Friday, April 17, 2009

The Acadian Cemetery

The Annapolis Heritage Society's genealogy centre is an interesting venue. Encounters with tourists can often be of the pleasant but short variety. We exchange a few stories, tell visitors something about our community, hopefully have a couple of chuckles and go our separate ways. In the best of these tourist encounters, the visitor will become a regular and you will have the chance to further develop a relationship. Genealogical tourists are different.

I can usually pick out who the genealogists are as they get out of their car. No, genealogists do not have a particular aura. They are usually the visitors who come bearing mounds of paper and a laptop computer. By the nature of their visit, we need to very quickly get into their personal information. We need to discover who they are looking for, when they lived in this area and what the researcher wants to know about them. When we begin our searches, we are often into very personal information within the first five minutes of their visit. This can make working with genealogists very fulfilling as well as very frustrating. I have seen grown men well up with tears when they discovered releatives they have been searching years to find. I have equally felt their frustration when their highly anticipated serach proves to be yet another dead end.

There is one request in particular which brings out this frustration. During our visitor season, I am asked two to three times per week where people can go to see the early Acadian tombstones. This is seemingly a sensible request. The Acadians lived, died and were buried in this area. They must have tombstones. Sadly, they do not.

The oldest tombstone in Nova Scotia is located in the Garrison Cemetery in Annapolis Royal. This is the stone of an English woman named Bathiah Douglass who died in 1720. Before this time, the tradition was to mark graves with a wooden cross. Left to the elements, wood will rot and deteriorate over the course of 300 years. As such, all of the early Acadian graves in and around our community are unmarked. We know where most of the cemeteries are located. Many of these cemeteries continued on as active cemeteries after the Acadian deportationin 1755. An excellent example of this continued use is the previously mentioned Garrison Cemetery. This is the cemetery which is featured in the photographs in this post. This cemetery contains approximately 200 tombstones. It is believed that there are over 2000 people who are buried here. Somewhere in the range of 10% of the people have stones. The two photographs show an area with mature trees and few stones. It is in this area that the Acadians were buried.

This lack of tombstones does not mean that it is fruitless to do research on your Acadian ancestors. There are some wonderful resources available on these families. The Annapolis Royal region is also interesting as many of the landscapes still appear as they would have when the Acadians lived here.

All for now

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