been said that during the summer of 1847 alone, about 1600 people died as a result of the plague.


Though they are very hard to read, the verses which accompany the usual text of epitaphs sometimes provide information about the individual, and some verses were customized to suit the situation. I tried to record as many verses as was possible; however, I found that the majority of these were repetitious and generic so I simply scanned the monuments for different versions or verses that were unique.


At a glance the cemetery seems to be mostly comprised of the white marble (or alabaster) and the newer granite stones, but there are a few sandstone and slate markers too. Granite tombstones were not common until after 1900, before that only the wealthy could afford a fine granite monument. The oldest tombstones in this area are generally of the dark grey slate, sandstone or limestone.


In the Pioneer Cemetery (King Street, Burford) the oldest slate stone is that of Justus Stephens, 1812, but in the Congregational Cemetery, the oldest tombstone is a double marker of soft white marble (probably imported from the New England States) which is dated 1834 and 1835. Two girls, Minerva (age 2 yrs.) and Ann Eliza (age three months) the daughters of Florentine and Sophronia Mighells. (stone 32, row 15). Beside this stone is the second oldest tombstone which records the name of Mrs Jane, wife of Nathan Dopking who died 1836 aged 54.


By carefully studying the inscriptions of tombstones, one can very readily produce an entire genealogical chart of a family as sometimes three or four generations, including the earliest settler, are buried together in the same plot. In some ways, I think the task of recording cemeteries asks more questions than it answers. Some questions, however may never be answered, for instance, many times when a person died, they mentioned the name of their spouse but the question remains; was the spouse eventually buried there also? At the end of this index, I have provided an appendix full of unanswered questions.


Not all the information gleaned from tombstones is from the written word, the stones themselves and the sculptures and motifs displayed on them also provide information, of course. I did not record this type of information as I had my hands full just preparing the map. Flowers, hands, animals etc. adorn the text of tombstones and sometimes an urn, column or obelisk. These all have special meanings, and there have been books written about this particular subject, but for my purposes here, I will only mention a couple of examples. A variety of Christian symbols include various species of flowers and trees, the rose and lily are a symbol of purity. There are several variations and configurations of hands, hands pointing up, down, clasped in prayer or reaching down from heaven.


Angels, ladders to heaven and open bibles are sometimes found, acorns and oak leaves denoting strength of faith and the very popular cross or crucifix. I have found a few stones bearing the Scotch thistle (the national flower of Scotland) and a few stags (which is another Christian symbol according to "Early Ontario Gravestones" by Carole Hanko, 1974"). Though rain and wind abrasion has muted their figures, lambs and doves are found mostly on children's graves.


Prior to my working in the Burford Congregational Cemetery for the Township, there was an index for the cemetery. This was produced in the early 1980s by students for the Ontario Genealogical Society, which provided a "skeleton" base for my study. One difficulty in researching family history in cemeteries is overcoming the discrepancies that exist both on the stones themselves and the transcripts which have been done by others.

I do not expect my index to be completely free of these discrepancies as many were caused by the engravers themselves and quite often typographical errors slip through even after a dozen proofing sessions. I have, from my experience in transcribing tombstones, discovered how letters and numbers can be mistaken for other letters or numbers, for instance, a classical example is the old fashioned number '7' is too often mistaken for a '1' and vice versa.


This creates problems when people depend on the information so much, and they swear up and down on their accuracy as being the truth, but become angry when challenged by another's translation of the same information. It's hard when you discover that your ancestor wasn't born in 1811 but was born in 1877!


I don't know why Justus Stephens (Who was an early Burford settler) requires two burial plots; (one in each cemetery) for the remains of him and his wife and his son? I recall someone telling me that they thought the oldest monument in Burford Township marked the grave at the back of the congregational cemetery belonging to Justus Stephens, buried in the year 1812. This is neither a typographical error nor a misinterpretation of the text. It, in fact, reads the date 1812, however, it is an example of a situation where a decedent wanted to commemorate their pioneer ancestors (who are in fact buried in the Pioneer Cemetery and not the Congregational Cemetery) on their own tombstone in the Congregational cemetery. For one thing, the pioneer cemetery is older than the Congregational, dating from 1800; Secondly, Justus Stephens and family have a very old slate tombstone of their own in the old section of the pioneer cemetery and thirdly, the Stephen's marker in the Congregational is in row 23 which is in the back section of the cemetery which was annexed after the year 1900.


Before I wrap up this long-winded book introduction, I would like to mention some of the Monument Manufacturers names that are found throughout the graveyard: C. CAMERON, BURFORD; J. HILL, BRANTFORD; R. BRODIGAN, BRANTFORD; R. & J. HAMILL, BRANTFORD; READ & BATES, BRANTFORD; INGHAM, BRANTFORD; 0. HICKS, DRUMBO; C. MILLER & CO, INGERSOLL; FERGUSS & SON, HAMILTON; J. W SMYTH, LONDON; SCOTT, GALT; R. RAYNER, PARIS; ATKINSON CO, SIMCOE; A. M . & G. CO, SIMCOE; D. MILLER, WOODSTOCK; J. GARDINER, WOODSTOCK.


It is also interesting to note that some of the individuals who have been buried there were born in the late 1700's; WELTHA ROUNDS, 1775; JAMES ROBSON SR., 1776; CHRISTIAN MANNE, 1774 (Switzerland); HENRY LESTER, 1789; SELENE LESTER, 1782; HUGH CLARK, 1763; MARY CLARK, 1778; GREGSON LOCKHART, 1788; MARILLA RAMSEY, 1786; DAVID CRIBS, 1782; THOMAS WILSON, 1764; ELMA KEACHIE, 1783; JOHN SHILLINGTON, 1785.






The information contained on this page represents the research findings and opinions of the author. The material on this page reflects the author’s best judgement in light of the information available at the time of compilation. Any use of this material made by a third party, or reliance on, or decisions made based on it is the responsibility of such third parties. The author accepts no responsibility for damages, if any, suffered by any third party as a result of decisions made or actions based on this work.








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